Prior to last year, there was little doubt who the No. 1 team at the Shore would be by season’s end and the only reason for doubt was because Ranney had never won anything prior to last year. This year, there is zero doubt. Ranney goes into the season as the favorite to win a second straight Shore Conference Tournament title and the early front-runner to win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

It is fair to say that, barring something unusual – perhaps cataclysmic – the rest of the Shore Conference will be playing for second place when it comes to the SCT and the Shore Sports Network Top 10. That does not, however, mean there are not some quality teams in the conference who can get to the SCT final and make some serious noise in the NJSIAA Tournament. In fact, there could be plenty of those: as you will see by reading on, there is not a whole lot separating Nos. 5 through 9 in the rankings and the difference between that group an Nos. 2 through 4 are where the teams finished last year and a little bit of experience.

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest writing Ranney’s name in ink for the No. 1 seed in the SCT, but the rest of the Shore Conference regular-season should be compelling – whether it’s watching the No. 1 team battle nationally-ranked powerhouses or following some competitive races in the other five Shore Conference divisions. Sure, there is unlikely to be drama around the No. 1 spot, but it’s called a “Top 10” for a reason.

 

Last year’s record in parentheses

1. Ranney (28-5, 14-0) Final 2017-18 Ranking: 1

It’s hard to remember more of a slam-dunk at No. 1 at the Shore to open the season, maybe because there has never been a Shore Conference team as talented as the one the Panthers will introduce at Friday night’s opener. Bryan Antoine (Villanova) and Scottie Lewis (Florida) are headed to major college programs next year and might not even be there long if the 2020 NBA Mock Drafts are kind. Ahmadu Sarnor, Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino are also back, Division I prospect Phillip Wheeler transferred in from Rumson and talented freshman Elijah Perkins brings some youth to the equation. With an impressive schedule that includes nationally-ranked teams Montverde (No. 1 in the country), Federal Way from the Tacoma, Wa. Area and Roselle Catholic, Ranney is not planning on going unbeaten this season, but the Panthers do plan on holding up the Tournament of Champions trophy at the RAC on St. Patrick’s Day, 2019.

Photo by Paula Lopez

2. Christian Brothers Academy (17-8, 12-2) Final Ranking: 4

While there is no doubt who the preseason No. 1 team is and almost the same amount of certainty which team will win the Shore Conference Tournament, the race for No. 2 should be spirited. With that being said, CBA looks like the clear choice for No. 2 before a game has been played. The Colts return three starters – Josh Cohen, Stephen Braunstein and Liam Kennedy – who were the three top scorers on the team last year, the core of a senior-laden team that enters with high expectations. On top of the senior depth, the addition of a solid group of sophomores and freshman Ryan Mabrey will complement the big three.

3. Manasquan (20-7, 12-2) Final Ranking: 6

The Warriors have been to the Shore Conference Tournament in each of the past seven seasons but has not advanced to the semifinal round since 2013. That could very well change this year thanks to an imposing returning front court of Brad McCabe, Alex Galvan and Xander Korolik, as well as a deep stable of new guards. Manasquan will have to deal with a difficult division schedule and is challenging itself with non-divisional games against Union Catholic, Neptune and Old Bridge along the way as well, likely making a Manasquan a battle-tested team by the end of the season, as usual.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (25-3, 12-0) Final Ranking: 3

With four key seniors from last year’s team graduating and promising junior Phillip Wheeler transferring to Ranney, Rumson has some questions heading into this season. Fortunately, the Bulldogs return their two most consistent performers from a year ago in seniors Ian O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy and will try to orchestrate a fifth straight 20-plus win season and third straight sectional title by building around those two seniors. Two years ago, we all wondered how Rumson would ever go on without all-time leading scorer Brendan Barry and the Bulldogs somehow came back even stronger. This is not a team to be underestimated.

5. Neptune (22-6, 13-1) Final Rank: 5

Like Marlboro, Neptune benefits from the return of a strong duo, but has more lost production to account for. Current La Salle freshman Jared Kimbrough was a dominant player for Neptune last season and his absence will present some challenges for coach Joe Fagan and the holdovers, but senior Dwaine Jones and sophomore Sam Fagan are one of the top back courts at the Shore. If the Scarlet Fliers can make it work around Jones and the younger Fagan, Neptune should remain a factor come mid-to-late-February.

6. Marlboro (13-12, 8-6) Final Ranking: Not ranked

The teams ranked in the Nos. 5 through 9 spots are all neck-and-neck on paper and, for the most part, in recent success. Marlboro is coming off a 12-12 season that was probably better than the record indicates given the competition, but somewhat disappointing given the short stays in the Shore Conference and Central Group IV tournaments. The Mustangs should return with a fury this season thanks to the return of senior center Dylan Kaufman and junior guard and leading scorer Alex Ratner. Kaufman was a key player on Marlboro’s 2016-17 SCT runner-up and Ratner was among the Shore’s top guards as a sophomore. Add some solid role players rising up through the ranks and the Mustangs look the part of a potential top-five team.

