Boys Basketball – 2015-16 Preview: Class B North
Although no team from Class B North took home a postseason title last year, there is little to dispute the assertion that it was the deepest, most competitive division in the Shore Conference last year. Not only did six of the eight teams have a winning record, but all six also finished with a division mark of .500 or better. It seemed like every week, a different team emerged as the favorite to run down the regular-season title and in the end, it was Wall capturing its first division title since 1974.
It will be hard for the division as a whole to replicate the competitive atmosphere of last year, but the race for the top spot in the field should be similarly competitive to last year’s race – which came down to Wall, Red Bank and Colts Neck. The Cougars return as one of the favorites, while Red Bank, Red Bank, Catholic and Neptune all bring back enough talent to make a realistic run. The rest of the field has its question marks, but some potential as well.
In Predicted Order of Finish
Head Coach: Lou Piccola, 17th season
2014-15 Record: 16-9 (9-5, third in B North)
Returning: Lloyd Daniels (Sr., 6-3, Guard), Tom O’Reilly (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Kyle Gordon (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Jordan DeGroot (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Khalid Mustafa (Sr., 6-5, Center)
Key Losses: Chris O’Reilly (6-0, Guard), Mike Lamb (6-7, Center), Colton LaLima (5-8, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Brendan Clarke (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Tim Cavrak (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Robby Hill (So., 6-3, Forward/Center)
In a competitive division like Class B North, health is always a major factor and even though the Cougars did not take any season-ending hits to their lineup last year, they never quite got a full lineup on the floor at 100 percent. Whether it was Lloyd Daniels, Kyle Gordon or since-graduated center Mike Lamb, Colts Neck went into most of its games nicked up at the very least. The most noteworthy of those injuries as it pertains to this season was an ankle injury to Daniels, which not only sidelined him for nearly three weeks, but curtailed a breakout season by sapping him of some of his quickness once he returned. Now that the Cougars can hit the reset button and take a full squad that features Daniels, Gordon and 6-foot-4 forward Tom O’Reilly into the season, they look like a team ready to go beyond the levels they reached last year.
Although injuries impacted Colts Neck, they hardly sunk the ship. Colts Neck still stayed in the B North race to the final week, gave Central Jersey Group II champion Manasquan a tough game on the road in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 and reached the NJSIAA Central Group IV semifinals before losing at Freehold Township. With a full lineup intact, the Cougars should be able to stem the tide of graduation, which takes top scorer Chris O’Reilly and Lamb off the roster this season. O’Reilly was a constant in the lineup and one of the Shore’s top swingmen, but the return of Daniels on the perimeter ensures that Colts Neck will again have a guard who can create offense in a variety of ways. Tom O’Reilly, meanwhile broke out as defender and on the offensive end as well, as he averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds. Gordon also chipped in better than six points and four boards while playing quality defense.
Varsity returnees Jordan DeGroot and Khalid Mustafa will play bigger roles after a full year of experience, with DeGroot providing some quickness in the backcourt and Mustafa offering some more size to help replace Lamb. Senior Tim Cavrak, junior Brendan Clarke and sophomore Robby Hill are all set to add their own respective elements to the rotation, with Clarke fitting in on the wing, Cavrak in the backcourt and Hill down low. The senior trio of Daniels, O’Reilly and Gordon will lead the way, but just like last year, the Cougars will need contributions across the board. Based on their recent history of finding it, they have to be among the favorites in B North.
Head Coach: Joe Fagan, second season
2014-15 Record: 15-11 (7-7, tied fifth in B North)
Returning: Barry Brown (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Jared Kimbrough (So., 6-6, Forward/Center)
Key Losses: Micah Kerr (6-4, Forward), Kerry Kirkwood (5-10, Guard), Keishawn Kirkwood (5-11, Guard), Shawn McMillan (6-0, Guard), Diondre Dunn (6-3, Forward), O’Shane Currate (6-2, Guard), Marcque Ellington (Sr., 6-6, Forward; transferred to St. John Vianney)
Key Newcomers: Jules Calhoun (Jr., 6-2, Forward; transfer from Middletown North), Keith Pettway (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Dymar Holland (Jr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Seth Harrington (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Fabrice Bambata (Jr., 6-4, Center), Tyreek Montgomery (So. 5-11, Guard), Kobe Blake (So., 6-2, Forward), Jawan Crenshaw (So., 6-2, Guard), Scott Fields (So., 6-3, Guard)
It took some time and some lineup changes but Neptune rallied for a run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals in coach Joe Fagan’s first season before falling to eventual champion Rumson-Fair Haven. That run to the SCT final four seemed rather improbable in mid-January, when the Scarlet Fliers were 3-7 overall and a staggering 0-6 in Class B North divisional play. Neptune then rattled off eight straight wins to secure a spot in the tournament and knocked off Howell, Manalapan and Point Beach to break into the semifinals after a two-year hiatus.
