Boys Basketball – SCT Round of 16 Preview and Predictions
With only 24 teams qualifying for this year’s Shore Conference Tournament, there were not many opportunities for major first-round upsets. Three out of the five road teams, however, pulled out wins and another (Barnegat) nearly made it four before squandering an 11-point fourth-quarter lead against Central.
Now that the top eight seeds will be introduced to the tournament on Thursday, the potential upsets will be far more landscape-altering. While teams like Lakewood, Colts Neck and CBA should not be considered underdogs in the true sense of the word, a win by any of them would mean a serious team gets the boot from the field. Furthermore, Mater Dei, Ranney, Freehold Township and Rumson all enter as heavy favorites to advance to Sunday’s quarterfinal round at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
Tuesday was a solid night for yours truly when it came to picking the games, but this round is actually a lot tougher. Four games are virtual tossups and Central and Ocean have to be given a reasonable shot to pull off upsets. Let’s get to it.
(11) Lakewood at (6) Marlboro, 5 p.m.
The Round of 16 kicks off with Marlboro hosting a round of 16 game, which means the Mustangs are a home win away from what is believed to be the program’s first trip to the SCT quarterfinals. Marlboro has mostly lived up to expectations given that injuries have plagued the Mustangs all year, and yet they haven’t really taken off offensively. P.J. Ringel’s return in mid-January made the offense more dynamic from end-to-end, but they haven’t been the outside shooting team that they might have hoped. Despite that, the Mustangs play solid defense, have good size and are an experienced group.
Typically, when Lakewood is playing a team in the Shore Conference Tournament, it is the Piners that have to worry about the three-ball. That’s not really the case in this one because Lakewood has shot the ball very well from the outside of late thanks to the emergence of senior Dorian Vaughn and the continued improvement of Adi Palmer and Jyheir Jones. There’s always the caveat that the Piners have to avoid falling in love with the three, but outside shooting might end up working in Lakewood’s favor as the Piners prepare for a rare Shore Conference Tournament road game. For those wondering, it has been seven years since Lakewood has played an SCT game on the road.
Both of these teams pride themselves on defense but Marlboro has the edge as one of the sounder team defenses in the Shore Conference. Ringel is an x-factor in the game, but Lakewood’s shooting – particularly that of Vaughn – might be the difference for Lakewood if the Piners are to pull out the win and reach the SCT quarterfinals for the sixth time in seven years. The Pick: Marlboro, 48-43
(19) Ocean at (3) Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m.
For all of its recent success, it has been 10 years since Freehold Township has reached a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal round and the Patriots have been to the SCT quarterfinals once over the same time period. This team looks like the one poised to make the program’s deepest SCT run since winning the whole thing in 2007 and that run will have to start against Ocean on Thursday night. On paper, this is a good matchup for the Patriots, who have enough size and quickness to mitigate Ocean’s athleticism.
For Ocean to have a chance, it will have to get Darius Brown and Jack Miller going on the perimeter to take some pressure off of junior big man Andrew Seager. The less attention Freehold Township is able to pay Seager, the more of a factor he can be. Freehold Township’s lone loss this year came against a CBA team that had multiple players connecting from the outside, so that will have to be an element of Ocean’s game. Ocean will also have to force the Patriots to hit shots from the perimeter and it goes without saying that if Freehold Township can score into the mid-fifties, they are a virtual lock to win given how good the Patriots defense has been.
Ocean has actually stepped up its game against good competition, so I fully expect a worthy challenge from the Spartans here. That probably means something a little more low-scoring. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 48-39
(18) St. Rose at (2) Ranney, 6 p.m.
There’s not much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said on the court. Ranney has handled St. Rose twice and barring some noteworthy absence, that is the likely outcome again. The Panthers have three players to which St. Rose has no answer in Scottie Lewis, Bryan Antoine and Ahmadu Sarnor, while the two other starters – Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino – can also do damage against the Purple Roses.
Ranney’s one susceptibility this year – and I am going to sound like a broken record talking about it in these picks columns – has been its defense of the three-point line. St. Rose has shooters to exploit that soft spot, but the Purple Roses have got to find a way to slow down the Ranney offense, which has had its way with St. Rose in the two games. Unless St. Rose was playing possum during the regular season, this one is likely a runaway. The Pick: Ranney, 76-53
(9) Manasquan at (8) Point Beach, 6 p.m.
The Manasquan River Rivalry will have a Pt. II this year as Point Beach and Manasquan get ready to clash for a second time this year, this time with a trip to the SCT quarterfinals on the line. Point Beach took round one in January at Brookdale College and did so with a furious fourth quarter that ultimately resulted in a 13-point win. Manasquan had no answer for Danny Frauenheim, who poured in 27 points to lead the Garnet Gulls.
Manasquan has more going for it now than back then as it heads into Thursday’s game. The Warriors were missing Brian Paturzo and they were still moving a lot of pieces around trying to figure out how to both complement Devin Jensen, work new players in and cover for Paturzo all at once. The wins haven’t quite come like the Warriors would like, but they are playing better despite close losses to Rumson-Fair Haven and Middletown North.
