During the first two-plus weeks of the 2018-19 season, a common misconception about the top 10 got put to rest: head-to-head matchups between top 10 make it easier to determine which teams are the best. Of course, over a large sample, this would be true, but the battle for the No. 3 spot that has materialized doesn’t have the benefit of that just yet.

Instead, all four teams positioned to claim the No. 3 position in the rankings have defeated one of the others: Red Bank Catholic defeated Marlboro, Marlboro defeated Manasquan, Manasquan defeated Rumson-Fair Haven and Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Red Bank Catholic. This early in the season, that sort of merry-go-round means the rankings won’t change dramatically but it serves as proof that the teams in the heart of the top 10 are all pretty close to one another.

The bottom of the top 10 remains even more volatile, with two new teams climbing in this week. Some big-name programs have swallowed some early defeats to open the door for some new teams to step in. Last week did not go so well for the two newest members of the top 10, so the teams on fence could be ready to pounce.

For the moment, Nos. 1 and 2 remain clear. The rest is a work in progress.

 

1. Ranney (7-0, 2-0) Last Week: 1

The state’s No. 1 team traveled down to Raleigh, N.C. and came home with a championship from the John Wall Invitational. Bryan Antoine grabbed the headlines by averaging 32.3 points in three games, winning tournament MVP and scoring his 2,000th point, but Ranney got contributions throughout the lineup. The Panthers are still playing without Phillip Wheeler and Ahmadu Sarnor and even with only six players in the rotation and to Division I caliber talents out, they are getting it done.

2. Christian Brothers Academy (5-0, 2-0) Last Week: 2

CBA also traveled out of state and returned with its unbeaten record intact. Josh Cohen and Stephen Braunstein have been as good as can be expected as the team’s returning one-two punch and freshman point guard Ryan Mabrey has settled into the varsity game quickly. After a 12-day hiatus, CBA will return to action on Thursday against Howell, followed by a visit from rival Freehold Township to open the following week.

3. Manasquan (7-1, 3-0) Last Week: 3

The Warriors looked awfully impressive through their first six games and then ran into some offensive issues against a pesky Marlboro squad. Given that every team in the running for the No. 3 spot in the rankings has at least one loss and has beaten one other team in the running, Manasquan has a pretty strong case to remain No. 3. The Warriors have a 17-point win over Rumson-Fair Haven, a 24-point win over Holmdel and a win over a Union Catholic team that opened the season as a top-20 team in the state. Manasquan also responded to its first loss with a solid showing in a win over Middletown South in the WOBM third place game.

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

Like Manasquan, Rumson has responded ideally from its only loss. After faltering in the second half of a 65-48 loss at Manasquan, the Bulldogs have won three straight, including a 67-41 drubbing of Red Bank Catholic and a hard-fought, 50-47 victory over perennial North Jersey Non-Public A contender St. Peter’s Prep. Rumson will get another crack at Manasquan at home and with the Bulldogs looking especially imposing in their home gym, revenge could indeed be in Rumson’s future.

Red Bank Catholic senior M.J. wright battles Marlboro junior Alex Ratner in the WOBM Classic final. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

5. Red Bank Catholic (6-1, 2-1) Last Week: 6

With Manasquan, Rumson, RBC and Marlboro all beating one another, logically, the rank order of the teams should remain the same. The one change to last week’s ranking is RBC jumping Marlboro thanks to its buzzer-beating win over the Mustangs in the WOBM Classic final. Continuing with a common theme, RBC responded well to a blowout loss at Rumson by winning four straight in Toms River and averaging 74.5 points in the process.

6. Marlboro (5-2, 2-1) Last Week: 5

Given that Marlboro beat Manasquan by 10 points and only lost to RBC by two at the buzzer, the Mustangs have a pretty good argument that they are playing the best of the four teams in contention for the No. 3 spot and should thus be the current keeper of the third spot in the rankings. On the other hand, Marlboro is the only team of the four with a second loss, although it came against No. 2 CBA. Malrboro’s second-best win after Manasquan doesn’t quite measure up to the other noteworthy wins of Manasquan (Union Catholic), Rumson (St. Peter’s) and RBC (Freehold Township), so the Mustangs will have to wait for now. On the bright side, they have put themselves in early position to challenge for a top-four seed, which is no small development.

