Every now and again, the schedule-makers look like they know exactly what they are doing.

The final week of the Shore Conference regular season is overflowing with huge games, great matchups and potential de facto division championship games. While Rumson-Fair Haven already wrapped up Class A Central last week, the other five division titles are all up for grabs and most of the contenders will all play one another this week.

With so much on the line this week, a preview is appropriate. Let’s go division-by division, starting with the top two teams in the Shore Conference at the moment.

2016-17 Shore Conference Boys Basketball Standings

 

Class B Central – Ranney vs. Mater Dei

If you wanted to figure out the last time the top two teams in the Shore Conference were playing for a division title in Class B Central, you might be researching for a long time. Ranney and Mater Dei are the two giants of the conference right now and while the first meeting between the teams was a classic, their rivalry is still building toward a climax.

Monday’s showdown at the Ranney School could potentially decide the division title if the home team cane beat the defending Shore Conference Tournament champions for a second time this year. Technically, Ranney need to win one more game to make it official, but with a game against Henry Hudson on Wednesday, a Panthers win would essentially clinch the program’s first ever division title.

Mater Dei, however, has other plans. The Seraphs are still very much alive in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament and a win over the Panthers is a must in getting it. Ranney won the first meeting behind a virtuoso fourth-quarter performance by Bryan Antoine, who helped offset foul trouble by Scottie Lewis and a strong performance by Mater Dei senior Elijah Barnes.

Speaking of Antoine and Barnes, both players are well-positioned to make a run at the 1,000-point milestone by the end of this season. Barnes, who played his freshman season at Freehold Boro and his sophomore year at Central (which included a 30-day stint of ineligibility due to the transfer rule), is now 107 points away from the milestone. The Princeton signee is averaging just over 15 points per game and if he kept up with that average, he would hit the benchmark number by the round of 16 or quarterfinals of the SCT, should Mater Dei get there.

While Antoine’s membership in 1,000-point club comes as no surprise, the fact that he is likely to reach it as a sophomore is pretty staggering – especially considering how much less he has shot the ball this year. After averaging more than 20 points per game last year, he is at 19.7 this year and is only 127 points shy of 1,000 points. If he keeps up his scoring pace, Antoine will reach the 1,000-point milestone in seven games – which could potentially be the SCT semifinals.

This game might not quite be the Super Bowl for both of these teams, but Ranney has had a chance to treat this game like it's just that. The Panthers have played only Henry Hudson, Asbury Park, Keansburg and Keyport over the last two weeks, so they will be charged up to play their rivals. The question is whether or not they will be sharp enough to beat a Mater Dei squad that has solid wins over Lakewood and Holy Trinity of N.Y. on consecutive weekends.

Mater Dei senior Elijah Barnes, defended by Ranney sophomore Chris Autino. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)

Class A South – Toms River North vs. Central

The other big Monday faceoff will take place at Pine Belt Arena, where Toms River North will try to clinch the outright Class A South title by beating Central for a second time. The Mariners won the first meeting, 53-43, and got some help from their pals across town when Toms River South knocked off Central last week. That gives Toms River North a chance to celebrate on Monday, which would be a third straight division championship and a fourth in five years.

Toms River North also carries a 29-game winning streak within Class A South and is three more wins away from wrapping up a second consecutive perfect season in division play. Jackson Memorial gave the Mariners their closest call in a 64-61 game in Jackson and other than that, the Mariners have won every game by at least 10 points.

Monday could be special for other reasons, with seniors Mike Nyisztor and Jaden Rhoden each within striking distance of their 1,000th career point. Nyisztor has been a varsity contributor since his freshman year and he became a full-time starter as a sophomore, when Toms River North began its run of A South dominance.

Rhoden began his career at Central and rose to prominence as a sophomore while playing alongside current Golden Eagles senior guard Maks Gruszecki and Elijah Barnes. Rhoden is enjoying an All-Shore-level season, which includes averages of 15 points, 9.7 rebounds, four assists and 3.4 steals per game.

