Boys Basketball – SCT Round of 16 Preview, Predictions
A 7-4 record might be good in most sports, but it is a poor showing picking the first round of a tournament straight up. That was the record I had to settle for in the opening round of picks, but on the bright side, the readers delivered. As a collective group, you guys went 9-2 and nailed the Holmdel upset of Point Boro, which was one of the few bright spots in my first-round of picks. I guess if I want to grasp for a defense of my credibility, I did forecast a close game in the Brick-Matawan game, which Brick won via an upset.
This round should be more conducive to picking correctly, because there are some serious favorites. There are also, however, some potential for upsets, including a very tough game for one of the top-four seeds. A 1-through-8 quarterfinal in Toms River is quite possible, but after a first-round that gave us a couple of surprises, it feels like one or two more are on the way on Thursday.
The polls are open until 4 p.m., which is when the first game of the evening tips off.
(12) Red Bank Catholic at (5) CBA, 4 p.m.
The second meeting between the local parochial rivals in the span of the week is for more than the Founder’s Cup, which CBA won for the second straight year by beating Red Bank Catholic Saturday at the Eck Center, 66-57. This time, a spot in the SCT quarterfinals in Toms River will be at stake and CBA will enter Thursday’s game at he Academy with the peace of mind that comes with winning the first meeting by nine points while its starting point guard sat out with a hip injury.
Speaking of injuries and junior guard Liam Kennedy – who hurt his hip on a hard fall to the ground in a loss to Marlboro on Friday – the Colts may or may not have him for Thursday after Kennedy practiced for the first time since the injury on Tuesday, according to coach Geoff Billet. On the other side, Red Bank Catholic played without starting guard Stephen Lubischer on Tuesday due to a lower leg injury, according to coach Tyler Schmelz and will be a game-time decision. CBA loses a little more with the Kennedy injury than RBC does because Kennedy takes a ball-handler off the floor and places a lot more responsibility on junior Stephen Braunstein, who answered the bell on Saturday with 27 points. You can bet the Caseys will be drawing up ways to slow down Braunstein after seeing too much of him on Saturday.
Without Lubischer, RBC can go to a bigger lineup that includes sophomore Kevin Bauman, who torched Toms River East for 23 points and 11 rebounds on Tuesday. At an athletic 6-6, Bauman can match up with a number of CBA’s players and he will be a key factor in the outcome again on Thursday. Ultimately, for RBC to have a shot, the Caseys have to have a well above average shooting night because the Colts are a consistent offensive team on their end. RBC has had those at times and while there is not reason to doubt they will shoot well, it will be hard for the Caseys to shoot well enough to offset the production of Braunstein and 6-9 center Josh Cohen. The Pick: CBA, 62-55
(20) Holmdel at (4) Neptune, 5 p.m.
Holmdel was a difficult matchup for Point Boro, but Neptune will be a very difficult matchup for the Hornets, specifically Jared Kimbrough against Holmdel’s small lineup. The Hornets do not have any player taller than 6-1 and while coach Sean Devaney will no doubt have plan to pester Kimbrough with physical, active defenders, the 6-8 La Salle commit should have little trouble running the paint on both ends of the floor.
That means the Hornets will have to shoot the ball, control the pace and make Neptune earn every shot to have a chance and one of the reasons this matchup is so difficult is because Neptune can play at a deliberate pace when the focus is on the defensive end. The Scarlet Fliers have had some instances in which they have played down to the competition, however in recent weeks, that has not been an issue. As integral as Kimbrough has been to Neptune’s success, each of the other players in the starting unit deserves a ton of credit for embracing their respective roles and being able to help out in a lot of different ways on both ends. That supporting cast around Kimbrough is what is going to be the difference going forward and while Holmdel can limit that group or Kimbrough, it will be hard to shut down both. The Pick: Neptune, 59-44
(24) Brick at (8) Toms River North, 5:15 p.m.
Going by the scores of the first two meetings between the two A South rivals, Toms River North dominated the head-to-head matchup during the season by winning each game by a double-digit margin and by an average of 20 points. The second meeting – a 74-44 Toms River North win on Feb. 8 – certainly paints the picture of a division champion that dominated the team that entered the season looking like the strongest challenger.
