Boys Basketball – Breaking Down the SCT Field
For weeks, we have all been hearing about how wide-open this Shore Conference Tournament is going to be and beginning Tuesday (weather permitting), we’ll finally find out for sure. Twenty-five teams will begin a march toward Collins Arena at Brookdale Community College for the quarterfinals and semifinals and, ultimately, Monmouth University for the championship game.
If this tournament is actually going to be unpredictable, then each team should feel capable of contributing to the madness. Below is a look at the many tiers of teams and where each of the 25 fall in the landscape of this year’s tournament, listed in order of their chances to win.
Happy To Be Here
25. Asbury Park
Coming off one of its worst seasons in recent years at 1-18, the Blue Bishops have quietly enjoyed a bounceback season in Class B Central. The rejuvenation has not, however, included competitive outings against Point Pleasant Beach, which suggests Asbury Park is not quite ready to go win a first-round game at Manasquan on Tuesday. If Asbury were to find the magic for one night and pull off an upset, the next two games would likely come against Colts Neck and No. 1 CBA.
The Long Shots
22. St. Rose
21. Donovan Catholic
Both “long shots” have a big win over a team ranked ahead of them, so there is some reason to believe in either of these teams. St. Rose knocked off Point Beach on Feb. 7 and has played well since the calendar flipped to 2015. The problem for the Purple Roses is that Brendan Barry and Rumson await in the first round and if the Purple Roses were to pull that win out, a balanced, battle-tested Red Bank team awaits.
Donovan Catholic took down Toms River South at home on Feb. 6 for the Griffins’ biggest non-division win of the season and will take on a Southern team that split with Toms River South during the regular season. The Griffins probably match up a little better with their first two potential opponents – Southern and Wall – but this is a team that has lost to Barnegat, Pinelands and Central, while being swept away by Manchester and Lakewood during B South play. Donovan Catholic can look like a scary match-up at times, but beyond the Toms River South win, the Griffins haven’t shown up enough to feel good about giving them a sleeper label.
The Potential Cinderella
In a tournament with so many solid teams and no real juggernaut, it is hard to find a team that would create a serious buzz by winning two games. If there is one team that could do that, it has to be the team playing in its first SCT ever. Pinelands has already reached a program record for wins in a season and if the Wildcats don’t win a game, it will have been a positive season. With that being said, not only should Pinelands take its best shot just like any other team, but there is reason to believe the Wildcats can actually win a game or two.
Pinelands would have to beat both Colts Neck and likely Manasquan in order to reach Brookdale, and while that is certainly a challenge, Pinelands might be up to it. The Wildcats have a win over Manchester – a team that has comparable talent to either Manasquan or Colts Neck – and also lost two games to second-seeded Lakewood by three points each. There might have been some concern that the Lakewood losses suggest Pinelands cannot finish games off, but they have since defeated Manchester and Donovan Catholic. Now, the Wildcats are just the team that has a couple of good wins and showed they are good enough to play with one of the favorites in the tournament.
Good Teams, Bad Draws
16. Red Bank Catholic
In most years, these teams would be unlikely to do damage, and while the chances of these three teams to make a run to the semifinals is not as good as some other teams, those chances are better this year than they would be in most years. Some of that is the match-ups, but a lot of it has to do with these teams having some serious talent that could potentially overwhelm a better seed.
Matawan was the preseason No. 2 team because of two returning All-Shore guards, and while Jason Dunne has mostly played like an All-Shore guard again for the length of his senior season, Joe Piscopo is just starting to get hot. Factor in the emergence of seniors Nick Smith, Matt Esposito and Samson Ore-Onitolo, and the Huskies could legitimately win two very difficult road games and walk into Collins Arena as a threat to win the tournament. Those games are indeed difficult, as Point Beach is rounding into form after a road win over Toms River North while No. 2 Lakewood awaits the winner.
While Matawan survived the night-in-night-out battles of the deepest division in the Shore Conference – Class B North – Manchester missed its few opportunities to grab some noteworthy wins. The Hawks have not matched up well against Lakewood, so it might be hard to see Manchester being able to pick off the top seed on the road, even if they can get past Red Bank Catholic on the road. Despite all that, Manchester has two legitimate All-Shore caliber guards in Shavar Reynolds and Jordan Torney and some quality supporting talent that should scare any potential opponent.
Red Bank Catholic is the opposite of Manchester – lacking consistency but putting together some big performances against some of the best teams in the tournament. The Caseys have defeated No. 6 Red Bank twice and have a win each over No. 3 Freehold Township and No. 10 Neptune this year, which suggests that CBA could be in some trouble if RBC is hitting its shots. On the flip side, RBC is on a four-game losing streak and has struggled to score over the two weeks, which could be problematic in the first round against Manchester. If the Caseys can rediscover their game, they will boast five scoring threats on the floor at a given time, which is more than most teams in the field can boast.
