One big game this week, and possibly another next week, will help determine the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division title, no matter what happens in the rematch games later this season, thanks to a one-year pilot program approved back in the spring by the conference.
Colonia plays St. Thomas Aquinas for the first time this season in Edison this Thursday night, and the Trojans go to Metuchen to take on St. Joseph for their first meeting of the year next Tuesday – both of which can be heard live on Central Jersey Sports Radio.
But when the Falcons visit Colonia two days later, and Aquinas the following week, neither will be considered as far as who will be named division champion. Nor will the Trojans’ eventual road game against the Patriots.
The pilot program the GMC allowed for this year only requires Red Division teams to play once through their divisional schedule. Additional games are optional, and are up to both teams. The White, Blue and Gold Divisions are not affected by the pilot program.
In the only matchup between any of the three teams so far, Colonia beat St. Joseph in triple overtime, 83-78, back on December 20th.
That means should the Patriots beat the Trojans Thursday night, they will be the GMC Red Champs outright, with a 2-0 record against the others at the top of the division. Should Aquinas beat Colonia, the Trojans would clinch at least a share of the division title. If they beat the Falcons Tuesday, they would be co-champs with Colonia; both would be 1-1 in the group while Joe’s would be 0-2. If the Falcons win, all three teams would be 1-1, with Colonia beating St. Joe’s, Aquinas beating Colonia and Joe’s topping Aquinas.
While any rematches will not count toward the division title, those games can be considered at the seeding meeting, just as any out-of-division of out-of-conference game would.
For example, if the three ended up as co-champs, the tie would have to be broken before the actual seeding takes place, to see who comes out of the Red Division first, second and third. And it would take all six games into account – as well as any out-of-division games that might be relevant. If one team were to go 2-0 in the second round of games, that could break the tie.
Alternatively, if Colonia won the division outright, their record in the rematches against St. Joseph and Aquinas would be irrelevant.
GMC President Mike Pede told Central Jersey Sports Radio that the pilot program was approved in the Spring at the request of a number of Red Division schools, which he would not name.
Pede said some schools felt the shorter season adopted by the NJSIAA for this year would allow them fewer opportunities to participate in showcases that would help their student-athletes gain exposure and earn scholarship offers. Deeming it beneficial to the student-athletes, Pede says he supported the idea.
East Brunswick head coach Mark Motusesky says his team was among those that made the request, but for another reason: increased scheduling flexibility.
The GMC Red Division is the 33-team league’s largest, with nine members. That means a traditional schedule with two games against each opponent would mean 16 divisional games, with the maximum allowed by the NJSIAA being 24. That would allow for only eight crossover or non-conference games, while the White, Blue and Gold Divisions – with eight teams each – would play 14 division games and 10 non-divisonal contests.
The GMC expanded from 32 to 33 teams this school year with the addition of North Plainfield in Somerset County, which moved over from the Skyland Conference.
In addition, only the first 16 games played by a team before the state cutoff on February 11th could toward seeding. That means some teams could have been saddled with two games each against Aquinas, Colonia and St. Joe’s among their first 16, while others would only get one, conceivably earning them a lower seed in the state tournament.
As of today, East Brunswick’s 16th game would come as early as January 21st against Piscataway.
St. Joseph head coach Jan Cocoziello says his program did not request the pilot program, as he felt it would lead to issues finding alternative games, a scenario that has come to fruition.
While the Falcons are playing Colonia and St. Thomas Aquinas twice each, his team has only three scheduled home games for the 2023 portion of the season, the last of which is the clash with the Trojans next Tuesday that will be broadcast by Central Jersey Sports Radio. He says his program has had difficulty scheduling additional games, particularly on their home court in Metuchen, but even in showcase events.
St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco says his program also did not initiate the request, but said that he would be “in favor of that,” adding it “opens the door for showcase games.” He says there’s been an issue finding “lower level” games. Aquinas has played in a number showcases already this season.
So how did the pilot program affect scheduling in the Red?
This year, East Brunswick will play St. Joe’s and St. Thomas once each, but everyone else – including Colonia – twice.
Meanwhile, Aquinas will play St. Joe’s and Colonia twice and everyone else once, while St. Joe’s will play Aquinas and Colonia twice, and everyone else once. Colonia will play six of its eight division foes twice, except for Old Bridge and Piscataway.
Pede says after the one-year trial plays through, the league will take a look at the results to see if it’s something they want to put in place permanently. Pede says such a move would require approval from the entire GMC membership, whereas the one-year pilot only needed approval of the Executive Committee.
Red Division Title Chase At-A-Glance:
Here are the division title scenarios in the GMC Red Division:
- Colonia: The Patriots can clinch the division outright with a win at St. Thomas Aquinas Thursday night, in a game that can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio. A loss would leave their fate in the hands of the Trojans, who could shut them out with a win at St. Joe’s (also on CJSR). A loss would force a three-way tie.
- St. Thomas Aquinas: A loss to Colonia Thursday leaves them out of the running, regardless of next week’s win at St. Joseph. A win over the Patriots clinches at least a share of the Red title. Should they then go and beat St. Joseph, they would win the Red outright. Should they lose to Joe’s after beating Colonia, there would be a three-way tie.
- St. Joseph-Metcuhen: The Falcons – already having lost to Colonia – can not clinch the division outright; they best they can hope for is an Aquinas win Thursday. That would give the Trojans and Patriots each one win, and a chance to force a three-way tie with a home win over Aquinas on Tuesday.