The preseason top 10 seemed to have a clear-cut top five based on last year’s results, and after a week-and-a-half of games, that number appears to be down to three. Point Pleasant Beach, Lakewood and Christian Brothers Academy were big favorites coming into the season and for the most part, those three have played like it.

After No. 3, the top 10 gets a big shake-up and while there is a clear top-three, there are a number of other teams that have been equally impressive. Holiday tournaments can always produce some wacky results, so these next few weeks should provide a more telling look at where some of the surprise teams are early in the season.

 

1. Point Beach (3-0, 1-0) Last Week: 1

The Garnet Gulls’ season will ultimately be measured by championships, but in the meantime, it is measured by how they do outside of their division. It has only been three games, but it appears the Point Beach machine is still fully functional, led by Matt Farrell (20 points per game). Wins over solid Union and Colonia teams are a nice start to the season as the Gulls gear up for a division schedule that appears to be well below Point Beach’s level. There is, however, an old adage about the games and why they play them.

2. Lakewood (3-1, 1-0) Last Week: 2

After three dominant performances to start the season, Lakewood ran into a very strong Rancocas Valley team at the ESCIT Prime Time final and took its first loss. Irvington and Sussex Tech of Delaware seem like average teams at this point, but Manchester – which Lakewood beat by 22 on the road – is off to a great start and appears headed for a big year. The Piners still have some jelling to do, but a 3-1 start with some lopsided victories and big numbers for Dan Niblack and Ben Watson are great signs.

3. Christian Brothers Academy (2-2, 1-0) Last Week: 3

No team in the Shore Conference has played a more challenging early-season schedule than CBA, which is the way it always is when the Colts expect to be good. Last year’s team played a more forgiving early-season schedule, so the hope here is that some tough games will harden the Colts for tournament time. With Class A North’s public school teams seeing mixed returns during the holiday tournaments, it appears that CBA remains a heavy favorite in the division.

4. Long Branch (3-1, 1-0) Last Week: 6

The Green Wave had a tough day at the office against perennial power Seton Hall Prep at the Neptune Holiday Jubilee, but have played well in every other game. Wins over Elizabeth and Marist gave Long Branch a 2-1 record at the Jubilee to go with a 22-point opening-night win over Ocean to start its season. Matawan and Neptune both seem ready to challenge Long Branch for the division based on the first week-and-a-half of play and that will get put to the test right away when Neptune and Long Branch meet on Friday (weather permitting).

Senior Jack Herrmann and Rumson-Fair Haven are the Shore Conference's only 4-0 team heading into 2014. (Photo by Matt Manley)

5. Rumson-Fair Haven (4-0, 1-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Outside of Point Pleasant Beach, the most dominant team in the Shore Conference to open the season has been Rumson. The Bulldogs were extremely young last year and it appears they have grown up rather quickly. The competition over the last three games has not been noteworthy, but then again, Rumson has won those games by an average of 32 points per game. Those games came after a huge opening-night win at home over preseason No. 4 Shore, which has played well since the loss to Rumson. Class A Central has some quality opponents and the dominance shouldn’t come quite so easy, but with three players – Jack Herrmann (21.8), Brendan Barry (18.8) and Thomas Famulary (15) – averaging 15 points per game or better, the Bulldogs look like a serious team in this year’s Shore Conference.

6. Matawan (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: 8

The Huskies were more good than great over the first three games of the season (2-1) but played two very good games against Our Savior Lutheran and Tottenville of N.Y. to close out a Husky Classic championship. Unlike most of the teams in the top 10, Matawan made a deep run in the Shore Conference Tournament and has most of its lineup back. These last few performances – particularly from junior and Husky Classic MVP Jason Dunne – suggest that last year was no fluke and that Matawan could be ticketed for another big February and perhaps even March.

7. Manchester (4-1, 0-1) Last Week: Not ranked

Opening night was interesting for three quarters before Lakewood pulled away, which is not a new story for Lakewood in Class B South. Any progress Manchester had made needed to show in subsequent games and did it ever. The Hawks won their first ever WOBM Classic championship, capping the run off with a convincing 58-42 win over preseason No. 5 Jackson Memorial. If not for a sudden 10-point run by Toms River South in the semifinal to send the game into overtime, Manchester might have won four games by double-digit margins. The arrival of KaShaun Barnes and development of sophomores Jordan Torney, Israel Almestica and Shavar Reynolds make Manchester a team that could sustain the early-season success.

8. Shore (3-2, 0-1) Last Week: 4

If CBA has the toughest schedule in the Shore Conference thus far, Shore is No. 2 by a pretty clear margin. A loss at Rumson and against St. Joseph Metuchen and Kentucky recruit Karl Towns dropped the Blue Devils to 0-2 to start the season, but they responded with three straight convincing wins. The last two of those wins came against Middletown North and Manasquan, both of which have one loss and are off to strong starts. With all five starters clicking and the bench starting to chip in, Shore seems to be off and running after a tough start.

9. Jackson Memorial (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: 5

The Jaguars made their usual deep run to the WOBM championship, but a 16-point loss to Manchester exposed some potential early-season holes. Manchester did benefit from an especially good shooting night from behind the arc, but the Hawks back court won the battle, which overshadowed another good game from Eric Carter (23 points). Jackson will need more out of its back court and will also need to start making more free throws, but this loss can turn out to be a good thing if the Jaguars make a few adjustments.

10. Toms River South (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The comeback kids of the Shore Conference so far could very easily be unbeaten if not for some late-game mistakes in a double-overtime loss to Manchester. Toms River South has rallied from double-digit second-half deficits in three games this season, one of which was the loss to Manchester. Toms River South completed the tournament with an all-around effort against Freehold Township, a 56-44 win. With Jackson Memorial’s struggles against Manchester and Southern’s up-and-down start, Toms River South might emerge as a serious threat to win Class A South.

 

Dropped Out

Southern (2-1, 0-0) Last Week: 7 – If not for a miracle shot against Jackson Liberty, the Rams might have had a shot at a 3-0 start if they could have beaten a good Pemberton team in their tournament final.

Freehold Township (3-2, 1-0) Last Week: 9 – The Patriots are not completely healthy yet, but along with Middletown North, they still look like the most likely contender to CBA in A North.

Red Bank Catholic (2-2, 0-1) Last Week: 10 – The Caseys haven’t been one for close games, with double-digit losses to Manasquan and Jackson Memorial while beating Lacey and Point Boro by 11 and 23, respectively.

 

On the Bubble

Manasquan (3-1, 1-0) – The hot start ended with a cold shooting game against Shore, but Manasquan has defended well and with some better shooting, the Warriors can be dangerous.

Neptune (2-2, 1-0) – Tough losses to Marist and Seton Hall Prep are Neptune’s only losses, but Neptune had plenty of those last year, too. Long Branch on Friday will be a good measure of where this Neptune team currently stands.

Middletown North (3-1, 1-0) – The Lions have not had too much of a challenge outside of a loss to Shore, but that challenge is coming when the A North schedule gets underway this week.