Shore Conference realignment changed Class B North more than it did any other division, with four prominent teams moving out and four new ones coming in. All four teams that left – Colts Neck, Neptune, Matawan and Red Bank – have been successful programs in recent years and two of the teams that replaced them – Monmouth Regional and Middletown South – each won only two games last year. Both teams should be improved this year, but the overhaul appears – at least on the surface – to have weakened the division overall.

On the other hand, the other two teams to join the fray are Manasquan and Middletown North. Manasquan is one of the Shore’s top public school programs over the past decade, while Middletown North returns all but one player from a quality team last year. Long Branch remains in the division after finishing second and reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals last year, while Wall, Ocean and Red Bank Catholic all look poised to contend for top-four spots. To start the year, the holdovers will play the underdog role to the two newcomers, but as is often the case, the real games sometimes have other ideas.

 

Middletown North

Head Coach: Mike Iasparro, 10th season
2015-16 Record: 15-11 (10-4, tied second in A North)
Key Returners: Rob Higgins (So., 5-11, Guard), John Tomassetti (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Dave Campbell (Jr., 6-0, Guard), John Swift (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Marc Cerbo (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Matt Pinckney (Sr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Colin Frawley (6-3, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Isaiah McDowell (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Chris Kenny (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Brendan Doherty (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Jack Kenny (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Sky Cherry (Jr., 6-2, Forward) – Transfer from Mater Dei Prep

At times last year, Middletown North looked like a team ready to take the Shore by storm, but with only one senior on the team, the Lions’ youth might have caught up with them and led to some bouts of inconsistency. With most of the roster back this year, the Lions have the pieces in place for a banner season, both during the B North schedule and beyond. In addition to returning four seniors who played significant minutes last year, they also return leading scorer and all-division selection Rob Higgins, who enters his sophomore season after proving one of the Shore’s top freshmen in a loaded Class of 2019. A year older, wiser and stronger, Higgins is poised to be one of the top guards in the Shore Conference and certainly in Class A North.

The senior quartet of John Tomassetti, John Swift, Marc Cerbo and Matt Pinckney returns to form the veteran core of the team. Tomassetti, Cerbo and Pinckney are all capable perimeter players and shooters, while Swift is the team’s top interior player after averaging six points and six boards as a junior. Senior Isaiah McDowell will also give the Lions a boost in the front court after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Junior Dave Campbell, meanwhile, has the experience to match most seniors as he enters his third year as a varsity regular.

Middletown North ran into trouble at times last season when it became enamored with the three-point line, but that works the other way when Higgins, Cerco, Campbell, Pinckney and Tomassetti are all feeling it from deep. Swift, McDowell and junior Sky Cherry – who played sparingly for Mater Dei Prep’s Shore Conference Tournament championship team last year – will be the muscle of the team and their contribution on the defensive end and the glass should help the Lions improve when it comes to the dirty work while remaining a dangerous offensive team. With a little bit of a defensive edge to go with its array of offensive weapons, Middletown North will be a formidable team come tournament time.

Middletown North sophomore Rob Higgins. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

Manasquan

Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau, ninth season
2015-16 Record: 24-4 (11-1, first in A Central)
Key Returners: Devin Jensen (Sr., 6-4, Guard), Brian Paturzo (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tyler Hobbie (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Seamus Hogan (Sr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: Jack Sheehan (6-1, Guard), Ryan Jensen (6-5, Forward), Shane Flanagan (6-0, Guard), Pat Kinneally (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Kyle Coyne (6-2, Forward), Tom Sheehan (Sr., 6-3, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Ryan Flanagan (Jr., Guard), Brian McCabe (So., Forward), Jack Miles (Sr., Guard), Dylan Finn (Jr., Guard), Dustin Gladden (Jr., Forward), Emilio Stevenson (Jr., Guard), James Thompson (Jr., Forward), Xander Korolik (So., Forward) – Transfer from Wall

This year won’t mark the first time Manasquan has had to reload after losing All-Shore caliber talent, nor will it be the first time the Warriors have had to do so under coach Andrew Bilodeau. On top of losing the All-Shore duo of Ryan Jensen and Jack Sheehan, Manasquan will miss senior Tommy Sheehan, who opted to sit out basketball season to prepare for baseball season. Sheehan is committed to join his brother at Notre Dame to play baseball and has reportedly drawn interest from Major League teams as a potential draft prospect come June. Sheehan’s fortune on the diamond could be Manasquan’s burden on the hardwood but the Warriors are determined to find the next man up and keep up the tradition of winning division titles.

