With 29 teams qualifying for the Shore Conference Tournament this year, there were 13 opening-round games on Tuesday and Wednesday and not one of them ended with the road team pulling out an upset. If no underdog could pull off a round one upset, then there is now a real possibility that this tournament goes chalk from start to finish. That would be a stark contrast to last season, when Rumson became the first team to win the tournament with a seed as high as No. 11 while No. 10 Neptune and No. 15 Point Beach each made the quarterfinals.

With all that being said, Nos. 10, 11 and 15 are all still in play this year and while the top eight seeds all look like solid favorites, they are still playing these games on the court. So will we see any big upsets on Thursday night? Well…

 

(15) Middletown North at (2) CBA, 5 p.m.

This is the first of three round-of-16 games that pit division rivals against one another and unlike the other two match-ups, this A North showdown was one-sided during the regular season. CBA bombarded Middletown North early, went up by 40-plus and beat the Lions by 32 points. Middletown North had no answer for either Pat Andree or Jack McGuire, but the Colts also offered a balanced attack outside the big two scorers.

A better defensive approach will be a focus for the Lions, but to beat a team like CBA, a team has to do what they do well as well as it can do it. In Middletown North’s case, that would be shooting the ball from the outside, which means the Lions will have to outshoot the Colts from behind the arc. With the Lions playing better of late – including Tuesday’s 20-point win over St. Rose – it’s not hard to see them scoring more this time around, but CBA remains and offensive machine that should churn out a win.

The Pick: CBA, 76-63

 

(16) Marlboro at (1) Mater Dei Prep, 6 p.m.

Some 24 hours after beating St. John Vianney by pressing for an entire game, Marlboro will have to play the top team in the field in its house. Mater Dei has dominated its opponents this season, winning 17 straight games and outscoring its opponent by double-figures in 19 of its 21 games. Even in an eight-point win over St. Joseph of Montvale, Mater Dei led by 13 at one point in the fourth quarter.

The Seraphs are so balanced and can win a game in so many ways that it’s hard to find where Marlboro can make significant inroads in its pursuit of an upset. If there is one reason for optimism, it’s that the Mustangs took CBA to overtime on the road in the first meeting between the two teams. With a lot of players on the roster who will be back next year, this game is a great learning experience for Marlboro heading into this season’s state tournament and next season overall. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, that’s the best that will come out of this game.

The Pick: Mater Dei, 72-48

 

(14) Southern at (3) Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.

After falling behind early against Red Bank on Tuesday, Southern chipped away at the deficit and pulled out a 60-58 win to move on to a date with Manasquan. The first-round scare was similar to last year, when Southern beat Donovan Catholic by two points to get out of the first round as a No. 12 seed. The Rams went on to play a nip-and-tuck game at Wall, only to lose on a late shot, so there is something about this Southern group that screams “close game” no matter who the tournament opponent is.

Manasquan got a pass through the opening round as the No. 3 seed, but could have its hands full playing against the top scorer in the Shore Conference in Peyton Wejnert. If Manasquan can stay out of serious foul trouble, the Warriors should be able to wear on the Rams, both on the glass and on the defensive end, but if Wejnert can get either Ryan Jensen or Tom Sheehan into some early foul trouble, then it could be game on. The x-factor will be the point guard match-up between Jack Sheehan and Ethan Dubois and perhaps even which shooter between Devin Jensen and Mark Valeriani can have the bigger game from the perimeter. Whatever happens, Southern can exhale after the first round scare, play loose and keep this game interesting.

The Pick: Manasquan, 58-52

 

(13) Toms River East at (4) Toms River North, 6:30 p.m.

While Toms River North won both regular-season meetings between these two crosstown rivals, Toms River East showed it could push the Mariners during a few different spurts. The Raiders actually held a one-point lead with four seconds left in the second meeting, but a late foul led to two game-winning free throws by Mariners junior Jaden Rhoden. It took some late-game heroics from Phil Lingat to beat Donovan Catholic on Tuesday, but now that the Raiders are here, they have shown they can win this game.

Toms River North has had comfortable leads in each game against Toms River East before East made both games closer in the end. The Mariners have not been quite as sharp lately as they were in an 89-79 win over the Raiders in the first meeting, but they played a quality St. George team from Delaware as a tournament tune-up and will now look to hit their stride. With its balance and experience in a tournament setting, the Mariners should find a way to get through Toms River East, but it will be interesting to see if the up-tempo, high-scoring Mariners start to show up again.

The Pick: Toms River North, 68-59

 

(12) Long Branch at (5) Colts Neck, 6:30 p.m.

The third of the three division match-ups, the Green Wave and the Cougars played each other about as close as two teams could. Long Branch beat Colts Neck on opening night, 57-54, and Colts Neck exacted revenge at the Cougar Den, 46-42, so it’s hard to see this one being decided by more than a few possessions. Long Branch is a tough, athletic team on both ends that makes opponents earn baskets, and considering Colts Neck is not likely to look to engage in a track meet, this game will likely be contested in the forties, perhaps the low fifties.

The biggest reason Colts Neck was able to beat Long Branch in the more recent meeting was Jordan deGroot’s defensive job on Green Wave leading scorer Anthony Velazquez, who scored only six points on 2-for-13 shooting. It’s hard to see Velazquez struggling anywhere near that much again, but on the flip side, Lloyd Daniels – despite his 17 points – also had an off shooting night. With these two defense, someone is usually in for a below-average shooting game, so the winner could simply come down to which team can make the easy shots – which includes the free-throw line. A trend towards chalk is developing and probably won’t change in any of the final three picks, but if there is an upset this round, this looks like the best candidate.

