Seeing Immaculate at the top of the South-West Conference standings is really never a surprise. But that wasn’t the expectation, at least for this year.
The Mustangs had graduated their top three guards including Mike Basile, a Register All-State selection last season for the CIAC Division I state semifinalists.
“Seriously, when I thought about losing Mikey Basile, Quinn Guth and Mike Woods, there was no way in a million years I thought we would be sitting here at 18-1,” Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said. “I’m dead serious. I thought finishing at .500 would have been a great year.”
But here the Mustangs sit at 18-1, the SWC regular-season champions and the top seed in the SWC tournament quarterfinals that begin Friday. Immaculate goes for the perfect league record Tuesday night against Weston at home.
Mingachos said his thought process quickly changed after a couple of preseason scrimmages that included Ridgefield, the defending FCIAC champion.
“Ridgefield is legit, well-coached and we went to their house and competed. I said to our assistants, ‘I think we might be better than what we were expecting and what others were expecting of us,” Mingachos said.
The Mustangs are on an 18-game winning streak after losing their season opener to Danbury. Mingachos wasn’t even there: he was attending his nephew’s college graduation at George Mason University.
So Mingachos has yet to see a loss this year. That includes wins over Waterford, last year’s Division II state champion, and St. Bernard.
Joey Rios and Sean Guiry are the returning starters from last season. Diego Echavarria has filled in nicely for Basile at point guard.
But it’s been the play of freshman Mike Iannenda that has been unexpected: eventually stepping into the starting lineup and contributing on both ends of the floor.
“I’ve never been scared to play the younger kids,” Mingachos said. “He sees the floor well, he shoots well, goes to the basket hard and isn’t timid.”
Those returning players haven’t forgotten what happened last season: losing on a buzzer-beating shot by Bunnell’s Maximus Edwards.
“They talk about it still,” Mingachos said. “When we went to play at Newtown, they still had that bad taste in their mouths (that;s where last year’s SWC tournament final was held).”
Newtown, Barlow, Weston and Kolbe Cathedral are all currently in a four-way tie for second place. Those ties will be broken after Tuesday night’s games. Pomperaug has clinched a playoff spot and both Bethel and Masuk get in with wins Tuesday.
Mingachos mentioned that his teams have won more state championships than SWC championships. Immaculate is back in Division I and will receive a first-round bye.
“Any athlete, especially my athletes (Mingachos also coaches girls soccer), they come here to win championships. That is just the way it is. They know what I expect and what they expect.”
Old Lyme gearing up
Like Immaculate, Old Lyme came into this week having suffered just one loss this season, to Waterford in double overtime.
The team owns non-conference victories against Glastonbury and Amistad. The team also came into the week two wins shy of going undefeated in the Shoreline Conference.
“We hope it (the non-conference games) helps, that’s why we schedule them,” Old Lyme coach Kirk Kaczor said.
Aedan Using has been a double-double machine for the Wildcats — and he could score a lot more of he chose, but fits in perfectly with Old Lyme’s quick ball movement on offense.
“He will play at Brandeis (University, a Division III school) next year. He’s a steal for sure,” Kaczor said. “He is incredible in every way, has a good basketball IQ and can shoot it. Sometimes, he overpasses. I joke with him that there are two people who kept him from scoring 2,000 career points: me and him.”
Brady Sheffield, Ray Doll, Jared Ritchie, Jacob Ritchie and Ty Dean have all been key contributors all season long for the Wildcats, who are currently the top seed in the Division V state tournament.
Old Lyme advanced to both the Shoreline and Division V finals last season, but lost both games. Kaczor said it’s not something the team talks about, but it is understood how badly everyone wants to get back to both finals.
“There certainly is pressure (to repeat what the team did last year). We definitely want to get back there. We try not to talk about it, but it’s like the elephant in the room,” Kaczor said. “We try every day to talk about, ‘How much we can improve today. Can we win today?’”
Old Lyme will be the No. 1 seed in the Shoreline tournament even with a loss to either Cromwell or Morgan. Valley Regional is the No. 2 seed unless Old Lyme loses twice. Morgan, Cromwell and East Hampton are currently seeded third through fifth.
Westbrook, Hale-Ray, Portland and Haddam-Killingworth are battling for the final three spots. Pairings won’t become official until Thursday.
Other league tournament outlooks
Notre Dame-West Haven and Hillhouse are the top two seeds in the SCC tournament, respectively, and both will receive byes into Saturday’s quarterfinal round at Branford. Shelton is the No. 3 seed, followed by West Haven (4) and Hamden (5).
Wilbur Cross, the defending champion, is the No. 6 seed, followed by Xavier (7) and Fairfield Prep (8), which will host No. 9 Law on Wednesday. The rest of the opening-round games will be at the higher seed on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
In the FCIAC, Ridgefield likely needs to win its remaining two games to clinch the top seed. Trinity Catholic is the only other team with a chance at the No. 1 seed.
Fairfield Warde is the likely No. 3 seed. Fairfield Ludlowe and St. Joseph have also qualified. Pairings become official on Wednesday with the tournament quarterfinals beginning Saturday at Warde.
Undefeated Norwich Free Academy is the top seed in the ECC Division I tournament, which begins Wednesday. Fitch and Ledyard are seeded second and third, while two-time defending champion Waterford is No. 4.
St. Bernard gets a chance to win a fourth consecutive ECC Division II title as the top seed. The finals for both tournaments will be held at the Mohegan Sun Arena on March 3.
The Fairchester League Tournament is just four teams this season. Top seed St. Luke’s hosts No. 4 Brunswick Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. while No. 2 Greens Farms takes on No. 3 Hamden Hall, the defending champion, at 5:30 p.m. The final is Thursday at the higher seed.