NAUGATUCK — Win or lose in Friday’s mega-matchup against five-time defending Naugatuck Valley League champion Sacred Heart, Naugatuck boys basketball coach Mike Wilson sees a rare win-win scenario for his Greyhounds.
“It’s a measuring stick,” Wilson said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. At the end of the season, going into a hostile environment, it’s perfect preparation for the postseason. You can’t ask for much more. It wouldn’t affect us either way (with postseason standing) so it’s great.”
That game, which features the NVL’s lone remaining undefeated teams, will be played at a sold-out Alumni Hall in Waterbury. Naugy has already clinched the NVL Iron Division title, a top-two seed in the NVL tournament, and likely a top-two seed in the Division II state tournament.
While Wilson didn’t make any preseason bets that his Greyhounds would be 18-0 entering the final two games of the regular season, he said he had confidence in his team and the way the schedule broke down.
“I looked at the schedule and thought it was a possibility, but you need a lot of things to line up (for it to happen),” said Wilson, whose team will host Crosby on Feb. 25 in the regular-season finale.
The ‘Hounds have been successful thanks to a spread-out scoring attack led by Avery Hinnant (16.7 points per game), Ese Onakpoma (13.8), Robert Sanders (13.1) and Derrick Jagello (11.1). They’ve also relied upon a stifling defense that allowed only 48.4 points per game in 18 games.
“We’ve very unselfish,” Wilson said. “That’s been the No. 1 thing — defensively, offensively, guys are trying to make each other better. We’ve always preached ‘we before me,’ but these guys have really bought into it.”
Naugy’s perfect run so far has led to natural comparisons between this year’s club and the 2014-15 squad that reached the Class L final at Mohegan Sun. Wilson doesn’t shy away from that thinking, although he noted that the teams are different — and more importantly, this year’s team hasn’t made a championship run just yet.
“We think about it all the time,” Wilson admitted. “You try to stay away from it, but me and Coach (Jahmal) Francis think about it often. We always get asked that question, but it’s two different teams. We had different strong suits with that team and this.”
One similarity is the sense of confidence and looseness surrounding each squad. The 2015 bunch felt they belonged at every step of the postseason, and Wilson wants to keep that same vibe this March.
“It’s just about living in the moment — one possession, one play at a time,” Wilson said. “I’ve been telling the guys to enjoy this. You don’t get these opportunities too often. We play the game for these.”
The NVL tournament begins with quarterfinals Feb. 29, followed by semifinals March 2 and the league championship March 4. All games will be played at Wilby High. The state tournament starts the following week.
As for the Greyhounds’ goals during the postseason, they’re pretty simple — and limitless.
“We don’t want to lose,” Wilson said. “We want to keep this thing riding. We’ve been scouting and doing our preparation. We’re hungry. We don’t want to be cocky, but we want to taste something.”
Hawks near state postseason: After surviving a rocky midseason stretch, Woodland has approached the brink of another state tournament appearance.
The Hawks beat Wolcott, 69-61, Thursday to keep their playoff hopes alive. Woodland improved to 7-11 on the year thanks to a pair of 16-point efforts by Robert Moriarty and Nathaniel Smith, as well as 12 points from Joey Giuliani and 11 from Jason Palmieri. The win snapped a three-game skid and ended a stretch in which the Hawks went 1-6, including three NVL Copper Division losses.
Woodland needs one victory in its final two contests to qualify for the Division IV tournament. The Hawks are set to visit Kaynor Tech this Tuesday and host Wilby on Thursday in their regular-season finale.
The Division IV tournament starts March 5 with the qualifying round.