Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Preview: Group I, III, and Non-Public
The opening night of the NJSIAA Tournament was a successful one for the Shore Conference, which went a cumulative 12-4 across four sections of Groups II and IV - including one head-to-head matchup between Freehold Township and Brick Memorial in Central Jersey IV.
Groups I, III and Non-Public A tip off state-wide Tuesday evening, while Non-Public B begins on Wednesday. Here is a look at the sections starting Tuesday that are home to Shore teams.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Red Bank, No. 5 Neptune, No. 6 Wall, No. 10 Middletown North, No. 13 Middletown South, No. 15 Holmdel, No. 16 Ocean
Top Seed: Ewing
Favorite: Ewing. Not only are the Blue Devils the defending sectional champion and a two-loss team heading into the tournament; they have barely been touched this season. Ewing’s only two losses this year came to the Patrick School and Trenton Catholic Academy, and the only other teams to come within 10 points of them are Union Catholic, Camden and Pennington. Red Bank has the luxury of having played Ewing in last year’s final and is better equipped to handle senior and Temple recruit Trey Lowe and company, but the Blue Devils are still the heavy favorite.
Dark Horse: No. 14 Lawrence. It’s hard to find a double-digit seed that looks like even a reasonable bet to win a game, much less make a deep run. While Ewing stands as the overwhelming favorite, the higher seeds like Red Bank, Hamilton West and Neptune also look they will be a lot to overcome. Middletown South has played better recently and could potentially be a sleeper playing at No. 4 Somerville, but with Neptune and Ewing on the same side of the bracket, the run is likely to be limited.
Prediction: Ewing over Red Bank. A Blue Devils championship seems like a near certainty, but don’t be surprised if either Neptune or Red Bank joins some exclusive company as teams that can actually make Ewing sweat it out in the final minutes. Another Shore team to watch in the bracket is Wall, which fell just short against Red Bank in two regular-season meetings. If the Crimson Knights can make it back to Red Bank, it will be very tough for Red Bank to beat them for a third time.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Point Beach, No. 4 Shore, No. 8 Asbury Park, No. 14 Henry Hudson, No. 15 Keyport
Top Seed: Perth Amboy Tech
Favorite: Point Beach. The Garnet Gulls seem to have put all the pieces together, an SCT loss to Neptune notwithstanding. The defending champs have a roster that is almost completely different than last year’s squad, but wins over Toms River North, Matawan and Lakewood have the Gulls looking like a team poised to make a Group I run again this year. Shore Regional is in this discussion as well with its senior-heavy group, while Perth Amboy Tech should not be discounted either as the top seed.
Dark Horse: No. 7 South Hunterdon. The Eagles play one of the tougher schedules in the section and have had some success against tournament teams. They handled Bound Brook twice, and the Crusaders are a seed better at No. 6. Point Beach is a clear favorite on this side of the bracket, but South Hunterdon appears to be a strong possibility to reach the semifinals and give the Garnet Gulls a fight.
Prediction: Shore over Point Beach. Not only does Shore have a senior team and not only is it a senior core that has been playing together for a while, but it’s a senior team that has lost to Point Beach in each of the last two Central Jersey Group I tournaments. After giving the Gulls a good run in last year’s sectional final, this Blue Devils team is going to be determined to make up for the last two years and unlike the last two years, the match-ups look somewhat even. If the last two years were Point Beach’s time, this year is probably Shore’s turn.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Toms River South, No. 8 Central Regional, No. 12 Pinelands
Top Seed: Delsea
Favorite: Delsea. The defending sectional champs enter as heavy favorites in this section and although the Crusaders probably drew the tougher side of the bracket, the draw is not enough to raise too many doubts. Central has some youth at key spots and if the Golden Eagles are to be a force in this section for the next several years, then perhaps beating Delsea is the game that ignites that kind of run. Regardless of the draw, Delsea has the pedigree and the players – led by 6-8 senior Kwame Morton and junior brother Kaleb – to make it a repeat. Winslow is regarded in South Jersey as a bit of a reach of a No. 2 seed, but the Eagles have played a slew of close games and have lost some heartbreakers to quality opponents. As Rumson proved over the last couple of weeks, a team that loses tough games during the season can be dangerous with a clean slate.
