The CCC has taken a step forward in its administration of the girls basketball tournament, which begins for three local teams on Saturday, but critics still abound.
Count me among them.
Up until this season, the first- and second-place teams in each of the four divisions qualified for the tournament. It was pointed out that deserving teams were getting left out and lesser teams were getting in because the third-place team in the North, for example, was obviously better than the second-place team in the East.
This year, the league designated the four division champions as seeds 1 through 4. Seeds 5 through 8 go to the teams with the best winning percentages in conference play, regardless of where they finished in their respective divisions.
The new format is a windfall for Southington, which had been relegated to third place in a North Division that includes last year’s Class LL finalists, New Britain and Manchester. Southington passed Manchester in the standings this season, so Manchester benefits from the new format.
Here is a look at the composite CCC standings heading into the final week of the season:
Team Div. CCC Ovl. CCC %
1. *New Britain 9-0 17-1 18-1 .944
2. *Bulkeley 9-0 16-1 17-1 .941
3. Fermi 5-2 14-2 16-2 .875
4. #Wethersfield 8-1 13-2 16-2 .867
5. Southington 7-2 14-3 16-3 .823
6. *E.O. Smith 7-0 14-3 14-4 .823
7. #Windsor 8-1 12-6 12-7 .667
8. Manchester 6-3 11-6 12-7 .647
Newington 6-3 11-7 11-7 .611
Bloomfield 4-5 11-8 11-8 .579
Bristol Eastern 7-2 9-8 9-10 .529
* Division winners, automatic top-4 seed
# Tied for CCC West lead
Now here’s where the situation becomes convoluted.
New Britain is the champion of the North. The Hurricanes are ranked second to undefeated Holy Cross-Waterbury in the New Haven Register Writers’ Poll. Personally, I think they should be No. 1 and I voted that way.
Bulkeley, which I believe should be second in the state, has wrapped up the South. E.O. Smith has clinched the East, but Wethersfield and Windsor are tied for the lead in the West.
Instead of seeding the division champions by winning percentage – obviously the best way to go – the CCC designates seeds on a rotating basis. This year, the East champion (E.O. Smith) gets the top seed. The West champion (Windsor or Wethersfield) gets the second seed, while New Britain is third and Bulkeley fourth.
So instead of the regular season’s best team – New Britain – getting the eighth seed (probably Manchester), the ’Canes host the sixth seed, which can still be one of several teams. Why should the team that earns the sixth seed have to face the league’s best team while the eighth team gets E.O. Smith, which has lost to Windsor and Manchester?
Here’s where it gets even crazier. Why should Wethersfield be subject to a coin flip to determine whether it or Windsor wins the West? The Eagles beat Windsor by 14 points in December, but lost the rematch by one on a last-second miracle shot on Feb. 1.
Wethersfield coach Brian Fanelli has a pretty good argument. The Eagles have a better conference record and have had the better of it in the two head-to-head games. But Windsor coach Vin Cianfarani has a worthy argument, too.
The CCC formulates a regular-season schedule based on performance over the past two seasons. Windsor has been among the state’s best for awhile. Wethersfield struggled for several seasons before blossoming last year and soaring this year. Thus, Windsor had to play a 1-2 schedule, facing New Britain and Bulkeley once, Manchester and E.O. Smith twice. The Eagles played a 3-4 schedule: Glastonbury (9-10) and Bristol Central (2-16) twice, Southington and Rockville (8-10) once.
Windsor suffered the bumps and bruises of the tougher schedule, but is better prepared to compete in the state tournament because of those challenges.
Wethersfield compiled the better record by fattening up on weaker teams in a season where Fanelli would have liked a game against a New Britain or Manchester to better prepare his club for a tourney run. The West, outside of Windsor and Bloomfield before it was decimated by academic problems, was notoriously weak this year (Hall, Conard and Weaver are a combined 12-42), which exacerbated Fanelli’s dilemma.
Prior to using the formula, coaches were allowed to make their own out-of-division schedules. Fanelli is not pleased with the formula mechanism. He surely would have liked to dump one or both games against futile Bristol Central for an opportunity to lock horns with New Britain or Manchester, something he may have been able to do if the CCC hadn’t intervened and set everybody’s interdivisional slate in stone.
“I’ll play anybody once but why do I have to play them twice,” Fanelli said. “I would like to seek my own games. I know the strengths and weaknesses of the conference. In other years when the West was stronger, I could have gotten teams more comparable to the talent I had. Why should the kids be penalized?”
He said he’d rather be 15-5 with games against New Britain and Bulkeley rather than a projected 18-2 (games against Newington and Weaver pending).
“The ultimate goal is to win the state championship, not the CCC West,” he said. “It’s not my fault that we didn’t play the best teams. I wanted to.”
The seeds will fall into place this week as the teams finish out the schedule. With star forward Heather Lyhne back from a knee injury after missing 10 games, the Eagles are hoping for an extended run in the CCC Tournament and a shot at the Class L title.
The CIAC girls basketball committee is employing a new tournament formula similar to the boys this year. In its never-ending quest to meet the problems posed by the schools with no borders, schools like East Catholic, Mercy, Trinity Catholic, Career-New Haven and Holy Cross have been “promoted” to Class LL.
Fanelli and the Eagles have a shot in Class L, so it’s understandable why he has a problem with the way the CCC has administered its schedule and league tournament. I understand Windsor’s situation, but I agree with Fanelli. The current format is flawed.
So within the next few years, here’s hoping that the league: 1) gives coaches and athletic directors more leeway in shaping their regular-season schedules; 2) seeds the CCC tournament field totally on the basis of conference winning percentage rather than the inane rotating process that arbitrarily shuffles the division champions.
And why did the CCC become heavy-handed in shaping teams’ interdivisional schedules? Believe it or not, Jack Cochran is the reason in large part.
When Cochran was at New Britain, most of the CCC refused to play him (which, by the way, is going on in the ECC now that Jack is at New London). New Britain AD Len Corto, you may recall, couldn’t get enough games to fill the slate and had to schedule out-of-state games against Xaverian (Mass.) and Holy Trinity (N.Y.).
The only way the CCC could assure New Britain games was to draft the formula. It has worked out for football, but why did the league see fit to include all the other sports. Basketball wasn’t broken, so why fix it? Soccer, volleyball and the rest of the sports weren’t broken either.
Let’s keep the formula for football and scrap it in all the other sports. Let’s do what’s best for the kids.