Boys Basketball – SSN Top 10, Jan. 16
For the first time this year, the Top 10 is going through a serious shakeup. There is a new No. 1 and beyond the top five, it has become a complete free-for-all. On the whole, those teams have beaten one another, lost to unranked opponents, played with different lineups due to injuries and the result is a group of teams that are rather indistinguishable from one another as far as their resumes go.
With all that out there, this top 10 is really a beta model for the one that will come out next week, after a few of the bottom-five teams and other candidates play some key games. If I could, I would probably only do a top five this week because that is the point at which the rankings become almost completely subjective (assuming they are not already).
That, of course, would be a copout, so we’ll all just have to deal with some controversy, hurt feelings and extra bulletin-board material for another week before the schedule sorts some of this mess out. More than any other point of the season, take this week’s rankings with a grain of salt.
1. Ranney (9-2, 5-0) Last Week: 2
There may be some ambiguity at the end of the rankings, but there is no doubt who the top team in the Shore Conference is right now. Ranney actually moves into the top spot after a week in which it lost a game, but that loss was a heartbreaker against St. Anthony. The rest of the week included a comfortable win over Asbury Park, an impressive showing against Montclair Immaculate at the Dan Finn Classic, and, of course, the big one: a 58-56 win at defending SCT champ Mater Dei on Thursday.
2. Mater Dei Prep (9-3, 5-1) Last Week: 1
The eight-day period from Jan. 7 to Jan. 14 has been the toughest stretch over the last two seasons for the Seraphs, but that’s understandable given the level of competition they played. They suffered a 25-point loss to the top team in the state (Patrick School), lost a nip-and-tuck game at home to Ranney and lost a competitive game against a Newark East Side team that is 10-0 and currently ranked No. 5 in N.J. It’s a disappointing trio of losses for a team with ambitions to challenge for a spot in the Tournament of Champions out of the state’s toughest section, but it should make Mater Dei stronger – especially since they welcome Holmdel transfer Kyle Cardaci into the fold this week.
3. Freehold Township (12-0, 6-0) Last Week: 3
The Patriots continue to plow through opponents and have reached the 12-game mark without a loss. On Friday, they finally played a game that was decided by one score and managed to pull it out against Marlboro, 51-48. A day later, they turned a three-point game with under six minutes to go against Hammonton into a 20-point win with a 24-7 run to close the game. Not all is perfect, however, with Freehold Township, as promising sophomore starter Greg Billups injured his ankle against Marlboro and could miss an extended stretch of games.
4. Toms River North (11-1, 5-0) Last Week: 4
The Mariners continued to handle their business this week by beating Brick Memorial and Central before picking up a showcase win over a solid Cherry Hill East program. The win over Central on the road once again puts Toms River North in the A South driver’s seat and the Mariners will complete the first time through the division this week against Brick and Toms River South. Wins over CBA, Cherry Hill West and St. Rose and enough to keep the Mariners a step ahead of Rumson, but without much beyond A South teams remaining on the schedule, Toms River North is unlikely to move much prior to the postseason.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (10-0, 5-0) Last Week: 7
The Shore’s two remaining unbeaten teams both lost their top two scorers from a year ago – including an All-Shore point guard. In Rumson’s case, the Bulldogs have overcome the loss of Brendan Barry to start the season 10-0 with a pair of quality wins over Marlboro and Point Beach. The streak is likely to end at 11, as the Bulldogs will start the week against St. John Vianney before hosting state power Roselle Catholic on Sunday. At this point, the case for Rumson to jump Toms River North is debatable, but the Bulldogs will have a chance to cement their case when they play Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan on consecutive weekends.
6. Point Pleasant Beach (9-2, 5-1) Last Week: 5
It’s probably unfair to Point Beach to assert that no team outside the top five has stood out. The Garnet Gulls just saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end in a road loss to Rumson in which Point Beach nearly erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. With wins over Manasquan, St. Rose and Union, Point Beach still has a solid resume and it’s safe to say the Garnet Gulls are a comfortable fit in the No. 6 spot at this point.
