The high school basketball season has reached the midway point. A lot can — and will — happen before the postseason begins next month.
Here are some early impressions:
— The overall quality of boys basketball is as weak as I can ever remember.
— Girls basketball is even weaker. In a strange way, as we shall see, that negative will become a positive in a few weeks.
— The boys basketball title is Central’s to lose. The Hilltoppers are more talented, deeper and have better athletes than anybody in the league. The difference between them and the next-best team is wide. Right now the only team that can beat Central is Central.
—If the Hilltoppers are No. 1, which team is the favorite for the second seed in the FCIAC Tournament? That is wide open. A case can be made for St. Joseph, Warren Harding and Bassick as the balance of power this year has moved East.
Bassick, which improved to 7-0 in the conference after last night’s win over Trinity Catholic, has been a surprise. The Lions lost most of their talent from a year ago and their best player, Joshua Hamilton, has not played since the opening game and, according to coach Harrison Taylor, is not expected back for a few more weeks. If Hamilton returns Bassick might have the best chance at the second seed.
St. Joseph is a better version of its recent teams. The Cadets will pound opponents on the boards and have difficulty against teams with speed. They have played Central tougher than anyone.
Many people believe Greg Langston is the Cadets’ best player. It is Timajh Parker.
Harding coach Charlie Bentley is back into hockey form. That means he can sub five players in and five players out at a time, a favorite maneuver of his, and one that has served him well over the years. It has been a while since he has been deep enough to do this.
Willie Gray is a dangerous scorer and the Presidents will be a difficult out with Laquan Mendenhall running the show.
These are probably your top four seeds in some configuration.
— Stamford is the wild card team this season. Right now the Black Knights have been hurt by the absence of a reliable point guard, which in effect neutralizes their big three of Mark Ellis, Marc Guirand and Jethro Anilus. It is no secret that the best way to play Stamford is with a relentless press.
Yet the Black Knights might have played their best ball in a loss. They were nearly flawless for the first 15 minutes of the second half against Harding, then turned the ball over down the stretch and lost.
If Stamford can solve its ballhandling problems — a big if given coach Jim Moriarty is still searching for answers — Anilus will get more open looks and become the outside weapon he was a year ago and Ellis will get more points in the paint. Ellis has to break his habit of first-half foul trouble.
And Guirand is one of the most underrated players in the league.
— This could be the first FCIAC Tournament without Trinity Catholic since 1997. The Crusaders finished 10-12 that season and right now sit at 4-5. They have been unable to compensate for the loss of forward Takari Smalls, whose presence in a down year could have elevated the team into contention for one of the top seeds.
Trinity has little margin for error, and nearly beat Bassick last night and almost swept St. Joseph. But the Crusaders are usually their own worst enemy, making poor decisions and unforced mistakes.
The Crusaders will probably have to come close to running the table against non-top tier teams and perhaps need to steal a win against either Harding or Stamford. It is possible, but will not be easy.
— This could be the year for schools like Ridgefield, Trumbull and Fairfield Warde to make a return to the league playoffs
— The girls basketball playoffs will be WIDE open. In recent seasons there has always been a strong favorite or two. Not this year. The difference between the top and eighth seeds will be narrower than ever.
Ridgefield, Danbury and St. Joseph look like the favorites right now, but Staples, Trinity Catholic, New Canaan, Stamford and Darien are all capable of winning three games and the title. If there is a year for a lower seed to be crowned champion, this is it.