Time for March madness....in February
HCIAA playoff scramble gives late-season push the feeling of hoop heaven
The calendar still reads February, but it's already definitely time for March Madness in Hudson County sports circles.
March Madness is the term affectionately given to playoff basketball, when high school and college basketball teams make mad dashes to the post-season. But in Hudson County, the madness has begun a tad earlier this year, like a few weeks ahead of schedule.
After all, every single game means life and death for local teams now, scrambling for a berth in the post-season. The HCIAA boys' basketball playoff race resembles a game of musical chairs, with 10 teams fighting for eight spots. By this weekend, two teams are going to be left on the outside looking in. Two teams are going to be very disappointed.
As of press time Thursday, the pairings for next week's playoffs weren't even close to being decided. You need a slide rule, a compass and 13 No. 2 pencils to figure out the matchup possibilities.
If they win their last game against Hudson Catholic, then St. Peter's Prep could have earned the top seed. So could have Emerson. Both teams have 10-2 records within the HCIAA Coviello Division, but Prep defeated Emerson in the regular season, so the Marauders have the upper hand.
How close are the teams? Well, just two games separate the top five teams in the standings. Prep and Emerson are 10-2, North Bergen is 9-3 and Dickinson and Memorial are 8-4. Amazing parity throughout.
Plain and simple, all the Marauders need is one win to gain the top seed in the eight-team playoff madness that will culminate in the championship games next Sunday at St. Peter's College's Yanitelli Center.
But gaining the top seed is no guarantee of anything, except a first-round home game. That's the reward for being the regular season champion - one home game. Plus, the right to wear home jerseys for the duration of the playoffs. That's about all. Not that much of a bargain, huh?
In each of the last three seasons, the top-seeded team has fallen by the wayside. That's not a good sign for the team that emerges with the No. 1 seed.
Last year, Union Hill was the top seed and went out in the first round to cross-town rival Emerson, which only made the playoffs after it was ruled that Marist had to forfeit all of its 22 games.
Could the same thing happen again? Well, St. Mary's is one of the teams fighting for the eighth and final playoff berth. The Ramblers could very well face the Marauders of St. Peter's in the first round in a rematch of a game played just last week, a game won by St. Mary's.
Yes, it's that close.
On the girls' side, the top seed has been determined, namely the Blue Devils of St. Dominic, which finished the regular season with an unblemished 12-0 HCIAA mark. Marist is one game back at 11-1, with its lone loss coming to St. Dominic. Bayonne went 10-2, with the Bees' two losses coming at the hands of the two teams ahead of them in the standings.
While the boys' standings and playoffs could result in a series of possible upsets, the same doesn't appear likely among the girls. It looks like a showdown between the Blue Devils and the Lady Knights.
So, with that in mind, who does the Great Hagueini see emerging from the playoff mix and playing for the HCIAA crowns at SPC next weekend?
Well, with the boys, we'll go with top-seeded St. Peter's Prep and the talented trio of Jarett Love, Brian Robinson and Jimmy Supple going past the first two games and making it to Yanitelli. There, the Marauders will face the Bruins of North Bergen, with its own talented trio of sharpshooters, namely Paul Williams, Mawel Soler and Mike Vijande.
And we're sticking to our guns, to the prediction we made before the year, and going with the old alma mater. St. Peter's Prep will win its first HCIAA championship in more than 40 years, with Supple and John Cossolini hitting the key shots down the stretch.
As for the girls' game, we're also sticking to the pre-season prediction. Look for seniors Tara Walker and Makeda Gleaton to end their Hudson County careers in a blaze of glory, defeating the defending champion Blue Devils, with Sophia Vucetaj, Patricia Lazzarini and Annie Cossolini.
So the predictions are St. Peter's Prep and Marist to wear the HCIAA crowns next Sunday afternoon at Yanitelli.
And soon after the final buzzer sounds, then the state playoffs will take center stage.
And the real March Madness will begin in earnest.
And more than likely, these same Hudson County teams, as well as some others, like St. Anthony and Secaucus (perhaps) will make their respective noise in the states.
It's that time of year, when the Madness becomes mania. However, in Hudson County, we happen to get a jumpstart on the rest of the basketball world.