No division race in 2016-17 was more unpredictable and flat-out fun than the battle for Class B North, which came down to the last day, ended in a four-way tie and was not far off from a four-way tie for the top spot. The three tri-champions – Manasquan, Middletown North and Red Bank Catholic – each had four losses in the division and each enjoyed some measure of postseason success, which validates that B North was, in fact, a very deep, quality division.

Expect more of the same from B North over the next eight weeks, which could very well end with a scenario similar to last year’s three-way tie and possibility of a four-way finish at the top. All four contenders from a year ago will be in the fold again this year and Ocean, Middletown South and Wall all appear to be in good position to improve this year. That should make for a wild regular-season race and whichever teams make it out the other side with a chance to play in the postseason should be battle-tested and dangerous.

In predicted order of finish

Manasquan

Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau, 10th season
2016-17 Record: 18-11 (10-4, tied first in B North)
Key Returnees: Brad McCabe (Jr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Ryan Flanagan (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Justin Gladden (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Xander Korolik (Jr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: 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 Newcomers: Dylan Finn (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Emilio Stevenson (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Jimmy Thompson (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Alex Galvan (So., 6-6, Forward)

Manasquan junior Brad McCabe. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Graduating a scorer and all-around player like Devin Jensen would set most programs back by at least a few games, if not an entire year, but that likely won’t be the case for Manasquan. While the Warriors might not have a player who can score from anywhere on the floor or easily put up 40 points in a game, they return a diverse mix of guards and big men who have some experience and will most certainly defend and rebound.

The group of returnees is led by Manasquan’s two returning starters, senior guard Ryan Flanagan and 6-4 junior Brad McCabe. Both players started and came off the bench at different points during the year, but both were integral parts of Manasquan’s rotation, with Flanagan running the point and McCabe serving as the team’s second-leading scorer alongside Jensen. Now a junior, McCabe looks to emerge into the role that Jensen did last year, when he went from third option as a junior to one of the best scorers in the Shore Conference as a senior.

Senior Justin Gladden and junior Xander Korolik also gave coach Andrew Bilodeau quality minutes in the front court last season and will be much heavier contributors this season. Seniors Dylan Finn and Emilio Stevenson also got a taste of varsity time last year and will move into more prominent roles, with Stevenson showing some perimeter scoring ability to mix in with the returning size. Senior Jimmy Thompson and sophomore Alex Galvan will also add to that stable of forwards who are 6-3 or bigger, with Galvan giving the Warriors a 6-6 sophomore to work in. Manasquan has its questions to answer, but this is a consistent contender that also has a lot to work with in a division with a lot of good teams, but no clear favorite.

 

Middletown North

Head Coach: Mike Iasparro, 11th season
2016-17 Record: 16-11 (10-4, tied first in B North)
Key Returnees: Rob Higgins (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Dave Campbell (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Sky Cherry (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Colin Frawley (6-3, Guard)
Key Losses: John Tomassetti (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Marc Cerbo (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Matt Pinckney (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Isaiah McDowell (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Chris Kenny (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Jack Kenny (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Travis Cimino (Sr., 6-0, Forward), James Politano (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Tim McCann (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Mike Youncofski (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Matt Spencer (So., 6-2, Forward)

Higgins has developed into one of the Shore's best scorers in his second varsity season. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

The B North race could very well come down to Manasquan and Middletown North and it’s hard to draw up rosters that are more different. Most of Manasquan’s team is 6-2 or taller, while Middletown North does not have anyone taller than 6-2. The Lions are going rely on guards to play roles as forwards, but that’s not really a new problem for coach Mike Iasparro, who has run out guard-heavy lineups in recent years and managed to extract good results. This will be an extreme version of that approach, with senior Sky Cherry returning as a top rebounder and interior defender who can also step out and hit the three-pointer and guard opposing perimeter players.

If there is a reason to pick Middletown North to win the division and anything else this year, it is undoubtedly junior point guard Rob Higgins. The 6-0 guard led the Shore Conference in scoring at 22.9 points per game last year and has offers from Wagner, American and St. Peter’s, as well as interest from MAAC, Patriot and Ivy League programs. He has a chance to impact games and tournaments in a way that Brendan Barry did for Rumson-Fair Haven during his recent run with the Bulldogs, which might be required for Middletown North to come out on top in a deep, challenging B North division.

