Boys Basketball – SCT Round of 16 Picks
No. 18 St. Rose at No. 2 Christian Brothers Academy, 4 p.m.
If not for the recent run of snow, these two teams would have played already. This is an interesting game on a few levels, and perhaps the most intriguing is that St. Rose takes two games with Point Beach into the Academy as a frame of reference for how to play against the Colts’ balanced roster. CBA has five starters who can lead the team in scoring and even brings in a sixth man in Evan Gordinier who can also carry the scoring load at any point in the game. The Colts might be beatable and St. Rose has some experience against top competition, but it will take a great defensive effort and a very careful, calculated and effective offensive showing to keep this game close. The Roses can handle the “keeping it close” portion, but the firepower can’t quite hang with Academy. The Pick: CBA, 58-44
No. 11 Red Bank at No. 6 Long Branch, 5:30 p.m.
The two Class B North foes split the regular-season series, with the home team winning either match-up. Red Bank is one of the deepest – if not the deepest team – in the field and has proven it can battle B North’s best. The issues the Bucs have had is that they have given up a lot of points over the last two or so weeks and they have not been nearly as good on the road. Over its last six road games, Red Bank has given up just over a tick more than 70 points per game and the Bucs just gave up 67 to Colts Neck in a 70-67 win over the Cougars on Tuesday. On the bright side for Red Bank, the Bucs beat Long Branch in the more recent meeting between the teams and even in the first match-up in Long Branch, the Green Wave barely escaped with a 40-36 win.
Long Branch’s defense, on the other hand, has not been hard to figure out. It’s just good. Against a struggling defensive team, Long Branch should be able to score enough, but regardless of the match-ups, two division opponents in a win-or-go-home setting figure to go down to the wire. The Pick: Long Branch, 55-49
No. 25 Marlboro at No. 9 Jackson Memorial, 5:30 p.m.
This game is a tale of two teams: a home favorite who scratched and clawed to overcome a late deficit and avoid an upset vs. a road underdog that was able to finish off a first-round upset to become the early surprise of the tournament. Shore turned out to be a good draw for Marlboro, but this match-up will be very different. Shore is a team of shooters and wing players who went cold enough to lose on Tuesday, while Jackson Memorial is a defense-first team whose top two players are 6’8” and 6’7”. Like basically every team on Jackson Memorial’s schedule, Marlboro will have trouble dealing with Eric Carter and Jesse Hill, but the Mustangs have enough back-court play to make things uncomfortable for Jackson Memorial.
With Eric Carter’s buzzer-beater on Tuesday, the Jaguars showed they can come through down the stretch of a tight game, which is always a welcome characteristic for the team. It’s also something Jackson does not want to have to do for another round. This game will be a battle, but it won’t quite come down to one score. The Pick: Jackson Memorial, 51-45
No. 16 Southern at No. 1 Point Beach, 6 p.m.
Anyone who has half-paid attention to Shore Conference basketball this year knows that Point Beach is better than any other team and in most cases, is a lot better than any other team. At the very least, however, there was some opportunity for the Garnet Gulls to run into some intriguing match-ups along the way and they sure got one for their first SCT test. Southern has been a team that has, for the most part, played to its competition. Over the past two seasons, the Rams are 3-1 against the Class A South champion (1-1 vs. Toms River North last year, 2-0 vs. Jackson Memorial this year), and played competitive games against Atlantic City and St. Augustine. On the flip side, they have lost twice each to Lacey and Brick Memorial and also lost to Jackson Liberty at home. While that’s a head-scratching resume, it actually makes the Rams an interesting opponent for Point Beach, especially this early in the tournament. While Point Beach is not going to lose this game, I could see Southern getting off to a good start, which no team has done against Point Beach. In the end though, Point Beach should take care of business. The Pick: Point Beach, 71-53
No. 23 Holmdel at No. 7 Neptune, 6 p.m.
