By BRENDAN McGAIR
Drizzling rain never looked so good as we looked out the window Sunday morning. Who knows whatâ€™s in store for the rest of the day weather-wise, but as we type this, itâ€™s all systems go for Brown Universityâ€™s Pizzitola Sports Center to host what figures to be a jam-packed tripleheader of high school boys basketball.
The lineup of divisional title contests includes:
Division II: No. 6 Shea vs. Cumberland, 1 p.m.
Division III: No. 3 East Greenwich vs. No. 1 North Smithfield, 3 p.m.
Division I: No. 8 Hope vs. No. 3 Classical, 5 p.m.
If you have some free time on your hands this afternoon, do yourself a favor and make your way over to College Hill. From the chance to see whether North Smithfield can make it 23-for-23 in the win column or to witness an All-Providence public school final in the Division I tilt, there are a few interesting storylines that bear watching.
Sunday also signals the final opportunity for teams to earn points for the 16-team open state tournament, which revs up Wednesday. With Shea High assistant coach Henry Colemanâ€™s calculator working overtime, here are the standings and respective point totals heading into Championship Sunday:
Team (Total Points)
1. Classical (18)
2. La Salle (18)
3. North Kingstown (17)
4. Cumberland (15.4)
5 North Smithfield (13.6)
6. Mount Pleasant (13)
7. Westerly (12.8)
8. North Providence (12.8)
9. Hope (12)
10. Coventry (12)
11. Shea (12)
12. Barrington (12)
13. Prout (11.2)
14. Cranston West (11)
15. Hendricken (11)
16. West Warwick (10.4)
Here are a few scenarios that could sway the makeup of Rhode Islandâ€™s version of the Sweet 16:
â€“ If Classical defeats Hope, the Purple would claim the top seed outright.
â€“ A Hope victory would allow the Blue Wave to leapfrog over North Providence and Westerly and finish with the same point total as Mount Pleasant.
â€“ A Shea victory would allow the Raiders to tie Westerly and North Providence.
â€“ An East Greenwich win would bump West Warwick out of the open-tournament picture completely. The Avengers have 10.2 points.
Win or lose on Sunday, Cumberland and North Smithfield cannot hurt or help their status; the Clippers and Northmen are locked into the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.
Looking back at Cumberlandâ€™s 71-58 win over Shea on Feb. 5, a couple of things have to change if the Raiders are going to turn the tables Sunday.
Nathan Lopes, the Raidersâ€™ top low post player, has to make sure that Clippers center Dylan Boisclair doesnâ€™t run wild. Lopes has demonstrated that heâ€™s more than a capable scorer â€“ Fridayâ€™s OT win against West Warwick saw him net his teamâ€™s first seven points. The Shea senior needs to accept the challenge should Cumberland opt to go inside to Boisclair early, understanding that how he fares could very well set the tone for the rest of the contest.
Second, the Raiders can ill afford a prolonged scoring lapse like the one that plagued them during the most crucial juncture of their first meeting with the Clippers. Shea trailed 60-54 with three minutes left before missing 13 of its final 14 shots. The Raiders have plenty of capable scorers. Itâ€™s important that Matt Pitaâ€™s players to remember that should the Clippers start to show signs of taking over the game.
According to head man Gary Reedy, the last time Cumberland played for a boys basketball championship was 1967. The programâ€™s lone title came during the 1935-36 season.
Sheaâ€™s drought hasnâ€™t been nearly long; the Raiders captured the Division II crown in 1996-97. North Smithfield seeks to pick up the programâ€™s first-ever title Sunday.
After his team routed Ponaganset in the Division III quarterfinals last week, North Smithfield head coach T.J. Ciolfi spoke about the importance of coming out strong, an area that was somewhat of a concern for the Northmen as the regular season drew to a close. Those fears were reinforced during Fridayâ€™s semifinal match as North Smithfield nursed a 28-27 lead at halftime over Johnston.
The Northmen have demonstrated countless times this winter that theyâ€™re fully capable of upping the ante and running the opposition completely out of the building. N.S. went on to outscore Johnston, 30-13, over the final 16 minutes in what amounted to a 58-40 win.
If North Smithfield imposes its will, a la the case during the Ponaganset game, then East Greenwich is in for a long afternoon. Yet if the Avengers are able to stay close, they need to keep in mind that theyâ€™re dealing with a team that can go from zero to 60 in a split second.