Heaphy.JPG

Taconic boys coach Bill Heaphy, pictured here raising the 2020 state championship trophy.

Mark your calendars.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s basketball tournament championship games are currently scheduled to be held the weekend of March 18-20 at the Tsongas Center arena in Lowell. The Tsongas Center is where UMass Lowell plays many of its home basketball and all of its home hockey games.

MIAA assistant director Peter Smith made the announcement Wednesday morning during a meeting of the MIAA’s Basketball Committee. It was also announced that Hingham athletic director Jim Quatramoni has been named the state basketball tournament director. David Keir, the retired athletic director at Smith Academy, is the Western Massachusetts representative on the tourney committee.

“Plans are moving forward to be able to host the 10 state final games at Tsongas Arena, over the weekend of March 18-20,” Smith said. “We’re looking at potential options to utilize Friday night, a few games Friday night, games Saturday and games Sunday, or a Saturday and Sunday slate. Tsongas has been very accommodating to the needs of the tournament, so plans are moving forward there.

“That’s exciting to be able to share today with the committee.”

This is, of course, the first year basketball will be under the statewide tournament format that made its debut with fall sports.

“I tend to want things in place years in advance. I recognize that we’re going to need agility and adaptability to get through some of the challenges that we are in the midst of,” said Quatramoni. “We will have as many things tentatively in place as we can and some things firmly in place, that will help us have the best possible tournament we can.”

Five divisions will play in statewide brackets involving the top 32 teams in each division plus those that finish .500 or better. Currently, plans to seed the tournaments will take place on Feb. 25 and 26. All dates are subject to change, but the MIAA had earlier approved preliminary-round play from Feb. 28-March 2. The round of 32 games would be scheduled for March 3-5, with the round of 16 set for March 10-12. All of those games would be played on the courts of the higher-seeded teams if those gyms meet the MIAA seating requirements.

“The work that continues is the state semifinal-round games,” Smith said. “There are 20 games that we need to find locations for. Colleges and universities, some can commit and some cannot at this point. The other item in regards to the semifinal is the use of TD Garden.”

The state semifinals would be scheduled for March 14-16. Some of those games would presumably be at TD Garden in Boston. The Garden has open dates of March 14, 15 and 17. The state final schedule would conflict with the Hockey East Tournament.

“Where we stand, our challenge is how do you pick eight out of the 20 games,” the basketball committee chairman and St. Mary’s (Lynn) athletic director Jeff Newhall said. “I’m the AD and a basketball coach ... to be equitable across the board, obviously geographically you want to make the best decisions in terms of who might be a little bit closer. That’s a little bit of a challenge, deciding the eight out of the 20.”

The other issue facing the basketball committee and the tournament directors is gyms and capacities.

According to the MIAA basketball format, the minimum capacity for games leading up to and including the round of 32 is 250 and the minimum capacity for the rounds of 16 and 8 would be 500. Committee chair Newhall brought up the fact that the hockey format requires 1,000 seats for similar playoff rounds.

“Hockey went 250 to 500 to 1,000. We went 250 to 500 to 500. What we don’t want, especially in year one of our basketball tournament, if you look at the numbers from the fall, there was a significant amount of interest in the tournament,” he said. “I just don’t want fans 501 to 1,000, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, uncles, no matter what it is turned away at the door. If you have fan 1,001, it doesn’t make it that much better. The possibility of getting turned away at that point is much lower than at 501.”

The committee voted to adjust their format to be the same as the hockey format, with the same attendance figures for the tournament.

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.