I was on board with Holmdel as a potential Cinderella team this year, but I also thought Freehold Township would find a way to avoid the upset at the hands of the Hornets. Now that Holmdel has cleared its first hurdle, there is a serious chance the Hornets become the latest team seeded No. 20 or above to reach the SCT quarterfinals. Holmdel can put as many as five shooters on the floor at one time and the ability to hit the trey is its strength. Neptune, meanwhile will likely own an edge on the boards and if the Scarlet Fliers can force some turnovers against a Holmdel team sometimes prone to them, they will pull away.
There is something fitting about this run by Holmdel considering the Hornets lost home games in the first round in each of last two tournaments. Now, with nothing but road games ahead of them and expectations a little more tempered, Holmdel looks like a team ready to seriously challenge for a spot in the final eight. This game will be close, and since (*SPOILER ALERT*) I don’t plan on picking any other upsets, this one makes as much sense as any. The Pick: Holmdel, 61-59
No. 19 Toms River North at No. 3 Lakewood, 6:30 p.m.
Fresh off an impressive, 14-point win over Manchester, Toms River North will look to knock off another Class B South opponent. This game is a rematch of last year’s SCT semifinal, won by eventual champion Lakewood. With eight new starters between the two teams, this year’s version will look much different, particularly on the Toms River North side. The Mariners returned only one player from last year’s rotation in Evan Martin, but the retooling effort has finally started to show some returns for Toms River North. If motivation is at all a factor, how’s this: Toms River North did not even make the NJSIAA Tournament but has a chance to advance to the quarterfinals of the SCT for the second straight year.
Lakewood is not unbeatable has shown some vulnerability against teams it should handle, so Toms River North will have a chance. The Piners have, however, played very well since losing to Long Branch in January and that game has served them well in that their young players learned that they can’t afford to have a bad day against a capable opponent. This might be the last chance to catch Lakewood napping in this tournament, but even when teams give the Piners a run, the defending SCT champs have typically been able to find a way. The Pick: Lakewood, 59-50
No. 13 Point Boro at No. 4 Matawan, 6:30 p.m.
Speaking of teams that have learned from a loss, Matawan is a little more than a week removed from losing at home to Freehold. If that was the last game before the tournament, there might be some concern over how the Huskies would respond to such a loss, but they followed that loss by beating Neptune to win the Class B North championship. While Matawan quickly put the Freehold loss behind it, the Huskies have been a team that has survived some scares against non-tournament teams like Freehold (in the first meeting), St. John Vianney, and Wall.
Point Boro comes into Thursday having survived a scare of its own on Tuesday, when Middletown North jumped out to a 17-4 lead. In Point Boro, Matawan will face a team that defends and rebounds at every position, which could present a problem to the Huskies if they don’t bring the kind of energy they showed against Neptune on Saturday. It’s hard to get a read on this game because both teams have had some mixed results, so the easiest thing to do is take the home team that was in the quarterfinals last year. The Pick: Matawan, 54-49
No. 12 Red Bank Catholic at No. 5 Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.
The third meeting between the top two teams in Class A Central has the makings of the best game on Thursday. Both teams are playing at a high level since early January and each has beaten the other by double-digits on its home floor, with Red Bank Catholic winning the more recent meeting. The Caseys have come together as a team of shooters surrounding center Quenton Nelson, who has played the basketball of his career since signing his National Letter of Intent to play football at Notre Dame. When Manssquan beat RBC by 28 on opening night, sophomore Evan Madigan was not even on the varsity team yet.
Manasquan, meanwhile, effectively wrapped up the Class A Central championship with an impressive win over Shore last week and now adds CBA transfer Luke O’Shaunessy to an already-deep rotation, led by four capable scorers – Jack Fay, Tommy Toole, Ryan Jensen and Jack Sheehan. Manasquan fell into a big hole early in the second meeting and could not dig out, so avoiding those big runs will be paramount for the Warriors, or any RBC opponent. The first two games were lopsided, but the rubber match should be a classic. The Pick: Manasquan, 65-63
Round 1 Record: 7-5
Overall Record: 7-5