Like his former teammates, Rhoden and Barnes, Gruszecki is also approaching the 1,000-point milestone and he will continue that pursuit as Central begins its biggest stretch as a program in a long time. The Golden Eagles will need some help from Brick or Toms River South – Toms River North’s final two A South opponents – to have any chance and snagging a share of the A South title, but even if the division title is already out of reach, a win over Toms River North would be a boon for the program. The Mariners have been to consecutive SCT semifinals and a win would send the message that Central – now under the guidance of former Toms River North assistant Mike Clemente, Jr. – has the chops to play with the top teams in the Shore Conference Tournament.

The Golden Eagles are also lined up to be the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group III Tournament, which tips on Feb. 28.

Central senior Maks Gruszecki. (Photo by Ella Brockway)

Class A North – Freehold Township vs. Marlboro/Neptune

Technically, Neptune is still alive for a share of the Class A North title, but more likely than not, this division will come down to Freehold Township and Marlboro, who just so happen to play one another on Tuesday. Freehold Township won the first meeting, 51-48, by holding off a late surge by Marlboro at home and will travel to Marlboro Tuesday for the biggest game of the A North season.

In that first meeting, Marlboro had P.J. Ringel back for the full 32 minutes for the first time all season, but he still was not quite himself. Ringel broke a bone in his left hand in the preseason and missed the team’s first eight games. The rust showed against the Patriots, as the senior missed his first nine shots from the field before coming to life in the fourth quarter. Since that game, Ringel is averaging 17.7 points per game and has scored at least 12 in each of those seven games.

Freehold Township has had its own injury issues since that win over Marlboro, during which sophomore starter Greg Billups went down with an ankle injury that has sidelined him ever since. Billups was averaging 9.8 points heading into that Marlboro game.

The Patriots lead Marlboro by a game and can wrap up their second A North title in five years and third in 10 with a win on Tuesday. Even if Marlboro beats Freehold Township, the Patriots still have a shot to win the outright title by beating Manalapan – which is winless in divisional play – on Friday. As long as Freehold Township beats Manalapan, the Pats are guaranteed no worse than a Class A North co-title.

In order to earn a share of the first division title since 1971, Marlboro has to beat Freehold Township on Tuesday and CBA on the road on Friday. Should the Mustangs win Tuesday and slip up at CBA, Freehold Township would still win the division title as long as it beats Manalapan. If Manalapan were to upset Freehold Township, Marlboro could win the outright A North title by winning out.

Neptune can only earn a share of the A North title and the Scarlet Fliers will need plenty of help. First, Neptune will have to beat CBA and Colts Neck – which is a realistic goal considering it beat both the first time through the schedule. CBA is likely to be without sophomore guard Liam Kennedy on Tuesday, which could give Neptune an edge in that game.

As for the help, Marlboro would have to beat Neptune and lose to CBA, while Freehold Township – in addition to losing to Marlboro – would have to lose to Manalapan.

Freehold Township senior Steve Staklinski. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Class B North – Manasquan vs. Red Bank Catholic vs. Middletown North

If not for a surprising loss by Long Branch at the hands of Monmouth on Thursday, B North could have very well ended up a four-way tie for the title. As it is, there is still a reasonable chance that Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic and Middletown North share the championship.

The B North week begins with a pivotal game between Manasquan and Middletown North Tuesday in Middletown. Manasquan held serve at home in the first meeting, 72-63, despite falling behind, 22-7, in the first quarter. Both teams can score in waves, thanks in large part to the top scorers on either side. Manasquan’s Devin Jensen (22.7 points per game) and Middletown North’s Rob Higgins (21.1) are currently the top two scorers in the Shore Conference, with Higgins entering the game coming off of a 41-point outburst against Middletown South Thursday, followed by 30 points Saturday in a loss to Newark East Side.

If Manasquan can beat Middletown North for a second time, the Warriors would just have to beat Monmouth on Thursday to wrap up no worse than a share of the Class B North title – which would mark the program’s fifth straight year with at least a share of a Shore Conference division crown.

