Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Groups IV and II
After a historic, unpredictable finish to the Shore Conference Tournament on Friday, the NJSIAA Tournament begins Monday looking to one-up some wild conference and county tournaments from around the state. Group IV and Group II tip things off first, with Group III, Group I and Non-Public A starting on Tuesday. Non-Public B starts Wednesday along with the Group IV and Group II sectional quarterfinals.
The Shore Conference will have plenty of candidates to make a run at a sectional championship, and Central Jersey Group IV and II are two of the sections the Shore has the best chance to get a winner. Some quality Greater Middlesex and Skyland Conference teams will be tough to overcome for the Shore squads in Central Jersey Group IV, but Central Jersey II looks like it could turn into a Shore Conference Tournament redux.
Toms River North is the top seed in South Jersey Group IV, but there are some serious land mines standing between the Mariners and a sectional championship. If a team is going to have to navigate its way through a difficult bracket, though, it's best to be at home and Toms River North will have that luxury. Southern is also a team to watch in the section after upsetting Atlantic City last year. The Rams could play the Vikings in the quarterfinals for the third straight year.
Below is a quick look at the four sectionals that will get going on Monday.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Freehold Township, No. 3 Colts Neck, No. 4 Manalapan, No. 9 Marlboro, No. 12 Howell, No. 15 Brick Memorial
Top Seed: Montgomery
Favorite: No. 5 East Brunswick. Montgomery has had mixed results against the better teams on their schedule, while East Brunswick is a perennial contender. Freehold Township and Colts Neck are in this discussion as well, and Colts Neck looks to be as healthy as it has been all year.
Dark Horse: No. 11 North Brunswick. The Raiders have a win over first-round opponent South Brunswick and have played East Brunswick and St. Joseph of Metuchen tough.
Prediction: East Brunswick over Colts Neck. From a Shore perspective, a semifinal between Freehold Township and Colts Neck would be a lot of fun and there is a very good chance of it happening. Don’t, however, sleep on Brick Memorial heading to Freehold Township in the first round. The Mustangs have a very tough mix of size and athleticism and when they put a good game together, they can pick any team in this bracket off. In the end, East Brunswick’s pedigree should carry the Bears a long way in what looks like a pretty open bracket.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Lakewood, No. 2 Manasquan, No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 5 Manchester, No. 11 Matawan
Top Seed: Lakewood
Favorite: Rumson-Fair Haven. After watching Rumson steamroll through the Shore Conference for its first SCT championship, it’s hard not to expect the Bulldogs to do the same in Central Jersey II. Lakewood is sure to object as the bracket’s No. 1 seed, but the Piners are looking to rediscover their groove after being upset by Point Beach in the SCT round of 16. Manasquan is also a threat with two wins in two games against Rumson this season.
Dark Horse: Matawan. The defending sectional champs have the two best players back from last year’s team, but have battled inconsistency over the course of the year. The Huskies also played in an incredibly difficult division and should benefit from the regular-season grind. Don’t be surprised if the Huskies are heading to Manasquan in the semifinals.
Prediction: Rumson-Fair Haven over Manasquan. In some cases, the “it’s hard to beat a team three times” is miscast, but it absolutely applies in a potential third meeting between Rumson and Manasquan. The Bulldogs had trouble matching up against the Warriors during the regular season, but they also just dismantled a CBA team that handled Manasquan just five days earlier. If the good version of Matawan shows up over this week, an all-Shore final four could be on tap for Friday, with Rumson travelling to Lakewood and Manasquan hosting Matawan.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Toms River North, No. 7 Southern, No. 14 Toms River East
Top Seed: Toms River North
Favorite: No. 2 Atlantic City. The Vikings are a perennial favorite, not just in South Jersey Group IV, but among all of the state’s Group IV programs. No. 3 Cherry Hill East is the defending champion, but did not have to beat Atlantic City last year thanks to Southern’s upset of the Vikings.
Dark Horse: No. 8 Rancocas Valley. The Red Devils were on top of their game during the month of February, losing just two one-point games to South Jersey Non-Public B No. 2 seed Trenton Catholic and South Jersey Group III No. 1 Delsea. Rancocas Valley will be a very tough quarterfinal game for Toms River North, assuming both make it there.
Prediction: Rancocas Valley over Atlantic City. This pick is a little off the board, but Rancocas Valley is a very live No. 8. Of course, the Red Devils could lose in the first round, so the safe pick is still Atlantic City. If Rancocas Valley can survive through Wednesday night, however, that will give the Devils some serious momentum considering the run they are already on. Southern, meanwhile, will try to earn a crack at Atlantic City again, which will be harder to win this year without the athleticism of Mike Gesicki. Then again, Jake Logue had a big game against the Vikings last year so the Rams will still be confident. Toms River East will face a tall order playing defending champion Cherry Hill East in the first round, but the young Raiders team has no fear and should, at the very least, develop some postseason chops this week.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 12 Barnegat
Top Seed: Haddonfield
Favorite: No. 3 Camden. The Panthers caught fire last year and made a trip to the Group II final. This year’s team has plenty of returning talent and is back to its playing its pressing, frenetic style that has made the Panthers one of the state’s best public school programs over the last half-century.
Dark Horse: No. 8 Cedar Creek. The Pirates have lost to some teams ranked below them, but they have also played a difficult schedule and have a win over No. 2 Middle Township. With Camden and Middle on the bottom of the bracket, this might not be a good section in which to be a dark horse team.
Prediction: Camden over Haddonfield. The Panthers are back to dominance in South Jersey and are also on a mission after losing to Newark Tech in the Group II championship game last year. Barnegat is the Shore’s only hope in the bracket and as the No. 12 seed, the Bengals have an uphill climb. If the Bengals can beat Sterling in the first round, this season would be a colossal success.