Since 1982 – the year after present Elizabeth assistant coach Steve Petruzzelli guided the Johnson Regional Crusaders to their one title – only five schools have captured the Union County Tournament – the oldest and also one of the most prestigious boys’ basketball county tournaments in New Jersey.
Since then St. Patrick/Patrick School has won the championship 18 times, Elizabeth 11, Linden six, Plainfield once – in 2012 for the first time since 1979 – and Roselle Catholic once – last year for the very first time.
The tournament has been top heavy for some time now, designed for only one or two or three teams at the most to have a chance at hoisting the trophy.
Several years ago the tournament decided to put the top four seeds right into the quarterfinals, thus making the first rounds a bit more competitive. However, the teams that win to get to the quarterfinals usually find themselves losing and losing big in an attempt to pull off an upset to reach the semis.
There was one exception in 2013 when eighth-seeded Union upset top-seeded Roselle Catholic after the Farmers lost twice in two tries by double digit margins to the Lions in UCC-Watchung Division play during the regular season.
If fifth-seeded Union Catholic defeats 12th-seeded Westfield, most would predict that the Vikings have a fighting chance against fourth-seeded St. Mary’s of Elizabeth. However, top-seeded Roselle Catholic, undefeated (21-0) second-seeded Elizabeth and third-seeded Patrick School will be heavy favorites to advance to next week’s (Feb. 19 at Kean) semifinals.
Eighth-seeded New Providence (18-2) is having one of its best seasons ever on the 20-year anniversary of the 1999 squad winning the Group 1 state championship. Milestones along the way have been achieved by longtime head coach Art Cattano (500 wins) and seniors Greg Meyers and Dylan Bedder on becoming the sixth and seventh players in program history to reach 1,000 points. Beating ninth-seeded Plainfield at home to get a chance to play top-seeded and defending champion Roselle Catholic would be a victory for the Pioneers for sure.
If seventh-seeded Union gets by 10th-seeded Rahway (17-1, winners of 10 straight) at home then the Farmers will get a third shot at second-seeded Elizabeth, which swept the Farmers – both wins by double-digits – in Mountain Division play.
If sixth-seeded Linden should top 11th-seeded Summit (14-5) at home then the Tigers will get a third shot at Patrick School, which beat them twice by double digits in UCC-Watchung Division play.
Hey, you never know?
TOP FOUR SEEDS:
1-Roselle Catholic (21-3) – UCC’s repeat Watchung Division champion at 6-0; Defending UCT champ for first time
2-Elizabeth (21-0) – UCC’s Mountain Division champion at 6-0; Union County’s only undefeated team; last won UCT in 2004
3-Patrick School (13-9) – Celtics seeking to reach 4th straight UCT final; last won UCT in 2017
4-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth (16-6) – Hilltoppers reached semifinals last year and are seeking to reach title game for first time since 1970. St. Mary’s last won the UCT in 1962.
WEDNESDAY’S (FEB. 13)
TOP SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
9-Plainfield (10-10) at 8-New Providence (18-2), 7 p.m.
Did not play in regular season. Winner plays top-seeded Roselle Catholic.
12-Westfield (9-12) at 5-Union Catholic (14-5), 7 p.m.
Union Catholic beat Westfield 66-52 at home on Dec. 19. Winner plays fourth-seeded St. Mary’s.
BOTTOM SIDE OF THE BRACKET:
10-Rahway (17-1) at 7-Union (10-10), 5:30 p.m.
Did not play in regular season. Winner plays second-seeded Elizabeth.
11-Summit (15-5) at 6-Linden (11-11), 7 p.m.
Did not play in regular season. Winner plays third-seeded Patrick School.
The quarterfinals are Saturday, Feb. 16.
The semifinals are Tuesday, Feb, 19 at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Kean University.
The final is Saturday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. at Kean University.
More to come.