Boys Basketball – SCT Opening Round Predictions
No. 26 Lacey at No. 7 Neptune, 5 p.m.
The closest thing to Neptune that Lacey has seen this season is Toms River South, which has a guard-heavy roster that plays bigger than its modest overall size. The Lions lost both of those meetings, but did give Toms River South all it could handle on opening night. Chris Iapicco has been a double-double machine for the Lions and he’s more than just a put-back artist on the offensive end. Neptune has enough depth in the front court to run some long defenders at him, but Iapicco is going to get his. If anyone else gets there’s Neptune might get more than they bargained for. The Scarlet Fliers have played some close games against teams like Wall and Ocean, so this one could potentially get interesting. The Pick: Neptune, 51-42
No. 27 Keyport at No. 6 Long Branch, 5:30 p.m.
Going by the resumes, Keyport does not stand much of a chance in this game, but the Red Raiders do have a versatile scorer in Alex Thomson and some overall offensive firepower against a Long Branch team that can get into offensive ruts from time to time. The Green Wave have, however, played defense over the course of the season and have faced plenty of quality scoring guards over the course of its schedule. Thomson brings a little more athleticism to the table, but Long Branch has that in spades. This is a tough draw for Keyport unless the Raiders can raise their defense to another level. The Pick: Long Branch, 74-48
No. 24 Rumson-Fair Haven at No. 9 Jackson Memorial, 5:30 p.m.
Rumson has been a popular upset pick among many observers, and that probably stems from Class A South’s quiet SCT history as a division. That stigma, however, should not apply to Jackson Memorial and it should not apply to the division this year. The Jaguars’ struggles this season have come from inside the division as much as they have come from outside of it and pointing to a weak division schedule as a reason for Rumson’s edge would be ignoring how solid A South has been this season.
In this game –and pretty much any other – Jackson Memorial has a serious edge in the front court. Rumson-Fair Haven senior Jack Herrmann has unselfishly played down low more this season because of his team’s needs, but that has also led to a lot of games in which he gets into foul trouble. If Rumson has any chance in this game, it will have to figure out how to work around those mismatches while avoiding any crippling foul trouble, which Carter is adept at causing. If Rumson can get to the final three minutes with a lead or at least close, Brendan Barry and the back court can win the game. Rumson has not done well closing close games, but sometimes it just takes a little bit of luck. Against another team, luck might come into play, but the only four letter word that matters in this game is “size”. The Pick: Jackson Memorial, 52-46
No. 28 Mater Dei Prep at No. 5 Manasquan, 6 p.m.
Outside of Point Beach, it’s hard to make a case for any team in the Shore that has more going for it right now than Manasquan. The Warriors have four legitimate scoring threats and no fewer than five other players capable of coming in and playing a role for minutes at a time. One of those capable players is CBA transfer Luke O’Shaughnessy, who just became eligible on Friday against Raritan and could even become a fifth scorer for the Warriors once he works his way into the offense. Mater Dei Prep has not been able to hang with the likes of Point Beach, St. Rose and Shore and while Point Beach is in a class of their own, Manasquan has been as good or better than anyone else. The Pick: Manasquan, 64-37
No. 20 Middletown North at No. 13 Point Boro, 6 p.m.
With the possible exception of the last two seeds, Middletown North enters he tournament colder than any other team in the field. The Lions have dropped recent games to Freehold Township, Colts Neck and Middletown South and while two of those teams are tournament qualifiers, there are very few signs that the Lions are ready to go on the road and beat a quality opponent at this very moment. Sometimes, however, a new week and a tournament opportunity can wake a team up and it would not without precedent to see a slumping team wake up at the right time. Teams have defeated Middletown North in the back court and that’s where Point Boro is especially young. Will Boccanfuso can fill any role that Point Boro needs, but against a pretty balanced Middletown North team, he will have to do a lot. One of the 20-and-up seeds will win tomorrow and why wouldn’t it be the team playing the worst coming into the tournament? The Pick: Middletown North, 51-48
No. 19 Toms River North at No. 14 Manchester, 6 p.m.
These two teams met in the opening round of the WOBM Christmas Classic and Manchester opened things up in the third quarter on the way to a 12-point win. While it’s easy to go back to December and point out Manchester’s prowess in a tournament setting, that was almost two months ago and while not a whole lot has changed for Manchester, a lot has changed for the Mariners. Toms River North lost more to graduation than any team in the Shore Conference and currently plays a rotation made up exclusively of sophomores and juniors. They are slowly coming around and at this point in the season could be dangerous if Manchester expects to see the same team it saw in December. Toms River North is going to be up at some point in the second half and it will be up to Manchester to dig out of the hole. More than dominating opponents, the Hawks have shown they can take a punch. The Pick: Manchester, 67-63
No. 25 Marlboro at No. 8 Shore, 6:30 p.m.
