Boys Basketball – Top 10, Jan. 27
There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said. One team in the Shore Conference appears far superior to the rest while a handful of other teams appear close to one another, but far behind the favorite. Perhaps some team emerges as a clear No. 2 or another team from outside the top five puts a run together, but for right now, there is a clear No. 1 and a clear top five. That could and probably will change, but to this point, not much has.
1. Point Beach (11-0, 6-0) Last Week: 1
There is going to come a point over the next weeks in which whispers of an unbeaten season through the Group I final begin, so let’s start now. There are a few Group I schools in South Jersey that may have something to say about the matter, but not many teams in the Shore Conference look capable of stopping the Gulls as currently constructed, as the recent 23-point win over No. 5 Lakewood seems to suggest.
2. Christian Brothers Academy (8-4, 7-0) Last Week: 2
The Colts look like the No. 2 team at this point, but it is not totally clear because they have overwhelmed Class A North and been somewhat overwhelmed outside of it. That would be telling had their out-of-conference schedule not included programs like DeMatha, St. Anthony and the Patrick School. Class A North appears down this year, and that may cost CBA should it slip up somewhere along the way because Matawan and Long Branch have both been solid within a division that has performed better so far.
3. Matawan (12-1, 5-0) Last Week: 3
The Huskies have a strong case to be the No. 2 team right now and if last year’s Shore Conference Tournament means anything, Matawan should be in line for a No. 2 seed if both teams win out. Last year was last year, but both teams return about the same amount of talent and Matawan won at CBA in last year’s tournament. This could sort itself out, but with the way the Huskies are playing, an unbeaten B North run is not out of the question. It would be hard to deny that resume the No. 2 seed, but that’s still way ahead of the game. Matawan has yet to play Neptune and will have to win at Long Branch in order to continue that conversation.
4. Long Branch (9-2, 5-1) Last Week: 4
The line between Nos. 2 and 3 is not clear right now, but the lines on either side of No. 4 are. Long Branch lost by double-digits at Matawan and beat Lakewood at home, so there is no question that Long Branch is the fourth-best team in the conference at this point. The Green Wave offense came to life this week with outputs of 55 and 71 point after scoring 54 or fewer in every game since the calendar turned to 2014. The commitment on the defensive end has been there, so if the offense gets clicking, a division title run could still be in the cards.
5. Lakewood (9-3, 6-0) Last Week: 5
A 23-point loss at Point Beach may suggest that Lakewood is not quite ready to compete for a Shore Conference title this year, but the Piners played hard in the second half and some of their younger players appeared to adjust to the game. Maybe that’s just garbage time fodder, but getting a chance to play the best team is an advantage that not a lot of the top contenders in this tournament will have had. The Piners have not done anything to fall out of the top five so despite the lopsided loss, Lakewood holds its spot this week.
6. Red Bank Catholic (8-3, 6-1) Last Week: 8
The Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan resumes are essentially identical, so the nod goes to the team with the more recent win in this case. The Caseys have clicked ever since a blowout loss to Red Bank that senior center Quenton Nelson missed for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The team also got senior T.J. Verdiglione back from a bout with mononucleosis, so this is as complete as the Caseys have been all year. Couple the health with the growing familiarity with new coach James Catalano’s system, and RBC is developing into a dangerous teams as February approaches.
7. Manasquan (8-2, 6-1) Last Week: 6
Class A Central is too competitive for a team to run through it without a loss, so the Warriors don’t lose much ground in the top 10 with one loss. They do, however, lose ground in the division as Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic are now tied for first with Holmdel nipping at their heels at 5-2. The Warriors will have to make trips to Holmdel and Shore during the second trip through the division, so if Manasquan can travel well, the division is still in its control.
8. Southern (5-4, 3-2) Last Week: 10
This is where things get tricky. Since last week, Southern lost one game to unranked Lacey and yet the Rams move up two spots to No. 8. Consider the following: Southern has wins over Jackson Memorial and Toms River South, which appear to be the Class A South frontrunners to date; and Mike Gesicki hurt himself in a loss to St. Augustine on Jan. 18 and then missed the Lacey game. Assuming Gesicki shows no ill-effects from the leg injury (he is day-to-day according to coach Eric Fierro), Southern has proven it can win big A South games and that should make the Rams a factor during the second leg of the division race.
