The emergence of Ranney and Mater Dei Prep last year turned B Central from a division of small school Davids into the division of Goliath, at least considering the top teams in the division. Not only are Ranney and Mater Dei Prep again loaded to the brim with talent heading into the 2016-17 season, but Point Beach and St. Rose each return strong rosters that have a chance to improve on their respective records from a season ago.

What makes B Central so unique is that it has become the division of the haves and have-nots. Half of the division is still operating as typical small school programs, while Point Beach and the three non-public programs have risen to new heights – with Ranney and Mater Dei doing so recently and drastically. Even St. Rose has not drastically changed the way it does business and the team the Roses have this year would have been a heavy favorite in B Central eight years ago or so. Meanwhile, Asbury Park, Keyport, Keansburg and Henry Hudson have to figure out how to work around a schedule that virtually has eight losses built in.

The disparity makes for some lopsided games, but it does create quite the arms race at the top.

 

Mater Dei Prep

Head Coach: Ben Gamble, second season
2015-16 Record: 26-2 (14-0, first in B Central)
Key Returners: Elijah Barnes (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Elijah Mitchell (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Kenny Jones (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Marvin Pierre (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Maleek McKnight (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Sean Krueger (Sr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: NyQuan McCombs (5-10, Guard), Kyle Elliot (6-1, Guard), Bryan Harris (6-2, Guard), Josh Green (6-2, Guard/Forward)
Key Newcomers: Kyle Cardaci (Jr., 6-2, Guard) – Transfer from Holmdel; Brandon Wilson (Jr., 6-2, Forward) – Transfer from Howell; Rajae Muhammed (Sr., 6-8, Forward/Center) – Transfer from Penns Grove; Yasin Pretlow (Jr., 6-0, Guard) – Transfer from Roselle Catholic; Adam Afifi (Jr., 6-8, Center) – Transfer from Egypt; Kyle Devaney (Jr., 5-8, Guard)

Fresh off the a 26-2 season and the program’s first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship, Mater Dei Prep will be back in the SCT hunt this year with a handful of returnees and five more transfers from outside the program. Senior Elijah Barnes leads the group of returning talent after a big offseason in which he signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Princeton, while senior Elijah Mitchell and junior Kenny Jones both return to the starting lineup as well. Jones is set for a big junior year and an expanded role for him will help offset the loss of All-Shore point guard NyQuan McCombs. Seniors Marvin Pierre and Maleek McKnight are also back after coming off the bench last year.

After bringing in nine transfers in before coach Ben Gamble’s first season last year, five more are on board this coming year. Two of those new players came over from Shore Conference programs, with junior Kyle Cardaci transferring in from Holmdel and junior Brandon Wilson from Howell. Cardaci led Holdmel with 17.2 points per game as a sophomore while Wilson averaged 10 points with the Rebels. Yasin Pretlow is another new guard on the Mater Dei roster after leaving Roselle Catholic and between him, Cardaci and Wilson, the Seraphs hope to make up for the lost production of the Seraphs’ other All-Shore guard, Kyle Elliot.

The other two transfers are a pair of 6-foot-8 big men, which gives the Seraphs an element they did not have last year. Senior Rajae Muhammed played at Penns Grove last year and Adam Afifi is a native of Egypt who is gearing up for his first year of high school ball. The addition of the two bigs gives Gamble a chance to play bigger lineups that will allow Barnes to play the small forward or a more traditional four than he played last year, when he was the only player on the team taller than 6-3. Once the rotation is complete, the Seraphs will have a more versatile roster than they had last year, which could make them even better, if that’s possible.

Scottie Lewis (24) and Ranney are shooting for Elijah Barnes (right), Kenny Jones (15), Elijah Mitchell (5) and Mater Dei Prep. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)

Ranney

Head Coach: Tahj Holden, second season
2015-16 Record: 22-4 (12-2, second in B Central)
Key Returners: Bryan Antoine (So., 6-5, Guard), Scottie Lewis (So., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Chris Autino (So., 6-6, Center), Alex Klatsky (So., 6-2, Guard), Sam Metzger (Sr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Joe Mahoney (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Kyle Smith (So., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: James Geraghty (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Ahmadu Sarnor (So., 6-2, Guard) – Transfer from Collegium Charter (Pa.)