It took some time for Fagan to find the optimal mix for the rotation, but once he did, it was a lineup filled with seniors, which leaves Neptune somewhat short on experience this year. Factor in the transfer of 6-5 forward Marque Ellington to St. John Vianney, and Neptune will look much different than last year’s team, with only junior guard Barry Brown and 6-6 sophomore Jared Kimbrough returning with significant experience with the Fliers. Brown led a balanced Neptune team in scoring a year ago with an even 10 points per game, while Kimbrough was typically the second or third man off the bench as a freshman. Brown is looking to be a leader in addition to a top scorer this year while Kimbrough hopes to tap into some of his significant potential.
While they will miss Ellington, the Fliers welcome in junior Jules Calhoun, a 6-2 transfer from Middletown North who averaged eight points per game for the Lions as a sophomore. With Calhoun in the fold, Neptune has three experienced varsity players around which to build a lineup and a stable of players to plug the rest of the open spots. Guards Seth Harrington and Keith Pettway can both shoot the ball from beyond the arc and will buy in defensively, while Dymar Holland and sophomore Jawan Crenshaw give Fagan some athletic options. Junior Fabrice Bambata (6-4) and sophomore Kobe Blake (6-2) will bring size off the bench, and that depth could still be the element that sets Neptune apart in the b North season and further down the road.
Red Bank Catholic
Head Coach: Jim Catalano, third season
2014-15 Record: 16-11 (7-7, tied fifth in B North)
Returning: Eddie Hahn (Sr., 6-4, Guard), Evan Madigan (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Joe Agius (Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), John Poccia (Sr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Joe Montano (5-10, Guard), Liam Byrne (6-2, Guard), Kevin Fazio (6-5, Forward), Tom Montano (5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Colin Shaughnessy (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Liam Smith (Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Mark Caverly (Jr., 6-6, Center), Terrance Calendrillo (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Mike Conley (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Sean Smith (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Although the Caseys were not always consistent during their 2014-15 campaign, they showed on multiple occasions that they can could beat quality opposition and play with anyone in the conference. That profile included a pair of wins over Red Bank, a win over Freehold Township and a battle at CBA in the Shore Conference Tournament that the Colts ultimately escaped. Despite the loss of three starters, this Caseys squad offers some athleticism and size where there was experience a year ago – enough to take a run at the B North title and be dangerous in the postseason.
Red Bank Catholic has some shooting and size to replace, but the Caseys bring back all-around talent Eddie Hahn and sharpshooter Evan Madigan to the starting lineup. Hahn averaged 10 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists as a senior last year, while Madigan averaged 10.4 points per game. Hahn is headed to UConn on a football scholarship, while Madigan is committed to play baseball at Bucknell, so both are all-around athletes.
Seniors Joe Agius and John Poccia also got some time last year and will get a larger chunk of playing time this year. The rest of the rotation, while new, will consist of mostly juniors and seniors, highlighted by a pair of big men in 6-5 senior Liam Smith – who is headed to play football at Duke next year – and 6-6 junior Mark Caverly. Senior Colin Shaughnessy and juniors Terrance Calendrillo, Mike Conley and Sean Smith are all backcourt options for third-year head coach Jim Catalano. With Hahn back and capable of playing all over the floor and contributing in a number of ways, the Caseys have a chance to run out a number of different lineup combinations and with some good options for that lineup joining the team this year, there could well be a winning combination in there somewhere.
Head Coach: Scott Martin, 15th season
2014-15 Record: 16-7 (10-4, second in B North)
Returning: Sadiq Palmer (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Jack Navitsky (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Anthony Mitchell (5-11, Guard), Tyler Christie (6-3, Forward), Justin Gilson (6-1, Guard), Eddie Hendrex (6-3, Forward), Jimmy Ferrogine (6-0, Guard), Jake Marcin (6-3, Forward), Connor Kelly (5-10, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Jack Anderson (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Matt Reardon (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Ben Sprauer (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Everton Ramsey (Sr.), Chris Outterbridge (Jr.), Connor McLoone (Jr.), Devin Cooper (So.), Ian Fitzgerald (So.), Quran Molloy (So.)