9. Red Bank (7-4, 3-3) Last Week: 7
Like Manasquan and Lakewood, Red Bank took a loss this week that doesn’t change its positioning too much. The Bucs now have two losses to 12-1 Matawan, one to 9-2 Long Branch and one to 7-3 Middletown North, so they have handled themselves well. Red Bank is one of the younger teams in the conference, so the fact that the Bucs have played better lately means something. Class B North will be tough and no postseason spot is guaranteed, but to this point, Red Bank has been the turnaround team of the year.
10. Jackson Memorial (9-4, 5-1) Last Week: Not ranked
The Jaguars are in first place in Class A South, but rank behind Southern in the top 10 because of a head-to-head loss to the Rams and because Jackson Memorial has not had to play Toms River South yet. On the flip side, the Jaguars have two wins over Brick Memorial, which beat Southern in overtime. Jackson is another team that should benefit from having played Point Beach and could hang in the tall grass before pouncing in the postseason.
Monsignor Donovan (8-4, 4-2) Last Week: 9 – Maybe the shot by Peyton Wejnert should have counted and maybe it shouldn’t have. The Griffins have lost four games by a combined nine points so no team has proven too tough for them to this point.
On the Bubble
Neptune (6-4, 4-2) – Up until a recent rout of Freehold, the Scarlet Fliers had let some inferior teams hang around with them. That won’t matter if this next stretch of games includes wins over Matawan, Long Branch and Lakewood.
Shore (9-5, 4-3) – The Blue Devils can shoot it, but the defense has come and gone this season. If the 59-40 win over Rumson means the defense is back, then Shore should be back in the top 10 soon enough.
Toms River South (9-3, 5-2) – The entire starting lineup is clicking right now, which means the Indians could pose a real threat in A South and beyond. A road game at Jackson Memorial on Tuesday could be the one that decides A South.
Manchester (7-5, 2-4) – The division has not been kind to Manchester, but outside of it, the Hawks have wins over Toms River South and Jackson Memorial. It is a little concerning that Manchester’s best basketball to date has been in December, but then again, its best basketball also came in a tournament setting.
Freehold Township (8-5, 5-1) – A 10-point win over Red Bank Catholic looks good on the resume, as does a 5-1 division record. The Patriots get a chance to display their potential later this week against CBA.
Middletown North (7-3, 4-2) – The Lions appear poised for a run at the Class A North public championship and if they can do that, they will have a chance to move into the top 10. There just is not much separating the A North public teams right now.
Holmdel (8-6, 5-2) – The Hornets finally came back to earth in a loss to Matawan, but remain one of the hotter offensive teams. If they can show they can beat a top A Central team like Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic or Shore, the Hornets will be knocking on the door.
Brick Memorial (6-4, 4-3) – The Mustangs have three A South losses and two of them are to Jackson Memorial. The other, however, was a crusher to Toms River North after Brick Memorial had just knocked off Southern, so the Mustangs will have to chip away in the division to get back into the top 10 conversation.
Point Boro (7-4, 5-2) – Winning at Monsignor Donovan’s pit is nothing to shake a stick at and doing it at the buzzer is even better. The Panthers get their first look at Lakewood this week, which should be telling.
Rumson-Fair Haven (7-4, 2-4) – Since beating Shore on opening night, Rumson’s six wins have come against teams with losing records while the Bulldogs are 0-4 against teams with winning records. Front court injuries have contributed to the struggles, but Rumson is probably a couple weeks away from realistically getting back into the top 10.
Colts Neck (6-4, 5-2) – Outside of a win over Freehold Township and a good 10 minutes against CBA, Colts Neck has not quite looked the part of a top 10 team. The Freehold Township win and 5-2 division mark makes the Cougars worth mentioning.
Jackson Liberty (7-5, 4-3) – The Lions have shown life since James Sofield returned after missing time due to illness and with a full roster intact, they have some potential to impact the Class B South race and be a dangerous first-round SCT team.