Boys Basketball

Second-Chance Points: Warde-Trinity An FCIAC Championship Preview?

Fairfield Warde’s Brendan McMahon passes out of the pressure from Fairfield Ludlowe’s Patrick Kilbride and Chris Carlucci last night. (Mark Conrad)

Want to get someone from Ridgefield angry? Publish the headline that goes with this story.

If you go by the current moment, most would pick Trinity Catholic and Fairfield Warde as the two top teams in the FCIAC heading into their game Thursday night in Fairfield.

The Mustangs (11-2) have won seven straight games, highlighted by last night’s 24-point win over Fairfield Ludlowe, which came in with the same record as its town rival.

The Crusaders have won five in a row, and included in that streak is a 29-point win over Ridgefield that cannot be overlooked. Trinity is averaging a 20-point margin of victory during this run.

Most did and do consider Trinity to have the best talent in the league. Early in the season it played a system ill suited to create matchup problems that should have been readily apparent. That changed with the game against Ridgefield.

Malcolm Newman, a guard those who have seen him — Thursday will be my first time — say is the Crusaders’ best player, is now eligible and he bolsters the backcourt along with Andrew St. Louis, who has had a consistently good season.

Guard play was the team’s shortcoming last season. Akim Joseph and Rahsen Fisher now become much more formidable up front.

If there is a team that matches up best with the Crusaders, it is Warde. Twins Justyn and Jordyn Davis played more like sophomores early in the season but are quickly maturing and becoming team leaders. They were the two best players on the court against Ludlowe.

But the Mustangs are an ensemble. Coach Ryan Swaller used nine players before emptying his bench in the fourth quarter after a 17-0 run provided the knockout punch.

Warde has outside shooters, size in the paint and quality depth, reserves not limited to spelling starters for just a few minutes. That is one area where the Mustangs will have an advantage.

Fairfield Ludlowe’s James Mockler and Fairfield Warde’s Brendan McMahon fight for a rebound. (Mark Conrad)

Warde also is capable of playing shutdown defense, which was the catalyst to last night’s win. Second-half turnovers were turned into layups and a couple of crowd-rousing dunks by Jordyn Davis in the fourth quarter.

Slowly the parity in the league is beginning to gain a little separation. The top eight or nine teams for the most part are capable of beating one of the others on any night, but the number that can win three games in five days is dwindling.

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Right now Trinity, Warde and Ridgefield appear like the top bets. Warde has to make the trip to Ridgefield in two weeks, but face two other playoff contenders next week.

And success can be ephemeral. Was the margin of the Tigers’ loss to Trinity an aberration? It is their only defeat in the last 10 games, and they have won at New Canaan, Fairfield Ludlowe and Stamford. Road victories earn you high seeds and help you repeat as league champion.

“We are looking at another top team and defending our home court, that’s the way it is,” Swaller said last night, referring to the game against Trinity. “You have to win your home games in order to advance, and try to steal a couple on the road.”

The Falcons were rolling until last night, when they were neutralized. Does the loss coming by 24 points deserve closer scrutiny?

It seems all of the contenders have been the victim of one blowout. And the landscape changes on a nightly basis. Four of my top five teams in bracketology are the same as last week, including the three on top, which had not happened this winter.

Warde, Ridgefield and Trinity are the three teams trending up. I would include St. Joseph as well, though it is the hardest team to get a read on. It still has five of the top eight teams remaining on its schedule.

Fairfield Ludlowe and Staples are coming off of losses but are certainly not on a downward trajectory. Stamford and Trumbull have been all over the place, capable of good wins but bad losses. Wilton disappointed, but has rebounded from a four-game losing streak with two straight wins. It also has five straight contenders on the schedule to finish the regular season.

“I feel there is parity of course but there are certain teams that have the extra ability to go that next step,” Swaller said.

Two of them face off in Fairfield Thursday night.

Bracketology

No. 1 Fairfield Warde (11-2, 8-1) vs. No. 8 Trumbull (8-5, 5-4)
No. 2 Ridgefield (11-2, 9-1) vs. No. 7 Stamford (9-5, 6-4)
No. 3 Trinity Catholic (8-2, 9-5) vs. No. 6 Staples (10-3, 6-3)
No. 4 St. Joseph (10-2, 9-1) vs. No. 5 Fairfield Ludlowe (10-3, 6-3)