By Peter Wallace
@PWallaceSports on Twitter
There’s no safe refuge for any of the area’s CIAC boys basketball teams this year.
Torrington plays in one of the state’s toughest basketball leagues. The NVL had a Class S state champion and a Class L runner-up last year, including the No. 1 team in final state polls, Sacred Heart. That doesn’t even count the other four Waterbury schools, all of whom bring serious heat to the court.
The Berkshire League is likely to feast on itself this year, with a record amount of parity expected by most coaches. One of them predicts as many as eight or nine of the league’s 10 teams could qualify for state tournaments. Most others expect four or five teams to battle for the title all the way through February.
Wolcott Tech plays in the Constitution State Conference, an easy mark in some sports, but not in boys basketball. Every one of the league’s city schools, certainly including the urban technical schools, can bring it to the basketball court.
Here’s a more detailed look:
Naugatuck Valley League
Sacred Heart stayed in Class S last year, romping through an undefeated season to the state title. They lost two starters, but bring back Mustapha Heron, possibly the best player in the state.
Crosby is the perennial league champion and gave the Hearts its two toughest games of the season.
Kennedy climbed high in the polls for much of the season.
Holy Cross is always a threat, as is Wilby.
These are all Brass Division schools from Waterbury.
Torrington plays in the Iron Divison with other suburban schools.
It’s still not safe. Naugatuck, 16-4 in the regular season, made it all the way to the Class LL finals before it stopped, finishing No. 8 in the final state poll.
The Greyhounds lost two starters, just enough to make an energetic group of Red Raiders believe they have a shot at the division title.
The Raiders have better speed and shooting with the return of senior guard Zac Mancini, who was out with an injury last season.
“We have improved communication and chemistry this year,” said All-Iron Division senior swingman David White.
Northwestern raced to the regular season title last year. Lewis Mills caught the Highlanders in the BL Tournament final.
Graduations haven’t kept them out of the title conversation, along with the league tournament’s No. 3 seed, Nonnewaug, but there’s a new kid on the block this year, and several more lurking on the sidelines.
Litchfield has one of the league’s best players in 6-4 junior forward Ryan O’Neill, who poured in 426 points last year as a sophomore. The All-BL, second-team All Stater has enough size and talent around him to make the Cowboys the early league favorite.
Still, graduations and improvement have shortened the odds for any BL team. Thomaston and Shepaug are better. One coach picks Wamogo as a dark horse.
So how will so many teams qualify for state tournaments? Quite possibly by beating each other up in the regular season to spread the wins around.
Consitution State Conference
Capital Prep is the most familiar basketball name in the CSC (13-7 last year), but there were lots more the Wildcats won’t forget waiting to pounce on Wolcott Tech’s predominantly-sophomore team.
With a year of growth and experience, they’re not likely to go winless again, but, in this league, this sport, qualifying for the state tournament is a major feat.
By Peter Wallace