Matawan, Manchester and Red Bank Catholic have been better teams than the three listed above, but Howell, Central and Marlboro all seem to be trending in the right direction and – more importantly – when it comes to getting to Brookdale, those three have the more forgiving match-ups. Howell has only one win this year over a tournament team and just coughed up a 12-point halftime lead in a loss to Manalapan heading into the tournament. On the plus side, Howell prepped for this week playing its last two games before the tournament against No. 1 CBA and No. 7 Manalapan. If the Rebels can get by Neptune in round one, they will get another crack at Manalapan with a Sunday trip to Brookdale on the line.
Central did not beat either Lakewood or Manchester this year, but the Golden Eagles do have a 17-point win over No. 5 Wall and hung with CBA for about 25 minutes in two key non-division games. Central is made up pretty much exclusively of seniors and sophomores, so there has been a season-long quest to mesh old and young. They will have to deal with Tymere Berry and Toms River South in the first round, but opponents have been able to score on the Indians so the Golden Eagles should be able to stay close against their neighbors to the north. Beyond round one, Freehold Township would challenge Central’s ball-handlers, but the Golden Eagles have to play Lakewood twice a year and should be well-prepared.
Marlboro got off to a slow start and has had some bumps in the road through the Class A North schedule, but the Mustangs appear to be on track to be a tough out for whoever they meet. The Mustangs have beaten Freehold Township and Manalapan and had some good moments against CBA and Wall. With a quality point guard in George Elghoul, a presence in the paint in Matt Ringel and some shooters to space the floor, the elements are there for a deep Marlboro run, especially considering their first opponent is Shore, who the Mustangs upset in the first round last year.
14. Toms River South
15. Point Beach
If this tournament really is supposed to be a wide-open, unpredictable affair, then there has to be at least a team seeded in the mid-teens that could conceivably find itself in the final four or perhaps even playing for a championship on Feb. 27. Red Bank Catholic, Manchester and Matawan all have the element to some degree, but any of those three would have to beat one of the top-two seeds on the road in order to make it to the quarterfinals. The three teams listed immediately above will have to go on the road once, but their match-ups are either more favorable, and any three could potentially be a threat against any other team in the tournament.
While Toms River South is probably the most limited of these three teams, the Indians also have the best player among these teams and perhaps in the whole tournament. Tymere Berry has picked apart just about every opponent that Toms River South has faced and if the Indians can get past Central, Berry and the Indians will get another shot at Freehold Township, which beat Toms River South in the WOBM consolation final.
Point Beach would have to get through Lakewood in order to reach the quarterfinals, but the Garnet Gulls have already played Lakewood to the wire in Lakewood once this season. Although the Piners won that game at the buzzer, Point Beach gave the Piners plenty of problems and if Point Beach can win that game, the Gulls are more than capable of beating any team in the field. At the same time, they have also proven to be vulnerable at several turns and Matawan is a dangerous opening round opponent for anyone.
Shore and Point Beach are similar teams and while it’s possible that Point Beach is the more dangerous team, the Blue Devils don’t have to go to Lakewood in the round of 16. Of course, Shore also has to get through Marlboro, a team that stunned the Blue Devils in last year’s opening round as a No. 25 seed. The Blue Devils have two capable scorers in Dan Largey and Kevin Bloodgood, while Jack Byrne and Largey have helped anchor an underrated defense. If Shore can exact some revenge against Marlboro, Toms River North will have a major headache on its hands in the round of 16.
Brookdale Lock…Then What?
9. Colts Neck
The likelihood that either Manasquan or Colts Neck will be playing at Brookdale is likely in the neighborhood of 98 percent. Unless Pinelands strings together two wins against both teams, Manasquan or Colts Neck will be preparing for a matchup against top-seeded CBA, assuming the Colts can survive a game against Red Bank Catholic or Manchester.
Manasquan has played its best against Rumson-Fair Haven this season, beating a quality Bulldogs team twice during Class A Central division play. Other match-ups have not been so favorable, as Manasquan has lost games to Toms River South and Neptune, as well as two to Shore in A Central. One key for Manasquan is health, which is a positive for the Warriors right now, as opposed to the first Shore loss, as well as the Toms River South and Neptune losses. With a full roster, Manasquan has a good mix of talent that could give lots of teams problems.
Unlike Manasquan, Colts Neck is not at 100 percent heading into the tournament, but the Cougars have dealt with injuries for the last month-plus and also played well with their current lineup leading into the postseason. Junior Lloyd Daniels is unlikely to be available even if Colts Neck goes the distance, but the return of center Mike Lamb two weeks ago has restored Colts Neck’s ability to protect the rim and control the boards. Throw in a tough B North schedule and Colts Neck is one of the better-prepared teams in the field to deal with a tough draw.
The Top 10: The First Seven
There are only 10 teams left to consider and each has a chance to make a serious impact on the tournament, so let’s take them one and a time.
With arguably the Shore’s toughest defense and an ever-improving offense that shares the ball and has benefitted from a hot-shooting Mike Venezia, Manalapan would have greatly benefited from climbing one more spot in the seeding so as to avoid Lakewood for one more round and also to avoid a Neptune team that has played one of the toughest schedules in the conference and has the size and athleticism to match Manalapan. Even with a difficult draw, Manalapan will also present problems for any team in its side of the bracket.