Not many teams point to a December tournament as the highlight of the season, but that’s how emotionally satisfying it was for Red Bank to win the Albert E. Martin Buc Classic on its home floor last year. The Bucs have been running on emotion for each of the past two seasons, a lasting effect of the tragic loss of Albert Martin during a scrimmage in December of 2012. While Martin has been immortalized by the Red Bank athletic community, there is a connection to the late Bucs captain that will go away following this upcoming season when the last class of players to play in the program at the same time as Martin graduate.
Red Bank has had two solid seasons over the past two years, but has come up just short of both a B North title and an NJSIAA sectional title. Senior forward Sadiq Palmer was a freshman on the varsity team for the 2012-13 season and he and classmate Jack Navitsky would like to give the Red Bank basketball program one more ride to remember on Martin’s behalf. The duo already helped orchestrate a historic football season, with Navitsky quarterbacking the Bucs to an 11-1 mark with a sectional championship appearance and Palmer serving as the Bucs’ top offensive weapon. Palmer, who is headed to Syracuse to play football, has also been a force on the court and returns after an All-Shore junior campaign in which he posted 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Although Red Bank returns its top scorer and rebounder, it must replace almost the entire remainder of production. Tyler Christie, Anthony Mitchell, Eddie Hendrex and Justin Gilson were all key cogs who graduated last June and coach Scott Martin will be relying on a new group of supporting players – a number of which were part of the football experience along with Palmer and Navitsky. Jack Reardon, Ben Sprauer and Jack Anderson will look to step right in as senior leaders, while Chris Outterbridge, and Connor McLoone offer some help from the junior class. The Bucs also welcome a sophomore trio to the varsity mix in Devin Cooper, Ian Fitzgerald and Quran Molloy. To win a deep division, Red Bank will need to create the same balance and chemistry it has had for each of the past two seasons, but the return of Palmer allows for some margin for error in the early going.
Head Coach: Stan Mooney, third season
2014-15 Record: 3-16 (2-12, tied seventh in B North)
Returning: Jamar Foster (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Tyree Morris (So., 5-10, Guard), Jaquell Presley (Sr., 6-4, Forward/Center), T.J. Fosque (So., 6-4, Forward), Cascius Briggs (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Joshawn Boynton (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: Dave Colbert (5-8, Guard), Raheem Carter (Jr., 6-2, Guard; transferred to Roselle Catholic), Fred Reeves Jr. (Jr., 6-0, Guard; transferred to Ca.)
Key Newcomers: Anthony Velazquez (Sr., 5-11, Guard; transfer from Puerto Rico), Rahmir Jones (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Kevin Porch (So., 6-0, Guard), Andreas Gutierrez (Sr., 5-5, Guard), Kaymar Mims (So., 6-5, Center), Marc Dennis (Fr., 5-7, Guard)
Last season was nothing short of a rebuilding year at Long Branch, which played just one senior in the regular rotation and relied heavily on sophomores and freshman across the lineup. The result was an uncharacteristic 3-16 season, a struggle that was only intensified by the fact that sophomore standout Raheem Carter missed a large portion of the start of the season due to injury. The Green Wave were more competitive once he returned and began to show some promise for the future with the production of Carter, Jamar Foster, Fred Reeves and Tyree Morris.
Unfortunately for Long Branch, only two of those four players returned to the school this season, with Carter transferring to defending Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic and Reeves moving to California. The Green Wave will still sport a program of young, up-and-coming talent, but missing two major offensive contributors could potentially put them behind the eight-ball. On the plus side, Morris and Foster both showed promise last year, particularly Morris. Senior forwards Jaquell Presley and Joshawn Boynton each bring some size to the table at 6-4 and should help to provide some senior presence along with Foster. Sophomore T.J. Fosque is another 6-4 forward who offers some athleticism to the frontcourt and junior guard Cascius Briggs is the other returnee to the rotation.
