Boys Basketball – SCT Semifinal Preview and Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals
Tuesday, Feb. 21
At Pine Belt Arena, Toms River
No. 1 Mater Dei Prep (22-3) vs. No. 4 Toms River North (24-1), 6 p.m.
If anything might have cast any doubt that we will be gearing up for Ranney-vs.-Mater Dei Pt. III, it was Toms River North’s performance against Rumson-Fair Haven on Sunday. For that matter, Toms River North’s performance over the last two weeks should make the top two teams in the field as well as every team in the South Jersey Group IV bracket take notice.
The Mariners have been tweaking their up-tempo game for the last three years and it has reached its apex recently thanks to some scorching shooting. Toms River North shot 14-for-26 from behind the three-point arc on Sunday, which followed up a 74-50 win over CBA in which the Mariners hit nine three-pointers in the first half. Juniors Holden Petrick and Travis Holland have fit in rather perfectly with the returning senior core of Jaden Rhoden, Mike Nyisztor and Darrion Carrington in the starting lineup and senior Sean O’Donnell has been a threat to score double-digits off the bench and spreading the floor.
It’s absolutely true that the version of Toms River North that was on display on Sunday is good enough to knock off Mater Dei on Tuesday. It would, however, be foolish to overlook how well Mater Dei has been playing. The Seraphs are averaging better than 75 points per game over their last nine games, a stretch that began with a 77-56 win over Lakewood and includes only two games against teams with a losing record (Henry Hudson and East Orange). Manasquan actually took a lead on Mater Dei early in the second quarter on Sunday, only to watch the Seraphs flip the switch with 12 straight points.
Toms River North head coach Rory Caswell attributed his team’s hot shooting to hitting open shots that comes from the penetration of Carrington and Rhoden. Therein lies the key for Mater Dei to halting the Mariners’ ship. Mater Dei will look to lock down Carrington – which they were able to do last year – and Rhoden – which they did not do as well – and keep both out of the lane. Nyisztor also had an off-shooting night in a 62-50 loss to Mater Dei in last year’s semifinals, so there is a formula for Toms River North to get the job done if a couple of things go right.
The game is more likely to come down to Toms River North’s ability to slow down Mater Dei’s offense. The Seraphs have the ability to put an athletic lineup on the floor with Elijah Barnes at the five, Elijah Mitchell as a three-four hybrid, and Kenny Jones, Kyle Cardaci and Yasin Pretlow at the guards. Since Toms River North also plays a guard-heavy lineup, the Seraphs will matchup man for man with that lineup and can also go big with Adam Afifi to try to exploit Toms River North’s lack of size. Ultimately, there are a lot of weapons to stop for both sides, but Mater Dei has one or two more. The Pick: Mater Dei, 68-58.
No. 2 Ranney (20-3) vs. No. 6 Marlboro (16-6), 7:45 p.m.
Four years ago, it would have been lunacy to suggest that the second game of a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal double-header would pit Ranney against Marlboro. Not only had neither program ever been to the semifinals, but Marlboro had never won more than one game in the tournament and Ranney had never won an SCT game, period. Tuesday night will mark the first time either program appears in an SCT semifinal and one of the two will also be appearing in its first championship game on Saturday at Monmouth University.
It’s easy to forget that Ranney’s run through this year’s tournament is unprecedented considering how high expectations were heading into the season. While it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Panthers would be in the final, it still represents a bit of school history and, more importantly, represents a run that the all-sophomore starting five have not yet made, despite its immense talent.
Marlboro, meanwhile, boasts three senior starters and another off the bench who make up the heart and soul of the team that is gunning to go down as the best in school history based on what they all do over the next two weeks. Then again, the Mustangs could cement their legacy in this game alone. Ranney is currently the No. 6 team in New Jersey, so an upset of this magnitude would make Marlboro’s season, regardless of what happens in the championship game on Saturday. If the Mustangs have any sort of mental edge, it is that this is likely the one chance – or at least the best chance – the program has to make its mark at this stage of the Shore Conference Tournament and against a team like Ranney. With P.J. Ringel, Dan Weiss and Ryan LaRocca leading the huddle, they are going to fight for it.
As far as the basketball side of things, Marlboro is going to get some looks at the rim and the Mustangs are going to have to get those looks for Weiss and LaRocca. Good shooting teams can bother Ranney to some degree, but it helps to have a handful of them on the floor. Marlboro only has two reliable ones in Weiss and LaRocca, but the good thing for the Mustangs is they have a point guard in Ringel who can get into the lane against just about anybody. Expect Marlboro to get its fair share of points from Ringel’s ability to get into the paint and either finish, get to the line or kick the ball out. Foul shooting has been a problem for Marlboro and it cannot continue to be for the Mustangs to have any chance.
As is always the case in matching up with Ranney, Marlboro will have to slow down Ranney’s offense enough to make whatever offense it musters count. The Mustangs favor a 2-3 zone with different variations of pressure throughout the game and Ringel is capable of wreaking havoc against any team. It might be possible for Marlboro to create enough turnovers to make this thing interesting as long as the Mustangs turn them into points and protect the ball on their end.
Toms River North’s performance on Sunday suggests the first game will be the closer of the two semifinals, but something tells me this is the one that sucks the crowd in, at least for a period of time. The Pick: Ranney, 62-51
Manley’s Quarterfinal Picks Record: 4-0
Manley’s Overall 2017 SCT Picks Record: 19-1