Last week’s top 10 underwent a rather serious makeover from the prior week and the last seven days did not exactly answer all of the lingering questions. The landscape is, however, a little clearer one week later, with nine teams settling into comfortable top 10 spots for the time being.

With that being said, the top 10 did undergo some noteworthy changes, highlighted by the continuing ascent of two teams – Rumson-Fair Haven and Neptune – that were unranked to open the season. Other than those two, some stability returns to the top 10 this week.

 

1. Ranney (11-2, 7-0) Last Week: 1

The Panthers capped a wildly impressive seven-game stretch this past week by rolling to wins over St. Rose and Point Beach. Ranney went 6-1 during the run with just one three-point loss to St. Anthony and wins over Rutgers Prep, Mater Dei Prep and Montclair Immaculate to go along with the wins over the Purple Roses and the Garnet Gulls. Point Beach has been consistently competitive against a tough schedule this year, except against Ranney – which has walloped the Garnet Gulls by an average of 31 points in the two meetings this season. The challenge for Ranney now will be to remain sharp over the next two weeks, which includes just four games against Henry Hudson, Keansburg, Keyport and Asbury Park. The soft portion of the schedule ends when Mater Dei pays the Panthers a visit on Feb. 6, so Ranney will be treating the next two weeks like they are preparing for the Super Bowl.

2. Mater Dei Prep (11-3, 7-1) Last Week: 2

The Seraphs survived a tight game against Point Beach on Tuesday, which allowed them to avoid a three-game losing streak. At the beginning of this year, it might have been hard to imagine this team losing three games in a row, but when those three games are Ranney, Newark East Side and Point Beach, it’s a little easier to fathom. Still, Mater Dei is not quite hitting on all cylinders yet, but the Seraphs still have quality wins over Central, Sayreville, St. Rose, Point Beach and Union Catholic to their credit. They’ll have a chance to add to this list when the Seraphs play Lakewood at the Valerie Fund Benefit Showcase on Sunday.

3. Freehold Township (14-0, 8-0) Last Week: 3

The Class A North schedule doesn’t offer any easy games, but the Patriots had a relative breather this past week when they played the two bottom teams in the standings – Manalapan (2-11) and Freehold Boro (1-13). The schedule gets considerably tougher this week as Freehold Township travels to Neptune on Tuesday and hosts CBA on Friday. With 14 unanswered wins to open the season and mater Dei looking more vulnerable than it has at any point over the past two seasons, it is time to start broaching the subject of Freehold Township climbing to the No. 2 spot. Mater Dei still has the quality wins and the depth on paper to hold the spot, but as Freehold Township continues to rack up A North wins and the Seraphs coast through the bottom half of the B Central division, the debate intensifies.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (11-1, 6-0) Last Week: 5

While Mater Dei vs. Freehold Township is materializing into an interesting debate, the Bulldogs were a bounce or two away Sunday from throwing their hat in the ring for the No. 1 spot and find themselves within striking distance of No. 2. Rumson came oh-so-close to pulling off a monumental upset Sunday against Roselle Catholic before falling short, 49-46. Despite suffering their first loss of the season, the effort does bump them up a spot past Toms River North and into the No. 4 position in the rankings. While A Central is down overall this year, the Bulldogs have done more than enough to beef up their schedule outside the division. They already have wins over Marlboro and Point Beach and a close loss to Roselle Catholic with games against Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan still to come.

5. Toms River North (14-1, 7-0) Last Week: 4

Although they continue to collect wins, the Mariners fall a spot this week because Rumson also has one loss and it is by three points to one of the four best teams in the state. The Bulldogs also have wins over top-10 teams Point Beach and Marlboro, while Toms River North’s best wins are against Central, Cherry Hill East and St. Rose. The Mariners also lost to a very good opponent (Freehold Township), so they are one slip-up away by Rumson away from jumping back up to No. 4. The one issue the Mariners face is that outside of a second meeting with Central, the A South schedule does not offer many opportunities for wins that will impact a team’s standing within the top five.