If there is one player that can make Long Branch a contender in B North, it will be senior guard Anthony Velazquez, a transfer from Puerto Rico who has already opened eyes in the Shore Conference. Velazquez is a well-rounded scorer who will be called upon to replace a large chunk of the scoring lost with the departures of Carter and Reeves. Sophomore forward Kaymar Mims is another athlete who will make an impact as a newcomer and freshman point guard Marc Dennis will get a chance to prove himself in his first high school season. With a potential impact senior newcomer and another year of experience for what was a very young team last year, Long Branch looks primed to bury a nightmare 2014-15 season as a bad memory.
Head Coach: John Terlecsky, eighth season
2014-15 Record: 8-16 (2-12, tied seventh in B North)
Returning: Scott Bradley (Sr., 6-4, Center), Jake Talarico (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Ru’Quan Dean (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Yianni Kavarakas (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Manny Padron (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Erik Rant (Sr., 6-0, Forward)
Key Losses: Taj Shomo (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Jon Zimmerman (Sr., 6-3, Center)
Key Newcomers: Nasir Williams (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Greyson Stoothoff (Sr., Guard), Christian Votta (Sr., Guard), Shalin Shah (Sr., Forward), Darius Brown (Jr., Guard), Andrew Seager (So., Forward)
Ocean was not quite in the same boat as Long Branch last year because the Spartans did have some senior players and varsity experience on board, but they were also a casualty of a grueling B North divisional schedule and finished seventh in a division with six SCT qualifiers. A 1-6 start to the season buried Ocean in a hole it could not dig out of, even after beating Neptune on the road at the buzzer to spark a three-game winning streak that got them to 4-6. The Spartans did manage to go a respectable 6-4 outside the division and are looking to take advantage of a good mix of returning talent on their roster in a B North division with at least a couple teams that will likely be in rebuilding mode.
Taj Shomo (15 points per game) was the only Ocean player to average double-figures in scoring last year and he is one of the key players to graduate from last year’s roster. The Spartans will have a different look on offense without Shomo and with a pair of frontcourt players capable of scoring at least 10 per game. Senior center Scott Bradley was the second-leading scorer on the team a year ago, averaging 8.6 points to go with 6.1 rebounds. Fellow senior Yianni Kavarakas also returns to the frontcourt and will help out on the glass and protecting the paint on the defensive end. The Spartans also welcome back guards Jake Talarico, Ru’Quan Dean and Manny Padron and all offer an array of attributes to the team. Talarico hit a team-high 40 three-pointers last season, while Dean served as a pass-first point guard who averaged 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Padron and senior forward Erik Rant will be key depth pieces for the Spartans who could take on a number of different roles.
Junior guards Nasir Williams and Darius Brown will have a chance to take on more varsity responsibility this year, as will senior newcomers Greyson Stoothoff, Christian Votta and Shalin Shah. With the exception of Shah, that whole group of upper-class newcomers consists of guards. Sophomore Andrew Seager will provide some frontcourt depth that will help eighth-year coach John Terlecsky spell Bradley and Kavarakas when necessary, although it will be better for the Spartans if that is seldom necessary. Neptune, Red Bank and Red Bank Catholic all have enough preseason question marks to leave an opening for Ocean to jump a whole host of teams and compete in the top half of B North, but the Spartans are not completely without questions themselves. They will have to find balanced scoring to replace Shomo and hope the incoming depth is able to contribute in arguably the Shore’s deepest division.
Head Coach: John Giraldo, first season
2014-15 Record: 15-12 (8-6, fourth in B North)
Returning: Mergim Gyjriqi (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Randy Meyers (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Pat Hennessy (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Thomas Williams (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Jason Dunne (6-3, Guard), Joe Piscopo (5-9, Guard), Nick Smith (6-0, Guard), Matt Esposito (6-3, Forward), Samson Ore-Onotolo (6-6, Center)
Key Newcomers: Zaire Jackson (So., 5-7, Guard), Michael Dunne (So., 6-1, Guard), Reggie Tawiah (So., 6-0, Guard)
The Huskies lost two players to graduation with All-Shore selections on their career résumés, but the purge of Matawan’s 2014 sectional championship team began before last season. The Huskies reached the Central Jersey Group II semifinals again last year and lost a hard-fought game to eventual sectional champion Manasquan, but that was just a strong finish to an up-and-down season. Jason Dunne and Joe Piscopo returned as the top two scorers from the season prior but things just never quite clicked for the Huskies in 2014-15 like they did in 13-14, perhaps because Dunne and Piscopo were the only returning starters.
