Time to shake up Union County Tournament boys basketball? How about 2 tournaments side-by-side?

This is the time of the year when I write that the Union County Tournament is the oldest boys county tournament in the state when presenting the news of the seeding meeting. It adds a certain amount of weight to the history.
What does that mean, though, exactly? For sure there have been plenty of great teams, coaches and players over the course of the last 80-plus years.
Rahway won the first UCT in 1937 and its fifth and final in 1957. However, will the Indians ever win it again in our lifetime?
Cranford won for the only time in 1964. Johnson Regional won for the only time in 1981, coached by present Elizabeth assistant Steve Petruzzelli.
Will the Cougars or Crusaders ever hoist the trophy any time soon?
Since 1982 these are the schools that have won the tournament: St. Patrick/Patrick School 18 times, Elizabeth 11 times, Linden six times, Roselle Catholic twice and Plainfield once. That’s it. Roselle Catholic did not capture the event until two years ago.
On Tuesday morning at the Linden fieldhouse the 84th annual UCT will be constructed.
You could have seeded the tournament any day last summer. Just put Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, Elizabeth and Linden at the top and go from there.
Seeding those four teams is especially easy this year. Patrick School swept Roselle Catholic in two out-of-conference games since Patrick School opted not to play in the Union County Conference this year.
In UCC-Watchung Division play, Roselle Catholic swept Elizabeth and Elizabeth swept Linden. RC won the division title at 4-0, also sweeping Linden.
So if you go based on head-to-head it’s a natural: 1-Patrick School, 2-Roselle Catholic, 3-Elizabeth and 4-Linden. Plus, not one team from any of the three divisions below defeated Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, Elizabeth or Linden.
However, there are plenty of quality basketball teams in Union County that don’t reside in the Watchung Conference. How about a separate county tournament just for them?
Instead of putting Patrick School, RC, Elizabeth and Linden right into the quarterfinals, put them into their own semifinals and final four-team tournament. The championship game can still be played at Kean University on the Saturday night two days before state tournament play commences.
On a separate grid we can seed the teams from the other three UCC divisions and have them battle it out to a championship game that can be played right before the other title contest.
Say if that was the case this year we could have back-to-back UCT championship games at Kean on Saturday, Feb. 29. The first one could be called, let’s say, the UCT Challenge Final and played at 4 p.m. and the second one billed, let’s say, as the UCT Premier Final and played at 7 p.m., leaving plenty of time in between to recognize the efforts of the teams from the first game played.
As of today on the eve of the 2020 seeding meeting as many as 15 of the 22 Union County schools have at least 10 wins, with all of them over .500. That includes 11 that don’t reside in the Watchung Conference.
Summit is 17-2, has won 14 straight and just captured the Valley Division title at 9-1.
Westfield is 13-4, is 11-2 in its last 13 and won the Mountain Division perfect at 8-0.
Summit and Westfield clashed in the season-opener for both back on Dec. 19 in the St. Jude Classic at Union, with the Hilltoppers winning by five, 50-45.
Hillside is 17-4 and is the Sky Division champion, also perfect there at 12-0.
Rahway is 14-3 and has won 11 of its last 13 games, the only setbacks coming to Summit.
Union (10-8) began its season 7-0 for the first time since the 1998-1999 campaign.
Johnson, under first-year head coach Mike Pozyc, is 11-6. Oratory Prep is 10-7 and split with Summit in Valley Division play.
Union Catholic is 11-7 and owns a win over Hudson Catholic. Plainfield, Roselle and even Brearley are in the discussion of 10-win teams who have won more than they have lost. The Brearley Bears have done a fine job so far this year.
We could have a second Final Four of, say, Summit, Westfield, Union and Hillside. On what could be billed “Championship Saturday” at Kean we could have a Summit-Westfield championship game followed by the more predictable Patrick School-Roselle Catholic matchup most people expect.
Substantial food for thought or not? You can be the judge.
The UCC is set up for schools to be as evenly matched up size-wise so that they can play for a division championship. However, division titles are as invisible as Claude Rains was nearly 100 years ago.
Having two county tournaments adds another trophy for certain teams to look forward to obtaining. Say Roselle Park one year makes the other Final Four? What an achievement, and a noteworthy one, that could be for the Group 1 Panthers.
Perhaps it’s time to shake up boys basketball in Union County a bit so that it isn’t as predictable anymore.

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