The Lions also return a dependable guard in senior Dave Campbell, who gives them a trio that should be the most productive in the division considering the kind of scoring Higgins offers. Beyond those three, however, Middletown North will be unproven and undersized – at least on paper. Senior Jack Kenny will give the Lions another shooter, while senior forwards Travis Cimino and Tim McCann will offer up some minutes on the inside. Sophomore Matt Spencer could also be a key player at 6-2, while Mike Youncofski and James Politano work in at guard. Anything Middletown North can get out of the newcomers – particularly the frontcourt players – will be crucial in aiding Higgins, Cherry and Campbell.

 

Long Branch

Head Coach: Sean Fitzgerald, first season
2016-17 Record: 15-11 (9-5, fourth in B North)
Key Returnees: Tyree Morris (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Marc Dennis (Jr., 6-0, Guard), T.J. Fosque (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Kevin Porch (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Kaymar Mims (Sr., 6-5, Center), Mark Hill (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: Cascius Briggs (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Lucas Telles De Sa (So., 6-3, Forward), Matt Clarke (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Juwan Wilkins (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Laron Young (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Elijah Sherin (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Latrell Bennett (Jr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Tyrone Hastings (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Sir Hayes (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Kahlil Campbell (Sr., 6-0, Guard)

Long Branch junior Marc Dennis. (Photo by Eric Braun)

Manasquan has the size and program pedigree while Middletown North has the best player in the division, but Long Branch might jump to the head of the B North class with its chemistry. Not only has this group been playing basketball at the varsity level throughout their high school careers, but most of the players on Long Branch’s roster also played on its NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship football team this fall. Nine of Long Branch’s players, including four starters, were on the football team and while that might set the Green Wave back early in the season with a lack of practice time and basketball conditioning, it should help once the team is fully in basketball mode.

While Long Branch returns five seniors and will work in some others, junior Marc Dennis leads the returning crop of players after posting 13.6 points and 4.2 assists per game as a sophomore on a team that was in position to win a share of the B North title in the last week of the regular season. After Dennis, the Green Wave will be senior-dependent, with four-year varsity guard Tyree Morris and forwards Kevin Porch, T.J. Fosque and Kaymar Mimes rounding out the starting five. Senior Mark Hill also returns after playing significant time last year, giving Long Branch six experienced members of the rotation.

Sophomore Lucas Telles De Sa will also be in the forward rotation along with juniors Matt Clarke and Latrell Bennett while seniors Juwan Wilkins, Laron Young and Elijah Sherin provide depth at guard. It can’t hurt to have the depth, but Long Branch will win or lose with its experienced starting five that should make first-year head coach Sean Fitzgerald’s job a little easier during year one.

 

Red Bank Catholic

Head Coach: Tyler Schmelz, second season
2016-17 Record: 17-10 (10-4, tied first in B North)
Key Returnees: Matt Ansell (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Charlie Gordinier (So., 6-6, Forward), Kevin Bauman (So., 6-6, Forward), John Kelly (Sr., 6-6, Center), Matt Conley (Jr., 5-10, Guard), John Duffy (Jr., 5-11, Guard), M.J. Wright (Jr., 5-9, Guard)
Key Losses: Terence Calandrillo (6-2, Guard/Forward), Mike Conley (5-11, Guard), Mark Caverly (6-6, Center), Tommy Lang (5-11, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Steve Lubischer (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Pat Brady (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Matt Morongiello (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Jack Savare (Fr., 6-2, Guard), Joe Hill (So., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Sam Meeks (So., 6-1, Guard) – Transfer from Ocean

Of the three teams that tied for the Class B North championship last year, Red Bank Catholic was the surprise team of the trio. The Caseys failed to make the Shore Conference Tournament the prior season with a senior group that was supposed to leave a void on the roster in 2016-17. Instead, Tyler Schmelz took over the program, players like Terence Calandrillo, Mike Conley and Matt Ansell stepped up and RBC rose to the top of B North while also winning a game in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments before running into powerhouse teams Mater Dei Prep and St. Augustine in both.

While Calandrillo and Conley graduated in the spring, Ansell returns as the point guard and senior leader on an otherwise young, but promising, team. Center John Kelly is the only other returning senior for RBC and among the newcomers, guards Pat Brady and Matt Morongiello are the only other seniors in the Caseys’ projected rotation. In addition to Kelly, RBC has two other 6-6 front court players in sophomores Charlie Gordinier and Kevin Bauman and all three are projected to start. Bauman and Gordinier were banged up coming out of football season and Bauman may not be ready for opening night, but Gordinier is set to build on a promising freshman season as a versatile forward who can step out and play on the perimeter.