Middletown North needs help to clinch a share of the title, but a win over Manasquan would set the Lions up to capitalize should RBC lose at any point this week. After Middletown North on Tuesday, the Lions will play at Wall on Friday looking to earn a share of a division title despite the fact that Higgins missed four games in late December and early January – including a division loss to Long Branch.

Red Bank Catholic can go from under .500 last year to division champion in 2016-17 with a pair of wins this week. The Caseys play Middletown South to open the week and will host Long Branch Thursday with a chance to wrap up a Class B North title in some form. If Manasquan wins out, RBC can earn a share of the division title with two wins this week and if Middletown North beats the Warriors, RBC will have a chance to win the outright division title by beating both the Eagles and the Green Wave.

RBC lost to Long Branch in overtime on the road the first time the two teams met.

While Long Branch is still mathematically alive, the chances of the Green Wave winning a share of the division title are even more remote than that of Neptune. That would require Red Bank Catholic losing to Middletown South, Manasquan losing to Monmouth and Middletown North losing to Wall, which means Long Branch would be depending on three teams that are a combined 18-38.

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

Class B South – Lakewood vs. Point Pleasant Boro vs. Donovan Catholic vs. Barnegat

Three of the teams in the Class B South race control their own destiny for a share of the championship thanks to some key head-to-head matchups this week.

Lakewood and Point Boro are the frontrunners since they are the only two teams in the race with only two divisional losses. The two rivals, however, already played one another twice and split the series, so it’s quite possible each wins three games and the two settle for a co-championship. Both play Barnegat, Donovan Catholic and Lacey to finish off the divisional schedule.

Donovan Catholic is a wild card in the race based on the fact that the Griffins beat both Lakewood and Point Boro on the road and will host both of them this week to close out their B South schedule. If Donovan Catholic beats both, it will clinch no worse than a division co-championship and would win the title outright if both Point Boro and Lakewood lost to either Barnegat or Lacey.

Technically, Donovan Catholic could win a share of the division title with four B South losses, but whichever team between Lakewood and Point Boro beats Donovan this week would have to lose to both Barnegat and Lacey.

Barnegat’s odds to win a division title are probably similar to Neptune’s and like Neptune, Barnegat can only share the championship. The Bengals will have to win out – which would include wins over both Lakewood and Point Boro on the road, as well as Jackson Liberty – and get help from Lacey. If both Lakewood and Point Boro beat Donovan Catholic, then both would have to lose to Lacey in order for Barnegat to share B South with both teams. Donovan could also beat either team and the team that beat Donovan would have to lose to Lacey, which could create a four-way tie.

Should the wildest of scenarios (not involving weather) come to pass, the last division race could be decided on Saturday. It’s also possible that a team clinches on each of the first four days of the week (Toms River North Monday, Freehold Township Tuesday, Ranney Wednesday, B North team on Thursday).

A low-key week like the one Rumson will enjoy might be nice, but a whole bunch of the Shore’s top teams will enter the Shore Conference Tournament already in playoff mode.

Lakewood senior Adi Palmer (4) against Point Boro. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Shore Conference Schedule

Monday, Feb. 6 through Sunday, Feb. 12

 

Monday, Feb. 6

Class A South

Toms River East at Jackson Memorial, 5:30 p.m.

Central at Toms River North, 6:30 p.m.

Class B Central

Henry Hudson at Point Beach, 5:30 p.m.

Asbury Park at Keansburg, 5:30 p.m.

Mater Dei Prep at Ranney, 5:45 p.m.

Class B South

Manchester at Jackson Liberty, 5 p.m.

Lakewood at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.

Barnegat at Point Boro, 6:30 p.m.

Lacey at Pinelands, 6:30 p.m.

 

Tuesday, Feb. 7

Class A North

Freehold Twp. at Marlboro, 3:45 p.m.

Howell at Manalapan, 3:45 p.m.

Colts Neck at Freehold Boro, 5:15 p.m.

Neptune at CBA, 6 p.m.

Class A Central

Raritan at Red Bank, 6:30 p.m.

