With the regular season drawing to a close, the boys’ basketball playoffs are scheduled to start this weekend with a brand new look.
After the Rhode Island Interscholastic League instituted a 16-team all-division tournament last year, which followed the three divisional tournaments, the RIIL took it a step further for 2012.
Gone are those division tournaments, and in their place is one 32-team state tournament that will crown only a single champion when the postseason comes to a close on March 10.
Rhode Island joins Kentucky, Hawaii and Delaware as the only other states in the country to use an all-division tournament to determine a state basketball champion.
The tournament will take center stage beginning this weekend with preliminary round games, and the hope is that it brings an NCAA Tournament-type feel to high school basketball in the Ocean State.
“I think it’s shaping up to a really interesting tournament, that’s for sure,” RIIL assistant director Mike Lunney said. “As far as how things are going to play out, obviously there’s no way of knowing just how exciting it’s going to be until it happens. But I think it’s going to be an exciting tournament.”
Last season, the 16-team field was broken up by division. Eight teams from D-I went to the tournament, while five went from D-II and three from D-III.
That’s all changed, as a power-points scale was introduced for this year to determine the field.
Points were only accumulated during games within a team’s specific division. A Division I win was worth one point, a Division II win was worth .8 points and a Division III win was worth .6. Non-league victories did not factor in. At the end of the season, one extra point was added to the total for each overall division winner, and all the teams in the state were then ranked based on total power points.
It was thought up as a way to reward teams with strong seasons in the lower two divisions, but not necessarily penalize D-I teams for having to play harder schedules. Then, when the season was over, it would be an accurate ranking of where most teams actually stood.
“The sense has been over a period of time, what if a Division II played against a Division I, how would that work out and those kinds of things,” Lunney said.
In order to qualify for the tournament, a team also had to win 40 percent of its games, which amounted to eight wins. Since only 30 teams did that this season, the tournament will only consist of those teams, with the top two overall seeds getting a bye through the preliminaries to the round of 16. Eleven teams from both D-I and D-II are in the field, while eight qualified from D-III.
Division I North Kingstown has already clinched the top spot with a 16-2 regular season, while the No. 2 spot will be either D-II West Warwick or D-I La Salle, depending on the outcome of Wednesday night’s La Salle-Mt. Pleasant game.
Representing Warwick in the tournament will be Bishop Hendricken and Toll Gate. Hendricken, which went 13-5 in D-I and had 13 power points, is either the No. 5 or No. 6 overall seed, while Toll Gate is locked into the No. 16 spot after a 15-3 regular season in D-III gave it nine power points.
For the Titans in particular, the tournament is an opportunity to see how they truly stack up against the rest of the state. While that’s something Toll Gate head coach Tom Rayko is excited about, he still misses the opportunity to play in a divisional tournament – one in which his team would have been one of the favorites, not the 16th-ranked team.
“I think it’s great for us to go and be able to play in the state tournament against other divisions,” Rayko said. “I do miss the divisional tournament. I wish they kind of went like last year, where we had both, especially for public schools. There are up and down years.”
The RIIL did away with the divisional tournaments this season, according to Lunney, for two reasons.
The first was that the regular season had to be uncomfortably compressed last year to accommodate the three division tournaments and the state tournament.
The second reason is that if a team that had qualified for the state tournament lost in the early stages of its division tournament, then it would have an extensive layoff before taking the court again.
Those problems were enough for the RIIL to make the change to this tournament, which is in the second year of a two-year pilot program.
“I think that what the Principals Committee thought was that we shouldn’t do it the same way that we did last year, because we went through that process,” Lunney said. “I think what the committee wanted to do was explore a different concept.”
While the odds are still stacked against a team like Toll Gate making a run through the tournament, one only has to look back at last year to see some non-D-I teams that made some noise.
Division II North Providence made it to the semifinals, while D-II Tiverton defeated Hendricken in the Round of 16 and advanced all the way to the finals before losing to St. Raphael Academy.
“It’s just exploring the concept and seeing if it’s something that they want to pursue for the future,” Lunney said. “Where it’s going to go, who knows. Right now, this year, I think there’s a lot of parity out there.”
The preliminary round games will be held at the home sites of the higher seed on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, with the Round of 16 games taking place next Tuesday and Wednesday at CCRI in Warwick and Bryant College.
Following that, the regional finals – featuring the final eight teams – will be played at Providence College’s Alumni Hall on Sunday, March 3.
The semifinals will be played at URI’s Ryan Center on Friday, March 10, with the finals to be held the next day, also at the Ryan Center.
“Everybody plays things out on paper,” Lunney said. “I think this is a way for it to be done and to have some real answers. We’ll see how it goes.”
The tournament bracket was scheduled to be unveiled on Wednesday night on Cox Sports Channel 3 in a live television broadcast.
Lunney said he has heard of teams around the state getting together to watch the show to find out where they will end up, in a similar way to what college teams do during the NCAA Selection Show.
“I know that I’ve heard that several schools out there are having little pizza parties and get-togethers,” Lunney said. “That’s kind of cool.”
Toll Gate wasn’t planning on getting together, as it already knows it’s preliminary round match-up.
Because the Titans were able to defeat Juanita Sanchez on Tuesday, they locked themselves into the 16th spot, which guaranteed them a first-round home playoff game.
They’ll take on D-II Cumberland, which went 11-7 during the regular season, with the date and time to be determined.
“I’m just excited,” Rayko said. “I know the kids are too. We just can’t wait to play and see what happens and how many people come out and whatever. We’re super happy to have a home game for the state tournament.”
Hendricken, on the other hand will host either Tolman or Central Falls. Both the Tigers and the Warriors finished with 9-9 records in D-II.