Boys Basketball – SCT Round One Predictions
A near-full slate of 13 games opens up the 2016 Shore Conference Tournament Tuesday evening, which is one of several opportunities for me to remind you, the reader, that my job is to tell you what just happened rather than what is going to happen. If the latter were the case, surely somebody better would be doing this.
Below are my picks for round one of the SCT and there is a bit of a bonus section at the bottom to give some added perspective from a fresh source.
(17) St. John Vianney at (16) Marlboro, 5 p.m.
In addition to the right to play Mater Dei, St. John Vianney will be playing for revenge after losing a non-divisional game at home to Marlboro earlier in the year. That was a competitive game and the two teams played an overtime game last season, so everything about this match-up suggests it will go down to the wire.
Vianney has more high-end offensive ability and athleticism with newly-minted 1,000-point scorer Zach Howarth and soon-to-be 1,000-point scorer Grant Goode (24 points away) leading the way. The Lancers also have shooters in Matt DeBrizzi and Kevin Callari and a 6-foot-6 athlete in Marcque Ellington to serve as a versatile piece on both ends.
Marlboro will be without 6-foot-8 center Matt Dean (knee) but the Mustangs have played a number of games without him this year and been relatively successful. At its heart, Marlboro is an up-tempo, pressing team that will now fully commit to that identity, led by defensive sparkplug and leading scorer P.J. Ringel. If the Mustangs can get some shooting, they will give Vianney trouble, but it’s hard to see a talented, senior-laden Lancers squad coming up short against the Mustangs for a third time in two years.
The Pick: St. John Vianney, 64-59
(20) Donovan Catholic at (13) Toms River East, 5 p.m.
This is a really good match-up on paper and the fact that the two teams reside in the same town makes it that much better. Neither team is necessarily playing its best basketball of the season, but there is reason to like either. Toms River East has turned from a more run-and-gun team to open the year to a team that can win a more modest scoring game behind its defense and rebounding. Phil Lingat and Ryan West get most of the attention as the top scorers, but big men Bailey Engelhard and Pat Saunders have been key and will be instrumental in this game against a solid Donovan front line.
The Griffins are just 2-4 over their last six games and haven’t quite been right since the middle part of January. A close home loss to Manchester that effectively eliminated a chance at a division title seemed to take a lot of wind out of their sails, so perhaps the start of the postseason will invigorate a senior-heavy team looking to make one last run together. Riley Collins is still one of the top scorers in the conference and senior Mike Boice is playing at a high level lately despite still getting over a broken bone in his shooting hand, so the Raiders do have their hands full.
Donovan Catholic is capable to getting on a run in the next couple of games and making a surprise trip to the SCT quarterfinals, but they first have to get past a Raiders team that is also on a mission and has been playing like it all year. Consider this a toss-up game that Toms River East has looked more prepared for in recent weeks.
The Pick: Toms River East, 58-51
(24) Ocean at (9) Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m.
While the seeds suggest this game might be a mismatch, these are two teams that have orchestrated long winning streaks at different points of the year and the apparent advantage for Freehold Township is that its eight-game streak is more recent than Ocean’s seven-game run. Either way, both of the streaks are now over and even if they weren’t, Tuesday marks a fresh start whether a team wants one or not. It should be mentioned, though that both teams have had very good stretches over the course of the year.
Freehold Township offers a balanced roster that has the capability of challenging most of the teams in the top 10, which Ocean has not done this year. The Patriots have a proven senior point guard in Nick Facendo to run the show, along with a double-double machine down low in senior John Carroll. First-year starters Steve Staklinski and Ryan Zyskowski have stepped into those versatile spots on the floor and junior Bobby Weise is a game-breaking shooter.
The Spartans counter with a similar make-up to their lineup, led by center Scott Bradley and point guard Ru’Quan Dean. Ocean also has two scoring guards in Manny Padron and shooter Jake Talarico, as well as up-and-coming junior Darius Brown. Freehold Township is the more proven of the teams, but Ocean has just enough talent to put the result of this game in doubt.
The Pick: Freehold Twp., 60-49
(21) Holmdel at (12) Long Branch, 5:30 p.m.
Perhaps I painted myself into a corner by calling Holmdel the “sleeper” of the SCT field, but it’s also worth noting that a lot of that has to do with the fact that the lines that lead to No. 4 Toms River North and No. 5 Colts Neck are the most wide-open in the field. The Hornets are indeed a sleeper to advance to Brookdale, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face a steep test Tuesday against a revitalized Long Branch program.
