Is there anybody out there who does not believe Bridgeport Central and St. Joseph will be meeting a week from tonight for the FCIAC boys basketball title? It is hard to find anyone.
In one of the weakest seasons in recent memory, Central, the No. 1 team in the state and top seed, and St. Joseph, the second seed, stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Is there anyone in the field that will create a seismic stir and upset either school along the way? If so, which team is the sleeper? Which player will be the most influential in the tournament, which begins Saturday with four quarterfinal games? Is there a first-round upset out there? And which team will emerge as the champion?
Here’s an analysis:
Team to beat: Bridgeport Central. Until defeated on the court, the Hilltoppers have to be considered the favorites. Their only loss was an opening-game forfeit to Staples for using an ineligible player. The team has a go-to star in Jerome Parkins, an explosive guard in Jerry Washington and no real weaknesses.
Players to watch: Greg Langston and Andrew Victoria. I’m throwing out two people, one for his influence during the regular season and one for his need during the playoffs. I thought the Cadets were a distant second to Central early in the season, and maybe they were. Part of the problem was a lack of team speed. The other was Langston trying to do too much. In the first two games I saw him play, Langston spent too much time on the wing with his arms extended, waiting for the ball.
I don’t know if St. Joseph coach Vito Montelli said something to Langston, or he did it on his own, but he realized subjugating his game was in the team’s best benefit. I don’t think he was being selfish as much as he felt he needed to carry the team on his own.
Now Langston is part of an ensemble, and the Cadets are all the better for it. There is a lot of talent on the team, and players like Timajh Parker and Oscar Assie have been allowed to step up and play more prominent roles.
Langston is still very much an impact player. By shooting and scoring a little less, the Cadets have become a better team.
Assuming we get the expected Central-St. Joseph final, the Hilltoppers will have the advantage in team speed, but will need to bang with St. Joseph’s strong inside game. That is where Victoria, Central’s 6-foot-9 center, comes in. Victoria doesn’t have to score a lot, but he has to rebound and defend well in the paint.
Sleeper team: Harding. It is hard to see a champion coming from someone other than Central or St. Joseph. The only team that might be able to pull off the surprise is the Presidents. Laquan Mendenhall seems to spend as much time in coach Charlie Bentley’s doghouse as on the court, and Harding needs him running the offense to have any chance. As we will see in the next entry, Harding is the most mercurial team in the league and does not have much size, but if it can play consistently for three games, it has the best chance to pull off what would be a major surprise.
Best chance for a first round upset: Stamford over Harding. As stated, Harding has the most schizophrenic personality in the tournament, and could just as easily lose in the quarterfinals as go all the way. Stamford underachieved during the regular season; though it lacks a true point guard, any team with a threesome like Mark Ellis, Marc Guirand and Jethro Anilus should have performed better.
In the teams’ regular season meeting, Stamford had trouble with turnovers in the first half, played a great second half until the final minute and was on the verge of winning on the road, then lost the ball three times in the final 60 seconds, and the game.
The Black Knights are going to have to handle Harding’s pressure. They probably don’t have the pieces to make a run that would likely mean having to defeat Harding, St. Joseph and then Central to defend their title, but a quarterfinal win would not be that stunning.
And the champion is……Bridgeport Central: The axis of power in the FCIAC has moved from Stamford to the Bridgeport area this year. I really wanted to pick St. Joseph because it is playing so well, and Central has made a habit of underachieving in the conference tournament. But on Warde’s large court, I am going to give a slight nod to Central’s speed over St. Joseph’s size.