It is really quite astounding with eight days left in the regular season how New Canaan is still considered a fluke by so many people. It is as if the last-second shots for wins against Stamford and Brien McMahon are blurring the reality of the situation.
The Rams are 12-4 and three of their losses are to Danbury, Trumbull and Wilton, currently the top three teams in the conference. The only defeat in which they were a favorite was a week ago to Darien, a rivalry game.
Five people told me prior to yesterday’s trip to Ridgefield that the Rams’ magic bubble was about to burst and they would lose by 20 points. Instead, they went to one of the toughest gyms for road teams and came away with a 60-53 victory.
Would I have predicted a New Canaan win? No. Am I surprised it happened? No.
I think too many people are still discounting the parity in the league. There are no great teams, and the difference between the top seven is probably less than at any time in recent memory. If every school plays their very best in the league tournament, I think Trumbull wins the title. But every school is not going to play its best.
The Rams may not have any stars, but that is one of their greatest strengths. They are usually mistake-free, play good defense and more often than not control the tempo. That at the very least will keep you in every game.
I’m not predicting New Canaan is going to win the FCIAC title — it will be participating in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years — but there is not a team it cannot beat.
And as for those aforementioned game-winning shots. Let’s just say there is a little mojo happening.
Some other random thoughts:
• One of the reasons Wilton is 13-4 and sitting in third place in the FCIAC was reflected in the box score of Friday night’s win at Trumbull. The Warriors had seven players finish with between eight and 11 points.
“This year we’ve been very consistent,” Warriors coach Joel Geriak said. “You’re not seeing anyone scoring 25 points in a game. It is 12 to 13 one night and then 12 to 13 the next night for somebody else. It has been very balanced. It makes my job easier because it is hard to take away any players when they are all scoring evenly.”
When they are on, the Warriors move the ball better than anyone in the league, which helps create open looks. And there are almost always three players on the court that can hit 3-point shots. That indeed does make them difficult to defend.
Wilton seemingly has a player for every role, be it Nick Kronenberg and Andrew Smith shooting from the perimeter, Ryan Schriber defending, Ryan Biberon giving the Warriors an inside game and Kyle Hyzy doing a little bit of everything.
Geriak said there is another big difference over the last month, when junior varsity players from a year ago were adjusting to the pace of play.
“We’re not turning the ball over, that’s the main thing,” Geriak said. “We were averaging 16 to 17 turnovers a game and now we’re down to nine or 10. That helps us get more shots up. And we’re rebounding better.”
Wilton has been riding the rollercoaster the past 10 days: an 18-point loss to Ridgefield, the win over Trumbull and last night’s loss to Danbury. All three games were on the road.
• Which player is the favorite of opposing coaches? If a poll were taken, Trumbull’s Chris Brown might finish first, or at least very close to it.
Brown is overshadowed on his own team by Timmond Williams. Danbury’s Denali Burton and Ridgefield’s James St. Pierre are the other contenders for Player of the Year.
But Brown is the kind of player coaches and the knowledgeable fan love. He can score, pass, rebound and defend. He is often the player ending up with the assist on fast-break baskets. He is the glue to the Eagles.
Don’t think so? Trumbull is 13-1 with Brown in the lineup and 1-2 without him. Brown was inadvertently elbowed by a teammate last week and missed most of a loss to Fairfield Warde. He sat out Friday’s loss to Wilton.
Take nothing away from Warde and Wilton, which played terrific games, but the Eagles are not the same without Brown. Coach Buddy Bray said Brown needed plastic surgery on his mouth and was getting fitted for a mask. Brown sat out last night’s win over Norwalk. Bray was hoping he might be back tomorrow against Trinity Catholic.
• If there is a lower seeded team I would not want to open with in the FCIAC quarterfinals, it is Stamford. And right now there is no longer a guarantee that the Black Knights will be a lower seed. The team that disappointed over the first half of the season has won four in a row and seven of its last eight.
The loss was to St. Joseph on a last-second shot in overtime. Of course the Black Knights were also on the receiving end of the halfcourt shot by New Canaan’s Ryan McAleer that got national attention.
So what has changed? First, Trinity Catholic transfer Rasheed Constant became eligible, giving Stamford a fourth offensive weapon. Second, this is a top three or four team talent-wise.
The chemistry was off in the middle of the season but winning helps to solve that issue.
The quarterfinals are played on a neutral court, so there is no benefit for finishing in the top four, but the Black Knights are just a game behind in the loss column for fourth place. They should get a win tomorrow against Bridgeport Central, leaving games against Wilton and Trinity to determine where they finish.
No. 1 Danbury (13-4, 12-2) vs. No. 8 St. Joseph (10-6, 8-5)
No. 2 Trumbull (14-3, 11-2) vs. No. 7 Fairfield Warde (10-7, 7-6)
No. 3 Wilton (13-4, 10-3) vs. No. 6 Stamford (11-6, 8-5)
No. 4 New Canaan (13-4, 9-4) vs. No. 5 Ridgefield (12-5, 9-4)