The ShoreLine: Burning Questions and Preseason Top 10
By Tim McCollum, a.k.a. “Nep84”
Welcome to the ShoreLine!
It’s great to be here on the Shore Sports Network. Even though I wrote a football post earlier in the year before I officially came out of hibernation, the heart and soul of the ShoreLine is basketball! For those of you that may be new to the ShoreLine this is a basketball blog written by a basketball fan. I live to give a fan’s perspective on things.
Since the preseason content is all over the place this morning I guess it’s time to throw my lucky Neptune hat into the fray and dive into those burning questions. They got some good ones, and I got plenty of opinions. Then I’ll follow that up with a top 10.
Let’s get down to it.
Is CBA “back”?
The short answer is no. I don’t think they are back quite yet, but they are on the right track and close. I can’t call a program with a dominant history like CBA “back” when its last Shore Conference Tournament game was a loss at home to a #24 seed (even though Matawan is a good club, more on them later). However, having said that, if there is a kid who can lead them all the way back it’s Pat Andree. If you haven’t seen this young man play, you are missing a real treat. This kid is a terrific young player who I think will break out in a big way this year. So while they might not be back right now, I think they will win a Shore Conference Tournament title before Pat Andree graduates.
Does any Class A North public school pose a threat to CBA?
This depends on CBA more than the rest of A North. I see some solid teams in there, but do I see the Freehold Townships or the Colts Necks or the Middletown Norths high in the top 10 or in the SCT quarterfinals? The point is there is no obvious #2 and if CBA is going to leap forward like I think they will, then which of these publics will leap with them? That being said, it won’t be a fun night when CBA travels to these three gyms. I think at Freehold Township, at Colts Neck and at Middletown North are the best opportunities for an upset of CBA.
Have graduation losses at Middletown North, Colts Neck and Manalapan opened the door for Middletown South, Marlboro and Howell to flip the standings?
Absolutely. I’m with Matt Manley 100% on this one. The best programs don’t understand graduation losses or what rebuilding means. The next wave of kids walk into the gym and they start blasting teams. So I agree that it’s quite possible for Colts Neck to simply reload and march right on the way they have been. How many basketball generations ago was the Mitchell Kates and Steve Spinelli Colts Neck team? That is the roadblock. Another is Freehold Township. They have a lot coming back and a coach who knows what he’s doing. The last roadblock is Middletown North. They simply have too much size to ignore. So yes, clearly the door is open for one of these teams to break through, but they will have to work hard to get to the other side.
Is this the beginning of a two-year reign for Shore Regional?
Yes. I love what is happening in West Long Branch. They really found themselves a good coach in Dave Emery. Shore always has athleticism, brains, toughness and defense. Their gym is not a fun place to visit if you are rooting for the road team. When they get scorers, they get good. Pillari can flat out fill it up. Shore will be in every “who can win X?” conversation for at least the next two years. Being in the conversation and winning tournament X are two distinctly different things. This is a fun time to watch Shore Regional basketball.
Can last year’s supporting cast carry Manasquan to another division title?
Yes. Will they? No. Or let’s say it won’t be easy. This isn’t a knock on Manasquan or their supporting cast from last year. Manasquan is another one of those programs that is graduation-proof, but the fact that Shore is very good, RBC is quite possibly emerging this year, and I never count out Shempy’s Bulldogs make it all the tougher for Squan to get the division title. They will be good because they always have talent and because coach Andrew Bilodeau knows how to run a team, but winning the division will be a challenge.
Will RBC make a leap toward the top of the division under a new coach?
Yes. Will it be this year? Maybe. I like what the Caseys are doing. This new coach (James Catalano) has a nice resume and several folks I trust have spoken highly about him. RBC has some nice talent coming back, particularly up front. This is a program that clearly has the pieces in place to challenge the top private schools in the conference. Will it all come together this year? Will there be some growing pains? That’s why there is the maybe.
Is this Jackson Memorial team the one to reach the SCT final?
YES! This team is loaded. There are about a half dozen or so teams out there that will have something to say about that, but the Jags have to be considered a favorite to reach the SCT finals. This team will be very good. If you have a chance to head to the WOBM Classic this is a must-see team.
Are Toms River South’s dynamic guards enough to push for a division title?
No. Are they enough to make South a strong club? Fun to watch? A contender in the division, SCT, and section? Yes, yes and yes. This is wrong year to be in Jackson Memorial’s division. They will get at least two swings at the Jags. I would not be surprised to see an upset. It is just too hard to bet against the Jags.
Does Toms River North have enough left over to finish in the top four?
Definitely. I see Jackson winning the division and TRS and Southern duking it out for 2nd and 3rd. That leaves a wide opening right there in the top four. If the question was the top three, then it would be quite a bit harder. I could make this argument for any of the remaining teams in A South. Brick Memorial is always solid. Brick I think is curving up with (head coach Mike) Gawronski and the nucleus they were developing last year. Lacey and East are never pushovers.
Is Neptune a sleeper?
No. Neptune is never a sleeper. You can count their losing seasons as far back as you can remember on one hand. Did they have a bad season last year? By Neptune standards, yes, but the standard Neptune is held to is incredibly high. Neptune always has talent. Ken O’Donnell knows how to use the talent he has. Everyone knows it. What does that translate into this season is a good question, but teams never have and never should sleep on Neptune. There are a small handful of teams that when you play them, you know going in you are in for a tough night win or lose. Neptune is one of those teams. This is a program that has earned enough respect through the years to never be taken lightly.
Can Matawan build on its late-season surge from 2013?