7. Marlboro (7-3, 5-1) Last Week: Not Ranked
This is where the debate begins and in this case, key injuries make the Mustangs hard to rank. They beat Neptune on opening night without P.J. Ringel and Dylan Kaufman but with a healthy Emir Anda, lost to St. Rose one game after losing Anda for the season with a knee injury, then lost to Rumson with Ringel still a week from returning. Ringel returned last week in full force against Freehold Township and while that was ultimately a loss, the Mustangs went into the Patriots’ gym and had the ball with under 10 seconds and a chance to tie the game – an opportunity no other team has had against the unbeaten Pats. It’s a good thing for the Mustangs that Ringel is back because no team faces a bigger upcoming week than Marlboro: they host CBA and Neptune before travelling to Manasquan on Saturday.
8. Neptune (8-3, 4-2) Last Week: Not Ranked
Since starting the season 1-3 with a pair of one-point loss, Neptune has it its stride by winning seven consecutive games. The Scarlet Fliers have posted wins against the likes of Ewing, Middletown North, CBA and Colts Neck and lost one-point games to Bloomfield Tech and Marlboro. The only team to beat Neptune was unbeaten Freehold Township. While Lakewood has a case to be ahead of Neptune on the basis that the Piners beat Bloomfield Tech, 55-53, Neptune does not have anything resembling a bad loss and plays in the deepest division in the Shore Conference.
9. Central (9-2, 5-1) Last Week: 10
Although Central does not have the quality of wins that some of the other top-10 teams have, the Golden Eagles’ only two losses have come against No. 1 Mater Dei and No. 4 Toms River North. They did beat Middletown North, but that was with Rob Higgins sidelined. Central also beat Donovan Catholic two days after the Griffins beat Lakewood on the road, so that, more than anything, is what is keeping Central in the top 10 at the moment. For the Golden Eagles to have a shot to stay in the top 10, they’ll probably need to knock off Toms River North the second time through the A South schedule.
10. Lakewood (8-3, 5-1) Last Week: 9
The Piners were in serious danger of falling out of the top 10 this week after losing at home to Donovan Catholic, but a convincing win over Pemberton on Saturday saved them, for now. The team with the strongest gripe about exclusion this week is definitely Manasquan, which was No. 6 in the previous rankings. Lakewood has the edge over the Warriors for the moment because of a neutral-court win over a Long Branch team that beat Manasquan in Long Branch. Manasquan, however, is still looking to get healthy, while Lakewood has its team intact. If the Piners are going to remain a top-10 mainstay, they will have to catch fire, beginning with a trip to Point Boro on Friday.
Manasquan (8-3, 5-1) Last Week: 6 – This is a drastic drop for a team that lost one game this week, but the Warriors currently have a loss to a team outside the top 10 and no wins against teams in the top 10. Lakewood has the same problem, but the Piners beat the unranked team that beat Manasquan (Long Branch).
Christian Brothers Academy (7-4, 3-3) Last Week: 8 – For the first time since 2012-13, CBA falls out of the top 10 after dropping games against Colts Neck and Neptune last week. The Colts have not beaten a Shore Conference team with a winning record yet this year and are 0-4 against such teams.
Top 10 Watch List
St. Rose (7-4, 4-2) – The Purple Roses have been on the cusp of the top 10 every week and have a reasonable gripe about not being in this week. Their losses are against No. 2, No. 4, No. 6 and a Manasquan team that was ranked No. 6 last week. The win over Marlboro is a tough one to evaluate considering the Mustangs now have P.J. Ringel back.
Point Pleasant Boro (8-3, 5-1) – The Panthers are as healthy as they have been in a full year and have to be licking their chops about playing Lakewood at home this week. The Panthers could potentially enter that game on a six-game winning streak, while the Piners are still reeling from a home loss to Donovan Catholic. Of course, Point Boro will have to survive its own showdown with Donovan Catholic first.
Red Bank Catholic (7-3, 5-1) – The win over Middletown North doesn’t carry quite as much weight now that the Lions are no longer ranked, but it’s still a pretty strong win for a team that is currently tied with Manasquan for first place in B North.
Colts Neck (6-5, 3-3) – The Cougars would have had a compelling top-10 case had they defeated Neptune, but missed out by a mere two points. On the flip side, any week that includes a win over CBA is a good week.
Long Branch (5-4, 4-2) – The results have been mixed, but Long Branch has proven to be a dangerous team when the Green Wave are on.