The first meeting, however, was more competitive than the final score, with Brick taking a lead into the fourth quarter before the Mariners turned on the jets in the fourth. Toms River North looked like a team far more adept at closing out a game, but now Brick enters with newfound confidence after finishing off No. 9 Matawan on the road. In addition to letting the game get away in the fourth quarter in the first meeting, the Dragons were unable to get leading scorer Shane Williams involved against Toms River North’s zone and will have to be able to both defend, share the ball and get typical contributions from Williams in order to have a chance.
Given Brick’s big win, it is more likely the Green Dragons show up ready to fight than get run out of the gym again, but the latter scenario is on the table. Toms River North is as deep as any team in the field, proven by the fact that the Mariners were missing two key starters and a regular off the bench on Tuesday and still beat Raritan by 26 points. Brick is riding high and will put up a fight, but Toms River North is playing too well and has the home court. The Pick: Toms River North, 62-51
(16) Barnegat at (1) Ranney, 6 p.m.
Fresh off one of the biggest wins in the history of its program, Barnegat will head north to face the tournament’s top seed while playing the role of heavy underdog. With nine straight wins and wins in 15 out of 17, the Bengals are the hottest team in the Shore Conference outside of Rumson and just won the program’s first ever SCT game by beating Middletown South on Thursday.
Of course, all of that goes out the window against this loaded Ranney team, which now boasts a healthy Scottie Lewis to go with fellow five-star junior Bryan Antoine. Dealing with those two is hard enough, but senior Savior Akuwovo has been a force on the inside and junior Ahmadu Sarnor is getting better and better each week as the facilitator on offense. Junior starter Alex Klatsky is still day-to-day with an ankle injury, but Chris Autino can jump in without Ranney missing a step.
For Barnegat to keep the score manageable, the Bengals will have to figure out a way to neutralize Akuwovo by being physical with him, turn Scottie Lewis into a passer and hope for an off-shooting night by Antoine. One way to throw any of Ranney’s big three out of whack is to get into the bench, which Barnegat can do is Carson Francisco and Mike Revello are aggressive and can get to the line. Even the best-laid plan, however, will only go so far against a team with this kind of pedigree. On the bright side, if Barnegat can win some small victories over the course of 32 minutes, it will have to feel pretty good heading into the state tournament. The Pick: Ranney, 58-41
(18) Ocean at (2) Mater Dei Prep, 6 p.m.
Of the two teams that could have faced Mater Dei in this round, the Seraphs will be facing the team that should, in theory, provide the tougher matchup. The Spartans have a versatile 6-7 senior in Andrew Seager who can score from multiple areas on the floor and a sophomore sharpshooter in Jack Miller who could catch fire and put a scare into the Seraphs. Ocean also battles on both ends, with 6-4 senior Dave Laustsen and guards David Yatcilla and Luke Yates all willing to do the dirty work in a game like this.
The game to remember in this one is, of course, Ocean’s win over Neptune. The Spartans beat a top-four team on a neutral court with a stellar defensive effort and while Mater Dei is much more explosive than Neptune on the offensive end, Ocean should be able to score more than the 37 points it put up in the win over Neptune, as well as the 42 it scored in Tuesday’s win at Lakewood.
In the end, Mater Dei has too many weapons. The Seraphs have four skilled guards who can all shoot, handle and defend the perimeter, plus a 6-9 big man in Adam Afifi who has continued his strong play after 6-6 sophomore Jamir Watkins became eligible and took some of those minutes as the big on the floor. Watkins also gives Mater Dei an element of athleticism few teams can match and he could be a major factor in this one. Ocean has two standouts who could make this interesting but Mater Dei has six guys who could be the difference. The Pick: Mater Dei, 60-46
(14) Middletown North at (3) Rumson-Fair Haven, 6:30 p.m.
The last three games to preview are, arguably, the three most interesting matchups of the round of 16. In the first of those three, the Shore’s hottest team hosts the Shore’s highest scorer in what will be a clash of styles that would confuse someone who has not watched Shore Conference basketball this year. Middletown North’s reliance on leading scorer Rob Higgins and the three-point shooters around him is no surprise, but the fact that Rumson is playing a game in which it is favored and will likely concede more three-pointers than it makes is a role reversal. This is not the same Rumson team that has routinely lit up the scoreboard with the three-point shot, although tat element of the team is still there.