There is a very strong case to be made for Ranney as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference to open the season, but for anyone shouting that the Panthers should be No. 1, here’s a noteworthy reminder: they are starting five sophomores. If anything, it’s pretty remarkable that Ranney will go into the year with these kind of expectations despite the fact that the entire starting lineup is still two years away from being seniors. Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis are names that basketball junkies around the country already know after both already established themselves as two of the Shore’s top players as freshmen and as national prospects over the summer. Both are back and improved from a year ago and are already the two top talents in the conference as sophomores.

Teammates Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino are also back after starting as freshmen. Klatsky was on the tail end of his recovery from ACL surgery last year and is playing with more peace of mind heading into his sophomore year. He’ll play off the ball and will hit a lot of open threes as a result of the attention Antoine draws. Autino got off to a fast start to his career with a 20-point game in his debut and is a good complement to the other three players as someone who can finish around the basket and grab some rebounds. Seniors Joe Mahoney and Sam Metzger are also back and will be key contributors off the bench.

Ranney’s newest addition is sophomore guard Ahmadu Sarnor, who will give the Panthers another athlete, ball-handler and a ferocious defender that could transform the way the team defends. Although this group went 22-4 with four freshman starters, there is still a lot of room to grow in many areas and the Panthers appear to have improved along those lines. They can force the tempo with a high-pressure defense and on the offensive end, they have the ability to move the ball and beat teams with a lot of different weapons. Mater Dei’s depth still might be too much to overcome, but Ranney’s starting five will give the Panthers a chance in just about every game on its very difficult schedule.

 

Point Pleasant Beach

Head Coach: Nick Catania, 13th season
2015-16 Record: 16-12 (9-5, tied third in B Central)
Key Returners: Danny Frauenheim (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Trevor Covey (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Chris Pina (Jr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Steve Flanders (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Luke Frauenheim (Jr., Guard), Hunter Clark (Jr., Guard), Connor Prima (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: Jimmy Panzini (6-1, Guard), Mike Rice (6-1, Guard), Alex Mrusek (6-6, Center)
Key Newcomers: Jake Lorenzo (Jr., 7-0, Center) – Transferred from Bullis School (Md.); Josh Yates (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Matt Schatzman (Sr.), Johnny Langeveld (Jr.)

There might be a steep drop-off in rosters from the No. 2 team in B Central to the No. 3 team, but the No. 3 team will be among the top teams in the conference outside of Ranney and Mater Dei. Even with that being said, the Garnet Gulls won’t back down from playing the two powerhouse programs and they nearly beat Ranney on the road last year. Point Beach will have to overcome the loss of three key starters – Jimmy Panzini, Alex Mrusek and Mike Rice – but has a junior core that can keep them relevant this year and potentially dangerous in 2017-18.

Point guard Danny Frauenheim was one of the Shore’s better underclassmen over the past two years and is poised to have his best season heading into his junior campaign. Chris Pina and Trevor Covey are the other two junior returnees and each brings plenty of versatility to the floor, with both leaning more toward the profile of a guard. Seven-footer Jake Lorenzo and guard Josh Yates are the two newcomers to the team from the Class of 2018, with Lorenzo transferring from the Washington, D.C. area and Yates deciding to play this year after sitting out last year. Lorenzo is set to start in the middle and Yates will come off the bench when coach Nick Catania wants to go with a smaller, quicker lineup.

The juniors on the roster jump out, but the x-factor for Point Beach this year might be senior Steve Flanders. Now 6-foot-4, Flanders is a vastly improved player who, like Pina and Covey, can play at several spots on the floor, but will more likely handle more front-court responsibilities. He rounds out a top six that might not necessarily knock off Mater Dei or Ranney, but will benefit from playing those teams twice each and toughen up the team for the postseason.