7. Red Bank Catholic (18-11, 9-5) Final Rank: 10

More often than not, Red Bank Catholic has felt the early-season effects of a football season that runs up close to the basketball season and that could very well apply this year. The Caseys’ three top returners – Charlie Gordinier, Kevin Bauman and Steve Lubischer – were each All-Shore football players and will be working into basketball shape as the season starts on Friday night. Last year, the Caseys showed they could peak at the right time, knocking off CBA in the South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals with a team heavy on players who are back this season.

8. Toms River North (25-5, 14-0) Final Rank: 9

The Shore Conference’s most dominant active streak is Toms River North’s 46 consecutive wins in division play – a run that extends back to the February of 2015 and does not include wins over Class A South teams in tournament play. Keeping the streak alive this year will be more of a challenge than last year because of an improved A South from top-to-bottom, as well as some key graduations on the part of the Mariners. There is still plenty on hand, however, with the junior trio of Najae Hallenbeck, Jakari Spence and Colin Baker fellow returnee Nick Duncsak. The Mariners started five seniors for most of last year, but have a junior core ready to rise up, keep the streak going and establish their own identity.

9. Freehold Township (9-13, 5-9) Final Rank: Not ranked

Prior to its 9-13 season in 2017-18, Freehold Township reached the Central Jersey Group IV final three years in a row, only to have their hearts broken each time. There is still a fire burning in the belly of the program and that should come out in full force this year after a team of inexperienced varsity players took their lumps during a season filled with injuries and tough losses. The Patriots return an entire starting lineup of improved, healthy players, namely senior Greg Billups. In each of the past two seasons, Billups suffered an early ankle injury and never quite regained his form, so his health will be a major x-factor for a team with top-five potential.

10. Central (8-18, 4-10) Final Rank: Not ranked

The No. 10 spot can be considered up-for-grabs to open the season and the nod (for now) goes to a talented, young Golden Eagles group that failed to even make the NJSIAA Tournament last year. The return of four starters make Central a potentially improved team and the addition of 6-foot-9 sophomore Kyle Rhoden and 6-5 freshman Justin Soranno push the Eagles into the top-10 conversation. There are sure to be some growing pains, but the ceiling on Central will be high this season and certainly in the immediate future.

 

10 More to Watch (With 2017-18 Record)

Middletown North (12-13, 8-6) – The Lions return only one starter, but it’s two-time Shore scoring champion Rob Higgins. If the new supporting cast can just defend and keep opposing defenses honest, Middletown North will be a major threat.

Raritan (14-11, 5-7) – Despite losing leading scorer Zach Mojica, Raritan returns seven contributors from last year’s team, many of whom showed improvement over the course of a 14-11 season.

Pinelands (15-11, 10-4) – Last year’s best turnaround story is this year’s Class B South favorite. The Wildcats return a pair of likely 1,000-point scorers in Andrew Schulz and Anthony Diaz and are eyeing the program’s first ever division title.

Long Branch (10-14, 7-7) – Marc Dennis is the only returning starter but the Green Wave have a slew of athletes from the two-time state champion football team who should round into form by the time the calendar turns to 2019.

Middletown South (15-13, 8-6) – The Eagles lost their top seven players from last year’s 15-win team, but will make way for a talented junior group that had major success at the lower levels of the program and has looked impressive over the summer and into the preseason.

Brick (15-9, 9-5) – Shane Williams and Jalen Jackson are one of the Shore’s most productive duos and can keep the Green Dragons in the A South race just on their own merits. With some supporting help, Brick could be the team to end Toms River North’s reign.

Ocean (17-11, 8-6) – The Spartans are waiting on a pair of impact transfers to becomes eligible and in the meantime, they have a big-time scorer in junior Jack Miller to keep them afloat and set up a big push in February.

Lakewood (15-11, 11-3) – This is one of Lakewood’s least-experienced teams at the varsity level in the last decade-plus, but the Piners have the pedigree with 10 straight division titles and a rising star in junior Ryan Savoy.

Holmdel (12-11, 5-7) – Like Middletown South, Holmdel is a junior-heavy roster that has gelled over the summer and in the preseason to the point that many coaches like them as a sleeper this coming season.

Howell (13-12, 5-9) – There is a lot of athleticism to replace from last year’s team, but point guard Matt Ganter is a talented returning starter and the Rebels will have plenty of size and some shooting around him.