The only thing more foolish than making predictions before a game has been played is making assertions three days into the regular season. I tried the first one last week and that went so well (it didn’t) that I wanted to embrace my inner fool and make a few declarations to open the season.

On a somewhat serious note, these are inherently meant to be out on a limb given that most teams have only played one game and a handful have played two. Just about anything can happen on a given night so we are still a few weeks away from figuring out what is real and what is a fluke. Before that day comes, however, let’s have a look at 10 assertions just barely compelling enough to put on the record after the first three games of the regular season.

 

Matawan has something special going on.

Coming off a 20-win season, the Huskies were hoping to keep progressing under fourth-year coach John Giraldo even while losing 1,000-point scorer Mike Dunne and second-leading scorer Reggie Tawiah to graduation. Their plans took a scary turn when junior guard Darrell Rogers collapsed, went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived during an AAU practice in May. He spent three months in the hospital and despite making great progress by all accounts, he won’t be able to play basketball any time soon.

Losing a potential starting point guard was a serious hit to Matawan’s roster but Rogers fight to get his life back has given the Huskies something else. They showed the look of an inspired, focused, well-prepared resilient team in coming back from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to beat No. 5 Neptune on opening night.

Matawan showed off a deep, divers back court that has some shooting, some length and some athleticism that plays on both ends of the floor. Junior Niles Haliburton was the standout of the group with his four second-half three-pointers and 14 points, while junior Ethan Okello and senior Quincy Wathington all had key offensive contributions for Matawan. That trio, plus senior Justyn Coleman give the Huskies four perimeter players standing between 6-1 and 6-3.

Matawan junior big man John Beukers (far) and teammate Ethan Okello. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Junior center John Beukers, meanwhile, was the star. The 6-foot-6 junior battled in the paint all game, putting up 14 points and 14 rebounds and scoring the winning layup in the waning seconds.

With a well-rounded post-player and an army of long guards surrounding him, the personnel is there for Matawan to make some noise throughout the year. Factor in the motivation and raw emotion of playing for Rogers while he supports his team from the bench and there are a lot of ingredients that make for a storybook season.

 

Nevermind the Scores; Ranney is as good as advertised.

If I am going to make a bunch of bold, possibly very wrong assertions, I have to take at least one layup, right?

Yes, Ranney is as good as advertised and while they are sure to take a few losses over the course of their loaded schedule, the Panthers are going to be a serious mountain to climb for any team that hopes to win the Tournament of Champions this year.

What makes their start even more noteworthy is they don’t have a full lineup yet. Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis have carried the load and the supporting cast has pitched in in spurts. Classmate Alex Klatsky has hit shots and delivered on defense. Senior 6-7 center Chris Autino is back in the starting lineup and freshman Elijah Perkins has performed well as a rookie starter. Senior Mike Dettro even checked in with some big plays down the stretch of Sunday’s win over Don Bosco.

Ranney senior Bryan Antoine. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Ranney has played its first two games without 6-7 junior swingman Phillip Wheeler and 6-2 guard Ahmadu Sarnor, who will provide two more offensive threats in the lineup when they are ready to play. Coach Tahj Holden said Wheeler will make his debut at the end of this week and Sarnor is tentatively set to debut against Gill St. Bernard on the last weekend of January.

The two Ranney wins haven’t exactly been dominant – the Panthers won each by 12 over a pair of quality opponents – but Ranney is not exactly whole yet, either. Bryan Antoine has been brilliant (34.5 points per game, 66.7 percent shooting in two games) and Scottie Lewis is filling up the stat sheet (17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 4.5 steals and 4.5 blocks) so even with the hype and attention, both stars are on their games out of the gate.

 

B North and B South are going to be wild.

While Neptune and Pinelands looked like the safest best to win their respective divisions – Neptune in Class B North and Pinelands in B South – neither were locks. After opening night, it appears not only will Neptune and Pinelands have their work cut out for them; it looks like just about every team in each division has a fighting chance to contend for a division championship.

In Class B North, three of the four match-ups were decided by an average of 2.3 points and Middletown North beat St. John Vianney by 24 thanks to an eye-popping 16 three-pointers on the game. Matawan erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Neptune by one, Wall came back from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat Red Bank, 53-52, and Colts Neck survived a 34-point night from Jack Miller to beat Ocean, 54-49.

Middletown North senior Rob Higgins . (Photo by Matt Manley)

B South was even wilder. All four games were decided by four points or fewer and one of them ended on a buzzer-beater. Pinelands survived a scare from Donovan Catholic, 53-50, to begin its quest for the program’s first ever division title. Lakewood grinded through a 29-25 win over Barnegat as it chases its 11th straight division championship. Manchester appears ready to put a four-win season in 2017-18 behind it after knocking off an experienced Lacey squad, 57-54.

The finish of the night was in Point Pleasant, where a young, inexperienced Point Boro team took down Jackson Liberty, 40-39, on a shot by junior Sam Young as time expired. The Panthers absorbed a strong night from Liberty senior James Sofield (20 points) to start the season strong.

