Boys Basketball – Final Top 10
While the names might be a little different, the final top 10 is a lot like the rest of the top 10 lists this year and it’s that way for three reasons: 1) Only one team has been No. 1 all year; 2) The top four or five teams are pretty clear-cut; 3) everything below No. 5 is a mess.
When people voice displeasure over the top 10 before the season, my response is usually, “As long it looks right at the end of the year, it doesn’t really matter right now.” Despite a lot of debate and back-and-forth, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that the list below is correct. It’s just the best argument I could find among a lot of valid ones. When it comes to picking the last few teams in this year’s top 10, there are plenty of right answers.
1. Point Pleasant Beach (29-2, 14-0)
The wire-to-wire No. 1 finished unbeaten inside the Shore Conference to win its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship. The ending was not the one Point Beach wanted – a loss to Pitman in the Group I semifinal – and the offense battled itself down the stretch, but there is still not a team in the Shore Conference that was even close. There have been better teams to come out of the Shore – including last year’s Point Beach team – but few teams have dominated the conference like Point Beach did this year.
2. Christian Brothers Academy (18-6, 13-0)
It’s a shame we never got a definitive answer as to who the No. 2 team in the Shore Conference really was. CBA gets the nod over Matawan for an unbeaten season in Class A North and a run to the SCT final with a very balanced lineup that includes two starters – All-Shore first-teamer Pat Andree and Jack Laffey – who will be back next year. CBA looks like the tentative favorite in the Shore Conference heading into next year, but the next team might have something to say about that.
3. Matawan (24-5, 10-2)
The Huskies faithful will cry foul over getting snubbed for the No. 2 spot because the Huskies won a sectional championship and lost to Point Beach in the SCT, just like CBA did. The difference between the teams was the regular season. CBA went unbeaten in the Shore Conference up until the SCT final and did so without much trouble, while Matawan lost to Neptune and a six-win Freehold team while surviving a number of close calls. All that being said, the No. 3 spot in the top 10 is a major accomplishment for a program that went from out of the SCT to sectional champion in a span of 14 months.
4. Manasquan (19-4, 13-1)
The top three teams distinguished themselves from the first game of the year until the last, but the rest of the top 10 consists of teams that had some ups and downs. Manasquan lost only four games all season long, but because two of them came in their last three games of the season – one to Matawan – the Warriors don’t have a case to go any higher. Still, a 16-2 regular-season record in a year following the graduation of two 1,000-point scorers is a major success for the program as a whole and few public school teams are as well-positioned for sustained success.
5. Jackson Memorial (22-7, 12-2)
Outside of two losses to one division opponent (Southern), Jackson has a résumé that is hard to pick apart. The Jaguars won their division, one that proved to be fairly deep and capable when it played teams from other divisions, and they were competitive with the Shore Conference’s top team in the SCT quarterfinals. Close losses don’t usually do much for a team in the rankings, but coming closer than any other team to beating Point Beach is a nice cherry on top of a strong Jaguars season that is deserving of a top-five ranking.
6. Red Bank Catholic (19-6, 12-2)
The Caseys came together after a slow start and wound up one of the more consistent, balanced lineups in the conference. RBC beat every team in its competitive Class A Central division at least once en route to a 12-2 division mark and did so with only one senior garnering heavy playing time. Giving the Caseys a pass in December while installing a new offense, they were a team that handled its business and won a couple of big games within the A Central schedule.
7. Lakewood (22-5, 14-0)
The Piners’ season came to a screeching halt at home against Rumson in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals, but the entire body of work is still pretty solid. This was not the dominant Piners team of last year, but Lakewood did show some flashes of a team with a championship nucleus, namely in a win over perennial power Chester, Pa., and another trip to the SCT semifinals. Lakewood’s sophomore class made marked strides on the varsity level this season, so the Piners should be in good shape in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
8. Southern (18-9, 10-4)
Inconsistency is forgivable at this stage of the top 10, especially when a team had a peak as high as Southern’s was. The Rams beat Jackson Memorial twice and reached the South Jersey Group IV semifinals by beating two-time defending champion Atlantic City on the road. There were also some head-scratching losses – twice to Lacey and once to Jackson Liberty – but Southern’s strong showings against the top teams on its schedule is enough to lock up a spot in the top 10.
9. Red Bank (18-11, 7-5)
This is where the real arguments begin. The Bucs were the feel-good story of the season, transforming from a heart-broken, four-win team from a year ago into a scrappy, tough-minded, unselfish sectional finalist this year. Despite a narrative that favors Red Bank, Shore has a gripe here. The Blue Devils demolished the Bucs just before the SCT cutoff and also made a sectional final, and yet they are not ranked.
Ultimately, it comes down to the results in the games that matter most. Red Bank beat Neptune two out of three times, including once at Neptune in the Central Jersey III quarterfinals, while Shore lost its one meeting against the Scarlet Fliers. Shore also lost a home game to Marlboro in the first round of the SCT, while Red Bank won a game in the SCT and advanced to the sectional final in a much tougher bracket. It’s a tough call, but Red Bank earned it when it counted.
10. Rumson-Fair Haven (18-11, 7-7)
This is also a very tough call because Rumson finished two games behind Shore in Class A Central and Shore also reached a sectional final. In the same vein, Neptune and Long Branch were much better teams all year before the state tournament began. Rumson gets the nod for a blowout win in Lakewood when Neptune and Long Branch were both outscored by Lakewood this season (Long Branch beat Lakewood by one point and lost by 14 in the two meetings between the two). Neptune also beat Shore, so with Rumson winning the game between a common opponent and owning a split with Shore, it’s hard to push Neptune or Long Branch ahead of Rumson.
As far as Shore goes, the Blue Devils played three good games in the CJ I tournament and survived a shaky outing against Keyport in the quarterfinals. Rumson did not have a chance to have a shaky outing and still beat Point Boro, Lakewood and Willingboro (which Shore also beat on a neutral floor) on the road before losing at Matawan. This is a tough call but, fairly or unfairly, it comes down to Rumson winning against a tougher field in its state tournament run. The Bulldogs – who also nearly knocked off Jackson Memorial in the first round of the SCT – were at their best down the stretch, so two losses against Holmdel during the regular season are a little easier to throw away.
Long Branch (16-9, 8-4) – Long Branch’s wins over common non-division opponents Lakewood and Marist give the Green Wave an edge over Neptune in the pecking order, but are not good enough for a top 10 spot.
Neptune (14-10, 9-3) – Wins over Matawan and Shore and a battle against CBA get Neptune close, but postseason runs by Red Bank and Rumson bump the Fliers from the picture.
Shore (21-9, 10-4) – It just looks wrong to leave a 21-win team out of the top 10 and it’s not all that fair to punish Shore for being a Group I school. In the end though, beating tough competition in the postseason wins the day, and while Shore won in the postseason, the competition wasn’t enough to tip the scales in its favor.