|CP3 All-Stars & Team Rio Team Pictures|
As promised, the final day of the 2014 March Madness tournament featured some juicy early-season clashes. Early on Sunday morning, I got my first look at CP3, as the faced off against a rugged Rens squad in the first 7th grade semi final game. As you would expect in any situation where the number one ranked team in the country is playing on the road in a hostile environment, the partisan crowd was in a frenzy early as Rens got out of the gates highly motivated and playing well. The game was tight early as Rens clearly was not intimidated by the much more heralded CP3. In fact, midway through the first half, the score was knotted at 14. With only seven minutes left in the opening period CP3 was only up 2 points (16-18). With 2:45 seconds left in the half, CP3 started to flex their muscles and extended the lead to 10 points (31-21). As evidenced by their blowout victory over the Metro Flyers in the quarterfinals, Rens plays with a lot of toughness and it was on display early as they battled the top rated team in the nation.
The closer Rens kept the score the more excited and vocal the partisan crowd became. Moreover, several times early in the game, things got a little chippy as Rens was determined to avenge an earlier loss to CP3 at the AAU Nationals last year. By half time, CP3 was up by more comfortable 39-23. The story of the first half was the 14 points logged in by Michael Green who drained 4 treys to lead the team with 14 halftime points. I wish I could say that Rens came back to make this game a close, but that was not the case, as CP3 would go on to collect a relatively easy win to advance the semi finals. Michael Green continued his hot shooting in the second half, finishing with a game-high 21 points. Behind him was Chaz Gweyn who added another 16 points.
In the second 7th grade semi final game, Team Rio hooked up with a scrappy CIA Bounce. As was the case the first semi-final game, the underdog CIA Bounce started the game playing well, and at the half, the game was tied at 18. As Team Rio's superior talent started to kick in, they eventually pulled away from CIA Bounce to claim the 39-56 victory and ticket to the championship game against the CP3 All-Stars.
When the schedule was released over a week ago, most fans assumed that CP3 and Team Rio would meet in the championship game of this tournament. Team Rio had already won multiple championships over the winter, while CP3 has only played in one tournament prior to this event. With an upgraded roster this year, including the addition of nationally ranked Scottie Lewis, Northeast basketball fans felt the team Rio had a legitimate chance to not only win in Scranton, but to win both an NYBL and AAU championship.
Team Rio drew first blood with three-ball by AJ Hoggard. One possession later, a Michael Green trey tied the game at 3. Both teams opened up in the zone defenses and were methodical as they worked the ball around looking for an open shot. The start of the game reminded me of 2 prizefighters trying to feel each other out early before attempting knockout punches. By 9:52 Mark, CP3 was only up 7-6. A 7-0 run by CP3 at about 6:43 Mark put them up 15-8. Team Rio scored with five minutes 20 seconds left in the game to cut the lead to 11-15. By halftime, CP3 had extended their lead to about 17-28. Team Rio scored first to start the second half, and right about then, both teams started trading buckets for about the next two minutes. At the 9:16 Mark, CP3 was still comfortably ahead 36-25. About midway through the second half it started to appear as though CP3 was going to coast to an easy victory until Team Rio battled back late in the second half to close the deficit to 35-40 with three minutes left in the contest. Five points is as close as Rio would get however, as CP3 stepped on the gas and grabbed the championship and the $1000 American Express prize money by a final score of 49-39. The story of this game was the play Wendell More who grabbed a boat load of rebounds and took advantage of easy put backs.
|Wendell Moore, Scottie Lewis & Michael Green|
In the final analysis, the same things that made CP3 hard to beat last year will make them a tough out again this year as well. The team passes the ball extremely well; they enjoy excellent guard play and great rebounding and scoring in the post. At the end of the day, Wendell Moore was simply more productive in the paint, both offensively and defensively, than the Team Rio post players. Also, I was really impressed with the guard play of Kobe Langley, as well as the three-point marksmanship for Michael Green. Although Greene was more of a catch and shoot threat last year, his game appears to have developed and he's now putting the ball on the floor and either getting to the rack or driving in dishing. Green’s deep ball threat creates driving lanes for the wings and space for the bigs.
In terms of their game plan, CP3 did an excellent job of doubling and trip teaming Scottie Lewis, rendering him virtually ineffective offensively close to the bucket. Although Team Rio has good length in the post with Lewis and Bryan Antonio (6’1 PF Matawn, NJ), they simply don't have the bulk or the size necessary to rebound and score on a consistent basis with teams that have legitimate post players. Team Rio is a 6’5 post player away from being as good as any team in the country. Even with their shortcoming, when it's all said and done, they lost to the best team in the country by only two points, and Scottie Lewis did not have his best game offensively. With that said, Lewis was the ultimate rim protector as he blocked or altered numerous CP3 shots.