The Green Wave have to like the draw as much as, if not more than, Holmdel because of how tough Long Branch played Colts Neck this season. Before getting to that game, the Wave will have to hold off a challenge from a Holmdel team that has a strong track record of tournament upsets under coach Sean Devaney. Sophomore Kyle Cardaci has been one of the breakout players in the Shore Conference this season and he anchors a Hornets team that can hit enough shots to pull the upset. The key for them will be interior play and battling Long Branch on the boards.
The key for Long Branch will simply be making shots. If the Green Wave shoot the ball reasonably well, it should survive because of the advantage in athleticism on the defensive end and on the glass. Poor shooting has been an Achilles Heel for Long Branch when teams have defeated them, so if Holmdel can goad the Green Wave into a bad shooting night, an upset is in the cards. Since I am a firm believer that anyone picking this tournament should pick at least one team seeded in the twenties to win in the first round, this will be the game on which I go out on a limb.
The Pick: Holmdel, 49-46
(23) Raritan at (10) Point Beach, 6 p.m.
This game pits two teams that have a lot of quality losses this season and this game will be a chance to add a win to each team’s respective season and go play another quality team on Thursday. Point Beach should be commended for beating Colts Neck this year, which is one of the best non-division wins in the field. With two games apiece against Ranney and Mater Dei, the Colts Neck win was a good look at how Point Beach stacks up against a more modest roster.
Most of Raritan’s best victories this year are moral ones, as the Rockets played both Rumson and Manasquan tougher the second time through the division and also took Ranney down to the wire. They have three senior standouts in Joe Strand, Eddie Tynion and Jordan Smith, the latter of which gives them some legitimate athleticism at any position coach Denis Caruano chooses to deploy him. Smith will be an x-factor in this game, as will Raritan’s shooting. Strand and Tynion can both stretch the floor and the challenge will be to find the delicate balance of hitting those good, open shots to stay with Point Beach and not falling in love with the perimeter game.
Point Beach has not quite taken off this year, but the same could be said for the Gulls at the same time last year, when they flipped the switch and reached the SCT quarterfinals as a No. 15 seed. This team probably doesn’t have the ceiling that that team had because there is no Jesse Hill on this team, but the Garnet Gulls have good balance and some depth that is enhanced when they shoot the ball well, which has been more frequently of late. Alex Mrusek should control the paint in this game, but Smith has a chance to change the game on the interior, which will be a must for Raritan to win.
The Pick: Point Beach, 52-46
(26) Jackson Memorial at (7) Lakewood, 6 p.m.
Out of all the games listed so far, this is the first that appears to be a mismatch. Jackson Memorial has improved a lot over the course of the season and a win over Toms River East the second time through the division is evidence of that. In the end, however, Lakewood has two of the best players in the conference in Sean Barksdale and Amir Tyler, some athletic bigs in Adiam Palmer and Ryzson Barnes and emerging depth at the guard position.
This Lakewood team has not been quite as good defensively as some of the Piners teams of recent vintage, so Jackson Memorial will have to find a way to exploit that more than it did in two lop-sided losses to Toms River North. With a whole lot of junior talent on the team and Lakewood sporting a roster with the senior duo of Tyler and Barksdale leading the charge, it’s hard to see this one being close in the fourth quarter.
The Pick: Lakewood, 82-57
(19) Red Bank at (14) Southern, 6:30 p.m.
When it comes to reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, this certainly seems to be a do-or-die season for Southern. Peyton Wejnert and Ethan Dubois are seniors and while junior Mark Valeriani and sophomore Jake Dubois have been big additions to the starting lineup, the inside-out combo of Wejnert and Dubois is an element that gives Southern a chance to do something big this year.
Red Bank, meanwhile, has been inconsistent and a lot of that stems from the fact that early in the year, they had almost an entire team of football players who played into December and later in the year, they lost senior point guard Jack Navitsky to a torn labrum. It appeared as though the Bucs were finally putting everything together with a win over Long Branch and a narrow loss to Colts Neck, but they followed by closing the regular season with a loss at Middletown North and an uninspiring nine-point win against Shore.