This year, the Huskies are essentially starting from scratch with the graduation of Dunne and Piscopo and the departure of head coach Tom Stead, who accepted the athletic director position at Lakewood. The Huskies did go big on Stead’s replacement, though, tabbing Monmouth University all-time leading scorer John Giraldo to take over the program. The energy of a new coach with an impressive basketball résumé could be a spark for a Huskies team that will be younger than they have been in either of the past two seasons. It was only three years ago that Matawan emerged as a Shore Conference contender by upsetting CBA on the road in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 when Dunne and Piscopo were sophomores and this group will try to work toward a similar breakthrough.
One key returning piece from the last two seasons is senior Mergim Gyjriqi, who went from the third man off the bench for the sectional title team to a starter and third option on offense last year. Gyjriqi was actually the fourth-leading scorer on the team at 7.2 points per night, but flashed some shooting range and athleticism that should come in handy for the Huskies now they they’ll need to find some offense. Senior forward Randy Meyers gained some experience off the bench last year, as did junior Pat Hennessy, who offers some three-point shooting. The sophomore trio of Zaire Jackson, Michael Dunne and Reggie Tawiah will be a key to the season as all three dressed for varsity last year and will be asked to take on bigger roles this year. Dunne and Tawiah both have older brothers who starred on the 2013-14 team, so if basketball runs in the family, the Huskies could be building toward something this season.
Head Coach: Matt Kukoda, second season
2014-15 Record: 19-8 (11-3, first in B North)
Returning: Mike Andrejco (Jr., 6-4, Forward), R.J. Janeczek (Jr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Brendan Barcas (5-11, Guard), Ryan Janeczek (5-11, Guard), Trent Mitchell (6-3, Guard), Joe Tashjy (6-1, Forward), Matt Andrejco (6-1, Guard), Shaun Scott (6-7, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Steve Geis (So., 5-11, Guard), Regan Dombroski (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Gene Scott (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Darryin Valme (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Mike Steppe (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Nick Chokov (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Justin Connors (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Tim Blaney (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Clarence Celius (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Mike Cassidy (So., 5-8, Guard), Eddie Scott (So., 6-2, Guard)
Fresh off its best season in four decades, the Crimson Knights are another team that will have to replace a vast majority of its scoring from a year ago. Brendan Barcas (14.4), Ryan Janeczek (14) and Trent Mitchell (12.2) all averaged double-figure scoring and fellow senior Joe Tashjy was the fourth-leading scorer and top rebounder on the team. Barcas, in particular, leaves a huge void in the lineup after an All-Shore season that saw the three-sport athlete (soccer and baseball) average 4.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game to go with the 14 points. Losing all of that production will likely compel second-year coach Matt Kukoda to consider a different offensive approach given that there is no player like Barcas to run a free-flowing style flanked by scorers like Mitchell and Janeczek.
Wall does return some athleticism to the fold in 6-4 junior Mike Andrejco and 6-0 junior R.J. Janeczek, each of who played meaningful minutes last year with Andrejco cracking the starting lineup and averaging 4.5 points and 6.3 rebounds as a sophomore. Senior Regan Dombroski, juniors Gene Scott and Darryin Valme were also letter-winners from a year ago and will have a chance to play more this season. Sophomore Steve Geis also dressed for the varsity squad and will play in the backcourt in his second high school season.
The Crimson Knights will look to the junior newcomer tandem of Tim Blaney and 6-3 forward Clarence Celius, as well as sophomores Eddie Scott and Mike Cassidy, for contribution during the first seasons for each. Seniors Mike Steppe, Nick Chokov and Justin Connors will also add depth to Kukoda’s bench, which will likely play a bigger role than last year. Last year’s team climbed all the way out of the B North basement in 2013-14 to win the 2014-15 division title, so the Crimson Knights have already bucked external expectations once under their second-year head coach. In order to do it again, they will need to replace an accomplished class of players and overcome a strong top-to-bottom division.
Players to Watch
Sadiq Palmer, Red Bank – It might be easy to forget that on top of football exploits that landed him a scholarship from Syracuse, Palmer is a very good basketball player. The four-year starter averaged 12.7 points and eight rebounds during an All-Shore campaign.
Lloyd Daniels, Colts Neck – The smooth 6-3 shooting guard averaged 11.7 points, four rebounds and three assists and the per-game averages were much higher before a midseason ankle injury temporarily landed Daniels on the shelf.