Marlboro was 1-5 at one point earlier this season and a little later on, the Mustang had dropped to 5-8. They enter the SCT 11-9, having won six of seven with the lone loss coming to CBA. The reason Marlboro has been streaky is because it has played according to its schedule. The Mustangs have mostly taken care of the teams below them in the standings while coming up short against A North’s better teams. Marlboro did beat Colts Neck in the second meeting between the teams, but even with that game, Marlboro has not been able to beat a team the caliber of Shore. The Mustangs have, however, seen teams near Shore’s level so this won’t be anything new for them. We haven’t seen a big headline from a very solid Marlboro team this year and while I don’t think we’ll get one here, it wouldn’t be shocking. The Pick: Shore, 60-52
No. 18 St. Rose at No. 15 Brick Memorial, 6:30 p.m.
This game is a flip of a coin and the edge probably goes to whichever team is home, which in this case is Brick Memorial, of course. The Mustangs are 7-2 in their gym with losses only to Jackson Memorial and Freehold Township, both of which were competitive games against teams seeded in the top 10. St. Rose has also competed with some quality opponents, most notably a 37-36 loss to Jackson Memorial on Feb. 8. There are no consolation prizes for losing to Point Beach, but the fact that St. Rose played the best team in the tournament twice should only help. The Purple Roses have come on lately and have a pretty good history of getting better as the season goes on. The Pick: St. Rose, 48-47
No. 17 Monsignor Donovan at No. 16 Southern, 6:30 p.m.
There is almost always a team or two that gets a raw deal in the seeding, and there’s a good case to be made that both of these teams should have been higher. That’s all minor detail now as the Griffins head to Manahawkin with a trip to Point Pleasant Beach on the line. Southern has proven over the last two years that it is capable of battling exceptional teams, but the Rams have also lost plenty of head-scratchers. Monsignor Donovan would not constitute a head-scratcher because the Griffins are a very capable team. With a deep stable of guards to throw at Southern’s size, the Griffins are going to challenge the Rams to step out and guard the three-point line.
The key for Southern is efficiency on offense. It will be hard for the Rams to defend Monsignor Donovan’s shooting, but the Griffins have given up some lofty scoring totals at times this year and Southern will have to have one of those in its back pocket. If Jake Logue is knocking down shots and Gesicki is protecting the ball, finishing and finding the open man out of the double team, Southern will win. The problem is, it’s hard to figure which Southern team will show up. It’s much safer to assume which Monsignor Donovan team will show up. The Pick: Monsignor Donovan, 65-60
No. 23 Holmdel at No. 10 Freehold Twp., 7 p.m.
As I outlined in the SCT overview yesterday, Holmdel has the kind of team and the kind of draw that suggests the Hornets could be this year’s Cinderella story. They have three players who are dangerous from behind the three-point arc and if all three are clicking, Freehold Township will be in trouble. Just because Holmdel is the most likely team seeded in the 20’s to make a deep run doesn’t mean they are the most likely to win on Tuesday. Freehold Township is a very formidable team with a chance to do some major damage in its own right. The Patriots can go at least nine deep and are a relentless team on every square inch of the court. Holmdel is going to get some open looks, but if the Hornets can’t make this lopsided early, the Patriots will wear them down enough to escape. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 66-57
No. 22 Colts Neck at No. 11 Red Bank, 7 p.m.
No team in the Shore Conference is more of a feel-good story than Red Bank. The Bucs won only four games last year after senior captain Albert Martin’s sudden death just before the start of the season and with their friend in mind have authored the Shore’s most drastic turnaround with a mostly-young team. A big part of Red Bank’s success has been its prowess at home, where the Bucs have won eight straight since dropping their first two home games of the season to No. 4 Matawan and No. 20 Middletown North. Colts Neck comes into the season with a similar amount of youth and even more inexperience, but the Cougars continue to improve with a lineup loaded with juniors and sophomores. Colts Neck is playing well enough to pull the upset and then give Long Branch a good game, but it’s hard to go against the sentimental favorite at home. The Pick: Red Bank, 64-60
No. 21 Toms River South at No. 12 Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.
This would have been a fun game if Toms River South junior Tymere Berry (hip) were healthy enough to play and it still could be a fun one. Toms River South was the better team in December when the two teams were on opposite sides of the WOBM Tournament Christmas bracket, but since the second week of January, RBC is 12-1 and seem to be almost fully acclimated to new coach Jim Catalano’s system. Toms River South has not given up without Berry, going 3-3 with tough losses to Jackson Memorial, Southern and Toms River North. Senior Darius Hart has stepped his game up in Berry’s absence, as have Marquis Davis, Khaleel Green and Tyler Fall. Hart will have his hands full with Quenton Nelson and the Indians will have to hope the Caseys shooters have an off night, but there is a potential formula for Toms River South. Ultimately though, with a sidelined star, there are too many ifs for Toms River South to overcome against a red-hot RBC squad. The Pick: RBC, 66-54