The key for Manasquan is rather simple: don’t let Frauenheim do what he did in January again. Not only was the junior guard lighting it up on offense, but he was fresh enough to lock up Jensen in the second half on defense. Point Beach has plenty of size and athleticism, but Manasquan counters it better than most teams do so if Frauenheim has to work harder to score, that gives Manasquan some advantages it could not fully exploit last time. Either way, these two teams should be much closer than the first game would indicate and it wouldn’t be much of a rivalry without a great game once in a while. The Pick: Manasquan, 60-59
(10) Colts Neck at (7) Middletown North, 6:30 p.m.
Although Middletown North has all the elements of a dangerous team now that it’s tournament time, the sleeper may be done in by an ever deeper sleeper. Colts Neck enters the game playing its best ball of the season, which the Cougars have steadily built toward since they returned only one real key player from last year’s Central Jersey Group IV championship team. Oddly enough, that one player – senior Brendan Clarke – has actually been a big reason the Cougars are playing so well now as opposed to earlier in the year. Clarke has gotten used to the group of juniors surrounding him and the scoring has started to follow, evidenced by his 26-point performance against Matawan in round one.
If Colts Neck has one major concern, it’s the same one most every Middletown North opponent has: sophomore Rob Higgins. The Cougars only really faced one player that is at all similar to Higgins and that would be Marlboro’s P.J. Ringel, and they had little chance at stopping him in a 12-point loss to the Mustangs. Higgins also features a better shot and Middletown North overall shoots the ball as well as any team in the Shore Conference. The concern for the Lions is if their shots are not falling, offense will be much harder to come by against a disciplined Colts Neck defense and the Lions have not been a team that thrives in a defensive struggle.
This game basically comes down to what kind of shooting game Middletown North has. If it’s an average one, they have a good chance to win. If it’s a bad one, Colts Neck can score enough to run away early. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice, but with Middletown North’s experience advantage, multiple perimeter weapons and, of course, Higgins, the Lions enter with the edge. The Pick: Middletown North, 68-62
(12) CBA at (5) Toms River North, 6:45 p.m.
Even before the tournament began, CBA was a sleeper team based on its youth and the growth the Colts have shown over the course of the year. Then they drew the No. 12 seed and became an even more relevant sleeper. Now, CBA will play a Toms River North team that already struggled to beat the Colts once and should they win, they would likely play a Rumson team that, while good, is not at the level of Ranney or Mater Dei, at least as far as this untrained eye can tell. Despite this being a 5-vs.-12 game, it is a virtual tossup.
Toms River North has plenty of reason to be confident as well. The Mariners have become more potent from long range as the season has worn on and they have a senior core made up of Jaden Rhoden, Mike Nyisztor and Darrion Carrington that gives them a major advantage in experience over CBA. Carrington has improved over the course of the season after entering the new year nicked up from a late-season football injury.
Back in January, Toms River North was able to take advantage of its edge in speed and athleticism, particularly junior Travis Holland. Whiel 6-8 sophomore Josh Cohen scored 12 for CBA, Holland countered with 17 by leaning on his advantage in quickness. Cohen is going to give the Colts an edge in size, but Toms River North will have a chance to use their quickness by spreading the floor, penetrating and finding the open man. CBA’s shooting is a serious concern for the Mariners, but with all of those seniors, it’s hard to see them being denied. The Pick: Toms River North, 53-50
(17) Red Bank Catholic at (1) Mater Dei, 7 p.m.
Although Mater Dei is more or less a co-favorite in this tournament along with Ranney, the Seraphs have a round-of-16 game that shapes up to be slightly more interesting than that of their B South rival. Red Bank Catholic is coming off an impressive defensive performance against Neptune in round one and has the right mentality going into this game. Whether or not the Caseys have the right pieces remains to be seen because freshman Charlie Gordinier has been sick this week and even if he makes the game on Thursday, he doing so after missing time. Gordinier is more of a role player at this stage of his career, but he has been a very good one and his size and athleticism would be a much-needed asset for RBC in this game.
The reason Mater Dei should be safe in this one is the Seraphs have really begun to click on offense. Adding Holmdel transfer Kyle Cardaci in mid-January has allowed them to space the floor with not only an extra shooter, but arguably the team’s best shooter and one of the best in the Shore Conference. Throw in the fact that Elijah Barnes is playing the best basketball of his career and Kenny Jones and Yasin Pretlow have even more room with which to operate, and it’s hard to see a way the Caseys keep this one close into the final quarter. The Pick: Mater Dei, 67-46
(13) Central at (4) Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
At first glance, Rumson might appear to be a shoo-in given how the Bulldogs have run through the competition this year and also given the way Central has struggled to put away teams far beneath Rumson’s caliber of late. On the other hand, Thursday’s comeback against Barnegat might have been just what the doctor ordered for Central. The Golden Eagles are a senior-laden team that was rolling through A South until they suffered a surprising loss to Toms River South on Jan. 31. Now that they are clearly an underdog, maybe they can piece together four good quarters and pull off a surprise of their own.
In many ways, Rumson is ripe for the picking. The Bulldogs did not find a real challenge in the A Central race and they have survived a couple of close calls against teams that did not qualify for the tournament, like Raritan and Red Bank. Then again, Central was no match for Toms River North in either game the two teams played and Rumson is on a similar level. Rumson boasts a more aggressive offensive style than Central might be used to, but the Bulldogs also rely on the three enough that a bad shooting night would keep the Golden Eagles close. If Rumson gets caught looking ahead, Central can bounce, but the Bulldogs should have learned that lesson already. The Pick: Rumson, 57-50
Manley’s First Round Picks Record: 7-1