Boys Basketball

Second-Chance Points: Storylines Aplenty As Regular Season Hits Homestretch

Trumbull’s Dan Ruchalski drives to the basket during Friday’s game against Warde. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

One of the best high school sports days of the year, the FCIAC Boys Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, is less than two weeks away. As expected, a year in which there are no Division I players has created more unpredictable outcomes. In the last week Staples defeated Ridgefield and Fairfield Ludlowe knocked off Darien, and neither result, despite the records, can be categorized as shocking.

If Staples and Ludlowe are playing well, there isn’t a team either is incapable of defeating. Remove three or four teams and any other matchup in the league is uncertain. Which will mean a wide open tournament. Consider that if the season ended right now, Trumbull would have to face Trinity Catholic in the first round (the teams actually meet Wednesday). The Crusaders have the ability, unrealized so far, to win three games in a week for the title.

If Trinity can defeat Greenwich and Ridgefield beat Westhill tonight, that would come close to settling the eight playoff qualifiers. The seeding will come down to the final night.

So as we prepare for the final games of the regular season, here are a few bullet points to get you ready for tonight.

— That Trumbull has lost just once in 16 games is by far the most remarkable feat of the season. These aren’t the Anthony Harris-led Hatters of a bygone era, but perhaps we all have been selling the Eagles short.

Their attributes were on display during Friday’s frenetic 86-81 triple overtime win over Fairfield Warde. The Eagles showed calm after falling behind 9-0 and 18-5. They showed resilience when their best player, J.J. Pfohl, fouled out.

Sophomore Timmond Williams has stepped up to become an impact player for Trumbull, one who makes it much more formidable heading into the postseason. Johnny McElroy is solid, and assorted contributions come from Dan Ruchalski, Jack Lynch and a number of others.

Coach Buddy Bray, who has done another outstanding job, has been very low key discussing his team’s play. Part of that is Bray’s nature. Part is he knows his players are going to have to maintain their work ethic to attain goals.

— The fate of the two teams that only three weeks ago looked like clear-cut favorites should crystallize by the time they tip off today and Wednesday. Warde coach Ryan Swaller was scheduled to meet with brothers Giacomo and Antonio Brancato prior to tonight’s game with Brien McMahon. The pair left the team last weekend and have not played since.

The Mustangs’ title chances take a blow if the two players are done for the year. Warde took Trumbull to the brink Friday, and got good games from unknowns like Malcolm Brune, Jackson Longley and Rashad Butler. It remains to be seen if that can be sustained or Friday’s game was an emotional ride, with the team primed to prove it could both beat the No. 1 seed and do it without two key players.

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Warde’s J.J. Conway scores on a layup Friday against Trumbull. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

While Warde may be discovering depth, Wilton, which has flourished behind a deep bench, is awaiting news on the status of Jack Williams, who injured his knee for the second time this season just after recovering from a torn ACL. The Warriors need a healthy Matt Kronenberg and Williams as their 1-2 punch, which opens the court for their teammates.

— Based on a few coaches I have spoken to, I think Darien’s Alex Preston would be selected as Player of the Year if the vote was held today. Right now he would be my pick. Everyone talks about the way he alters games with his size in the middle, but I still feel the 6-8 Preston’s best skill is his passing ability, which is terrific for a big man.

— Of all the contenders, the only one I have not yet seen is Brien McMahon. I am looking forward to watching them tonight at Warde. The Senators collapsed at the end of last year and missed the league playoffs, but I know they have impressed a number of coaches who have either played them or seen them on video. Eric Day is also in the Player of the Year hunt.

— I’m not sure the selection process, but I can tell you one of the biggest topics privately discussed is why the top officials are often not put on the biggest games. I know in many cases these decisions are made weeks in advance, but with a shortage of top referees you would be surprised the number of people who bring this up. All I can say is I usually attend what I believe to be the biggest game of the night. I have seen the officials generally considered the best by coaches once or twice at most, and some not at all.

From private conversations, it sounds like matching the top officials to the best games should not be a difficult issue if prioritized.

Bracketology

No. 1 Trumbull (15-1, 11-1) vs. No. 8 Ridgefield (10-6, 7-5). The Eagles are not that much more talented than the other top teams. With just one loss, Bray has to be given serious consideration to repeat as Coach of the Year. The Tigers lost some margin for error at Staples on Saturday.

No. 2 Fairfield Warde (13-3, 9-3) vs. No. 7 Danbury (11-5, 8-4). The only good to come out of the Mustangs’ stormy week is the discovery that they may have more depth than we thought.

No. 3 Wilton (12-3, 9-3) vs. No. 6 Darien (9-6, 8-4). The good news for the Warriors is that Matt Kronenberg is playing himself back into top form. The Blue Wave have the easiest remaining schedule in the league.

No. 4 Brien McMahon (12-4, 8-4) vs. No. 5 Trinity Catholic (10-5, 7-5). A year after a terrible collapse, the Senators are surging. A big test tonight at Warde. Call me a sucker, but with a road win at Danbury I’m still buying that the Crusaders are going to realize their potential and be a postseason factor.