While Manasquan lost the younger Sheehan to baseball, the Warriors welcome back the younger Jensen. Devin Jensen stepped into the starting lineup as a junior last year and has expanded his game even more heading into this season. Several opposing coaches have pointed out his improved basketball body and his mid-range game, which will be more of a factor now that the offense won’t run through Jack Sheehan. Jensen is the logical pick to lead the Warriors in scoring, but the key to Manasquan’s season will be carving out roles and squeezing production from other parts of the roster. Senior Brian Paturzo is poised to take on a larger share of the offense after serving as a defensive specialist last year.

The rest of the roster is relatively inexperienced at the varsity level, but 6-foot-5 senior Seamus Hogan and classmate Tyler Hobbie saw some time a year ago to get them ready to do more this year. Ryan Flanagan is among a wave of juniors that will help Manasquan’s depth, while sophomore Brian McCabe and senior Jack Miles look to make an impact in their first varsity seasons. Manasquan will also get a boost from 6-6 Wall transfer Xander Korolik, who earned varsity time near the tail-end of his freshman season with the Crimson Knights. It may take some time for all the ingredients to form the stew, but when all is said and done, Manasquan will likely cook up another strong showing in the division and the postseason.

Manasquan senior Devin Jensen accepts game MVP honors at the 2016 Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Long Branch

Head Coach: Stan Mooney, fourth season
2015-16 Record: 17-9 (11-3, second in B North)
Key Returners: Tyree Morris (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Marc Dennis (So., 5-10, Guard), T.J. Fosque (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Cascius Briggs (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Anthony Velasquez (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Jamar Foster (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Jaquell Presley (Sr., 6-4, Forward/Center), Joshawn Boynton (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Kevin Porch (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Kaymar Mims (Jr., 6-5, Center)

Last year’s Green Wave but Long Branch basketball back on the Shore Conference map after a down season in 2014-15. A lot of the credit for the turnaround goes to Anthony Velasquez, who transferred to Long Branch after moving from Puerto Rico and led the Green Wave in scoring. Writing off Long Branch because Velasquez graduated would be a mistake, however, because there were some other key factors that contributed to the Green Wave’s success that will carry over to this season.

The transfer of juniors Raheem Carter and Fred Reeves – the latter of whom is entering his second year at Roselle Catholic – appeared as though they might set Long Branch back last year, but the Green Wave had a strong group of sophomores ready to step in. Tyree Morris built on solid freshman season and T.J. Fosque also stepped into a starting role. Both return to the starting lineup this year along with classmates Kevin Porch and Kaymar Mimes – both of whom will have significantly larger roles this year. Throw in senior guard Cascius Briggs and Long Branch has a stable mix of juniors and seniors.

The x-factor for Long Branch this year will be sophomore point guard Marc Dennis, who played with maturity beyond his years as a freshman point guard last year. On the 2015-16 squad, Dennis could lay back and distribute with Velasquez, Jamar Foster and Morris on hand, but will likely do more scoring this season now that the Wave are looking for some perimeter threats to go with Morris. As Dennis goes, so will Long Branch and that’s probably not a bad thing for a team looking to build on a trip to last year’s Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

Long Branch junior Tyree Morris. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

