Boys Basketball – 2015-16 Preview: Preseason Top 10
As Brendan Barry rained threes on Christian Brothers Academy at the Monmouth Activities and Athletics Center and Rumson pulled away for a stunning rout of the top-seeded Colts in the Shore Conference Tournament final last year, the Shore Conference entered the height of an age of parity in the history of its tournament. Rumson entered the tournament as the No. 11 seed without an outright division title to its credit and would later go on to lose in a sectional semifinal at home to a No. 8 seed in the Central Jersey Group II playoffs.
The Bulldogs happened to be the team that played the best basketball for a stretch of two weeks and it won them a championship, something that seemed like a possibility for a number of other teams if the SCT was just held on a different week.
Rumson’s lights-out SCT as a No. 11 seed underscores a broader theme that has been going on from season-to-season for the last decade. The 2016 Shore Conference title game will mark the 80th anniversary of the tournament and in the eight decades of this tournament, no single decade has housed more than seven different champions, which has happened three times. In the last nine years of the tournament, seven different teams have won a Shore Conference title, including a different team in each of the last six years. That means, if some team other than Freehold Township, CBA, Neptune, Raritan, Lakewood, Point Beach or Rumson-Fair Haven wins the SCT title, it will mark the first time in the history of the tournament that eight different teams have won a championship in any of the eight decades.
That is a significant fact because, if the following preseason top 10 is worth anything at all (not likely), then there are five teams among the top 10 in the conference who fit the description of a potential eighth team, and at least seven more that are on the fringes of the top 10 to open the year. Parity reigned supreme in 2014-15 because it has reigned over the last 10 year in the Shore Conference. If you think you know who is going to win this year’s tournament and finish No. 1 in the Shore Conference, you could be right.
Shore Sports Network Boys Basketball Preseason Top 10
1. Christian Brothers Academy (24-6, 13-1 in Class A North)
Final 2015 Ranking: 2
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Freehold Twp.
The Colts get the preseason nod as the Shore’s No. 1 team, but it is far from a runaway. CBA returns arguably the top player in the conference in Lehigh recruit Pat Andree and 6-foot-7 senior forward Jack McGuire is as good of a second option as there is, but questions remain throughout the rest of the lineup. The guards will be good enough to win A North again, but there are some teams in the upper part of the top 10 that could give CBA trouble down the road. The Colts will play a loaded non-conference schedule to prepare for another postseason run, a schedule that includes St. Anthony, Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco, St. Augustine and East Orange, among others.
2. Mater Dei Prep (10-15, 9-5 in Class B Central)
Final 2015 Ranking: Not ranked
2015-16 Opener: Friday vs. Point Beach
The Seraphs went 10-15 last year, did not play in the Shore Conference Tournament, have three players who have to sit 30 days to honor the NJSIAA transfer rule and are still learning each other’s names, as well as first-year coach Ben Gamble’s system. Despite all that, this might be a conservative ranking. In one offseason, a virtual tri-County All-Star team has landed in New Monmouth to play for Gamble, the former Bob Hurley assistant and Cardinal McCarrick head coach. Once the Seraphs have a full roster, they will have the depth and the guard play to give CBA – and anyone else – problems.
3. Manasquan (22-7, 10-2 in Class A Central)
Final 2015 Ranking: 3
2015-16 Opener: Friday vs. Rumson-Fair Haven
If Mater Dei is the Shore’s deepest team, Manasquan might have the Shore’s most balanced starting lineup and four of its members come from two families. Brothers Ryan and Devin Jensen and Jack and Tom Sheehan will take up four of the five starting spots, with Ryan Jensen and Jack Sheehan leading the way as seniors. The Warriors are coming off a Central Jersey Group II championship and a Class A Central co-title that included two regular-season wins over defending Shore Conference Tournament champion Rumson-Fair Haven.
4. Lakewood (18-7, 14-0 in Class B South)
Final 2015 Ranking: Not ranked
2015-16 Opener: Friday vs. Pinelands
If there is any team in the conference that might approach the depth that Mater Dei has, it is probably Lakewood. The Piners return two starters in three-year starter Amir Tyler and 6-5 second-year starter Sean Barksdale, as well as returning 6-6 center Ryzson Barnes to form the foundation of a balanced lineup. They will also run a nice mix of size and quickness on the floor and if they can find some spot-up shooting, the Piners will be a threat to run away with B South again and head into mid-February as a team to watch.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (24-5, 10-2 in Class A Central)
Final 2015 Ranking: 1
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Manasquan
Brendan Barry should not miss more than two games after undergoing surgery on his non-shooting hand, according to coach Chris Champeau, but since those two games are against Manasquan and St. John Vianney, that possible absence coupled with four new starters in the lineup could have a huge impact on Rumson’s division title chances in Class A Central. With that being said, the Bulldogs are built for February and March and while they start the season No. 5 on this list, it is with the full expectation that they will have all of their roles ironed out and Barry and Co. will be a team no one wants to play in a win-or-go-home setting.