Point Beach guard Danny Frauenheim vs. St. Rose last season. (Photo by Matt Manley)

St. Rose

Head Coach: Dennis Devaney, 31st season
2015-16 Record: 13-11 (9-5, tied third in B Central)
Key Returners: Brendan Hueth (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Billy Frost (Sr., 6-1, Forward/Guard), Nick Paterno (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Dave Calloway (Jr., 5-10, Guard), John Crowley (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Jared Scheininger (Jr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: J.P. Krotulis (Sr., 6-6, Center), Mike Gowen (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Matt Forlenza (So., Guard), Ethan Tombs (Jr., Guard), Sean Culley (Jr., Forward)

Whichever team finishes fourth in the Class B Central race is probably going to have some difficulty convincing members of the SCT seeding committee that, based on the resume, they should be considered for a top-10 seed. Based on the quality of the rosters, however, there are four top-10 caliber teams heading into the year and if it is, in fact, St. Rose that finishes fourth, the Roses should still draw plenty of respect. The Purple Roses bring back most of last year’s team, which had some success at different points of the season last year.

Seniors Brendan Hueth, Billy Frost and Nick Paterno all return to the lineup and all three bring some athleticism to the lineup. Frost will run the point, Hueth is a crafty scoring guard who can finish inside, and Paterno is a workhorse on the glass and on the defensive end. The Purple Roses also worked in a trio of sophomores last year who are now juniors. Dave Calloway, John Crowley and Jared Scheininger are all guards who can shoot the ball and will complement the athletic group of seniors. Sophomore Matt Forlenza and juniors Ethan Tombs and Sean Culley will also join the fray this year.

The Point Beach-St. Rose games are going to carry a lot of weight because if either team gets swept by the other, that team could be looking at an 8-6 season within B Central with the only wins coming against a quartet of teams that had losing seasons in 2015-16. Whatever happens, both are quality teams and will be evenly-matched, with St. Rose offering up one of its most athletic teams during the 31-year tenure of coach Dennis Devaney.

 

Asbury Park

Head Coach: Keith Coleman, second season
2015-16 Record: 3-13 (3-11, seventh in B Central)
Key Returners: Josmere Taylor (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Christian Braggs (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Xavier Hundley (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Ja’King Agostini (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Javon Higgs (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Kaysaun Rice (So., 6-6, Center), Najir Ridout (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Jeremiah Calhoun (Sr., 5-11, Guard/Forward)
Key Losses: TyQuere Davis (5-10, Guard), NyRhique Smith (6-3, Guard), Davon Thompson (6-0, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Cishiume Simmons (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Alex Peavy (So., 6-0, Guard), Alexx Horbour (So., 5-11, Guard) – Transfer from Neptune

After some disappointing seasons in recent years, Asbury Park is primed to trot out an improved team once their many football players catch up with their conditioning and basketball routines. The problem for the Blue Bishops is that improvement in Class B Central with two juggernauts and two more very good teams has to be viewed through a slightly-altered lens. While Asbury Park is not the type of program to seek out moral victories, B Central might have the hardest top-four to crack in the Shore Conference. Setting that goal as a team coming off a three-win season might be overly ambitious.

Of course, it can’t hurt to be ambitious when it comes to preseason goals. Asbury Park returns most of the roster from last year’s 3-13 team, led by senior guard Josmere Taylor, who a chunk of the season due to injury. Taylor has led the Bishops in per-game scoring in each of the past two years and will be the top perimeter threat. Senior Christian Braggs is the other Blue Bishops player who stepped up last year and provided strong play on both ends, as well as on the glass. Juniors Javon Higgs and Ja’King Agostini will be key players in the back court, while senior Xavier Hundley and 6-foot-6 sophomore Kaysaun Rice add some front court depth to go along with Braggs.

With some time to jell after winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I football championship, the Blue Bishops should come together for a much better season than the one they turned in during the 2015-16 campaign. The group has had a taste of winning on the football field and there will be a sense of pride about this group as they set out to prove that they are better than what they showed last year.