Dark Horse: No. 11 Ocean City. The Red Raiders lost two games by a combined five points to Oakcrest during the regular season, so it’s possible Ocean City is due for a win over its rival. Ocean City has played a solid schedule, which makes its 7-11 record deceiving. Toms River South has played plenty of close games this season, so should the Red Raiders sneak through round one, they will be capable of taking the Indians to the wire with a spot in the semifinals on the line. If Winslow’s 13-10 record is any indication, this side of the bracket could be tailor-made for a double-digit seed like Ocean City to make noise.
Prediction: Delsea over No. 2 Winslow. Winslow probably is not getting enough love, but Toms River South is absolutely a threat in this section. Tymere Berry is a game-changing player capable of throwing a team on his back and carrying them to a sectional title. If the scouting reports are not thorough enough, Berry will tear a team or two apart, which could make for a fun run through the bracket for Toms River South.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 CBA, No. 7 Red Bank Catholic, No. 11 Donovan Catholic, No. 12 St. John Vianney
Top Seed: St. Augustine
Favorite: St. Augustine. The Hermits have not lost to a team inside the state and are the No. 1 seed in a Non-Public A bracket that features teams that have demonstrated flaws over the course of the season. Defending Tournament of Champions winner St. Joseph's-Metuchen has a new cast that is coming together late in the year, so that could be a semifinal match-up that ultimately decides the winner.
Dark Horse: Red Bank Catholic. Teams that can shoot like RBC can are always going to be dangerous and the Caseys have a chance to pull off an upset or two with their balanced attack if they can survive a first-round match-up against Immaculata. As a No. 5 seed, Union Catholic could also fly under the radar and take out both St. Joe’s and St. Augustine en route to a championship game appearance.
Prediction: St. Augustine over No. 2 Camden Catholic. As far as battle-tested teams go, Union Catholic might have an edge in this bracket, especially with a win over St. Joe’s in February. St. Augustine is still the safe pick on that side of the bracket, but Union Catholic is dangerous and St. Joe’s has enough talent. Meanwhile, CBA tries to shake out the cobwebs after a stunning 50-24 loss to Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament final. They’ll have to rediscover themselves to some extent, but the Colts still have the talent to survive and advance through this section.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 12 St. Rose, No. 15 Mater Dei Prep
Top Seed: Roselle Catholic
Favorite: Roselle Catholic. Linden is nowhere to be found in this bracket, so Roselle Catholic should march through to the final, where the Lions could face a dangerous Trenton Catholic team. Linden is the only N.J. team to beat Roselle Catholic this year, and the Tigers did it twice – the second of which came in the Union County Tournament championship game. The Lions will be on a mission to get a championship after missing out on a county title heading in the state tournament.
Dark Horse: No. 3 Cardinal McCarrick. Any team other than Roselle Catholic or Trenton Catholic to reach the final would be a surprise and the most likely team to break up that date is Cardinal McCarrick. Rutgers Prep may be the better of the two teams, but will have to play Roselle Catholic to get to the final.
Prediction: Roselle Catholic over No. 2 Trenton Catholic. The only surprise in this section is that the Patrick School won’t be in the final after being disqualified from the tournament because of their involvement in a brawl earlier in the season. If it was not going to be Roselle Catholic vs. Patrick School, Trenton Catholic was always the next in line. There are two Shore teams in the field and while neither St. Rose nor Mater Dei is likely to win a game, the Seraphs could be playing their final game as a program. Just staying with Trenton Catholic is a daunting task for Mater Dei, but the more significant one will be fought over the next month as the community tries to keep the school’s doors open.