Wall

Head Coach: Matt Kukoda, third season
2015-16 Record: 7-19 (2-12, eighth in B North)
Key Returners: Steve Geis (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Gene Scott (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Mike Andrejco (Sr., 6-4, Forward), R.J. Janeczek (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Eddie Scott (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Darryin Valme (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Tim Blaney (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Clarence Celius (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Mike Cassidy (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Regan Dombroski (6-2, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Quinn Calabrese (Fr., 6-1, Guard)

Despite the fact that Wall could hardly field a team during the early part of preseason, the Crimson Knights will benefit from a wave of football players joining the group after winning the program’s first football sectional championship in 14 years. Wall faced an uphill climb last year after losing three quality senior players from a division champion in 2015 and went through some growing pains with a young, inexperienced team in 2015-16. With virtually every regular back from a year ago, Wall has a chance to build on some small successes during last season and turn those into big gains this year.

Junior guard Steve Geis has been in camp with Wall from the beginning and is looking to take another leap forward after leading the team with 9.8 points and 3.3 assists per game as a sophomore last year. Senior forward Gene Scott – a tight end and linebacker on the football team – came in right behind Geis at 9.7 points per game and also led the squad with 5.7 rebounds. Geis and Scott return as the inside-outside duo for Wall, while Mike Andrejco and Darryin Valme (you guessed it: football players) will provide some more muscle in the middle. Two more football players – senior R.J. Janeczek and junior Eddie Scott – will play in the back court. Janeczek was a No. 1 wide receiver during the football season while Eddie Scott started at quarterback.

Freshman Quinn Calabrese is the noteworthy newcomer to the varsity roster looking to make an impact and will join junior Mike Cassidy and senior Tim Blaney as players looking to make an impact in the back court along with Geis. Clarence Celius is also another senior with some size will add to Wall’s front court depth. Long football seasons can affect basketball teams with a lot of football players on them, so it may be unfair to judge the Crimson Knights right out of the gate. With Geis back and a bunch of quality athletes working back into the mix, Wall should be a tough game for everyone in B North in short order.

 

Ocean

Head Coach: John Terlecsky, ninth season
2015-16 Record: 13-13 (6-8, tied fifth in B North)
Key Returners: Darius Brown (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Andrew Seager (Jr., Forward), Chris Vivian (Sr., Forward)
Key Losses: 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), Nasir Williams (Sr., 6-2, Guard) – Transferred to Red Bank
Key Newcomers: Tim McMahon (Sr., Forward), Brian Laustsen (Jr., Forward), David Yatcilla (Jr., Guard), Gage Hutzley (Jr., Forward), Santieno Harding (So., Guard), Michael Cascaes (So., Guard), Luke Yates (So., Guard), Blake Arlington (So., Forward), Jack Miller (Fr., Guard)

As far as returning talent goes, Ocean has some issues heading into the season relative to other teams in Class B North. The Spartans graduated all five starters from last year’s 13-13 team, which took top-seeded Ewing to the wire in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals before losing at the buzzer. Although he was not a starter for a lot of last year, Darius Brown was one of the Spartans’ top players as a junior and returns this year ready to go from sparkplug off the bench to the top scorer at the opening tip. Even coming off the bench for a lot of the year, Brown finished second on the team at nine points per game and scored 13 in that loss to Ewing.

Junior Andrew Seager is also primed for a breakout role with the Spartans after coming off the bench for some minutes last year. Seager will be the inside threat in Ocean’s offense and will team with senior Chris Vivian in the front court. The Spartans will pull the rest of their roster from the lower levels, which included a 17-win jayvee team in 2015-16.

Contending with an experienced Middletown North team and a perennially strong Manasquan team present a new challenge for traditional B North teams like Ocean, Wall and Long Branch, but Ocean is another example of a team that has proven it can knock off any team on any given night. The Spartans will need its wave of sophomores, senior Tim McMahon and juniors Brian Laustsen, David Yatcilla and Gage Hutzley to step into varsity roles and complement Brown and Seager. If that happens, Ocean will give division favorites Manasquan and Middletown North a hard time during the B North schedule.

