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Division boys' hoop playoffs have plenty of merit

February 27, 2014

Cumberland will visit Central Falls tonight in a Division II preliminary-round playoff game at the Warriors' gymnasium. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

The definition of an undercard is a boxing event before the main match.

In Rhode Island high school boys’ basketball, the three divisional tournaments that tip off Friday night are seen as warm-up acts to a bigger and better event – a 16-team open tournament. Before arriving at the process where the crowing of one champion takes place, however, the order of business is pitting familiar foes against each other.

Luckily for the 30 teams that begin the divisional formats on even footing, there is a carrot dangling before them. As they all chart a course that hopefully culminates with a “last two teams standing” trip to Providence College’s Alumni Hall on Sunday, March 9, they do so mindful of the Power Points System that remains in place.

Take a team like Tolman High for instance. The Tigers bypassed the preliminary round and don’t play first playoff contest until next Wednesday night against fellow Division II-Central rival Exeter/West Greenwich. Tolman is the third seed while EWG is seeded sixth.

Taking a look at the big board, Mike Kayata’s Tigers are 10th in the Power Point standings, having amassed 10.4 points. Lurking right behind is Division III power East Greenwich with 10.2 points and Division I contender Hope with 10 points. Given the close proximity of several additional teams in the nine-point range, the importance of Tolman securing at the very least one more victory that’s worth 0.8 points cannot be underscored.

“We’re still alive for the state tournament so we need these points,” Kayata stressed. “This is huge and important.”

In Division I, victories are worth a full point while they are worth 0.6 in Division III. Given that there are still valuable points up for grabs, it wouldn’t come as a major surprise to see some shakeups and alterations as the divisional tournaments progress.

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Right now, Tolman is the only area-based team that would gain admittance to the open state tournament if it began today. That distinction is due primarily to the Tigers’ hot finish to the regular season. After scoring 24 points in a 10-point loss at Prout on Jan. 8, Tolman went on to capture eight of its last nine contests, including five straight.

“The way we see it, we have a lot of games left,” Kayata confidently stated earlier this week. “It’s going to be about focus, determination and staying together.”

Not too long ago, Central Falls was in the mix for a state berth. What ensued following 73-68 triumph over Tolman on Feb. 7 was a five-game losing skid that couldn’t come at a worst time. Not only did the Warriors surrender the lead in II-North – North Providence took the title – but they also find themselves on the outside looking in at the state playoffs.

In likelihood, Central Falls will need to make a deep run and hope for a few breaks along the way. The first chance comes Friday night when defending Division II champion and 10th seeded Cumberland pays a visit. Seeded seventh, the Warriors hosted the Clippers nine days ago with Cumberland emerging with a 49-47 triumph. Freshman Brandon Kolek sank five 3-pointers in the contest, including the game-winning basket with five seconds remaining.

Whoever wins Friday draws the tall order of facing No. 2 seed Barrington in the quarterfinals. That contest is on the docket for next Wednesday.

Familiarity is also in the air in Division III. Three days ago, North Smithfield and Burrillville met with the Division III-North crown on the line. The Broncos escaped with a 38-35 victory that enabled them to enjoy home-court advantage for Friday’s preliminary-round rematch with the Northmen. Burrillville is the No. 8 seed while North Smithfield is ninth.

Friday’s victor will advance to meet No. 1 seed East Greenwich in a quarterfinal-round tilt set for next Wednesday at Johnston High.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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