Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Shore Conference appeared to have a clear favorite, two teams battling for the No. 2 spot, a No. 4 team lurking and heated competition for No. 5. By the start of 2019, four teams were neck-and-neck for the No. 3 spot and a fourth team joined the mix a week later.

That brings us to this week. What was a four-team race for the No. 3 spot has become a six-team race for No. 2 and a seventh team still hanging in the conversation as a first-place team in a competitive division. CBA’s loss to Freehold Township and Middletown South’s wins over Matawan and Marlboro added to the early-season frenzy that will move to a mid-season frenzy this week, when teams at the Shore begin their second turn through the division.

The No. 1 spots is still not up for debate and, quite frankly, it won’t be until the NJSIAA Tournament – if it ever is. The No. 2 spot, though, could be a season-long battle royale that comes down to a judges’ decision ahead of the Shore Conference Tournament and, ultimately, at the end of the season.

 

1. Ranney (10-1, 4-0) Last Week: 1

Ranney may have suffered its first loss, but the Panthers are not going anywhere on this list. Barring a loss to a B Central team – which, safe to say, would likely be the biggest upset in the conference history – Ranney is on the way to a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, but the real work will be beefing up its power-point count for the NJSIAA Tournament and fine-tuning its machine as Phillipe Wheeler and Ahmadu Sarnor get eligible. Wheeler is now back after his Sunday debut and Sarnor will be back in less than to weeks.

2. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-1, 5-1) Last Week: 4

And so it begins. The chase – and debate – for the No. 2 spot is on and it is a free-for-all. Rumson gets the next crack at the No. 2 spot, even after needing to scratch and claw their way to a win over a .500 Middletown North squad at Saturday at the Boardwalk Showcase. Rumson’s 26-point win over Red Bank Catholic is the golden ticket at the moment and the Bulldogs have a win over St. Peter’s Prep on top of that RBC victory to get the nod for this week. There are, however, at least five more teams nipping at their heels so the return trip through the division will be huge.

3. Red Bank Catholic (11-1, 5-1) Last Week: 5

It’s hard to argue that any of the other contenders for No. 2 are playing better than the Caseys are right now. RBC has won nine in a row with wins over Freehold Township, Marlboro, Manasquan and Middletown South twice. They closed the 2017-18 season in memorable fashion by beating CBA in the Non-Public A Tournament and have shaken off the football rust to reveal an athletic, physical, cohesive, well-rounded squad. The head-to-head loss to Rumson keeps RBC out of the top spot for the time being but the Caseys will have their chance at revenge in due time.

4. Freehold Township (9-1, 6-0) Last Week: 6

The Patriots keep climbing after another impressive win this week, this time over CBA on the road. With the win, Freehold Township steals the inside track toward the A North title from the preseason favorites and the next meeting between the rivals will be in Freehold Township’s gym. This week, however, won’t be easy as Freehold Township finishes a stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents by playing at Middletown South on Tuesday. A win would make it four wins in a row against ranked opponents and it would be tough to give that sort of capital away when it comes to SCT seeding. With all the teams being so close, however, the only way to be safe is to keep winning.

5. Christian Brothers Academy (8-2, 4-1) Last Week: 2

It might be hard to picture this CBA team, with its senior leadership and high expectations, as the fifth best team at the Shore instead of the second, but it’s hard to make a case for the Colts to be any higher based on the on-court results. Right now, there is a better case to rank CBA No. 6 than there is to put them No. 2 based on the fact that their best win is either opening night over Marlboro or over Taylor Allderdice – a team out of Pittsburgh. CBA still has plenty of time and opportunity to get back to the top in A North, but the Colts are now in the fray with a lot of other teams and will likely have to prove their way back to No. 2.

6. Manasquan (10-2, 5-1) Last Week: 3

Manasquan settles for the No. 6 spot on the basis that CBA beat Marlboro, which beat Manasquan. That’s the only difference between the two in comparing common opponents and that sticks it to the Warriors, who have strong noteworthy wins (Rumson-Fair Haven, Union Catholic and Middletown South) than every team in the derby other than perhaps RBC. The loss to Marlboro stings for the moment, but a rematch with Rumson is a little more than a week away and a series sweep in that one could solidify a top-four spot for the Warriors.

7. Middletown South (7-4, 4-1) Last Week: 10

After debuting at No. 10 last week, the Eagles climb three more spots this week after beating Marlboro and Long Branch before finally losing to Red Bank Catholic to snap a four-game winning streak. With wins over Toms River North, Matawan and Marlboro, the Eagles appear a little bit more proven than Wall at this point, but there is not a huge difference. The opening-night loss to Manalapan – which has not won a game since – could be an albatross if Middletown South can’t keep picking off Top-10 caliber teams.

8. Wall (8-2, 6-0) Last Week: 8

Most of Wall’s damage this season has come within Class B North, which is full of solid teams but no obvious spectacular ones. It appears the best team in the division outside Wall to this point is Matawan, which is the one B North team Wall has yet to face. That all changes on Tuesday, when the top two teams in the B North standings meet in Wall, with the Crimson Knights putting their unbeaten mark in the division on the line. There are not any landscape-altering wins to be had in B North, but if Wall can run the table or go 13-1, that would be a great body of work. With a win over Matawan on Tuesday, it would be fair to start taking that prospect seriously.

9. Matawan (9-2, 5-1) Last Week: Not ranked

The Huskies are back in the Top 10 thanks to a bounce-back from a loss to Middletown South, as well as the struggles of Holmdel. Matawan got by Middletown North on Tuesday and Red Bank Thursday in overtime to keep pace with Wall and set up a showdown against the Crimson Knights on Tuesday with a chance for the Huskies to climb into the top spot along with the current frontrunners.

10. Marlboro (6-6, 2-4) Last Week: 7

At this rate, the Mustangs might not be long for the Top 10 given that they have lost five of six and will likely be without leading scorer Alex Ratner for another two-to-three weeks after he suffered a sprained ankle on Monday against Middletown South. On the bright side, senior Dylan Kaufman is 18 points away from reaching the 1,000-point milestone and his team will face Howell on Tuesday and CBA on Thursday – both on the road.

 

Dropped Out

Holmdel (4-6, 3-3) Last Week: 9 – The Hornets could not keep up Rumson or Freehold Township this week and also dropped a heartbreaker to Monmouth Regional.

 

Top 10 Watch List

Toms River North (7-3, 6-0) – The Mariners are starting to get healthy and figure out roles and although they have had to sweat out some wins, they continue to extend a Class A South winning streak that is up to 52 games.

Middletown North (6-6, 3-3) – All of B North could be on this list, but we’ll stick with the teams that have .500 records or better both in the overall and division. The Lions nearly pulled off a sizable upset of Rumson-Fair Haven on Saturday and lost in overtime on a very tough foul call about 80 feet from the basket with one second left.

St. John Vianney (6-5, 3-3) – The Lancers were positioned to seriously challenge for a Top 10 spot this week but a loss at St. Rose put that on hold for the time being.

 

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