7. Freehold Township (5-1, 3-0) Last Week: 8

Although Freehold Township is not currently in the crowded discussion for the No. 3 spot in the rankings, the Patriots are on the periphery after going 2-1 at the WOBM Classic that included a big win over Class A South favorite Toms River North. Freehold Township resumes divisional play Thursday against Manalapan before embarking on a huge three-game stretch the following week. The Patriots play at CBA and host Marlboro in back-to-back games and conclude the week with a trip to play the newest No. 10 team (read on to find out who).

8. Wall (5-2, 3-0) Last Week: 9

Despite suffering its first two losses of the season – to Lenape and Mainland at the Shore at the Shore Tournament – Wall moves up a spot in the top 10 through shear attrition. To their credit, the Crimson Knights did close their week at the SATS with an 81-74 win over Jackson Liberty behind a lineup that had six players score at least nine points and five put up 11 or more. Wall is also the current leader in the Class B North standings and with Neptune losing Sam Fagan for the year, the Crimson Knights are even better positioned to lead the pack wire-to-wire.

9. Matawan (6-1, 2-1) Last Week: Not ranked

The other apparent B North contender along with Wall is Matawan, which is now 6-0 at home after a captivating run to its first Huskies Class championship in five years. Matawan lost its only road game to St. John Vianney in overtime and its wins – over Neptune, Colts Neck, North Brunswick, Freehold Boro, Carteret and Old Bridge – reveal a balanced, athletic team that could very well be built for meaningful games both in the B North schedule and in the postseason.

10. Holmdel (3-3, 2-1) Last Week: Not ranked

With Toms River North and Middletown North both losing to unranked teams, Holmdel is the team that benefits with a debut in the top 10. The Hornets get the nod over Middletown South because of a common-opponent win over Manalapan. Holmdel’s losses are to quality opponents in Manasquan, Old Bridge and Union and the well-rounded, junior-heavy roster figures to get better over the course of the next few weeks.

 

Dropped Out

Toms River North (3-3, 2-0) Last Week: 7 – The Mariners played without junior starter Colin Baker for the last two games of the WOBM and appeared to miss him quite a bit in dropping games to Middletown South and Freehold Township. Once whole, the Mariners should get back into the top 10 mix given their recent dominance in Class A South.

Middletown North (4-3, 2-1) Last Week: 10 – After the Lions lost to Monmouth in the Buc Classic first round, Rob Higgins missed a game due to illness and Middletown North did not fare well without him in a 49-33 loss to St. John Vianney.

 

Top 10 Watch List

Pinelands (5-0, 3-0) – Along with Ranney and CBA, Pinelands is one of three remaining unbeaten teams at the Shore. The Wildcats won the Warrior Classic in New Egypt last week and if they continue to rack up wins in B South, they should sneak into the top 10 eventually.

Neptune (4-2, 1-2) – Carrying on without Sam Fagan – who suffered a likely season-ending knee injury on Sunday – will be difficult for the Fliers, but coach Joe Fagan has a history of coaching up underdog squads and this team, led by senior Dwaine Jones, is sure to have a chip on its shoulder.

Middletown South (3-3, 1-1) – A loss to Manalapan keeps Middletown South behind Holmdel for now, but a win over Toms River North put the Eagles squarely in the top-10 running as they head into a big five-game stretch that includes games against Matawan, Marlboro and Red Bank Catholic.

St. John Vianney (3-3, 1-2) – The Lancers earn a spot in the discussion with a strong showing at the Buc Classic, including wins over Colts Neck and Middletown North. Throw in a home win over No. 9 Matawan and it’s fair to say the Lancers have earned some respect in the early going.

Brick (3-2, 2-1) – The Green Dragons continue to ride their duo of Shane Williams and Jalen Jackson, the latter of whom scored 47 points in a win over Princeton Day last week. If not for a loss at the buzzer to Monroe, Brick could be rolling into the New Year win one loss.