It’s just about time to ring in a new year, and that means ripping up the preseason top 10 and starting over. While this week’s Top 10 has a new look, there is still some stability thanks to the Shore’s No. 1 team and a scattered number of preseason Top 10 teams who have handled their business. As you will see below, head-to-head match-ups do as much to muck up the top 10 as they answer questions. There are some key cross-divisional match-ups over the next 10 days that could clear up the picture, but it’s still early enough to expect this is going to be a volatile situation for the next month and-a-half leading up to the Shore Conference Tournament.

 

1. Christian Brothers Academy (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 1

The Colts are not among the Shore Conference’s unbeaten at this early stage of the year, but their lone loss was a competitive game against Don Bosco at a neutral site. Within the Shore Conference, CBA has been convincing in beating Freehold Township and Freehold Boro and also picked up two convincing wins at the Shooting Touch Shootout at Tufts University over the holiday break. Last year, CBA did not lose to a Shore Conference team until the Shore Conference Tournament final. Based on their start to the season, the Colts could be in for a similar run.

2. Lakewood (4-0, 2-0) Last Week: 4

On name recognition, Red Bank’s win over defending Tournament of Champions winner St. Joseph’s-Metuchen is the most impressive win of the season. In reality, however, Lakewood’s wins over Newark Tech and Bartrum, Pa., might actually be the two most noteworthy out-of-conference wins on the board thus far. The Piners slide into the No. 2 spot after starting the season at No. 4 and appear to have worked out some early kinks after an opening-night scare from Pinelands.

Red Bank senior Anthony Mitchell and the 5-0 Bucs are off to a fast start to the season. (Photo by Larry Murphy)

3. Red Bank (5-0, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

With an impressive 5-0 start, including a victory over defending NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner St. Joseph's-Metuchen in the Albert E. Martin Buc Classic final, the Bucs have proven that they should have been ranked from the word “go.'' To this point, they could make a case that they are playing the best basketball of any team in the Shore Conference. Coming off an NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game appearance, Red Bank has already beaten preseason top 10 teams Neptune and Shore and also came back to beat a Wall squad that is off to a fast start. Red Bank once again has as much depth as any team in the conference while their returning players have all come back playing as well or better as they did last year, particularly Anthony Mitchell and Tyler Christie.

4. Southern (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: 9

A win over St. Augustine would have been comparable to the notable nonconference wins of both Lakewood and Red Bank and could have catapulted the Rams into the No. 2 spot in the Shore. As is, Southern still has looked impressive during its start to the season, with a competitive showing vs. St. Augustine to go with convincing wins over Brick in Class A South and Atlantic Tech, Oakcrest and St. John Vianney at the Score at the Shore Tournament. Accounting for the loss of Zac Halliday (shoulder) for the season will be a challenge, but Jake Logue and Peyton Wejnert are working well together and junior Ethan DuBois has fit in nicely at point guard.

5. Toms River North (5-0, 1-0) Last Week: 10

With its entire team back from a year ago, the Mariners have demonstrated that their 12-5 finish to a 15-11 season last year was no lucky stretch. Toms River North does have a deep bench of athletes to cause teams problems, but the starting five has been very good overall so far. Jordan Craig, Evan Martin, Ted Thelemaque and Pat Marinaccio were known commodities coming into the season, but sophomores Mike Nyisztor and Darrion Carrington have both improved and given a boost to the starting lineup. Thelemaque has served as the sixth man to this point and has led the team in scoring once this year after doing so on occasion last year. Few teams can rival Red Bank on sheer balance throughout the lineup, but Toms River North is not far off.

6. Manalapan (5-0, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

A top-10 appearance was always in play for Manalapan at some point this year, but the general expectation was it would take until the return of NyRhique Smith to spark that kind of run. With three weeks to go until Smith joins the lineup, Manalapan has already made waves in the Shore Conference by beating Marlboro on opening night and knocking off preseason No. 2 Matawan en route to a Husky Classic championship. The Marlboro win picked up some meaning after the Mustangs won three straight after an 0-2 start and Toms River South beat Manasquan in the WOBM. The Braves are not an explosive offensive team and that may cost them at some point over these next few weeks, but they are defensively sound, they will add some explosiveness with the return of Smith and they have already done enough to set themselves up nicely to qualify for the postseason with one of the Shore’s most talented guards in their lineup.