In addition to Ansell, junior Steve Lubischer will start in the back court while juniors Matt Conley, John Duffy and M.J. Wright will contribute as well. Freshman Jack Savare and sophomore Ocean transfer Sam Meeks could get time as guards at some point this year as well. RBC is all-in-all younger than the rest of the teams that will vying for the Class B North championship, but the Caseys offer plenty of size, depth and athleticism to offset the reliance on sophomores and juniors and give them a shot to repeat as division champs.

 

Ocean

Head Coach: John Terlecsky, 10th season
2016-17 Record: 16-10 (7-7, fifth in B North)
Key Returnees: Andrew Seager (Sr., 6-7, Forward), David Yatcilla (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Jack Miller (So., 6-1, Guard), Brian Laustsen (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Gage Hutzley (Sr., 6-0, Forward), Santieno Harding (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Luke Yates (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Michael Cascaes (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Blake Arlington (Jr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Darius Brown (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Chris Vivian (Sr., Forward), Tim McMahon (Sr., Forward)
Key Newcomers: Bobby Reisler (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Jake Mostow (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Mike West (Sr., Forward), Jake Votta (Sr., Forward)

Unlike the first four teams listed in the B North preview, Ocean was not in the divisional race in the last week of the season and never really threatened to win the division. That could change this year, with the Spartans returning 6-7 forward Andrew Seager after he averaged 16.7 points and seven rebounds as a junior. Seager is coming off a strong summer that has earned him interest from both Princeton and Columbia and he is the kind of player who gives his team a major advantage over most opponents.

The other returning starter along with Seager is sophomore guard Jack Miller, who put up 10 points per game as a freshman. The duo has already proven they can work well with one another and with Seager up from 6-5 to 6-7 and Miller a year older, they should be even tougher to stop. Senior David Yatcilla and junior Luke Yates will be important players in Ocean’s back court as well after both improved between last year and the first day of camp. Seniors Brian Laustsen and Gage Huzley as well as junior Blake Arlington also return with experience as front court players, with Laustsen looking like a candidate to lead the Spartans in rebounding and clean up some second-chance points.

Juniors Santieno Harding and Michael Cacaes also played at the varsity level last year and will provide some more depth for coach John Terlecsky. Senior forward Bobby Reisler is also pushing for time at forward, so while the Spartans are still sorting through the rotation and roles around Seager and Miller, they have lots of options with experience. If a few players step up and Ocean has the depth, defense and shooting to put around one of the Shore’s top seniors, the Spartans will be among the teams in serious contention in B North and Central Jersey Group III.

 

Middletown South

Head Coach: Jim Anderson, first season (eighth overall)
2016-17 Record: 8-18 (4-10, seventh in B North)
Key Returnees: Ryan Purcell (Sr., 6-4, Guard), David Gervase (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Nick Unrath (Sr., 6-3, Forward), James Baldo (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Jack Anderson (Sr., 6-4, Forward/Center), Matt Laudisi (Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward), Dillon Connelly (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Scott Kirschner (Sr., 6-4, Center)
Key Newcomers: Jamie Petrillo (Jr., 5-6, Guard), Chris Fleming (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Dan Mitchinson (Jr., 6-3, Forward)

If seniors win championships, Middletown South is a serious contender to win the Class B North championship thanks to its abundance of returning senior talent. As a junior-laden team in 2016-17, the Eagles experienced their share of ups and downs, highlighted by wins over Long Branch and Manasquan – the latter of which was a convincing 17-point win on the road. Now that the core of that team is back as seniors, the expectations are higher than they have been in almost a decade.

In order to get back to the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time since reaching the semifinals in 2009-10, Middletown South has handed the program back over to Jim Anderson, who was the head coach from 1994 to 2001 and is back after a 16-year hiatus. His son, Jack, is a senior center who will be looking to pick up the slack left behind with the graduation of the lone senior on last year’s team, center Scott Kirschner. Anderson slides into the starting lineup with four returning starters, led by guard Ryan Purcell. As a junior, Purcell finished in the top 10 scorers at the Shore with 16.8 points per game and will likely make a run at 1,000 career points at some point this season.

