The Holiday Tournament scene is always a fun one and we learned quite a bit about a lot of the teams in the Shore Conference from the five days of games spanning from Saturday to Wednesday. With that said, in the grand scheme of things, we haven’t learned much. None of the top four teams in the preseason top 10 did anything to harm their preseason ranking and the one that did was playing without its best player.

Two teams ranked in the bottom half of the preseason top 10 climbed this week – one with an impressive start to the year and the other with a nice bounceback from an opening-night loss to go with some attrition among the rest of the field. The top 10 also welcomes three new teams, including one bubble team from the preseason that has answered every challenge to this point and will have a chance to answer some more over the next two weeks.

Nothing is all that close to taking shape, but at least we’ve seen what the teams look like at this point. With division play picking up again starting Monday and the Boardwalk Showcase already coming up a week from Saturday, the basketball season is about to hit its stride.

 

1. Christian Brothers Academy (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 1

The Colts picked up two solid wins at the Skyline Classic against Iona Prep and Trenton Central, which is only the beginning of a relentless non-conference schedule for CBA. Another piece of that early non-conference schedule was a six-point loss to Don Bosco, and while there are a few Shore teams that have not lost a game, CBA is not giving up the top spot based on one competitive loss to a top-flight Non-Public A program. The Colts will tune up with Manalapan and Marlboro this week before welcoming early T of C favorite St. Anthony to the Shore in the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase on Jan. 9 in Long Branch.

Junior Elijah Barnes and Mater Dei Prep have delivered on sky-high expectations early in the season. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

2. Mater Dei Prep (3-0, 2-0) Last Week: 2

With Point Beach getting off to a 1-3 start, it’s fair to argue that Mater Dei has not done enough to stay the No. 2 team over a Manasquan team that has won some quality games already. The Seraphs, however, also have not done anything to drop, manhandling both Henry Hudson and Perth Amboy Tech after a 19-point win over the Garnet Gulls on opening. Over the next week-and-a-half, we will start to see how serious Mater Dei really is when the Seraphs play defending Non-Public A champion Pope John on Sunday, followed by both Neptune and Ranney in a span of four days.

3. Manasquan (6-0, 2-0) Last Week: 3

Despite a dreadful shooting first half on Wednesday in the WOBM final, the Warriors still stayed in the game until the offense came alive in the fourth and sparked a win over previously unbeaten Toms River North. Manasquan has the makings of a lockdown defensive team and have showed it in spurts in the early going, including during the fourth quarter against a balanced Toms River North team. That WOBM final win is one of the better wins of any Shore Conference team so far, rivaled only by CBA’s Skyline Classic wins over Iona Prep and Trenton.

Manasquan's Ryan Jensen battles Toms River North's Jaden Rhoden. (Photo by Bill Normile)

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

Although they came up short against Trenton Catholic, the Piners have that one high-profile matchup under their belt and will have a nice base off of which to build the rest of the way. Both Amir Tyler and Sean Barksdale appear to have taken their respective games to another level as seniors and 6-foot-4 junior Adiam Palmer looks primed for a breakout year in light of his strong start. Lakewood will play a showcase game against Westfield on Saturday before hosting Donovan Catholic in the first big Class B South game of the season.

5. Toms River North (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: 8

One nightmare quarter is the only thing that derailed Toms River North in its quest to become WOBM champion for a second straight year and enter 2016 unbeaten. The Mariners went six minutes without a field goal during the fourth quarter against Manasquan, enough to make a nine-point lead disappear. Toms River North stills has wins over Marlboro and Freehold Township to its credit and with the balance, depth and a stronger schedule than most teams below them at this point, the Mariners look like a safe top-five candidate.

6. Ranney (5-0, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

Most casual observers in the area figured that it would take some time – perhaps even a whole year – for Ranney to develop into an SCT contender and most of those people might have expected the Panthers to slip up against one of their first five opponents. While that makes this 5-0 start and the performance of Bryan Antoine (26.2 points per game) something to behold, it is probably not quite time for Ranney to make a jump into the top three just yet. St. Rose, Middletown North, Sayreville and Red Bank are all quality teams, but none is quite on the level of Trenton Catholic, Manasquan, Don Bosco or Trenton – all of which are opponents of the teams with one loss and ranked ahead of Ranney. The Panthers will host Point Beach and Mater Dei in a span of eight days, which should be a great test for the new kids on the block. Okay, now that I’m done pouring a little bit of cold water on a 5-0 start, resume getting excited about this group. They are dangerous right now and downright scary looking forward.