7. Matawan (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 2

From this point on, any team in top 10 consideration has either a disappointing or prohibitive loss, so Matawan suffers the least since its loss came to the No. 6 team and the Huskies started at No. 2 to begin with. After losing to Manalapan in the Husky Classic semifinals, Matawan bounced back nicely with a convincing win over Tottenville behind a 29-point outburst by Jason Dunne. The win should get Matawan back on track after the Huskies began the year with quality Class B North wins over Neptune and Long Branch.

8. Manasquan (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 3

This is the part of the top 10 in which head-to-head results make sorting through teams somewhat problematic. Manasquan lost to Toms River South in the WOBM Christmas Classic quarterfinals, so the Indians have a right to cry foul over the Warriors remaining in the top 10 ahead of them. At this point, though, comparing head-to-head results between two teams opens up Pandora’s Box, so much so that those head-to-head results can’t be deciding factors just yet. On the plus side, Manasquan has an opening-night road win over Rumson and a convincing win over Manchester, so a two-point loss in a tough environment against a team with a great player doesn’t cost the Warriors all that much this early in the season.

9. Point Pleasant Beach (3-1, 2-0) Last Week: 6

At this stage of the season, the Garnet Gulls still appear to be a work in progress and there is a case to be made that there are other teams that have done more to earn or keep a spot in the top 10. Realistically speaking, it is unreasonable to expect Point Beach to be among the Shore’s elite right out of the gate when so many other teams have more establish nuclei. The Garnet Gulls have played three close games since routing Mater Dei to open the season, and they have pulled out two of them. We will get a better idea of how far along Point Beach is when they take on Lakewood Saturday, but regardless of that outcome, the Garnet Gulls will be on the radar as long as they keep developing their chemistry.

10. Neptune (1-3, 0-2) Last Week: 8

It is still early enough in the season to stick with a one-win team as long as that one-win team has been competitive and has not taken any bad losses. Neptune fits that description having lost to No. 7 Matawan, No. 3 Red Bank and Marist by a cumulative margin of seven points. Like Point Beach, Neptune is incorporating some new pieces into the rotation while looking to replace a lot of scoring from a year ago and while the results have been frustrating to this point, they should not be interpreted as discouraging.

 

Dropped Out

Shore (4-1, 1-0) Last Week: 5 – Unlike Neptune, Shore has only one loss (Red Bank by 19), but it was ugly enough to warrant a drop. The Blue Devils are still in the mix and A Central gives them plenty of opportunity to prove themselves.

Red Bank Catholic (4-2, 1-1) Last Week: 8 – It’s not a surprise that the Caseys are a streaky shooting team, and that streakiness got the better of them in losses to Wall and Toms River North and almost bit them in a narrow win over Jackson Memorial.

 

On the Bubble

Wall (3-2, 1-1) – The Crimson Knights contended for Class B North two years ago with many of the same players, and so far, with a convincing win over Red Bank Catholic and a one-point loss at Red Bank, they have played like a team capable of competing in B North again.

Freehold Township (3-3, 0-2) – The Patriots were missing two starters to open the season and appear to be on the right track now that they are whole. Saturday’s game vs. Rumson could have top-10 implications.

Toms River South (2-2, 0-0) – The Indians scored a big win over Manasquan, but followed that up with double-digit losses to both Toms River North and Freehold Township. Toms River South is clearly explosive, but the Indians have also allowed at least 60 points in each game.

Rumson-Fair Haven (3-1, 1-1) – The Bulldogs missed their chance to jump into the top 10 by losing to Manasquan at home on opening night, but the next opportunity comes this week with games against Freehold Township, Shore and Point Beach at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase on Jan. 10.

Colts Neck (4-1, 2-0) – The Cougars have not played the elite of B North yet, but they look like a balanced team that is coming of age after fielding a young group last year.