The Pick: Colts Neck, 50-47

 

(10) Point Beach at (7) Lakewood, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday will mark the third time that Nick Catania’s Point Beach squad will square off against coach Randy Holmes and the Piners during the Shore Conference Tournament. The two teams split the previous meetings, with Point Beach upsetting second-seeded Lakewood in Lakewood last year as a No. 15 seed and Lakewood defeating the Garnet Gulls in the 2013 championship game. Considering this is a 7-vs.-10 game and these two teams have locked up for some classic battles during the regular season and SCT, it stands to reason that this one should be no different.

Although there is not the seeding disparity this year that there was last year when Point Beach upset Lakewood, the Garnet Gulls might have a harder time with this year’s match-up in some ways. Last year’s team had 6-foot-7 inside-out threat Jesse Hill, who is now contributing at Florida Atlantic as a freshman, while this year’s team does not have anyone that dynamic. The Gulls do, however, have Jimmy Panzini, who sliced and diced Lakewood in both meetings between the teams last year. Point Beach also has a host of shooters and a tough interior presence in Alex Mrusek to battle on the glass against a very good rebounding team in the Piners.

Lakewood has two standout offensive players in Amir Tyler and Sean Barksdale and Point Beach will first have to figure out how to match-up with them. The Piners have been able to put up points throughout the year, but they have not been as good defensively as in years past and that is what currently separates them from teams like Mater Dei, Rumson and Manasquan. If Lakewood finds a defensive edge, the Piners become a serious threat in the tournament, but if not, every game from here on out could be close. If Barksdale and Tyler are both on, Beach will have a lot of trouble keeping up, but if the Gulls can limit one of them, they have a real shot.

The Pick: Lakewood, 59-51

 

(9) Freehold Twp. at (8) Ranney, 6:30 p.m.

The familiarity factor makes the Colts Neck-Long Branch game a virtual toss-up, but this game could possibly be that if Freehold Township catches Ranney on the right day. If the Panthers are clicking offensively and committed defensively, there is really not much of an avenue for the Patriots to outscore the home team. Scottie Lewis is playing the best ball of his young career and if not for Pat Andree and Brendan Barry, Bryan Antoine might be the Player of the Year frontrunner. As much as Freehold Township’s reputation as an athletic, balanced, well-coached team throws this outcome into some doubt, there is only so much a team can do against two players like that.

For the Patriots to win, they will have to exploit some other mismatches around the floor and get a big scoring game out of the backcourt. Bobby Weise has had some big shooting games and while Ranney probably won’t let him get free to go too crazy, he can break a game by hitting four threes on any given night. Another advantage Freehold Township could find is on the glass, where John Carroll has been a beast and Steve Staklinski, Ryan Zyskowski and even point guard Nick Facendo have all produced. Even that comes with a caveat, as Ranney began the year struggling on the glass but has improved thanks to Lewis, Chris Autino and Sam Metzger. Freehold Township probably can’t completely stop the freshman duo, so the Pats will have to make Ranney a two-man team on offense and work some mismatches on the other end. It’s definitely possible, but there is little margin for error.

The Pick: Ranney, 74-67

 

(11) Manchester at (6) Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.

This game is a rematch of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals from a year ago, which Rumson won 56-49. Manchester played the Bulldogs tough, especially considering that Rumson was coming off of that SCT final beat-down of CBA. Throw in the fact that Manchester returns four top returnees from a year ago and the Hawks have to like their chances as they prepare for a visit to the Dawg Pound.

Manchester has three legitimate perimeter scorers in Shavar Reynolds, L.J. Robinson and Jordan Torney and they have also been a solid defensive team over the course of the season as well. There is also enough athleticism on their end to potentially cause Rumson some problems and if any of those guards or center Israel Almestica can get Rumson big Elijah McAllister on the bench in foul trouble, this becomes a dangerous game for Rumson.

A loss at home to Red Bank Catholic ended up costing Rumson a few spots in the seeding, but it might have been the best thing to happen to the Bulldogs. They not only know that one bad half can end everything, but they are also facing a team that gave them a hard time last year. That doesn’t all add up to Rumson flipping the switch and winning this game by 20, but Brendan Barry and Co. will be engaged from the opening tip. If not, Manchester could throw a wrench into the Sunday lineup at Brookdale.

The Pick: Rumson, 61-51

 

Round One Picks Record: 10-3

 

Opine from the Sideline

As a change of pace, we have brought on board a Shore Conference coach, who - unfortunately for his sake - did not make the SCT this year, to offer a unique perspective on the games. Our coach will make picks throughout the tournament beginning with his thoughts on Tuesday night, which are listed below.

1st seed Mater Dei Prep OVER 16th seed Marlboro – The depth, the athleticism and the experience guide Mater Dei Prep to victory, 71-54.

8th seed Ranney OVER 9th seed Freehold Township – In the best game of the night, Antoine and Lewis make just enough plays to survive and move on, 56-55.

5th seed Colts Neck OVER 12th seed Long Branch – They split during the regular season but this is where Coach Piccola's experience wins out. Daniels and the Cougar Den move on to Brookdale, 53-44.

4th seed Toms River North OVER 13th seed Toms River East – Toms River North starts out hot and holds on, 60-53.

3rd seed Manasquan OVER 14th seed Southern Regional – The Jensens, the Sheehans, the student section, the experience, Coach Bilodeau all add up to victory for Manasquan, 61-46.

6th seed Rumson OVER 11th seed Manchester – Barry gets hot at the right time, overcomes Reynolds and Robinson, 71-62.

7th seed Lakewood OVER 10th seed Point Pleasant Beach – Barksdale shows why he is one of best all-around players in the Shore. Lakewood, 63-50.

2nd seed CBA OVER 15th seed Middletown North – Andre and McGuire go 2-0 this season over Middletown North, 73-55.

 

Coach Round One Record: 10-3