Ranney freshman Bryan Antoine has the Panthers off the a 5-0 start. (Photo by Rob Samuels)

7. Neptune (2-2, 1-1) Last Week: 9

It’s hard to draw up a worse start to a season than getting outscored 13-0 in the first quarter by a team heavy on sophomore newcomers, which is exactly what happened to Neptune opening night at Matawan. Although the Scarlet Fliers did lose that game, they have been very competitive outside of that one quarter, particularly on the defensive end. Even in a 41-31 loss to Teaneck, they slowed down a high-scoring team and might have been able to steal a win with some more offense. Scoring could be an issue for a lot of the year for Neptune, but the defense looks like it will keep the Fliers in a lot of games. With Class B North already looking like a wide-open affair, a home game against Colts Neck on Tuesday will be a big one.

8. Long Branch (3-2, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The Green Wave had to swallow a tough one-point loss to Neptune that spoiled an unbeaten start to the season and did not recover too well in losing 62-28 to J.F.K. of Paterson two nights after losing to the Fliers. If that was just a bad day at the office, then Long Branch heads back into division play as a team with some intrigue. Returning sophomores Tyree Morris and T.J. Fosque have both grown as players and the addition of senior guard Anthony Velazquez has probably been the most significant addition of any Shore team not named Ranney or Mater Dei. Class B North is a grind, so while Long Branch has proven it can compete at the top, the magic word in surviving that schedule is “consistency.”

9. Colts Neck (3-1, 1-1) Last Week: 7

The Cougars still have the makings of a top 10 team despite an opening-night loss at Long Branch and provided a glimpse of that by beating Rumson on the road in double-overtime – even with Brendan Barry going off for 32 points. Not only was the result a big one for Colts Neck, but the Cougars also got big contributions from Kyle Gordon and Jordan deGroot, which they will need as a complement to Lloyd Daniels and Tom O’Reilly. A trip to Neptune on Tuesday is a chance for Colts Neck to get back on track for a run at a B North title.

10. Freehold Township (4-2, 1-1) Last Week: Not ranked

There are a whole bunch of teams worthy of a look at No. 10 this week and the honor goes to Freehold Township for the time being. The Patriots have a trio of quality wins over Marlboro, Manchester and Donovan Catholic and also played CBA and Toms River North close for three quarters each – before ultimately losing to two of the top five teams in the conference.

 

Dropped Out

Rumson-Fair Haven (1-3, 0-2) Last Week: 5 – There are still some questions as to how the new starters will progress and handle top opponents, but returning Brendan Barry to the lineup will keep the Bulldogs in the picture.

Point Pleasant Beach (1-3, 0-2) Last Week: 6 – The start to the season did not go as planned for Point Beach, but the Garnet Gulls will have a chance to turn things around in a big way at Ranney on Tuesday.

Manchester (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 10 – The Hawks had no answer for Freehold Township’s Bobby Weise in the first half of their game against the Patriots, but responded with a good second half and a dominant performance against Marlboro.

 

Lurking…

Toms River East (3-1, 1-0) – Only loss is a five-point defeat at the hands of Manasquan and every other win – including against quality opponents Point Boro and RBC – has been convincing.

Donovan Catholic (4-2, 2-0) – Consecutive losses to Manasquan and Freehold Township won’t hurt too much, especially if the Griffins can show up against Lakewood on the road on Monday.

St. John Vianney (3-2, 1-0) – The Lancers showed some promise in losses to quality non-public programs Holy Spirit and Bergen Catholic, and are 3-0 in their other three games against Bayonne, Rumson and Pemberton.

Matawan (3-2, 1-1) – A win over Neptune and a solid showing at the Husky Classic make Matawan a young team to monitor over the next month in a tough B North.

Raritan (4-0, 2-0) – The Rockets haven’t played the schedule of Manasquan or even Ranney, but they are on the radar as an unbeaten team with a few decent wins over Holmdel, Steinert and Barnegat.

Brick (3-1, 2-0) – The Green Dragons picked up a nice win over Monroe after a tough loss to a solid Perth Amboy squad in Monroe’s Holiday Tournament.

Southern (2-3, 0-1) – A win over Holy Spirit keeps the Rams on the radar, but will have to beat Toms River North at home on Tuesday to garner serious consideration for the top 10, as well as stay in the Class A South race.