 

Red Bank Catholic

Head Coach: Tyler Schmelz, first season
2015-16 Record: 12-14 (6-8, tied fifth in B North)
Key Returners: Terence Calandrillo (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Matt Ansell (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Mark Caverly (Sr., 6-6, Center), Mike Conley (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Eddie Hahn (6-4, Guard), Evan Madigan (5-10, Guard), Joe Agius (6-5, Guard/Forward), John Poccia (5-9, Guard), Colin Shaughnessy (6-1, Guard/Forward), Liam Smith (6-5, Forward/Center)
Key Newcomers: John Kelly (Jr., 6-5, Center), Emmett McNamara (Jr., 6-6, Center), Tommy Lang (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Logan Whalen (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Charlie Gordinier (Fr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Kevin Bauman (Fr., 6-5, Forward)

An experienced back court last year was not enough for RBC to avoid a bad start to the season, so it stands to reason a lack of experience shouldn’t predispose the Caseys to early-season struggles. Senior Terence Calandrillo (8.2 points per game last year) and junior Matt Ansell both emerged as contributors to last year’s team, which nearly rallied from a 2-8 start to the season to reach the Shore Conference Tournament. The back court duo will anchor this year’s rotation, which is now under the guidance of Tyler Schmelz – an RBC alum, the former head coach at Ranney and an assistant under predecessor Jim Catalano.

Senior center Mark Caverly and senior guard Mike Conley return with some experience as well, giving Red Bank Catholic some balance on the floor with its four returnees. The Caseys will also lean on an influx of young talent, which includes four juniors and two freshmen. Juniors John Kelly (6-5) and Emmett McNamara (6-6) bring some extra size to the rotation, as do freshmen Charlie Gordinier (6-4) and Kevin Bauman (6-5). Juniors Tommy Lang and Logan Whalen are also hoping to make an impact in the back court with Calandrillo, Ansell and Conley.

 

Monmouth

Head Coach: John Rivera, third season
2015-16 Record: 2-19 (1-11, tied sixth in A Central)
Key Returners: Nick Cirlincione (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Tyler Hawkins (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tyler Rebmann (Sr., 6-7, Center), Myles Owens (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Matt Mooney (6-4, Forward), Taylor Crank (6-1, Guard), Andrew Slinger (6-0, Guard), Alonzo Finch (6-3, Forward),
Key Newcomers: Alix Eugene (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Ian Fitzgerald (Jr., 5-11, Guard)

The last five years have not been kind to Monmouth Regional basketball, which has won 11 games combined over the last five seasons with four seasons of two wins or fewer. During the latter three years of that stretch, a young group led by coach John Rivera has tried to build up toward contention again this season. The Falcons are set to field their most experienced team in a while, with four senior returnees leading the way. Senior guard Tyler Hawkins and senior forward Nick Cirlincione have been varsity regulars in each of their first three high school seasons and 6-7 senior center Tyler Rebmann gives the Falcons a presence in the paint.

Depth has a chance to be a strength for Monmouth and senior forward Alix Eugene and junior guard Ian Fitzgerald will be among the impact newcomers that will add to the numbers in the rotation. The middle tier of Class B North has a chance to be pretty good and if Monmouth can make a leap forward as a program, they have a chance to carve out a spot in the middle of those standings and add to the quality of the division overall.

 

Middletown South

Head Coach: Nick Georgiou, second season
2015-16 Record: 2-23 (0-14, eighth in A North)
Key Returners: Nick Unrath (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Ryan Purcell (Jr., 6-2, Forward), James Baldo (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Scott Kirschner (Sr., 6-4, Center)
Key Losses: Luke Benigno (6-1, Center), Andrew Roesch (6-0, Forward), Tom Gannon (6-2, Forward), Tom Marron (5-11, Guard), Joe Rutkowski (6-4, Center), Brian Higgins (5-11, Guard), Kevin Higgins (6-0, Guard),
Key Newcomers: David Gervase (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Jack Anderson (Jr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Matt Laudisi (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Dillon Connelly (Jr., 5-11, Guard/Forward), Oluwapelumi Fafowara (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Luke Hanning (Jr., 5-7, Guard), Jack Lisowski (So., 6-3, Center)

Middletown South has not orchestrated a winning campaign since reaching the Shore Conference Tournament final in 2010 and is out to change that this year in a new division, moving from Class A North to B North. While the Eagles expect to be improved thanks to a solid core of juniors, the challenge of playing in B North is not much easier than playing in A North, if it is easier at all.