Fellow seniors Dave Gervase, James Baldo and Nick Unrath are also back in the starting lineup, with Gervase averaging 14.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. Purcell and Gervase combined for 31.3 per game, which is the second most of any returning duo behind Higgins and Campbell of Middletown North (31.6). Baldo, meanwhile, dished out four assists per game as the team’s point guard, giving the Eagles a well-rounded base of returning talent. Consistency will be key, but with so many seniors in the fold, Middletown South is another in a long list of B North contenders.

 

Wall

Head Coach: Matt Kukoda, fourth season
2016-17 Record: 11-16 (5-9, sixth in B North)
Key Returnees: Steve Geis (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Quinn Calabrese (So., 6-3, Guard), Mike Cassidy (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Andy Lenneper (Sr., 6-2, Forward), James Colosi (Sr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Gene Scott (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Mike Andrejco (Sr., 6-4, Forward), R.J. Janeczek (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Eddie Scott (6-3, Guard/Forward), Clarence Celius (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Trey Dombroski (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Ian Ackerman (So., 6-0, Forward), Brett Palmer (So., 6-1, Forward), Pat Lacey (Fr., 6-1, Guard), Tom Palluzzi (Fr., 6-1, Guard)

Count Wall among the teams in B North that should be better overall, but might not see much improvement in the standings without some good fortune. The Crimson Knights will look different this year without some of the senior football bodies that were on the team last year, but they also bring back senior guard and leading scorer Steve Geis to lead the scoring effort. Geis put up better than 16 points per game, a rate that might have been higher had it not been for a hip injury that ailed him throughout the second half of the season.

In addition to the scoring Wall gets from Geis, sophomore Quinn Calabrese will be another source of points from the two or three spots on the floor after a successful freshman campaign. They will also have plenty of depth in the back court beyond Geis and Calabrese with senior Mike Cassidy, senior James Colosi and the freshman duo of Pat Lacey and Tom Palluzzi.

Wall’s front court will be its biggest question mark heading into the season after the graduation of four forwards who played important minutes. Senior Andy Lenneper and sophomore Brett Palmer will be candidates to play at the three and four spots depending on the lineup, while 6-4 junior Trey Dombroski and sophomore Ian Ackerman serve as options on the block. With a scorer like Geis, Wall will have a chance to beat any team in the division, but the inexperience in the front court will be a hurdle to clear if the Crimson Knights are to join the top-half of the division and challenge for a title.

 

Monmouth

Head Coach: Jeff Sfraga, first season
2016-17 Record: 4-17 (1-13, eighth in B North)
Key Returnees: Ian Fitzgerald (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Steve Wagner (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Mark Deroski (Sr., 6-4, Center)
Key Losses: Nick Cirlincione (6-4, Forward), Tyler Hawkins (6-1, Guard), Myles Owens (5-11, Guard), Jalen Gates (5-8, Guard), Tyler Rebmann (6-7, Center), Alix Eugene (6-4, Forward), Xavier Ferguson (5-10, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Dante Ciaramella (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Dan Forsman (Jr., 6-5, Center), Sean Gades (Sr., 6-3 Forward), Ryan Cronin (Sr., 6-2, Forward)

Monmouth’s rebuilding period now moves under the watch of another head coach – Jeff Sfraga – who is the fifth head coach to lead the program since the last time the Falcons qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament in 2009-2010. In addition to a new coach, the Falcons will have plenty of new players as well.

Senior Ian Fitzgerald is back in the fold at point guard after playing significant minutes last year and fellow senior returnees Steve Wagner and Mark Deroski played in small doses a year ago. For the Falcons to be competitive, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Fitzgerald, who showed he could handle a difficult assignment this fall when he joined the football team and led Monmouth to the Central Jersey Group III semifinals.

Juniors Dante Ciaramella and Dan Forsman will be key newcomers in the equation, with Forsman giving the Falcons some height and Ciaramella providing some ball-handling potential that should take some pressure off Fitzgerald. Seniors Sean Gades and Ryan Cronin slot into the front court with Deroski to help the Falcons battle the big front lines of teams like Manasquan and red Bank Catholic while potentially giving them a size advantage against a team like Middletown North. One divisional win might not be a satisfactory outcome to a lot of players in the Monmouth camp, but it would be an understandable one given how tough the division is. If the Falcons manage more than that, it would represent real progress.