Neptune junior Jared Kimbrough. (Photo by Larry Murphy)

6. Neptune (9-4, 6-2) Last Week: 8

Although the Scarlet Fliers watched their seven-game winning streak come to an end on Monday of last week against a one-loss Bloomfield team, they got back in the saddle Friday by beating Marlboro on the road in a one-possession game. Right now, Neptune is one of the most balanced teams in the conference: they can shoot the ball, they defend hard in the half court, they can press teams and, most significantly, they have a legitimate post player in Jared Kimbrough. The Fliers will have a chance to make A North a race again when they host undefeated Freehold Township on Tuesday

7. Point Pleasant Beach (9-5, 5-3) Last Week: 6

After winning nine straight games, the Garnet Gulls have fallen on hard times and it’s not hard to figure out why that might be. Point Beach has dropped four straight games – the first three of which came against three of the top four teams in the top 10 (Ranney, Mater Dei and Rumson). The other was a home loss to a Middletown North team that endured a rough stretch while leading scorer and point guard Rob Higgins was injured. Three of those four losses were decided by five points or fewer, while Ranney is the only team to blow out the Garnet Gulls this year. Life won’t be much easier for Point Beach Tuesday, when the Gulls open their week at home against St. Rose.

8. Marlboro (9-4, 6-2) Last Week: 7

The Mustangs do fall one spot after losing to Neptune, but went a long way toward solidifying a precious top-eight seed in the SCT by going on the road and beating Manasquan on Saturday. Marlboro has a solid collection of wins that includes Neptune, Colts Neck, CBA, Donovan Catholic, Point Boro, CBA and now Manasquan – all but two of which came with P.J. Ringel watching from the bench. Since Ringel’s return, the Mustangs have lost one-possession games to Freehold Township and Neptune and beat CBA and Manasquan by eight. There is not much let-up in the A North schedule, but the Mustangs just got through the toughest part of their regular-season schedule.

9. Central (12-2, 7-1) Last Week: 9

Up until last weekend, Central had some wins against middle-of-the-road and bottom tier Shore Conference teams and a pair of losses to teams entrenched in the top five (Toms River North and Mater Dei). Jan. 14, however, marked what could be a key win for the Golden Eagles, who picked up a road over a Donovan Catholic squad playing at its highest level this season and that also happens to be in first place in B South at the moment. For Central to make a significant jump, it will have to knock off Tom River North on Feb. 6.

10. Manasquan (10-4, 7-1) Last Week: Not ranked

The No. 10 spot is far from settled and Manasquan is not without its drawbacks when it comes to the resume. The Warriors are 0-3 against teams in the top 10 and lost to a Long Branch team that lost to Lakewood by 14 points. On the flip side, the Warriors are just now becoming the roster that they will be for the rest of the season – with senior Brian Paturzo returning from an ankle injury and sophomore transfer Xander Korolik becoming eligible. They also beat a fully-healthy Middletown North squad that went on to beat Red Bank Catholic and Point Beach and appears to be rounding into form. As the leader of a pretty solid B North division, Manasquan has the best case as the No. 10 team.

 

Dropped Out

Lakewood (9-5, 6-2) Last Week: 10 – The Piners have some solid wins (Bloomfield Tech, Long Branch and Pemberton) but losses to Donovan Catholic and Point Boro hurt the Piners. With a showdown against Mater Dei scheduled for Sunday, Lakewood has a chance to open some eyes and earn back a top-10 spot.

 

Top 10 Watch List

Middletown North (8-6, 5-3) – The Lions began the season at No. 4, started slow and lost Rob Higgins for four games. Now Higgins is back and Middletown North appears to be rounding into form.

Colts Neck (8-5, 5-3) – The Cougars have managed the beginning of the season well for a team with so many new players and will be a team to watch in the second half of the season.

Long Branch (8-4, 6-2) – The Green Wave was inconsistent in December, but has been on point (6-0) since the start of 2017.

St. Rose (8-5, 5-3) – The schedule has been unkind to St. Rose, which has lost to No. 1 Ranney, No. 2 Mater Dei, No. 5 Toms River South, No. 7 Point Beach and No. 10 Manasquan. To get in the top 10, though, you have to beat top 10 teams.

Christian Brothers Academy (9-5, 4-4) – A loss to Colts Neck has CBA well off of a top 10 spot, but the Colts are still in the running as one of the best 10-to-15 teams in the conference – one that should continue to improve continue the three prominent sophomores in the rotation.

Donovan Catholic (8-5, 7-1) – The B South leaders have found their stride after some growing pains early on. The Griffins replaced four starters from last year’s team and struggled early with losses to Toms River South and Barnegat, but recent road wins over Lakewood and Point Boro make them worthy of top 10 consideration.

 

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