With some eye-brow-raising results on opening night in both divisions, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see a four-loss team emerge with the division title – perhaps even a team that wasn’t expected.

 

The Shore’s best duo is obvious. So is its second-best.

Antoine and Lewis have been the Shore’s top duo for at least three, maybe even four seasons, and that standing is without dispute this year. After a full opening night, the No. 2 pair in the Shore looks pretty convincing as well.

Rumson’s duo of Ian O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy combined for 42 points and 30 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to a 66-43 win over Monmouth Regional to get Rumson off to a 1-0 start with its least experienced roster in a number of years. What Rumson lacks in experienced varsity players, it makes up for with the return of its two most productive players from last year’s 25-3 team.

Rumson senior Ian O'Connor. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Both are football players and should only get better as the season goes on. That is a scary proposition considering O’Connor started his season with 25 points and 17 rebounds and McCarthy added 17 points and 13 boards. The Bulldogs are inexperienced around the duo, but that kind of production is likely to keep Rumson among the Shore’s top five teams through the season.

 

Manasquan’s most unstoppable weapon is not who we expected.

Well, at least it’s not who I expected, anyway. The Warriors returned an All-Shore senior wing in Brad McCabe, a starting big man in senior Xander Korolik and brought in an impressive freshman point guard in Ben Roy. All three have played well in Manasquan’s first two games, but it has been 6-6 junior power forward Alex Galvan who has stolen the show.

Galvan had a big summer on the baseball circuit: he began pitching and immediately caught the attention of Division I programs before ultimately committing to Louisville. It appears he is primed for a breakout season on the court as well after he put up 26 points and 12 rebounds in an opening-night win over Raritan and 30 and 16 to earn MVP honors in a win over Union Catholic at the Hoop Group Tipoff Showcase in Elizabeth.

Manasquan's Alex Galvan in action as a sophomore. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Galvan was a key contributor off the bench as a sophomore, when he averaged 7.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He suffered a hand injury that robbed him of some regular-season time and stunted his progress somewhat, but he has returned in exceptional shape and is thriving as a dominant presence in the paint.

 

The (Freshmen) Kids are Alright.

Roy and Perkins have had impressive showings considering their freshman status but are far from the only high school rookies making an impact early on. On opening night alone, nine freshmen throughout the Shore scored at least nine points, with seven scoring in double-figures and three of them leading their team in scoring.

Perkins had plenty of eyes on him during Ranney’s anticipated opening-night matchup and acquitted himself nicely with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals in his high school debut – part of an 84-72 Ranney win.

Ranney freshman Elijah Perkins. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Roy, meanwhile, put up 14 points on opening night against Raritan and followed that up with 16 in a 78-74, overtime win over a Union City team ranked in the state’s top 20 by NJ.com. That effort included a pair of half-court shots – one each at the end of the first and second quarters.

Another freshman headliner heading into the season was Christian Brothers Academy guard Ryan Mabrey, the younger brother of former CBA standout Roy Mabrey and former Manasquan stars Michaela, Marina and Dara Mabrey. As just the second opening-day freshman starter ever at CBA, Mabrey debuted with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists as part of a 70-51 CBA win over Marlboro – the No. 6 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

CBA freshman Ryan Mabrey. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Point Boro beat Jackson Liberty on a buzzer-beater by junior Sam Young and before Young’s last-second heroics, freshman Dominic Schiappa poured in a team-high 11 points to help lead the Panthers – who are replacing their top four scorers from a year ago – to a dramatic opening-day win.

Donovan Catholic freshman Jaden Anthony and Keyport rookie D.J. Thomson each scored 16 points to lead their respective teams in a losing effort. Anthony’s performance got the Griffins within striking distance of knocking off division favorite Pinelands on the road, with the home team pulling out a 53-50 win. Thomson – the younger brother of former Keyport standout and current quarterback at Marshall University Alex Thomson – put up 16 in a 68-54 loss to Asbury Park.

Manchester is coming off a four-win season and started off on a good note behind its young roster. Wyatt Hasselbauer, a 6-6 center, is a key part of the youth movement and started off his high school career with 10 points in a 57-54 win over Lacey.

Ocean’s Corey Miller and Red Bank’s Patrick Murray each scored nine points in losses, with Murray knocking down three three-pointers in a 53-52 loss to Wall.

That group of nine did not include heralded 6-5 Central Regional forward Justin Soranno, who had a quiet debut (three points) and left with an ankle injury in the third quarter during the Golden Eagles’ loss at Brick Memorial.

 

Central is still young.

Speaking of Central, the Golden Eagles opened the season No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and quickly found out what it is like to be the hunted. Central went just 8-18 last year, but with three senior starters back plus Soranno and talented 6-9 sophomore Kyle Rhoden now in the mix, the expectations increased significantly.