6. Point Pleasant Beach (20-10, 13-1 in Class B Central)
Final 2015 Ranking: 9
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Mater Dei Prep
The competition in Class B Central just got ratcheted up a couple notches, but Point Beach isn’t hiding from anyone with the roster it brings back this season. Senior Jimmy Panzini enters his second year with the Garnet Gulls since transferring from St. Anthony and he will lead a group that brings back a few key pieces to the rotation, including senior guard Mike Rice and 6-6 Middletown South transfer Alex Mrusek. The days of rolling to a 14-0 division record are probably over, but that doesn’t mean Point Beach isn’t within striking distance of another championship season.
7. Colts Neck (16-9, 9-5 in Class B North)
Final 2015 Ranking: Not ranked
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Long Branch
Injuries might have been the only thing that stood between Colts Neck and a Class B North title last year, as the Cougars had to overcome injuries that sidelined three of their top six players for different lengths of time. There is no guarantee things will be any better this year, but if healthy, Colts Neck returns two standouts in Lloyd Daniels and Tom O’Reilly, as well as a jack-of-all-trades type of player in Kyle Gordon. B North is always a challenge one-through-eight, but the Cougars look a little further along than the rest of the field.
8. Toms River North (21-6, 12-2 in Class A South)
Final 2015-16 Ranking: 5
2015-16 Opener: Friday vs. Lacey
After graduating nearly its entire rotation from a 2012-13 team that won 25 games, won the Class A South title and reached the SCT semifinals, it took the Mariners just one year to reload and win the Class A South title again while also reaching the SCT semifinals for the second time in three years. Toms River North has become the new standard in Class A South and with three starters back (Mike Nyisztor, Pat Marinaccio and Darrion Carrington) to go with impact transfer Jaden Rhoden, the Mariners are among the Shore’s best again.
9. Neptune (15-11, 7-7 in Class B North)
Final 2015 Ranking: 8
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Matawan
Although the Scarlet Fliers return only one starter and two contributors from a 15-11 team, they are both high upside players who will be joined by a transfer who should make an immediate impact for a team that reached the SCT semifinals in coach Joe Fagan’s first year. Barry Brown returns after leading Neptune in scoring as a sophomore and 6-6 sophomore Jared Kimbrough will play a bigger role as well. Junior Jules Calhoun comes over from Middletown North after scoring just under eight points per game for the Lions and will join a deep stable of newcomers who can help more and more as the season progresses.
10. Manchester (16-8, 11-3 in Class B South)
Final 2015 Ranking: Not ranked
2015-16 Opener: Friday at Barnegat
The Hawks have a chance to turn in their best season in more than a decade thanks to the return of seniors Jordan Torney, Shavar Reynolds and Israel Almestica, as well a junior L.J. Robinson. Manchester has yet to solve Lakewood since defeating them in the season-opener in 2009 and while postseason success cures all ills, it’s hard to see a landmark Manchester season without a win over the team that has won seven straight division titles.
Keep an Eye On…
Ranney (5-16, 2-12) – Another conservative ranking for a team that is talented enough to reach the SCT semifinals, but young enough to struggle against teams with lesser talent because of a difference in experience. It would be a surprise if the Panthers didn’t force their way into top 10 at some point this year.
Southern (20-7, 11-3) – Peyton Wejnert is the top returning scorer in the Shore Conference, so if the Rams can plug some holes elsewhere in the starting lineup, they will give Toms River North everything they can handle.
St. John Vianney (12-12, 4-8) – With two of Shore’s top scorers back as seniors, the Lancers could be a Shore Conference sleeper if they can improve on the defensive end, where they allowed 62 points per game last year.
Red Bank Catholic (16-11, 7-7) – Eddie Hahn and Evan Madigan give the Caseys a good one-two scoring punch and if their athleticism at other positions translates, the team should make a top 10 appearance somewhere along the line.
Marlboro (14-11, 8-6) – The addition of 6-foot-8 CBA transfer Matt Dean should help the Mustangs replace some of the scoring and rebounding they lost, complementing their solid junior group that continues to develop.
Middletown North (8-19, 4-10) – The Lions made a surprise run to the Central Jersey III semifinal with a young team and will add Colin Frawley to its young lineup after the senior missed all of last year due to a torn ACL.
Red Bank (16-7, 10-4) – Sadiq Palmer is one of the best pure athletes in the Shore Conference and he can play ball, but there are enough question marks to at least warrant some discretion when it comes to an early-season ranking.