Without paying too much attention to recent play, this game could simply come down to whether or not Red Bank can score enough to pull out the win. The Bucs should be able to hold Southern in the fifties with their stout defense, but in order to win, they might have to slow the game down enough to keep it in the high forties. Then the key becomes staying out of foul trouble against Wejnert, who has a propensity to get to the free-throw line. If Red Bank senior Sadiq Palmer stays on the floor, this game could go either way, but scoring – particularly at the foul line – will likely be the deciding factor.
The Pick: Southern, 59-53
(25) Brick at (8) Ranney, 6:30 p.m.
This game probably is not as close as the Freehold Township vs. Ocean game, but it’s also not the mismatch that Lakewood vs. Jackson Memorial is either. Brick has some weapons that, if firing properly, can give the Panthers problems on the defensive end. The Green Dragons have plenty of shooting with Kenny Buell and Noah Buono and the increased production of Brandon Williams of late adds to the arsenal.
Ranney, however, is also capable of overwhelming Brick on the offensive end and that probably serves as the difference in this game. Brick will have to try some exotic looks to try to slow down Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, but there is only so much a coach can do if those two players are just leaps and bounds better than the players trying to defend them. This is a game in which the three-point line has to be the equalizer for Brick, and that will have to be on top of flat-out outworking Ranney.
The fact that the Panthers feel slighted by their seed probably doesn’t help Brick in trying to catch Ranney off guard, but if they catch the Panthers looking ahead, this could conceivably by competitive in the fourth quarter.
The Pick: Ranney, 72-56
(27) Point Boro at (6) Rumson-Fair Haven, 6:30 p.m.
Point Boro is playing just well enough lately that this game is not a shoo-in for Rumson, but given the Bulldogs’ pedigree and the bitter reality pill they had to swallow against Red Bank Catholic a little more than a week ago, they should be positioned to take care of business in this one. If there is one concern, it’s that Brendan Barry has done such a large portion of the scoring lately, with 39 of the 55 against RBC, 21 of the 42 against Raritan and 50 of the 71 against Middletown North in just 27 minutes.
The Panthers, meanwhile, seem to have adjusted to life without junior John Venturi, who was the team’s top scoring option before tearing his ACL in January. With Venturi, this could possibly be interesting, but it’s going to take a monumental defensive effort just to hang around in this one. Even if that happens, it’s too hard to bet against Barry this early in the game.
The Pick: Rumson, 59-44
(28) Central at (5) Colts Neck, 6:30 p.m.
This is another game that could conceivably be close despite the disparity in seeding. Colts Neck is a sound all-around team with a standout guard in Lloyd Daniels, but the Cougars don’t typically blow teams out early because they don’t get a lot of their offense from the perimeter, specifically from the three-point line. Their style tends to wear on teams, which is why Colts Neck will be an interesting team going forward if it can continue to keep games close and get to the final two minutes locked in a one-score game.
Central, meanwhile, has some intrigue attached to them based on an improving roster that came into the year without a lot of experience. Maks Gruszecki has been the team’s top scorer all season long, but the Golden Eagles have begun to get more balanced contributions, led by senior Chris Downs and junior Dennis Corbin. Central probably isn’t quite ready to upset a team of Colts Neck’s caliber, but it should not be completely ruled out.
The Pick: Colts Neck, 59-48
(29) Henry Hudson at (4) Toms River North, 6:30 p.m.
Henry Hudson might be the feel-good team of the tournament, even if that good feeling might be fading by the end of the first quarter against the A South champs on Tuesday night. The Admirals got into the tournament thanks to a forgiving non-divisional schedule, but in their defense, they might have been a top four team in Class B Central in the days before Division I talent showed up at both Ranney and Mater Dei.
Making the tournament is a great accomplishment and perhaps competitive stretches against Point Beach and Ranney recently suggest that maybe this game isn’t a complete whitewash, but with its balanced lineup and desire to play an up-tempo game, Toms River North has feasted on mismatches this year.
The Pick: Toms River North, 77-45
(18) St. Rose at (15) Middletown North, 7 p.m.
Both the Purple Rose and the Lions have been playing well of late with the exception of loss to a handful of the top teams in the field. St. Rose is coming off a three-point loss to Manasquan on Saturday after losing to Mater Dei earlier in the week, while Middletown North is recovering from a bad case of Brendan Barry in a Saturday loss at Rumson.
