November 25, 2014
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Good luck handicapping hoops race

Two years ago, Charles Correa emerged as a star when he carried the St. Raphael basketball team to the championship in the new open state tournament.

Now a senior, Correa is probably the top player in the Interscholastic League. He scored 40 in a win over North Kingstown last month. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take over a few more games and lead the Saints to glory.

That is, if the Saints even make the playoffs.

Such is life in the 2012-13 Rhode Island high school basketball season. You could make a case for a lot of teams as state title contenders. But for just about everybody, you can find plenty of chinks in the armor, too.

It’s crazy out there.

“I think we’re all kind of in the same boat,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “All these teams are pretty equal. Whoever’s playing better at any given time is going to come out with the victory.”

Top contenders have emerged, of course. But in Division I especially, it’s a mad dash to the finish for everybody else. North Kingstown and La Salle are 13-2, Classical is 12-3 and Mt. Pleasant is 12-4. Those teams will be into the 10-team division tournament without a problem.

The next six spots are up for grabs. Eight teams are within four games of each other – Coventry, East Providence, Cranston West, Hendricken, Cranston East, Hope, South Kingstown and St. Raphael. Most teams have three games remaining, so there’s still time for everything to change.

Write your brackets out in pencil.

“Division I is a dogfight,” said Cranston West head coach Jim Moretti. “Every game, it seems like you go up two spots or you drop two spots.”

The top teams have separated themselves, and it’s easy to label them as the favorites. North Kingstown is a veteran team, with height and a ton of versatility. Everybody in the lineup can do everything. La Salle has been impressive, as well, and the Rams beat the Skippers in their only meeting. Classical is the most explosive of the bunch – nobody in the state can match the sharp-shooting trio of Ismael Baptista, Terrill Toe and Kealen Ives.

But when you look deeper, you start to see that the separation – even at the top – isn’t huge. That explosive Classical team scored 93 points against Mt. Pleasant – and lost 100-93. The Purple have also lost to Coventry and they only beat 8-8 Hendricken by four points.

La Salle has looked like the state’s best team at times, but the Rams have lost to Classical and Mt. Pleasant. They’ve also survived some upset bids, beating Cranston East and Hendricken by just a point, and Coventry by two.

North Kingstown has been the steadiest of the bunch and hasn’t often been challenged. But the Skippers have lost to La Salle and St. Ray’s. Add Mt. Pleasant and its victories over Classical and La Salle to the mix, and it’s hard to pick a favorite.

When you consider some of the aforementioned close games, it’s not hard to envision a team like Hendricken, Coventry, Cranston West or St. Raphael – who’s currently outside the playoff picture – making a run.

And all of that is just in Division I. When you start sketching out the state tournament, the picture is even less clear. Westerly and Cumberland have the best records in Division II, and they’ll be eager to make a run. The Bulldogs are led by Austin Cilley, who just became the all-time leading scorer at a school with a strong basketball tradition. Cumberland is a veteran squad that was impressive in last year’s state tournament. North Providence, Prout, Barrington and West Warwick also look like contenders.

And there’s precedent for D-II success. In each of the state tournament’s two editions, a D-II team has been in the final four. On the flip side, D-III teams haven’t made much headway at that level, but even that could change this year. North Smithfield has been completely dominant and owns a victory over D-I Coventry.

It all adds up to a wild landscape. The regular season ends in a week, and it may take until then for the postseason picture to get settled.

“It’s not going to end till nine o’clock on the 13th,” Moretti said.

And then we’ll start the clock again.

Let the madness begin.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@rhodybeat.

 


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