|Qaadir Maneri, Andrew King & DJ Bailey|
Sunday morning also featured a couple of very competitive six grade games. First up, Team Nation matched up with Team Izod. Although Team Nation jumped out to a 5-2 lead, Team Izod battled back to go ahead 10-8 with 1:40 a minute left in the first half. The score remained close throughout the first period as both teams were successfully knocking down shots. At the half, Team Nation was ahead 20-22. In the second half, Team Izod seized control of the game, a 31-23 lead with 7:43 left in the game. This game would eventually come down to the last possession. In fact, with only 22 seconds left, the game was tied at 38. A pair of Team Nation free throws with one second left on the clock put them ahead for good at 40-38. Qaadir Maneri (5’10 P/SG Bronx, NY) came up big for Team Nation to the tune of a game-high 15 points. Zion Bethia led Team Izod with 10 points.
Later that day in the 6th grade division, Ripp City and the New York Gauchos went at it. This game would be another close one. At the break, Ripp City was ahead 23-29. The Gauchos would make a late run to cut the lead to 44-45 with 3:29 left in the game. However, in the end, Ripp City was able to hold off the Gauchos by a final score of 48-49. The standout performers in the game for Ripp City were Andrew King, (6’4 C Coatesville, PA) and Deuce Turner (5’9 SG Coatesville, PA). DJ Bailey (4’11 PG Bronx, NY) had another solid game for the Gauchos.
|All-Ohio Red-5th Grade Champions|
In the 5th grade division, All-Ohio Red advanced to the championship game with a lopsided victory over Philly United. The game was as close as 5-6 early in the first half, but eventually, All-Ohio would extend a 31-10 halftime lead to a 40-12 blowout win. With the win, All-Ohio, a 10th place finisher at the 2013 AAU Nationals, would faceoff against the 4th place New York Gauchos. I did not get a chance to watch the entire 5th grade championship, but I did note the fact that All-Ohio took a 21-42 lead into the half, and would go on to claim the title with a 62-50 win. The difference in the game was the size of All-Ohio, both on the perimeter and in the post. Even before the game I questioned how the smaller Gauchos guards would defend the much bigger and stronger Seth Wilson, let alone who was going to try and contain Noah Peeples who had dominated in the paint the entire tournament. Bottom line, All-Ohio was simply to big for the Gauchos. Jaden Hameed had a breakout performance with a game-high 19 points. Noah Peeples had 14; Noah Rittinger added 11 and Seth Wilson finished with 10 points.
|All-Ohio Red-4th Grade Champions|
All-Ohio’s 4th grade team made the trip to Scranton and also enjoyed a lot of success over the weekend. The 4th grade championship game pitted the same two programs as the 5th grade championship game, and the younger Gauchos were determined to get payback for their 5th grade brothers. Early on, it looked like All-Ohio would run away with another easy victory, as they raced out to a 5-0 lead. However, the Gauchos would mount a 7-0 run to take 9-5 advantage. Unlike the 5th graders, the Gauchos enjoyed a significant size advantage in the paint and they took full advantage of their size early. By the 5:40 mark, New York was rolling with a hefty 17-6 lead. All-Ohio responded with a run that would trim the lead to a more manageable 19-13. At the break, the Gauchos were only ahead by 5 points (23-18). Ohio got on the board first to start the second period (20-23). Later, a Derrick James trey pulled Ohio to within 1 point at 23-24, and All-Ohio regained the lead on a Shawn Jones’ trifecta. The lead would change hands several times before a 7-0 Ohio run would break New York’s back and give them a 40-34 lead. Final score: All-Ohio Red 45, the Gauchos 38. The come back was sparked by the outstanding play of Shawn Jones and Derrick James both of whom hit big shots at crucial times in the game. James finished with over 20 points, while Jones added another 7 points. Anthony Sellers was one of the leading scorers for the Gauchos.
|New York Gauchos-6th Grade Champions|
After a very competitive super pool, where the tp four teams in the 6th grade division took turns beating each other up, the last 2 teams standing for the championship game were Ripp City and the New York Gauchos. This appeared like it was going to be a blowout for the Gauchos as they raced out to an early 15-0 lead. Ripp City would eventually get their act together, but it was still 20-7 with only 5:25 left in the first half. The score still seemed out of hand at the break with New York up a comfortable 22-10. With such a big lead, the Gauchos got a little to casual, tried to run some time off the clock, and were already picking out sizes for the championship hoodies. Ripp City refused to pack it in, and after a furious comeback, forced overtime with the game tied at 39. The Gauchos would refocus in the extra period and claim a 45-49 win.
I have to send a shout out to ESPM for winning the 7th grade Silver division championship in dramatic form. With only about 7 seconds left in the game, ESPM got a steal and a layup as the clock expired. The final score was 32-34. Mike Renwrick (6’3 C Philly) scored a team-high 10 points to lead his team. All-in all, there was some great talent at the top of each division, and this event gave a lot of teams some good early-season work.