Ryan Purcell, Nick Unrath and James Baldo lead that junior nucleus after all three members of the trio made significant progress last year as sophomores. Purcell led the way with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, while Baldo handed out five assists per game. Senior center Scott Kirschner is also back and will again serve as a source for rebounding and interior defense to go with senior leadership. A second wave of juniors will join the varsity roster this year and their acclimation will likely be the difference between an incremental improvement and a complete resurgence for a program that is looking to get back to the top tier of public school programs in the Shore Conference.

 

Players to Watch

Rob Higgins, Middletown North – If not for the Ranney duo, Higgins might be the talk of the Shore after the freshman season he put up last year: 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Devin Jensen, Manasquan – After averaging 10.6 points as the third scoring option last year, Jensen will take on more offensive responsibility this year and lead one of the Shore’s top programs.

Tyree Morris, Long Branch – Morris has been a steady scorer since his freshman season and he’ll get the ball more this year since a pair of scorers (Velasquez and Foster) graduated for the Green Wave.

Darius Brown, Ocean – The second-leading scorer for the Spartans despite coming off the bench most of last year, Brown will be the go-to guy this year for Ocean.

Marc Cerbo, Middletown North – One of the many sharpshooters for the Lions, Cerbo check in at 8.7 points per game last year – good for third on the team.

 

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Brian Paturzo, Manasquan – A defensive standout last year, Paturzo will get a chance to get up some more shots this year to go with his all-around game and intangible contributions.

Marc Dennis, Long Branch – As a freshman, Dennis was as composed as most senior point guards and could be even better now that he has a year under his belt.

Terence Calandrillo, Red Bank Catholic – Calandrillo was as consistent as any player on RBC last year despite inconsistency in the overall team performance.

Tyler Hawkins, Monmouth – A skilled and experienced guard, Hawkins will try to lead Monmouth back into the hunt for a postseason berth.

Andrew Seager, Ocean – With five seniors from last year’s team heading out the door, Seager will get a larger role as a starter and his team will need him to take the opportunity and run with it.

 

Burning Questions

Can old B North guard handle newcomers Manasquan and Middletown North?

Four regular contenders left B North this year in Neptune, Colts Neck, Matawan and Red Bank, but two of the three replacements are Middletown North and Manasquan. The Lions return most of their 2015-16 team and Manasquan has been a consistent top-10 team with frequent stays in the top five. Long Branch, Wall and Ocean all have reasons for optimism this year but have a serious challenge in front of them with the new newcomers to B North.

How will Devin Jensen perform as the top scoring option for Manasquan?

Jensen has been one of the better shooters in the Shore Conference over the past two seasons and that will be a part of his game again this year. He has also worked to become a better all-around scorer, and with four starters from last year’s team gone, Jensen figures to leave a more defined imprint on the Warriors this year.

Is Long Branch’s young nucleus enough to overcome graduations and contend?

While the arrival of Anthony Velasquez made a huge difference for Long Branch last year, the growth of its players from the Class of 2018, as well as the emergence of current sophomore Marc Dennis, had a lot to do with the program’s bounceback season.

Can Monmouth make the move up the standings to contend with Ocean, Wall and RBC?

The last six years have brought about some tough sledding for Monmouth, which has not reached the .500 mark since going 17-7 in 2010-11. This is the most experienced team Monmouth has had since that 2011 season, and while a 17-win campaign might be a little ambitious, it’s not so far-fetched to think the Falcons can win enough to climb to the middle of the standings, especially considering Ocean and RBC both lost a good deal of scoring.

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