As it seems to do every year, St. Rose has gotten better and better as the season has developed and they come into this game as a potential road favorite. The Purple Roses entered the season with some experience at different spots on the floor – namely down low with John Krotulis and in the back court with senior Billy Frost, senior Mike Gowen and junior Brendan Hueth – and have added to the depth of the roster with the development of junior Nick Paterno and sophomores Jared Scheininger and Dave Calloway.
Middletown North, meanwhile, had won four straight games before running in the Barry buzz saw on Saturday. Freshman Rob Higgins has led a balanced offense and despite an injury scare against the Bulldogs this past weekend, he is set to play Tuesday, according to coach Mike Iasparro. Colin Frawley is the lone senior on the team, which is a reminder that the learning curve is still pretty sharp with this group. At any point, they could take the next step to the top 10 teams in the conference, and there is a chance it happens sometime this postseason. In St. Rose, though, the Lions will face a team that appears to have hit that stride since the middle of January.
The Pick: St. Rose, 47-45
(22) Matawan at (11) Manchester, 7 p.m.
By virtue of its win over Jackson Liberty on Saturday, Matawan is back in the SCT despite replacing its old head coach and the loss of some impact talent from a year ago. The Huskies have had some big moments this year, including a home win over Long Branch, but the going has been a little rougher lately. They are just 3-5 in their last six games and two of those wins are over Jackson Liberty and at the buzzer against Wall. Senior Mergim Gjyriqi has been steady scoring the ball all year and fellow senior Randy Meyers will give the Huskies a good athlete to battle an athletic Manchester team, but the sophomore core that comprises the rest of the team is an unknown in a game like this.
On the other side, Manchester enters the opening round with high expectations, even if the Hawks are going to have to go through defending champion Rumson just to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament. If they are not careful, Matawan is capable enough to catch the Hawks napping if Manchester is already thinking about Rumson. The Huskies have been scrappy enough to keep this one close, but Manchester just has too many weapons and too much experience.
The Pick: Manchester, 49-39
Opine from the Sideline
As a change of pace, we have brought on board a Shore Conference coach, who - unfortunately for his sake - did not make the SCT this year, to offer a unique perspective on the games. Our coach will make picks throughout the tournament beginning with his thoughts on Tuesday night, which are listed below.
17th seed SJV OVER 16th seed Marlboro – The offensive firepower of Goode and Howarth are too much for Marlboro. SJV wins, 63-51.
9th seed Freehold Township OVER 24th seed Ocean – The run 'n jump style of play of Freehold Township will overcome the fundamentally sound Ocean, 54-44.
5th seed Colts Neck OVER 28th seed Central Regional – Daniels & Co. run away early, 53-37.
12th seed Long Branch OVER 21st seed Holmdel – Don't see Foster and Velasquez going down early this SCT. Holmdel is the one of the best-coached teams in the area but the athleticism of Long Branch wins out, 48-44.
13th seed TRE OVER 20th seed Donovan Catholic – Nip and tuck the whole way here. Going to come down to who makes free throws and I'll take the home court advantage. Raiders of TRE win, 57-55.
4th seed TRN OVER 29th seed Henry Hudson – TRN flexes its muscles early and never looks back, 67-41.
19th seed RBR OVER 14th seed Southern Regional – Cooper, Palmer & Reardon pull off the biggest upset of the night beating Southern, 45-44. Palmer shuts down Wejnert & Cooper keeps Dubois in check. RBR makes enough plays down the stretch to secure the victory.
11th seed Manchester OVER 22nd seed Matawan – Reynolds and Robinson carry a senior-laden Manchester team to victory, 54-47, at home.
6th seed Rumson OVER 27th seed Point Pleasant Boro – Barry and McAllister are too much for a young Boro team missing John Venturi 59-42.
7th seed Lakewood OVER 26th seed Jackson Memorial – Barksdale and Tyler carry Lakewood to an easy victory at home, 73-37.
8th seed Ranney OVER 25th seed Brick – The dynamic duo of Antoine and Lewis are way too much for Brick to overcome. Panthers win, 61-43.
10th seed Point Pleasant Beach OVER 23rd seed Raritan – In what could be the best game of the night, it will be Raritan's seniors vs. Panzini, Rice and Frauenheim. I'm taking the home team to escape with a narrow victory, 48-47, thanks to some late free throws.
18th seed St. Rose OVER 15th seed Middletown North – Purple Roses playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, which will lead them to the second-biggest upset of the night when they defeat Middletown North, 52-51.