PAWTUCKET – Mike Kayata professes to know the mere basics regarding Coventry High, the squad Tolman High drew in the opening round of the 16-team Rhode Island State Open Boys' Basketball Tournament.
Based exclusively on the Power Point standings that were kept during the regular season and the divisional playoffs, the Division II Tigers are the No. 11 seed while the Division I Knotty Oakers are seeded sixth. They’ll meet Wednesday night at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center, with the tip at 6.
Reached early Monday afternoon after the Interscholastic League posted the bracket on its website, Kayata admitted that he’s reached out to several Division I coaches in hopes of acquiring a better feel for a Coventry squad that finished 13-5 in I-South. The Oakers tied Bishop Hendricken in the divisional standings and came up one game shy of the pace set by champion North Kingstown.
“I understand that they like to run and get on the fast break,” said Kayata. “I’m thinking about what I’m going to do right now.”
From the information Kayata has received, Coventry mirrors what West Warwick does – a four-guard lineup with the lone big man stranded on an island. Obviously, the Tigers are familiar with the stellar Wizards, having split two regular-season meetings.
Preparing for a Division I opponent when the season is on the line does present a unique challenge, the Tolman mentor noted.
“In my opinion, West Warwick is a Division I team and Barrington can play with the Division I teams. After that, we didn’t see too many Division I-type schools,” Kayata explained. “We’re going to have to prepare for a more physical game. It’s more of a defined game when you play Division I teams because they all know each other inside and out. The coaches have a better grip on the teams in their league.
“The Division II teams … you don’t know what you’re going to get on a daily basis. They’ll change on a night-to-night basis while in Division I, their players are their players,” he continued. “In Division I, if a kid is your post player, he’s your post player every night no matter what. If he’s your shooting guard, he’s your shooting guard every single night.
“Division I teams, they all face man-to-man defense. In Division II, not everyone plays man or presses. They’ll stay in zone the whole time,” Kayata said. “If you’re going to win a big game, you have to do it playing man-to-man.”
While there’s prestige in knowing that you’re one of the last 16 teams standing, there’s also a motivational subplot that figures to work in Tolman’s favor come Wednesday evening. The Tigers are grouped in the same tier as No. 3 seed Barrington and No. 14 Juanita Sanchez, which is coached by former St. Raphael basketball standout Antone Gray. The Eagles and Cavaliers will meet immediately following the conclusion of the Tolman-Coventry clash.
Should the Tigers and the Eagles successfully navigate out of the “Round of 16,” it would set up a rematch of the Division II semifinals, a game that saw Barrington pull away in the second half en route to a 70-50 victory. If such a scenario does come to fruition, it would take place next Sunday at Brown University.
“It’s special to be invited to this tournament, and I’m looking forward to it. Our players are going to remember this for the rest of their lives,” said Kayata. “The extra motivation comes from knowing that Barrington is in the next slot over from us. I know that the guys are upset with how we played the other night. Maybe getting that second crack is going to give them that little extra energy or incentive to work a little bit harder to get to that game.”
The seeds break down as follows: 1. La Salle, 2. North Kingstown, 3. Barrington, 4. West Warwick, 5. Bishop Hendricken, 6. Coventry, 7. Smithfield, 8. Classical, 9. North Providence, 10. Central, 11. Tolman, 12. East Greenwich, 13. Mt. Hope, 14. Juanita Sanchez, 15. Prout, 16. Middletown. Seven spots went to Division I teams, five to Division II and four to Division III.
First-round games will take place over two nights (Wednesday and Thursday) at Rhode Island College and CCRI-Warwick. After that comes the “Elite Eight” round at Brown University followed by the “Final Four” at URI’s Ryan Center on Friday, March 21. The winner-take-all game will take place the following night in Kingston.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03