Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview
The NJSIAA Tournament tips off a day late due to (the threat of) snow on Monday, so Tuesday will feature a full slate of games, with only Non-Public A waiting until Wednesday to join the party.
There has been an overriding sentiment among observers that the Shore Conference is down this year, but that sentiment might be somewhat misguided. The Shore teams in the large-school fields like Group IV and Non-Public A are going to have a trouble hanging with the top two or three teams in their bracket. The small-section teams, however, have a great chance to make some noise. The Shore will have the favorite in Central Jersey Group I and II and will likely have a team in the Central Jersey III final opposing top-seeded Ewing.
Here’s a quick glance at each bracket that boasts at least one Shore Conference team.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 6 Jackson Memorial, No. 7 Freehold Township, No. 10 Brick Memorial, No. 13 Colts Neck, No. 16 Marlboro
Top Seed: Montgomery
The Favorite: No. 2 Trenton. The Tornadoes ripped off 19 wins in a row before losing a one-point game to Trenton Catholic, the No. 1 seed in the South, Non-Public B bracket. One of those wins was over Neptune at home by double digits, so there is a barometer for teams like Jackson Memorial and Freehold Township.
The Darkhorse: Jackson Memorial. The Jaguars have proven they can compete with the best, while also showing at times that they can allow average teams to compete with them. With 6’8” Eric Carter and 6’7” Jesse Hill, Jackson has the size to cause problems and the Jaguars also have developed some big-game chops to take into the tournament.
Prediction: No. 2 Trenton over No. 4 Hillsborough. Hillsborough has a tough road to the final with games against East Brunswick and Montgomery looking likely, but the Raiders beat Montgomery this season and have been playing like one of the better teams in Group IV lately.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Long Branch, No. 3 Neptune, No. 5 Middletown North, No. 6 Red Bank, No. 15 Jackson Liberty, No. 16 Ocean
Top Seed: Ewing
The Favorite: Ewing. The Blue Devils have been a state title contender over the last three seasons, whether in Group II or Group III. Junior Trey Lowe is one of the best guards in the state and while Long Branch or Neptune could give the Blue Devils a good run in the potential final, Ewing is clearly the team with the best resume.
The Darkhorse: No. 12 Northern Burlington. This is a bit of a cop-out because the Greyhounds were in this sectional final last year. Their first round game against Middletown North is a rematch of last year’s sectional semifinals at Northern Burlington, won by the home team.
Prediction: No. 1 Ewing over No. 3 Neptune. The Scarlet Fliers have had a bounce-back season of sorts and a run to the sectional final would be a nice way to cap it. A win over Ewing would make it a season to remember.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Matawan, No. 2 Lakewood, No. 3 Manasquan, No. 5 Manchester, No. 7 Point Boro, No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 13 Holmdel
Top Seed: Matawan
The Favorite: No. 2 Lakewood. The defending sectional champs should once again be considered the favorite despite losing three starters from last year’s team. Lakewood is one of the most battle-tested teams in the Shore and that will have to come in handy while potentially facing Manasquan and Matawan in consecutive rounds. The Piners have had the Warriors’ number since Manasquan knocked them off in the 2012 Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, winning two NJSIAA playoff games between the two teams.
The Darkhorse: No. 13 Holmdel. Spotswood is a tough draw by the personnel, but the Chargers play a forgiving regular-season schedule, although they took on some quality competition in the GMC Tournament. If Holmdel gets by that game, it could play a struggling Manchester squad and potentially top-seeded Matawan, which had to rally to beat the Hornets during the regular season.
Prediction: Matawan over Lakewood. I’d venture to say this is somewhat of an upset, but with home-court advantage and a couple quality efforts in the SCT on which to build, Matawan will be a very tough out in this Shore-loaded bracket if it can survive a bad shooting night or a hot-shooting team in the early rounds.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Point Beach, No. 2 Shore, No. 10 Keyport, No. 11 Henry Hudson, No. 16 Asbury Park
Top Seed: Point Beach
The Favorite: Point Beach. Not much of an explanation needed here. The 25-1 Garnet Gulls just wrapped up their first-ever Shore Conference Tournament championship and even if their mild offensive struggles continue, it’s hard to see any team coming close to them in this bracket, at least not until the final. And with all due respect to Shore, that is a stretch.
