Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Central Jersey
The NJSIAA Tournament begins on Monday with Groups III and I throughout the state and the Shore Conference will be represented in 10 of the 20 sectional brackets. As always, Central Jersey is loaded with teams from the Shore, including No. 1 seeds in two of the four brackets. Here is a look at how Groups I, II, III and IV shape up in Central Jersey.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Colts Neck, No. 8 Marlboro, No. 9 Middletown South, No. 12 Long Branch, No. 15 Manalapan
Top Seed: Colts Neck
Defending Champion: No. 2 Hunterdon Central
The Favorite: Hunterdon Central. There is no team that jumps off the page and the Red Raiders have been more solid than spectacular, but they are the defending champions who have proven more than the other teams in this field that they can get through four pretty tough games. Colts Neck is the No. 1 seed, but has lost three straight and has not been playing as well as it did during the first three weeks of the season. No. 3 Hightstown and No. 4 Sayreville have their warts, but No. 5 Montgomery could be set up to make a run to the final.
The Dark Horse: Marlboro. The Mustangs were playing great basketball up until this week of tune-up games, during which the Mustangs got hammered by both Matawan and Middletown North. When the games were meaningful, however, Marlboro was playing as tough as anyone and with two very close losses to No. 1 Colts Neck and a potential quarterfinal game lined up with the Cougars, there is a great chance for the Mustangs to make a run to the sectional final.
(1) Colts Neck over (16) Monroe
(8) Marlboro over (9) Middletown South
(5) Montgomery over (12) Long Branch
(13) Hillsborough over (4) Sayreville
(3) Hightstown over (14) North Brunswick
(11) Edison over (6) Old Bridge
(7) Trenton over (10) East Brunswick
(2) Hunterdon Central over (15) Manalapan
(8) Marlboro over (1) Colts Neck
(5) Montgomery over (13) Hillsborough
(3) Hightstown over (11) Edison
(2) Hunterdon Central over (7) Trenton
(8) Marlboro over (5) Montgomery
(2) Hunterdon Central over (3) Hightstown
(2) Hunterdon Central over (8) Marlboro
Marlboro won’t have any easy games, starting with a senior-laden Middletown South team in round one and likely continuing at Colts Neck in the quarterfinals. Last week was not pretty for Marlboro, but he Mustangs have bounced back from one rough stretch already and have proven to have some of that big-game magic that last year’s team had in spades.
Elsewhere among Shore Conference teams in this bracket, Long Branch has to get by a tough Montgomery squad, but the Green Wave have enough talent to be a threat if they can built off a win over Colts Neck on Saturday. Manalapan gets a very tough draw in round one, but the Braves have plenty of shooters and have beaten Carteret and gave CBA a very good game the second time the two teams played.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 Neptune, No. 7 Ocean, No. 9 Brick, No. 10 Lakewood, No. 14 Wall, No. 15 Jackson Liberty
Top Seed: Moorestown
Defending Champion: No. 5 Ewing
The Favorite: No. 2 Nottingham. Both Moorestown and Nottingham enter the tournament on a roll, with Moorestown picking up a win over Camden and Nottingham edging Trenton Catholic to win the Mercer County championship. Moorestown will also have to get past Neptune or defending champion Ewing to reach the final, which looks to be a tougher road than Nottingham has to navigate. With a dynamic senior scoring trio of Darrell Johnson, Richie Jones and Cliff Joseph, the Northstars are going to be a lot to handle for any potential opponent in the bracket.
The Dark Horse: Wall. The Crimson Knights have steadily improved over the course of the year and their season is littered with close losses to good teams. That should finally pay dividends in Central Jersey Group III playoffs, which finds Wall a No. 14 seed with two potentially winnable games against Hopewell Valley and either Northern Burlington or Burlington Twp. Steve Geis enters the state tournament with seven straight games of 29 or more points and a season average a shade better than 28 points per game.
(1) Moorestown over (16) Steinert
(9) Brick over (8) West Windsor-Plainsboro North
(5) Ewing over (12) Hamilton West
(4) Neptune over (13) Westampton Tech
(14) Wall over (3) Hopewell Valley
(6) Northern Burlington over (11) Burlington Twp.
(7) Ocean over (10) Lakewood
(2) Nottingham over (15) Jackson Liberty
(1) Moorestown over (9) Brick
(4) Neptune over (5) Ewing
(14) Wall over (6) Northern Burlington
(2) Nottingham over (7) Ocean
(4) Neptune over (1) Moorestown
(2) Nottingham over (14) Wall
(2) Nottingham over (4) Neptune
By sectional semifinal standards, Neptune at Moorestown would make for a great game, but the Scarlet Fliers will have their work cut out for them just to make it to Moorestown, let alone the sectional final. Westampton Tech is a relatively strong No. 13 seed and the quarterfinal could send Ewing to Neptune for a rematch of a Jubilee game that Neptune won, 34-29, in December. The Scarlet Fliers have shown they can compete with some of the more talented teams in the state, so while their road is going to be bumpy, Neptune has the horses to get to the final destination.