Eddie Hahn, Red Bank Catholic – Although the UConn football recruit was not the Caseys’ leading scorer and did not have a great year shooting the ball, Hahn still loaded up the stat sheet by putting up 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and two steals per game during his moonlighting gig on the court.
Barry Brown, Neptune – Another smooth two-guard with a sweet shooting stroke and quick release, Brown has come back as a junior prepared to let his defense do some talking too. He led a balanced Neptune scoring attack with 10 points per game as a sophomore last year.
Tom O’Reilly, Colts Neck – A long, wiry forward with hops, O’Reilly was an unsung hero of Colts Neck’s season last year and returns as a key piece to the Cougars’ front court. He averaged 10 points and seven rebounds as a junior.
Jared Kimbrough, Neptune – Expectations for the 6-6 forward were high as a freshman and most Shore Conference coaches familiar with Kimbrough’s game expect that he will come into his own after getting his feet wet as a rookie on an SCT semifinalist.
Breakout Players to Watch
Anthony Vazquez, Long Branch – A quick senior guard from Puerto Rico with handle and shooting range, Vazquez will help the otherwise young Green Wave keep progressing despite losing Raheem Carter and Fred Reeves to transfers.
Merjim Gjyriqi, Matawan – On a senior-laden squad that never quite took off before the NJSIAA Tournament, Gjyriqi had some big moments with some big shots for the Huskies, who will rely on the senior forward even more this year with such a young team returning.
Scott Bradley, Ocean – After posting 8.6 points and 6.1 boards as a junior, Bradley is positioned to push for a double-double average for an Ocean team that is clamoring for a run at the top of the division after taking some lumps in a tough Class B North.
Class B North has the depth, but does it have a champion?
The six Class B North teams with winning records were the most of any Shore Conference division, but in hindsight, parity was as much a factor for that as the quality of the teams was. Wall, Red Bank, Neptune, Red Bank Catholic, Matawan and Colts Neck all made noise inside and outside the division at one point or another, but those six teams also all checked in with at least a 7-7 divisional record and none better than 11-3. Neptune made a run to the SCT semifinals and Colts Neck played in the Central Jersey IV semifinals, but that was as far as any B North team would get in a postseason tournament.
Colts Neck comes back with enough pieces to realistically shoot for a return to the sectional semifinals and beyond, while the rest of the division has just enough back to have an outside shot at some postseason hardware. The Cougars, Scarlet Fliers and the two Red Bank teams look like potential contenders to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and in a Shore Conference that could be competitive across the board, any quarterfinal team would at least have a shot to win the whole thing. That was probably the case last year as well, but an impressive regular season for the B North division didn’t quite translate to an SCT or NJSIAA sectional championship.
Which is the best team in Red Bank?
Last season, Red Bank Regional had the better overall season than Red Bank Catholic, winning the Buc Holiday Classic and finishing just a game out of first place in B North after leading the division for much of the year. On the other hand, Red Bank Catholic swept the season series from its crosstown rival and when it comes to this season, the Caseys have a little more proven offense back with Eddie Hahn and Evan Madigan. Red Bank will counter with second-team All-Shore forward Sadiq Palmer and third-year starter at point guard Jack Navitsky, with both teams relying on a long list of new contributors.
The two teams will do battle on Dec. 23 at Red Bank Regional in the first of two meetings and that game could give an early indication of which of the two will be in the thick of the B North race come February. With some noteworthy talent back at both schools, it would be a bit of a surprise if at least one of them did not make a push for a division title.
Can any of Wall, Long Branch or Matawan overcome significant losses and contend for a title?
While the Crimson Knights, Green Wave and Huskies are all in the same boat with respect to losing impact players, not all of them are at similar points in their rebuilding plans. Wall and Matawan are just beginning to reload the their respective programs, with Matawan two years removed from its banner season and Wall just one year removed from a 19-win campaign that included an outright B North title. Long Branch is two years removed from a winning record and three removed from fielding a team good enough to contend with the best in the Shore Conference.
Long Branch also differs from the other two in that the Green Wave have an impact newcomer that can help make up for the loss of Raheem Carter and Fred Reeves. Anthony Velazquez is a ready-made senior scorer from Puerto Rico who coach Stan Mooney expects to be one of the top guards in the conference. Wall and Matawan will look to build enough depth and chemistry to set up the possibility of contention sometime in the next two years, but Long Branch took those lumps last year and will also add a key player to the mix. A surprise season could happen for any and all of the three teams, but Long Branch seems like the most likely of the trio.