The Rams have won only one nondivisional game against the tournament field, but they have also notched lopsided wins over both Toms River North and Toms River South. They have two dangerous scorers in Peyton Wejnert – who is just coming off of a minor ankle sprain – and Jake Logue, as well as an underrated supporting cast led by Eric Ray and Ethan DuBois. Donovan will be a pesky first-round opponent to overcome, but the Rams have the firepower to survive and give Wall lots of problems. The Rams have as many flaws as any other team in this cluster, but they also have a favorable draw considering the talent they have.
11. Rumson-Fair Haven
Rumson came up short in pursuit of wins over Manasquan, Freehold Township and Red Bank, which downgraded an otherwise stellar résumé in the rankings. The Bulldogs will have a shot at redemption against Red Bank, which held Brendan Barry to a season-low eight points in a two-point Bucs win. If there is a positive to that experience, it’s that Rumson had the ball down two points with a chance to send the game to overtime, even with one of the top three scorers in the Shore Conference having his worst scoring game. Should the Bulldogs get past St. Rose and pay back Red Bank, the Bulldogs could get another shot at Freehold Township, which beat the Bulldogs in overtime.
4. Toms River North
The Mariners are limping into the tournament, barely beating Jackson Memorial on Friday before getting rolled over by Point Beach on Saturday. Toms River North has had to cope with the absence of Pat Marinaccio over the last two weeks due to an ankle injury, and with the junior forward slated to return to the lineup for the tournament after playing sparingly against Point Beach, the Mariners should be closer to whole. Even with the struggles, Toms River North has a good draw, with either Shore or Marlboro coming to town on Thursday and a potential showdown with upstart Wall or third game against Southern possible for Brookdale on Sunday. Despite the recent struggles, there is a strong case to be made that Toms River North has the easiest road to the semifinals among the top-four seeds.
Neptune would have a great shot to go on the road and beat Manalapan in the round of 16 and has already beaten No. 2 Lakewood. There is also a chance the Scarlet Fliers lose to Howell on Tuesday. The reason they appear so far down on this page is because Neptune has proven it is good enough to beat anyone in this field, and that is more than a lot of teams can say. They draw is not easy – Howell has scoring and size, Manalapan might be the most athletic team in the tournament, and Lakewood might be the best team in the tournament, period – but Neptune is tough enough to handle it if the Fliers come ready to play.
3. Freehold Township
When it comes to simply getting to Brookdale, Freehold Township is probably the safest pick. The Patriots will play the winner of the Toms River South vs. Central game and the Patriots have already proven to be a tough matchup for the Indians. If Central survives the first-round game, Freehold Township will have an edge in experience against a team that can challenge Freehold Township athletically. A Freehold Township matchup with either Red Bank or Rumson at Brookdale would be a fun one and the Patriots should feel good about their chances against either.
As previously stated, Toms River North has the most clear path to the final four of any top-four team, but with the Mariners scuffling, Wall could benefit more from the draw than any team in the field. The Crimson Knights will have a tough test in Southern should the Rams survive the first round, but Wall has played its best basketball of late and Southern has been a much tougher team at home than on the road. A Wall-Toms River North quarterfinal would be a toss-up and the edge goes to the team playing the better basketball going into the game.
Proven Teams With a Lot More to Prove
6. Red Bank
First a bit of editorializing: Red Bank is the clear No. 3 seed in the field. The Bucs have the best collection of wins in the tournament and of their five losses, two were in overtime and none were by more than a margin of six points. They are deep and have a little bit of everything to throw at whichever opponent should stand in the way. The draw is not easy – Rumson nearly took Red Bank out during the regular season and Freehold Township is similarly balanced – but not much has been easy for this group during its time on the varsity stage and they have thrived despite the struggles. While they have fallen on harder times of late, the Bucs are probably the toughest team in the field to put away and with a championship on the line, this team will be hard to shake.
Everyone from the Lakewood camp insists their team should have been the No. 1 seed and the Piners will be hell-bent on proving it. Of course, there will be some very good teams looking to prove they are better than Lakewood, so the Piners won’t have the luxury of an easy game, unless they make it easy on themselves. Potential first opponent Point Beach nearly beat Lakewood in early January, and Neptune did beat Lakewood at the Boardwalk Showcase a week later. While a tough draw is a great way to get rid of a team, it won’t get rid of a top team at the top of its game.
1. Christian Brothers Academy
The Colts may or may not be better than Lakewood, but they do have a more favorable draw. CBA could potentially have to face rival Red Bank Catholic in the round of 16, and facing Manasquan or Colts Neck with a head of steam will be dangerous, but Lakewood’s potential opponents have already proven to cause the Piners problems. With Freehold Township, Red Bank, Rumson, Neptune, Manalapan and Point Beach on the other side of the bracket, CBA should feel better about its chances, but should, by no means, feel safe. In this tournament, no one is.