In its first game carrying those expectations, Central got picked off by Brick Memorial, 58-51. The hostile road environment was a new experience for the younger members of the group and it showed in the team’s 13-for-32 performance from the free-throw line and 2-for-19 from beyond the three-point arc. Losing Soranno in the third to the tweaked ankle also did not help and he is considered day-to-day, according to coach Mike Clemente Jr.

Coming off a losing season and with some young players playing prominent roles, a top-10 spot in December might have been ambitious. The Golden Eagles are likely to have their share of growing pains but the raw talent is still undeniable and should eventually start to translate.

 

Holmdel looks the Shore’s ultimate sleeper.

Holmdel has played the underdog role well in recent years, but this year’s team might have the chops to take things a step further. With a roster almost entirely of juniors, the Hornets play in a deep, dangerous Class A Central division that includes top 10 teams Manasquan, Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic. Beating out any of those three – much less all of them – seemed like a tall order but maybe Holmdel is ahead of schedule.

The Hornets drew rave reviews from preseason opponents and coach Sean Devaney said this was his best group in years and one of the best he’s had in 13 seasons at Holmdel. His team backed him up in its first real game, routing St. Rose, 66-33, behind a balanced scoring effort in which four players (John Curreri, Jack Giamanco, Alex Baker and Doug Chan) hit double-figure scoring, none more than 15 points. Throw in the fact that Holmdel was missing a top scorer in Derek Chan and the Hornets prospects appear even better.

It’s only one regular-season game and the road will get rockier, but Holmdel appears to be coming on strong in what should be the first year of a strong two-year run.

 

A North is even deeper than expected.

Three Class A North teams (CBA, Marlboro and Freehold Township) started the season in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 and three more (Long Branch, Middletown South and Howell) made the cut as teams to watch. Long Branch, Middletown South and Howell all got off to rough starts and Howell lost its top returning player and point guard, Matt Ganter, to an ankle injury but all three were teams that figured to require a few weeks before hitting their stride.

The two A North teams not mentioned were Manalapan and Freehold Boro and both upstarts showed in the season’s first two days that they are not to be overlooked. Manalapan opened its season with a 56-47 win over Middletown South in a match-up of junior-heavy squads. Manalapan’s junior point guard, Ryan Knorr, stole the show with a game-high 20 points and all but three of Manalapan’s 56 points came from its juniors. Middletown South opened some eyes with its young squad over the summer and in the preseason, so taking the Eagles down on day one is a statement for this Braves team.

Freehold Boro, meanwhile, entered the season on a 19-game losing streak in Class A North play that dates back to the 2016-17 season. The Colonials quickly put that to rest by edging Long Branch on opening night, 39-38, behind a stellar defensive performance and balanced offensive attack. Freehold Boro followed that up with a dominant outing to beat Lakewood, 39-20, on Saturday behind 17 points and eight boards by Jiasion Carpenter.

You might notice the 39 points Freehold scored in each game and that is a magic number of sorts for the Colonials. Not only did that number get them in win in each of their first two games, but it is also their average points per game from a season ago. While coach Ben DiBiase wouldn’t mind seeing that number increase significantly as the season moves along, it has to be nice to see his team commit to holding opponents to under that number.

Freehold Boro will put its hot start to the test Tuesday night at home against rival Freehold Township.

 

It’s anybody’s game for the B Central public title.

Ranney is sure to coast to the overall Class B Central division title but the door was wide open for the five public school teams in the division to make a run at the public title, which has not been in play for the past three years while Ranney and Mater Dei Prep have been powerhouses.

Opening night indeed revealed a division that could come down to the wire with multiple teams involved. Asbury Park is the front-runner for that second spot in the division and while the Blue Bishops took care of business in a 68-54 win over Keyport, the Red Raiders showed some promise. Freshman D.J. Thomson scored 16 points in his debut and sophomore Troy Alvarez added 11, giving the Red Raiders some serious underclass scoring punch of which other B Central teams will have to take note.

The biggest statement of the night, though, belonged to Keansburg. For the first time in approximately 15 seasons, according to coach James McCarthy, his Titans beat perennial division and Group I contender Point Pleasant Beach and did so convincingly, 46-25. Nasir Williams led a balanced scoring effort with 12 points and Keansburg led the game from wire-to-wire to get the season off on a resounding note.

While the loss was certainly not the way Point Beach and its proud program wanted to start the year, the Garnet Gulls are dealing with a slew of injuries to an already inexperienced roster. Among the ailing is junior guard Jake Clark, who is the lone returning contributor from last year’s Central Jersey Group I championship team, so Point Beach is a team with help eventually coming. Once it does, the Gulls could still have a chance to rally the troops for a late-season run.

Mater Dei Prep is not contention for a public division title because it is not a public school, but the Seraphs can be the monkey wrench for the rest of the field. They opened the season with a 66-42 win over a Henry Hudson squad that returned a solid core of juniors around senior Jay Anthony – a sign that while Mater Dei is not what it was when it was competing for and winning Shore Conference titles, it is still a team that will win its share of divisional games under new coach Dennis Kazimir.

 

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