The Darkhorse: No. 7 Bound Brook. Another cop-out in favor of a defending sectional runner up, Bound Brook is coming off a great 2012-13 season that ended in a lopsided defeat at Point Beach. Shore will probably be good enough to beat the Crusanders in the quarterfinals, but in a bracket that looks to have very little upset potential – especially considering this section has a long history of crazy brackets – Bound Brook is probably the best bet for an upset.
Prediction: No. 1 Point Beach over No. 2 Shore. An All-Shore final will end like every other game Point Beach has played against the Shore Conference: with the Gulls on the winning side of the scoreboard.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 7 Southern
Top Seed: Cherry Hill East
The Favorite: Atlantic City. The Vikings are the two-time defending Group IV champion and are coming off another stellar regular season. The schedule has sometimes been a knock against Atlantic City, but it hasn’t mattered in either of the last two years. This team is the definition of battle-tested, and that should get them to at least the final of the section.
The Darkhorse: No. 7 Southern. The Rams nearly knocked off Atlantic City last year and have a slightly better team this year while Atlantic City is slightly thinner. It’s awfully tough to win a close game against the Vikings, but Southern has at least gotten that far.
Prediction: No. 2 Atlantic City over No. 4 Rancocas Valley. With powerhouses like Linden and Paterson Eastside on top of their games in North Jersey, it will be very hard for the Vikings to three-peat in Group IV. A third straight South Jersey Group IV title would not be a bad consolation prize.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Toms River South, No. 7 Lacey, No. 12 Central
Top Seed: Mainland
The Favorite: No. 2 Delsea. There is no clear favorite in the bracket as every team has its obvious warts. Delsea has been the most consistent team and has some decent wins to its credit.
The Darkhorse: No. 8 Oakcrest. The Falcons fared better than No. 1 Mainland in games against common opponents and a second-round match-up between the teams, should it come to pass, would likely favor the No. 8 seed.
Prediction: No. 4 Moorestown over No. 2 Delsea. Toms River South has a great chance to reach the final and potentially win the bracket, but it would be easier to feel good about that possibility were Tymere Berry’s health more of a certainty. Moorestown has been competitive against a solid schedule, and in this section, that might be enough to separate the Quakers.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 Red Bank Catholic, No. 6 CBA, No. 10 Monsignor Donovan
Top Seed: No. 1 St. Joseph, Metuchen
The Favorite: St. Joseph. The Falcons entered the season as the favorite to win the Tournament of Champions, and while a couple of North Jersey public schools have pushed St. Joe’s from the ranks of No. 1 in the state, the Falcons are still a strong bet to reach the T of C as the No. 1 seed.
The Darkhorse: CBA. The Colts lost their first game to a Shore Conference opponent in Saturday’s SCT final, but in the process, CBA showed it is capable of winning a championship. Knocking off Paul VI will be a tall order, but if CBA can do it, the likely semifinal game against No. 2 St. Augustine might be more winnable.
Prediction: No. 1 St. Joseph over No. 3 Paul VI. The Falcons have some unfinished business to tend to after losing to Roselle Catholic in last year’s T of C final. St. Joe’s should roll to the final, and while Paul VI could pose a challenge, it’s hard to see the Falcons taking the fall in this bracket.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 11 St. Rose, No. 14 Mater Dei Prep, No. 16 Ranney
Top Seed: No. 1 Trenton Catholic
The Favorite: No. 2 Patrick School. The Celtics waited for a handful of transfers to become eligible and since they have had a full squad, they have looked awfully tough. Patrick is still relatively young, so this season could just be the start of a multi-year run.
The Darkhorse: No. 6 Gill St. Bernard’s. This a big-boy bracket, so it takes a team with some big-boy pedigree to have any shot at a surprise run. Gill has played the kind of schedule that will have it prepared to play Holy Spirit and the Patrick School, but pulling off both of those wins will take some good fortune.
Prediction: No. 1 Trenton Catholic over No. 2 Patrick School. The Celtics have a better chance of getting the final because Roselle Catholic might pose a major problem for TCA, but the Iron Mikes have been gritty in tight games. An early-season loss and a potential dogfight with Roselle Catholic will have the Mikes prepared for the championship.