In this game, one key for the Bulldogs will be stopping Middletown North’s penetration without helping off the shooters. That should be a manageable task thanks to the presence of Elijah McAllister at the rim, although if Middletown North can put five shooters on the floor, it could force Rumson to make a decision about how to use McAllister. The other key is Rumson has to score some points in this one because while the Bulldogs have run a little hot and cold, Middletown North will be giving up size and athleticism that Rumson has to exploit if they want to avoid some very tense moments in the fourth quarter.
To pull off the upset, Middletown North has to be able to move McAllister around, force Rumson’s defenders to vacate spots along the three-point line and hit the shots when they are there. On the other end, the Lions have to make the defensive glass a priority and hope they catch Rumson on an off-shooting night. On a neutral court, this could go either way, but the edge is still with the Bulldogs playing in their home gym. The Pick: Rumson, 67-61
(11) Point Beach at (6) Colts Neck, 6:30 p.m.
Of all the games on Thursday night, this is the most evenly-matched and, in turn, the hardest one to predict. Neither teams employs a whole lot of size, but have some sneaky athleticism in spots, especially now that Point Beach has senior Chris Pina eligible and playing again. With the 6-3 forward back in the fold, the Garnet Gulls have a rebounder and shot-blocker who frees up senior Trevor Covey to work the three-point line more, where he has been adept this season. Covey scored 21 points in Tuesday’s win over Pinelands and is only five away from his 1,000th career point.
Seniors Mohamed Traore and Danny Frauenheim also cracked the 20-point mark against Pinelands and slowing down that trio will be Colts Neck’s greatest challenge. Covey, in particular, will be a tough matchup due to his versatility, but it is the kind of assignment that Cougars senior Ben Bosland eats up. Bosland has been mired in a scoring slump, but he does so many things to impact the game that a 15-plus point night from him is almost a bonus anyway. Plus, with Dan Gaines routinely putting up 20-plus points, scoring has not been too much of an issue for the Cougars.
Both teams coming in with a lot of threats on the perimeter, but Point Beach has more players who shoot a high percentage from beyond the arc. Gaines is really the only steady three-point threat, so Colts Neck will have to run its offense to get the shots it can make, while also making sure Point Beach doesn’t catch fire from beyond the arc. Rebounding will also be big and if Chris Pina is active while a couple of Point Beach’s shooters are feeling it, it is going to be hard for Colts Neck to win. The Pick: Point Beach, 56-54
(10) Marlboro at (7) Manasquan, 7 p.m.
Not many teams are playing as well as Marlboro has over the last three weeks or so and it all started with a home win over the team it will play on Thursday night. The Mustangs handed Manasquan its first loss of the season on Jan. 20, which was the start of a 6-2 stretch that also included a win over CBA. Marlboro found itself in a dogfight Tuesday against Brick Memorial before the Mustangs exploded for a 30-8 run that lasted the length of the fourth quarter and turned a one-point deficit into a 21-point win.
One reason Marlboro is so dangerous right now is that it now has five scoring threats on the floor. Sophomore Alex Ratner leads the team in scoring and has been exactly when the team needed to go with returning starters Dylan Kaufman, Justin Marcus and Brian Levine. Meanwhile, senior Eddie Paladino has had a breakout week, scoring at least 15 points in three straight games as a threat from beyond the arc. With Levine running the show on both ends, Marcus and Kaufman providing the size, Ratner scoring at will and Paladino knocking down shots, the Mustangs are hard to guard right now.
When Manasquan dropped the road loss at Marlboro in late January, the Warriors already entered the game without 6-6 sophomore Alex Galvan and lost 6-5 junior Xander Korolik early in that game as well. That proved to be too much to overcome, but Manasquan will not have to overcome that on Thursday because the Warriors are healthy again. In addition to a big, strong front line, Manasquan has shot the ball well recently, which shows in the 100 points the Warriors put up Tuesday against Asbury Park. Defensively, Marlboro could have trouble handling Manasquan this time around if the press is not turning the Warriors over and Korolik, Galvan and Justin Gladden are grabbing offensive rebounds. With a healthy squad and the home court this time around, Manasquan is poised to punch an SCT quarterfinal ticket for the seventh straight year. The Pick: Manasquan, 73-66
First-Round Picks Record: 7-4
Readers’ Record: 9-2