Holmdel at Matawan, 6:45 p.m.

Shore at Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.

Class A South

Brick at Southern, 6:30 p.m.

Toms River South at Brick Memorial, 6:30 p.m.

Class B North

Manasquan at Middletown North, 5:15 p.m.

Wall at Long Branch, 5:30 p.m.

Ocean at Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.

Middletown South at Red Bank Catholic, 6:45 p.m.

Class B South

Barnegat at Lakewood, 6:30 p.m.

 

Wednesday, Feb. 8

Class B Central

Ranney at Henry Hudson, 5:15 p.m.

St. Rose at Mater Dei Prep, 6:30 p.m.

Non-Conference

South River vs. Keansburg, 5:30 p.m.

 

Thursday, Feb. 9

Class A North

Freehold Boro at Howell - PPD, Friday

Colts Neck at Neptune - PPD, Friday

Class A Central

St. John Vianney at Rumson-Fair Haven - PPD, Friday

Class A South

Brick Memorial at Jackson Memorial - PPD, Friday

Toms River North at Brick - PPD, Friday

Southern at Toms River South - PPD, Friday

Central at Toms River East - PPD, Friday

Class B North

Monmouth at Manasquan - PPD, Friday

Long Branch at Red Bank Catholic - PPD, Friday

Class B Central

Keyport at Asbury Park - PPD, Friday

Class B South

Lacey at Lakewood - PPD, Friday

Pinelands at Manchester - PPD, Wednesday

Point Boro at Donovan Catholic - PPD, Friday

Jackson Liberty at Barnegat - PPD, Saturday

Non-Division

Keansburg at Ocean - Cancelled

 

Friday, Feb. 10

Class A North

Freehold Boro at Howell, 3:30 p.m.

Colts Neck at Neptune, 5:30 p.m.

Marlboro at CBA, 6 p.m.

Manalapan at Freehold Twp., 6 p.m.

Class A Central

Holmdel at Red Bank, 6:30 p.m.

Shore at Raritan, 6:30 p.m.

St. John Vianney at Rumson-Fair Haven, 6:30 p.m,.

Class A South

Central at Toms River East, 3:30 p.m.

Brick Memorial at Jackson Memorial, 5:30 p.m.

Lacey at Southern, 6:30 p.m.

Toms River North at Brick, 6:30 p.m.

Class B North

Ocean at Middletown South, 5:15 p.m.

Long Branch at Red Bank Catholic, 5:30 p.m.

Monmouth at Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.

Middletown North at Wall, 6:45 p.m.

Class B Central

Ranney at St. Rose, 5:30 p.m.

Keyport at Asbury Park, 5:30 p.m.

Point Beach at Mater Dei Prep, 6:30 p.m.

Class B South

Lacey at Lakewood, 5:15 p.m.

Point Boro at Donovan Catholic, 5:30 p.m.

 

Saturday, Feb. 11*         

Class A South

Brick at Jackson Memorial, 10 a.m.

Toms River North at Toms River South, 1 p.m.

Central at Brick Memorial, 1:30 p.m.

Class B Central

Keyport at Henry Hudson, 11:30 a.m.

Class B South

Jackson Liberty at Barnegat, 11:15 a.m.

Lacey at Point Boro, 1 p.m.

Non-Division

Long Branch at Neptune, 1 p.m.

St. Rose at Manasquan, 1:30 p.m.

Red Bank Catholic at CBA, 3 p.m.

Non-Conference

St. John Vianney at Immaculata, 3 p.m.

 

Sunday, Feb. 12**

Primetime Shootout

At Roselle Catholic

Mater Dei Prep vs. East Orange, 3 p.m.

Ranney vs. Newark East Side, 4:30 p.m.

At Paul VI

Manchester vs. Burlington Tech, Noon

 

* - Shore Conference Tournament cutoff date (must have .500 winning percentage or better)

** - Date of Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting

 

Note to reader: This post originally stated that Marlboro was seeking its first division title in program history, but the program did win one division championship in 1971.

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