A scan on Twitter Friday night showed five boys basketball games at halftime. In only one had the two teams combined for more than 41 points. Three were below 40, including the game I was at between Trumbull and Staples.
It would be nice to attribute this to outstanding defense. Instead, what we hope is only a cyclical downward spiral in the game continues. What has happened? Some players have jumped to private schools. And AAU, where the level of teaching in general doesn’t supplement the work of high school coaches but makes their jobs harder, continues to be an issue.
The first month of this season has been like last year on steroids: close races and unpredictability at the expense of excellence.
And so we turn our eyes tomorrow night to Wilton and Fairfield Warde to breathe some much-needed life in what appears to be the regular season game of the year. Danbury has yet to put a healthy team on the court. Trinity Catholic is failing chemistry. There are several schools with incomplete grades.
With the exception of a few teams, almost every game each night is a tossup. Wilton, Fairfield Warde, Trumbull and Darien are currently the top four in the standings. Only the Eagles have ever played in a league championship, and that was 27 years ago.
Wilton and Fairfield Warde are undefeated and clearly the top two teams. They play up-tempo, shoot the ball well and score in the 70s and 80s. If you haven’t seen them yet, bring your Dramamine.
“You’ve got to give both teams credit, they are the top two teams in the league, they’re winning night-in and night-out, at both ends of the floor,” said Staples coach Colin Devine, who has lost twice to Wilton and once to Warde. “I think the keys to the game are Warde has a great starting lineup, Wilton might have more depth. It is going to come down to matchups in the fourth quarter and these two teams are going to play more than once. It depends on what round they are going to play again.”
Last year’s play-again was an absolute classic, with Wilton bouncing back from two game-tying last-second shots by Warde’s Antonio Brancato to come away with a 92-90 double-overtime win.
Many of the protagonists are back from the reigning game of the year. The Mustangs have the brother pairings of Giacomo and Antonio Brancato, and J.J. and Sean Conway, as well as Marcel Parsons.
Wilton returns Jack Williams and its own dynamic brothers, long-distance callers Matt and Nick Kronenberg, as well as Jack Wood and Drew Connelly.
The Mustangs have taken the next step since tasting success last season, and have easily handled high expectations.
The Warriors have been slightly more of a surprise only because they were underhyped, and no one knew that coach Joel Geriak has a deep bench with a number of players with a comfort range from somewhere around the Wilton Deli.
“Both teams shoot the ball pretty well so it is going to come down to man-to-man defense, and whoever executes best down the stretch is going to win,” Devine said. “You have two good programs, two good coaches. Without a doubt it’s going to be a great game.”
Wilton gets a big advantage playing at home, more so because the Fieldhouse can cause opponents to take time adjusting their depth perception to behind the baskets. Devine, whose team lost there by 36 points last week, downplayed that some.
“Wilton is obviously a tough place to play but they are familiar teams,” he said. “After the first couple minutes of the game the away team will settle down and that stuff kind of equals itself out.”
The last school outside of Stamford and Bridgeport to win an FCIAC boys basketball title was St. Joseph in 2000. Throw in Norwalk and Danbury and then you have to go back to that last Eagles team to find an outsider cutting down the nets. Unless the Crusaders awaken from their stupor, that will all change this year.
If there is tradeoff for the decline in play — which coaches privately acknowledge but have a hard time attributing to exact reasons — it is nice to see some new faces at the top of the standings.
The Warriors have been league darlings the last two years but are ready to graduate from that fuzzy image. The Mustangs feel like they put down a foundation and are ready for the final phase of building.
It says something that these two teams no longer hope to win a championship, but will consider it a failure if they don’t.
“I don’t want to say they are head and shoulders above the league but they deserve to be 1 and 2 right now and we will see how the next 10 games play out,” Devine said.”
It might be too much to ask for a reprisal of last February. But if the two teams stick to the script, that should suit us all just fine.