 

Keyport

Head Coach: Phil Recco, 12th season
2015-16 Record: 7-17 (4-10, tied fifth in B Central)
Key Returners: Noah Geraghty (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Chris Hogrefe (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Brendan O’Brien (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Christian Smith (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Cody Young (Sr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Travis Alvarez (6-6, Center), Zach Ochs (6-2, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Jackson Aumack (Sr., Guard), Colin Fernandez (Jr., Forward), Kyle Johnson (Sr., Center), Kyle Roberts (So., Center), Greg Robinson (So., Forward), J.J. Young (So., guard)

Like most of the teams in B Central, Keyport’s chances to be a better team this year don’t necessarily line up with its chance to have a better record. Playing in Class B Central this year as one of the teams that finished in the bottom four a year ago likely means eight losses during the division schedule against Ranney, Mater Dei, Point Beach and St. Rose. The Red Raiders will, however, battle Point Beach and St. Rose again this year and with three starters and another pair of solid regulars back, they might have a shot to steal one.

Seniors Chris Hogrefe and Brendan O’Brien are back this year, as is junior forward Noah Geraghty. That returning trio is joined by seniors Christian Smith and Cody Young, both of whom gained varsity experience last year while mostly coming off the bench. Seniors Jackson Aumack and Kyle Johnson will also contribute this year, along with junior Colin Fernandez and sophomores Kyle Roberts, Greg Robinson and J.J. Young.

Geraghty, O’Brien and Hogrefe will form a solid core for Keyport and the Red Raiders should again like their chances against Asbury Park during the year and in the first round of the Central Jersey Group I playoffs, which they won last year against Piscataway Tech before losing to eventual sectional champion Florence in the quarterfinals. Winning more than six games within B Central, however, will be extremely difficult.

 

Henry Hudson

Head Coach: Vinnie Whitehead, 11th season
2015-16 Record: 12-15 (4-10, tied fifth in B Central)
Key Returners: Tom Colantino (Sr., 5-6, Guard), Matt Going (Sr., 6-4, Forward/Center), Brendan Carlstrom (Sr., 5-10, Guard/Forward), Ryan Doelger (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Tom Fennell (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Tom DeFelippo (6-2, Guard), Chris Coberg (6-6, Forward), Anthony LaRue (6-1, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Jay Anthony (So., 6-0, Guard), Austin Flesch (Jr., 6-3, Forward/Center), Amarjit Singh (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Jay Santiago (Jr., 5-9, Guard)

The 2015-16 version of Henry Hudson boys basketball is a case study of how the explosion of programs like Ranney and Mater Dei can squash a small-town school with modest overall talent, but relatively good talent given its size. The Admirals had their best roster in years last year, but when Ranney brought in its outstanding freshman class and Mater Dei overhauled its program under Gamble, it relegated Henry Hudson to the bottom half of the standings once again.

Considering their plight, the Admirals acquitted themselves well by finishing tied for fifth in the division while winning 12 games overall. On the down side, seniors Tom DeFilippo, Chris Coberg and Anthony LaRue were critical members of the team last year and life without them may be tough, at least initially. Tom Colantino, Tom Fennell, Brendan Carlstrom, Ryan Doegler and Matt Going give the Admirals five seniors with varsity experience, although none contributed to the level of the three players who graduated. Sophomore Jay Anthony and 6-3 junior Austin Flesch will help fill in the missing pieces, but Henry Hudson’s chance to make a dent in the division race likely still lies somewhere down the road.

 

Keansburg

Head Coach: James McCarthy, ninth season
2015-16 Record: 2-21 (1-13, eighth in B Central)
Key Returners: Quentin Godfrey (Sr., 5-7, Guard), Vaughn Fitzgerald (Jr., 6-7, Center), Danny Vital (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Nick Rizzi (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Justin Alessi (Jr., 5-5 Guard)
Key Newcomers: Paul Eckleberry (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Michael Fraley (Jr., 6-3, Forward)

As if competing with some of the best teams in the Shore Conference was not difficult enough, Keansburg will open the season beset by injuries. Senior point guard and junior newcomer Michael Fraley will both miss significant time due to ankle injuries, which offsets some of the optimism Keansburg might have had with five key players set to return this year.