 

Players to Watch

Rob Higgins, Middletown North – On a per game basis, Higgins was the top scorer in the Shore Conference as a sophomore a year ago and also missed a handful of games with a hand injury in the process.

Andrew Seager, Ocean – Now drawing some Ivy-League interest, the 6-7 swingman will try to elevate Ocean to the next level in the B North race and in the postseason, which ended in the first round against Matawan last year.

Marc Dennis, Long Branch – In a loaded 2019 Class at the Shore, Dennis has quietly put together two excellent varsity seasons to start his career. He led Long Branch with 13.6 points and 4.2 assists per game as a sophomore last year.

Brad McCabe, Manasquan – After emerging as a No. 2 offensive threat alongside Devin Jensen last year, the 6-4 McCabe is poised to become Manasquan’s top scorer this year while also offering plenty of help on the glass and the defensive end.

Steve Geis, Wall – An injury slowed down Geis at the end of last year and he still managed to average close to 16 points per game for the Crimson Knights with the top free-throw percentage in the conference at 88.6 percent.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Jack Miller, Ocean – Turned in a strong showing as a freshman with 10 points and two assists per game and will have a more prominent role this year with the graduation of three starters.

Quinn Calabrese, Wall – Now a 6-3 guard, Calabrese is coming off a freshman season in which he started 24 games and had some strong scoring performances, particularly with Geis hobbled at times.

Xander Korolik, Manasquan – After playing only half the season following a transfer from Wall, Korolik will have a chance to play from day one and his size-athleticism combination will make Manasquan tough to handle in the front court.

Matt Ansell, Red Bank Catholic – Ansell is an established player in the Shore Conference for his defense and point guard skills, but he is likely to make more of an impact as a scorer for a young RBC squad this year.

James Baldo, Middletown South – Another point guard for the list, Baldo should thrive even more this year with all the weapons on hand – including returnees Ryan Purcell, David Gervase, and Nick Unrath.

 

Burning Questions

After a three-way tie for first in 2016-17, is there a 2017-18 favorite in B North?

Not only are divisional tri-champions Middletown North, Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic all back in the hunt for a B North title again this year, but Long Branch, Ocean and Middletown South all return significant talent – enough to make each of them contenders as well. Middletown North returns Rob Higgins, who led the Shore in points per game a year ago, and Manasquan still has a size and depth advantage, but there is enough individual talent scattered about that the Lions or Warriors can only be considered a tentative favorite at best.

What will the Post-Jensen Era look like at Manasquan?

For the past five years, there has been a Jensen prominently contributing to the Warrior cause. That streak ends this year with the graduation of Devin Jensen, who led the Shore Conference in total points scored and finished second in points per game to Higgins last year. Looking past the Jensen factor over the last five-plus year, however, reveals a program that consistently produces quality players who come in with skill and get better over the course of four years. This year should be no different.

Will either of the two football teams bruise their way to a division title?

Long Branch and Red Bank Catholic are heavily relying on football players this year, with Long Branch rostering nine players and four starters who played major roles on the Green Wave’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship team in the fall. RBC is already bearing the brunt of a football-dependent roster as junior Kevin Bauman is sidelined with an injury as the season approaches. It may take some time for both of these teams to find their game, but both the Wave and the Caseys have the athletes and the pedigree to win the division.

Can Ocean join the divisional race this year behind emerging star Andrew Seager?

If Middletown North has any sort of edge over the rest of the B North field because of Rob Higgins, Ocean is not far behind based on the fact that the Spartans have Andrew Seager. The 6-7 swingman has boosted his stock over the last calendar year and is drawing interest from Ivy League programs as a well-rounded talent with size to play multiple positions. Most B North opponents will labor to contain Seager, but Ocean’s ceiling is more likely tied to its role players beyond Seager and sophomore Jack Miller. With that duo however, it shouldn’t take much more to at least keep them in the hunt into late January and early February.

How will improvements at Wall and Middletown South manifest themselves?

Both Wall and Middletown South should be improved this season, although in different ways. The Crimson Knights will be a little different this season, with more of a reliance on skilled guards Steve Geis and Quinn Calabrese than on size and athleticism. Middletown South, meanwhile, returns most of its 2016-17 team as seniors and if the Eagles can build on some high-profile wins from a year ago, they are in for a significant jump this year.

 

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