VIDEO: Flanders hits rare milestone as Wildwood pulls away from LCM
February 10, 2018
OCHS girls advance to SJ swim final – hoop teams sweep Wildwood
February 13, 2018

TOM WILLIAMS COLUMN: Making sense of the final week of the CAL basketball season

Caleb Fields of Wildwood Catholic scored 23 points in his team's win over Montgomery Blair.

It’s just been a little over eight weeks since the 2017-18 Cape-Atlantic League basketball season tipped off.

A lot has happened since then.

Mainland’s girls are the only undefeated team – boys or girls – in South Jersey. Atlantic City lost the use of its gymnasium – one of the state’s finest high school facilities – for the rest of the season when bitter temperatures caused water pipes to burst. The Seagull Classic returned in showcase form. And, just outside the CAL, Kyion Flanders of Wildwood passed 2,000 career points and became the 34th highest scorer at an NJSIAA school in South Jersey history.

But there is lots more to come.

As we center the season’s final week, three boys teams and five girls teams have clinched spots in the CAL Tournament, which begins on Friday. The top two teams in each conference plus two wild cards make up the eight-team fields.

Atlantic City and St. Augustine, from the American Conference, and Wildwood Catholic, from the United, have qualified for the boys tournament. Holy Spirit will qualify it is beats Absegami on Monday. St. Joseph will qualify with a win over Pleasantville on Monday. Ocean City will qualify with a win over Mainland on Wednesday.

If those three things happen the six automatic qualifiers will be set and the CAL’s tournament committee will select two wild card teams from among Millville, Pleasantville, Lower Cape May and Mainland to complete the eight-team field.

But, if Holy Spirit, St. Joseph and Ocean City do not win their big games this week, things get confusing.

Holy Spirit, Ocean City and Lower Cape May could wind up in a three-way tie in the National Conference. Or the Raiders and Spartans could finish tied for first. Or either of those teams could tie Lower for second.

And St. Joe could finish tied for second with Pleasantville – or even third behind the Greyhounds – in the United if the Greyhounds beat them on Monday.

It seems logical that Atlantic City should be the No. 1 seed, followed by Wildwood Catholic and St. Augustine. These three teams are very, very close but the Vikings should get the edge because they are 2-1 against the other two, Wildwood Catholic is 1-1 and the Prep is 1-2.

If there are no upsets in the big games this week, logical seeding would be 1-Atlantic City, 2-Wildwood Catholic, 3- St. Augustine, 4-St. Joseph, 5-Millville, 6-Pleasantville, 7-Holy Spirit, 8-Ocean City.

That would create first round games on Friday or Saturday like this – Ocean City at Atlantic City, Holy Spirit at Wildwood Catholic, Pleasantville at St. Augustine and Millville at St. Joseph.

On the girls side, Atlantic City, Mainland, Middle Township, Millville and Wildwood Catholic have all clinched spots by assuring themselves of a first or second place finish in their conferences. The remaining spot is between Holy Spirit and Ocean City for second place in the National Conference.

The Raiders have one conference game left – Wednesday at Mainland. Holy Spirit plays Absegami on Monday and Lower Cape May on Wednesday. Right now, OCHS has a one-game lead over Spirit but the Raiders would likely have to upset Mainland to maintain that lead. They did take the Mustangs into overtime the first time around but Mainland will still be a big favorite.

If Ocean City and Holy Spirit finish tied for second, the tournament committee would have to break that tie somehow or just pick one of them as a wild card. Assuming that happens, the logical seeding would be 1-Mainland, 2-Millville, 3-Ocean City, 4-Middle Township, 5-Holy Spirit, 6-Atlantic City, 7-Cedar Creek, 8-Wildwood Catholic.

That would mean the following matchups would happen in the first round – Wildwood Catholic at Mainland, Cedar Creek at Millville, Atlantic City at Ocean City and Holy Spirit at Middle Township.

Everybody knows (or almost everybody) that the NJSIAA allows basketball teams to play as many as 26 games before the state tournaments begin. That includes stand-alone regular season games, showcases, tournaments – any game played from Dec. 15 to Feb. 25. We will all see what happens the first three nights of this week, as we come to the end of those schedules, and the CAL Tournament is formed.

But here is a suggestion that would make the tournament even batter for the coaches, players and fans while also taking subjective decisions out of the hands of a committee.

There are 20 basketball teams in the CAL. Instead of dividing them into three unequal conferences – one of which has less teams than the other two – why not make it four conferences of five teams each. The first and second place teams from each conference would qualify. Then, like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, fans could follow the action and know who was going to earn a playoff spot and whom that team would play in the first round. NJSIAA power ratings could be used to break ties and seed the semifinal round.

But, that is just a suggestion. What we have this year is pretty exciting and going right down to the wire. We should know on Wednesday what will be happening in the CAL Tournament that starts on Friday night.