With Godfrey out, more work will fall on junior guard Danny Vital, as well as senior guard Nick Rizzi and junior guard Justin Alessi. Fraley, meanwhile, was set to help out in the front court, but his injury leaves the Titans thin on the front line, with only Vaughn Fitzgerald and Paul Eckleberry on hand. Each has good size – Fitzgerald is 6-foot-7 and Eckleberry 6-5 – and Fitzgerald will be one of the Titans’ top all-around players. A healthy roster at some point along the way might help the Titans put a string of wins together, but competing for the sixth spot in the division is probably the ceiling for the regular season.

 

Players to Watch

Scottie Lewis, Ranney – As awe-inspiring as his highlight reel is and as good as his freshman stats (15.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) were, the best part of Lewis’s freshman season was how willingly he bought into the idea of dominating on the defensive end and on the glass.

Bryan Antoine, Ranney – Antoine has a pretty high bar to reach for this year after turning in one of the great freshman seasons (20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.1 steals) the Shore has seen from a boys player.

Elijah Barnes, Mater Dei Prep – A Princeton signee, Barnes’s numbers are suppressed by the fact that Mater Dei has a balanced, guard-heavy team. He still managed 11.9 points, 4.5 boards and 2.3 blocks per game.

Kenny Jones, Mater Dei Prep – Jones didn’t play until the end of January last year and served in more of a niche role. Now the primary ball-handler, he should build on his 7.9 points and 2.3 steals per game.

Elijah Mitchell, Mater Dei Prep – In addition to his 9.1 points per game last year, Mitchell was a lockdown defender who matched up with the likes of Scottie Lewis and CBA’s Pat Andree.

Kyle Cardaci, Mater Dei Prep – One of the best juniors in the Shore Conference transferred from Holmdel to Mater Dei and will help the Seraphs space the floor once he is eligible.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Steve Flanders, Point Beach – On a team full of juniors, Flanders is a senior with a vastly improved game that might make him the Garnet Gulls’ most indispensable player.

Ahmadu Sarnor, Ranney – The 6-2 guard transferred in from the Philly area and completes Ranney’s lineup of five players from the Class of 2019.

Nick Paterno, St. Rose – Already a quality rebounder and defender, Paterno can step out and hit a shot and should clean up around the basket.

Adam Afifi, Mater Dei Prep – An import from Egypt, Afifi has a good offensive game on the low block at 6-8, which will give Mater Dei a true interior offensive threat.

Kaysaun Rice, Asbury Park – After getting a chance to play as a freshman, Rice returns as a 6-6 sophomore with double-double upside at some point down the road.

 

Burning Questions

Can Mater Dei actually improve off a 26-2 season in 2015-16?

It’s hard to do better than 26-2, and the Seraphs will again have to wait to have a full roster, but they will ultimately have a deep, versatile roster that will allow them to match up against different styles. Last year, Mater Dei overwhelmed teams with guard play and doubled down on that guard play against bigger teams, so this year’s team might have a slightly different approach in trying to reach the same destination.

Will Ranney beat Mater Dei this season?

The question is not so much “Will Ranney win?” but rather “How many chances will Ranney have to beat Mater Dei?” A showdown in the Shore Conference Tournament appears likely and the two teams also compete in the same loaded NJSIAA section. Of the powerhouse teams, Ranney likely has the better starting five and that could very well make the difference one of these games.

Who will win the battle of the beach schools?

Point Beach and St. Rose have split the regular-season series in each of the past two seasons and the two-game regular-season series is going to be a big one for both teams. St. Rose is the older team, but both have a significant crop of juniors that will keep the rivalry going. If either team drops both meetings this year, it could damage their case for a favorable SCT seed.

Could B Central possibly get three teams into the SCT final four?

This is always a tough question to tackle at the beginning of the year because the seeding dictates which teams are most likely to make the semifinals. If, however, the pairings allow for Ranney, Mater Dei and either St. Rose or Point Beach to all reach the final four, the talent on the four teams is good enough to give a division that was once the afterthought of the conference a whole lot of pull in who wins this year’s SCT.

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