Boys Basketball – SSN Top 10, Dec. 24
A little more than a week into the regular season, the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 remains almost identical to the preseason installment. Eight of the preseason top 10 teams won all of their Week One games against Shore Conference opponents and one of the other two teams lost to the No. 1 team in the rankings.
With that being said, there is a new member of the top 10 this week and it is another team that lost to a top-five-ranked opponent. As the season moves to 2018, the holiday tournaments offer some opportunity for upsets, but the teams at the top will likely still be there in the first ranking of the New Year.
1. Ranney (5-1, 2-0) Last Week: 1
It may not have been the overall tournament championship, but going 3-1 with a consolation bracket championship at the City of Palms Classic should validate that this Ranney team has every chance to be a special group this year. It might have been a more resounding statement to win that last game against Mountain Brook of Alabama by double-digits, but winning on a halfcourt shot by Bryan Antoine after squandering a 16-point fourth-quarter lead gives them a chance to learn from some mistakes while also flying back to N.J. with some more big-game seasoning.
2. Mater Dei Prep (4-0, 2-0) Last Week: 2
Just like their B Central rival, the Seraphs have a win at the buzzer over a noteworthy opponent after coughing up a late lead. Mater Dei has passed two big tests so far against St. Mary of Elizabeth (at the buzzer) and against West Catholic of Philadelphia and the early-season play of 6-9 senior Adam Afifi has been the most encouraging part of the season for Mater Dei, with Afifi working the glass, protecting the rim and knocking down shots to complement a strong group of guards.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (2-0, 2-0) Last Week: 3
Heading into the season, there was a case to be made that Rumson was closer to Mater Dei than Mater Dei was to Ranney. That’s a harder sell after one week. Not only has Mater Dei’s starting five looked very promising, but Rumson has been through two dogfights against A Central opponents, which is as many as they had all year last year against the division. The hard-fought win at Matawan was not a surprise, but a junior-heavy Raritan team came out on fire and nearly knocked off the Bulldogs.
4. Neptune (3-0, 3-0) Last Week: 4
While the start to the season has not been spectacular for the Scarlet Fliers, it has been as good as it needs to be. They grinded out wins over Marlboro and Freehold Township before steamrolling Freehold Boro – all games Neptune had to win in order to establish itself as a favorite in the A North race. The defense has looked elite for stretches of each game and once Jared Kimbrough gets going, the Scarlet Fliers will really plant their flag in the top five of the rankings.
5. Christian Brothers Academy (2-1, 2-0) Last Week: 5
On a knee-jerk reaction, it is tempting to bump CBA up to No. 4 this week with strong consideration for No. 5. Three days after Neptune had to battle for a six-point win over Freehold Township at home, CBA went into Freehold Township and beat the Patriots by 34. The lone loss is to a Blair Academy team that had already played several games and after that, CBA has handled Howell and Freehold Township. After the break, CBA will have a chance to move into the No. 3 spot with a showdown against Rumson at the Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale.
6. Colts Neck (3-0, 3-0) Last Week: 6
Over its first three games of the season, Colts Neck has proven to be a cohesive unit with six players who play well with one another. It’s not a team with a ton of size, but the Cougars play bigger than their collective size and have put away a more athletic Howell team and a bigger Marlboro team. The Cougars will be the No. 3 seed in the Buc Classic this coming week, but they have looked better than both top-seeded Middletown North and No. 2 Lakewood so far.
7. Manasquan (4-0, 3-0) Last Week: 7
It hasn’t taken long for Manasquan to figure out its formula for this season now that the Warriors don’t have an explosive scorer like Devin Jensen at their disposal. The frontline has overwhelmed opponents on the glass so far and senior Ryan Flanagan has stepped forward as a reliable perimeter scoring option after serving as more of a distributor as a starter last year. Junior Brad McCabe is still finding his footing after averaging more than 10 points a game last year, so there is still room for Manasquan to play even batter after a 4-0 start.
8. Point Pleasant Beach (2-1, 2-1) Last Week: 8
The Garnet Gulls are not going to be a complete team until February and considering they are playing without transfer Mohamed Traore until mid-January and senior Chris Pina until early February, things have gone just fine for Point Beach so far. The Gulls hung with Ranney for a half in an opening-night loss, then beat St. Rose handily to open up this past week. Getting past St. Rose with a shorter bench was a big test to pass, and with the emergence of sophomore Jake Clark and the improvement of Trevor Covey, Point Beach is in good shape given the circumstances.
9. Toms River North (4-0, 3-0) Last Week: 9
An injury to senior Holden Petrick has hampered Toms River North so far, but it has not stopped the Mariners from starting 4-0. They breezed through Toms River South to open the season, then pulled away late against Southern, Toms River East and Jackson Memorial. Coach Rory Caswell is still figuring out which combinations of players work the best, but the bright side is there is plenty of depth on hand from which to draw. The Mariners are a project, but one that should result in a solid finished product sometime this year.
10. Matawan (2-1, 2-1) Last Week: Not ranked
The Huskies join the top 10 despite suffering a loss during the first week of the season. Matawan was neck-and-neck with Rumson earlier in the week before the Bulldogs pulled away for a nine-point win – a strong overall effort considering the level of opponent. Matawan’s other two games have been easy wins – by 31 over Red Bank and 26 against Shore. Other teams are going to have chances to jump the Huskies by beating a higher quality of opponent than Red Bank or an improved Shore team, but the Huskies will have enough opportunities over the course of the season to cement this spot.
Middletown North (2-1, 2-1) Last Week: 10 – For the second straight year, Red Bank Catholic picked off the Lions on opening night. Middletown North bounced back with wins over Monmouth and Ocean and will play in the Buc Classic this week.
On the Bubble
Red Bank Catholic (3-1, 2-1) – RBC got off to a good start with a road win over Middletown North and its only slip-up was a 10-point loss to No. 7 Manasquan.
Point Pleasant Boro (4-0, 3-0) – After beating Lakewood on opening day and rolling through Lacey and Manchester, the Panthers have an early stranglehold on B South. Point Boro has a chance to make their top 10 case in the WOBM Classic this week.
Marlboro (2-2, 1-2) – After close losses to No. 4 Neptune and No. 6 Colts Neck, the Mustangs routed Howell and won their first-round WOBM game against Manchester.
Brick Memorial (3-0, 2-0) – Back-to-back wins over Brick and Freehold Township have the Mustangs on the top-10 radar.
Ocean (1-2, 1-2) – Ocean’s first three games came against three of B North’s best: Manasquan, Long Branch and Middletown North. All things considered, a 1-2 start for the Spartans is not so bad.