After beating Matawan in the Shore Conference Tournament, Brick should be armed with the confidence to win a first-round game at West Windsor North before having to travel to top-seeded Moorestown. Meanwhile, Ocean and Lakewood will meet for the second time in two weeks in a tournament setting, this time with Ocean hosting. The Spartans beat the Piners the first time and if they can do it again, they have the talent and recent history to be a legitimate threat to Nottingham in the quarterfinals. Jackson Liberty is also in the field, but will be a major underdog at Nottingham in round one.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 2 Manasquan, No. 7 Matawan, No. 9 Holmdel, No. 13 Raritan
Top Seed: Rumson-Fair Haven
Defending Champion: Rumson-Fair Haven
The Favorite: Rumson-Fair Haven. The Bulldogs are coming off a double-digit loss in the Shore Conference Tournament, but that did not stop them from winning the CJ II title last year after getting blown out by Toms River North in the 2017 SCT quarterfinals. The Bulldogs got a fairly tough draw, but it could have been tougher given how many quality teams are in the section. They should have no problem getting to the semifinals, where New Providence or Bordentown would represent unique challenges. The final will also be tough, but the Bulldogs will be home throughout, which should not go overlooked.
The Dark Horse: No. 10 Lincoln. The Lions have come on strong in the second half of the season with a balanced lineup that has both athleticism and size. Junior Donte Darby is one of the best all-around players in the bracket and 6-6 senior La’Quiem Walker leads an imposing front line. With a first-round game at Matawan and Manasquan likely awaiting the winner, Lincoln won’t have any easy games, but the Lions a battle-tested and head into March as one of the most intriguing double-digit seeds in the state.
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (16) North Plainfield
(9) Holmdel over (8) Spotswood
(5) New Providence over (12) Roselle
(4) Bordentown over (13) Raritan
(3) Carteret over (14) Hillside
(6) A.L. Johnson over (11) South River
(10) Lincoln over (7) Matawan
(2) Manasquan over (15) Delaware Valley
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (9) Holmdel
(5) New Providence over (4) Bordentown
(6) A.L. Johnson over (3) Carteret
(10) Lincoln over (2) Manasquan
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (5) New Providence
(10) Lincoln over (6) A.L. Johnson
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (10) Lincoln
There is a case to be made that this is the best of the four Central Jersey brackets, with Rumson, Manasquan and Lincoln in the top tier and Carteret, New Providence, Bordentown and Matawan all teams that would be among the best in CJ IV. Rumson has its work cut out, but the Bulldogs do not have to go above and beyond to win the bracket – their regular A-game should get them to the final with a good team paying a visit to the Dawg Pound. Lincoln could very well be that team thanks to its strength of schedule, size and athleticism, but Manasquan has thrived in this position before and Matawan should not be overlooked either.
Elsewhere in the bracket, Holmdel is playing well enough to go on the road and beat Spotswood in the opening round, but there was little evidence in the two regular-season meeting that the Hornets could take out Rumson. Raritan has an outside shot at a first-round upset over Bordentown and that would be huge for a junior-heavy roster that would greatly benefit from that experience. Even a competitive loss would set the Rockets up nicely for next year.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Point Beach, No. 12 Asbury Park, No. 15 Shore
Top Seed: Burlington City
Defending Champion: Burlington City
The Favorite: Burlington City. The Blue Devils are the top seed after winning the section last season and have 6-5 senior forward D’Andre Thurmond and a strong supporting cast back from last year to defend the title. There is a case to be made that Point Beach is a better bet to win the section because Bound Brook and Florence are probably the most dangerous teams in the field outside of Burlington City and Point Beach and both are on the same side of the bracket as Burlington City.
The Dark Horse: No. 11 South Hunterdon. There is not an obvious candidate to make a surprise run in this bracket. No. 9 Bound Brook would be a strong candidate to do so, but they have to go through Burlington City in the quarterfinals. South Hunterdon is good enough to win at Middlesex and that is the only first-round upset that looks like it has a good chance of happening.
(1) Burlington City over (16) Foundation Collegiate
(9) Bound Brook over (8) Piscataway Tech
(5) Riverside over (12) Asbury Park
(4) Florence over (13) Dunellen
(3) Point Beach over (14) Stem Civics
(11) South Hunterdon over (6) Middlesex
(7) Academy Charter over (10) Perth Amboy Tech
(2) New Egypt over (15) Shore
(1) Burlington City over (9) Bound Brook
(4) Florence over (5) Riverside
(3) Point Beach over (11) South Hunterdon
(2) New Egypt over (7) Academy Charter
(1) Burlington City over (4) Florence
(3) Point Beach over (2) New Egypt
(3) Point Beach over (1) Burlington City
Point Beach lost to Burlington City in a competitive sectional quarterfinal, 59-54, last year and the Blue Devils went on to win the section. It would seem that both are on a collision course again this year, although teams like Florence, Bound Brook and New Egypt might have something to say about it. Point Beach is a better, more experienced team than it was last year, but Burlington City appears to be the same. A rematch in the sectional final could be a classic.
Asbury Park and Shore are the other two Shore teams in the field and are both first-round road underdogs. Asbury Park is battle-tested enough to be dangerous in this tournament and Shore has played some good games against good teams, so the upset is on the table in both cases.