Some thoughts and observations from this week's high school basketball landscape:
On Gardner's postseason ban: In case you missed it, on Wednesday the MIAA went all SMU on Gardner High's athletics department, banning all winter teams from postseason as a result of the school's swim team failing to comply with an October decision that stripped the Wildcats of their 2012 state title and mandated the trophy be returned.
I'm sure there are many in Gardner today crying foul over this unprecedented punishment. Since the decision affects the Wildcats' boys and girls basketball squads, allow me to weigh in with a few thoughts.
Gardner mayor Mark Hawke (who chairs the Gardner School Committee) had some harsh words for the MIAA in Wednesday's Telegram & Gazette, telling editor Dave Nordman, "I will hand deliver their most precious trophy, which I could have replicated at John's Sport Shop in downtown Gardner for $5...It is utterly amazing to me how vindictive and petty the MIAA is being. They truly have a mentality of taking their ball and going home if they don't get their way. This is a prime example of a rampant abuse of unchecked power. Shame on the MIAA for punishing innocent kids.”
Back in October, however, Hawke also told the Telegram if they wanted the trophy, channeling his inner Charlton Heston, "they will have to pry my cold dead hands from around it" -- a comment he said this week was made in jest. But quite frankly, light-hearted or not, Hawke is a politician and a public figure, and therefore he should be well-versed in these sorts of things when it comes to context.
So while yes, this is a cruel and unusual punishment without precedent, officials in Gardner have only themselves to blame here. Why tempt the MIAA? Why challenge them to act on their executive authority? Why openly mock them with colorful, overzealous rhetoric in the first place? And why would their be any other way than "their way"?
And if it really was about simply replicating the trophy at a renowned local sporting goods store, why not simply return it in the first place and prevent this whole mess from snowballing? Because it wasn't about simply the hardware. It was about principle. Folks in Gardner were no doubt disappointed in October's ruling to strip the Wildcats of their 2012 swimming title, enacted when it was determined that they may have broken the MIAA's “bona fide team” rule by allowing swimmers to skip school practices to attend club events.
By openly defying the demand to return the trophy, they were trying to make a statement.
But if you tempt a bull, don't expect much sympathy when you get the horns. I don't understand what's so vindictive or petty about that.
City League leveling off -- or up? When the Boston City League initially voted to split into three tiers for boys' basketball based on competitive balance, it was overwhelmingly received with excitement with the public, primarily because the five best teams in the city -- Brighton, New Mission, East Boston, Charlestown and Madison Park -- would all be placed in a division by itself (the North, or "A" division), making for appointment viewing seemingly every other day.
The flip side to this is new life has been breathed into the rest of the city's once-meddling programs -- specifically, the league's second tier (the Central, or "B" division), and several teams in the third (South, or "C").
Consider, for instance, several upsets and close calls from the first half of the season:
Dec. 14 - Brighton 65, Snowden 64
Dec. 21 - Dorchester 70, Madison Park 52
Dec. 28 - O'Bryant 45, Madison Park 43
Jan. 9 - Charlestown 51, Latin Academy 42 (game tied 32-32 after three quarters)
Jan. 11 - West Roxbury 56, Charlestown 50
When Dakari Wornum went for an absurd 26 points and 28 rebounds in a pounding of MP last month, it validated all the things people have been saying about Dorchester's ascending talent. When Markus Neale took over in Westie's upset of Charlestown, it validated all the things we've been known about the talented junior guard for a while now.
And mind you, this may not appear to be all that bad of an MP team after all. Last Friday the Cardinals took New Mission, ranked No. 2 in our latest statewide poll, to the wire. This past Wednesday, they crushed what has become a decidedly reeling Charlestown squad, 71-43.
But now, it's not just the City A games taking interest. O'Bryant travels to Dorchester tonight, in what ought to be the best game of the night. Next week, we have more to look forward to with MP taking on Boston English (Tuesday), Dorchester visiting Eastie (Wednesday) and Eastie traveling to O'Bryant (Friday).
Mecha-Friday picks: We were intending to turn this into a "Roundtable" item earlier this week, with so many monster matchups going down on Friday, but for reasons of time constraints on seemingly everyone's behalf, we were too limited. But our friend Rob Sarmiento, founder of Beantown Hoops (www.beantownhoops.com) was kind enough to forward his keys to three of tonight's biggest games:
Lowell at Central Catholic
Lowell keys to victory
1. Keep Central off the glass -- easier said than done, but if they can limit Central's second chance points they have a chance
2. Healy in the game -- He has to stay out of foul trouble and must make Central's bigs work on the defensive end.
3. Win the "ugly" stats -- They have to play physical and get more loose balls, more deflections, and just play scrappy to win
Central keys to victory
1. Do what you do -- This is the only key for them. If they come out and play their normal game and can withstand Lowell's energy early, they will be fine. So many weapons on the floor for them and tough defensively, they will have to have a lot of turnovers and will have to shoot poorly to drop this one.
Catholic Memorial at BC High
CM keys to victory
1. Scoring -- they have to become a more balanced scoring team. Everyone already knows about their toughness and defensive ability, but they cannot rely on Giulien Smith every game.
2. Shut down Jones -- Jameilen Jones is a dynamic player and when he is on, BC High is tough to stop. CM will have to let someone else beat them.
BC High keys to victory
1. Take care of the basketball -- if they can limit turnovers against CM's pressure they will be in good shape. More importantly, they have to look to score off of that pressure and not be content just breaking the press.
2. Rebound -- CM is aggressive on the offensive boards, and when BC High plays their zone they have to locate players and box out. If not, CM will win this game.
Wachusett at Algonquin
Wachusett keys to victory
1. Get the ball inside -- When they struggle in games its because they settle for outside shots. Use their size and slashing ability to get more shots in the paint than Algonquin
2. Stay out of foul trouble -- Specifically Alex Cooper. They are just a better team with him on the floor. Zack Berman is always key to their success, but Cooper gives them the inside presence that makes them a tough team
Algonquin keys to victory
1. Easy baskets -- they have the size to match-up down low with Wachusett, but their scoring seems to be an issue. They are going to have to get shots in transition and offensive rebounds if they aren't able to shoot the ball well against a stingy Wachusett D
2. Handle the big stage -- The critics out in CMass claim that they have not played anyone of significance yet. Well, now they have that opponent. They have to be prepared for the speed, intensity, and bright lights that come with this game. If they can sustain early runs and hang around going into the fourth quarter, they have a legitimate chance to win this one.
And here are my picks for Friday night's games:
Central Catholic 60, Lowell 55
BC High 54, Catholic Memorial 48
Wachusett 67, Algonquin 63
Worcester South 75, Doherty 70
West Springfield 80, Springfield Central 73