Yes. Moreover I think they will. I wouldn’t want to play this team on opening night. Would you? This is a club that really came into its own last year and stunned CBA on the Colts’ home floor. That’s impressive. They return most of that team and they have to be a confident bunch of kids coming into the season. I’m with Manley on this. They have the ability to be one of the stories of the season at the end of the day.
Will Long Branch reinvent itself after losing its two best pure athletes?
No. I don’t think they have to reinvent anything. (Dwight) Clark was an amazing high school athlete. Wilford was no slouch, either. The core of this team is still this year’s senior class. These kids emerged as freshmen and have grown every year as players and as a team. I agree with Manley again. There is no reason to not consider this team the division favorite. However B North traditionally is one of the toughest divisions from top to bottom and the emergence of Ocean and Wall only makes the division tougher. B North will be a real slobberknocker again this year, and the Wave will be a big part of that.
Could Point Beach be even better this season?
Yes. In fact I think there is a good chance they will be. They are the most equipped to challenge Jackson Memorial for #1 in the Shore. Or is that the other way around? Uhl will improve with a year in the conference under his belt. Losing Kineavy is going to hurt but as much as Kineavy softened the blow of losing Rotando, Van Nostrand will lessen the blow of losing Kineavy. This young man can play. Losing Calzonetti is going to hurt the most but you have to think that opens the door for Noah Yates, who has freakish ability and a good basketball IQ to really show what he can do this year. So if you wash the losses I think they are better because they should have a full season of Schifano, who is coming back from injury. The insertion of him back into the rotation and the maturity of their returning players make it quite possible they are better. They have a legitimate chance to win the SCT for the first time and overall Group I again.
Is any team in the division within 10 points of Point Beach?
Yes. St. Rose is an expert team at running you around in circles, backdoor-ing you to death, and shortening the game to keep it close. Especially on their floor. Keyport has the reckless abandon and a prolific scorer who can keep you in any game in Alex Thomson. I agree with Manley in that I would be surprised if anyone in B Central scored an upset over Beach. But they will be challenged. The big boys always are.
Can Alex Thomson lead the Shore in scoring?
Yes. There is no reason to think he can’t. Will he is a harder question. If Kevin Walsh is going to break out then will that eat into Thompson’s points? I agree with Manley also in that the Cox’s, Pillari’s, etc. of the world all have the ability to light it up and be right there in the scoring race.
Can Lakewood thrive without Tyrice Beverette?
Absolutely and they will. Lakewood is back folks. Randy Holmes has done a terrific job of re-establishing Lakewood as one of the Shore’s premier programs. Beverette was outstanding, but for every Tyrice Beverette to take off the uniform there is an Amir Tyler waiting to put it on. Lakewood will be just fine and will have a lot to say about who makes it to the SCT finals.
Which transfer will have the biggest impact?
Manchester’s Kashaun Barnes because he will be asked to do the most. Lakewood was a strong and deep team without their two transfers and is a stronger and deeper team with them. They will be fit into an established rotation. They will contribute. They will not be required to be leaders. Carrington has Cleveland and Cleveland has Carrington. Carrington is a dynamic player and he will be counted on to play a large role in Mon Don’s lineup, but these two kids can’t be expected to replace Hill or Blue per se. Barnes is going to be asked to replace the scoring, or at least do a large part to replace the scoring of Manchester’s two leading scorers. He is transferring into a program that has the largest need for a player of his ability and who will be asked to take on more of a leadership role than the other transfers.
Which team will emerge as Lakewood’s toughest competition?
This is more like which teams will survive long enough to be Lakewood’s toughest competition. I’m with Manley on this one too. Point Boro, Mon Don, and Manchester are the teams that jump out at you followed I think by Liberty. I’m going to challenge the premise of the question though because it assumes Lakewood is the clear front-runner. Lakewood will be very good but these other three teams can all win this division if they don’t knock each other out in the process. I don’t think B South is as easy as it may appear for Lakewood.
NEP’s PRESEASON TOP 10
1. Point Beach – As I stated in the burning questions I think they can and will be better. That means I have to start them at the top.
2. Jackson Memorial – Adding Hill to a formidable lineup and pairing him with Carter will make for some fun basketball.
3. Lakewood – Losing Beverette and Craddox is offset by the transfers and emergence of younger players like Amir Tyler. They have the potential to do whatever they want.
4. CBA – Pat Andree is a beast. If they were back they’d be at the top of the poll, but as it is I don’t see this as either too disrespectful or too aggressive.
5. Long Branch – Tough call ranking 4,5,6 as each could make an argument for any of the slots. Long Branch is good and deep. They will be involved from start to finish.
6. Shore – I love this team. I’m not ready to put them into the first tier of teams but they are firmly in this second tier with CBA and Long Branch. I think this team will bring it this year.
7. Neptune – I think 7-8-9 are the third tier of teams. Quite possibly as good as anyone but with more unknowns than the teams above them.
8. Matawan – This is more like Neptune and Matawan are tied at 7. Matawan has the ability to stay here all season and move up in process.
9. Southern – I’ll bet the folks at Southern were doing cartwheels when Gesicki committed to playing basketball. I’m a big fan of his decision to honor a commitment to the basketball team.
10. Freehold Township – I could have gone in any number of directions here, but with only one A North team listed, with A North wide open, and with their returning players, I think they are a good sleeper pick.
Other teams to watch
RBC – Size up front and a new coach with a good resume. I think this team curves up.
Monsignor Donovan – Carrington will fit in nicely down there.
Wall – Coach Puorro is building a nice program at Wall. I think their #2 seed in the WOBM Christmas Classic might be a little bit high but their resurgence makes B North even tougher.
Toms River South - Their guards will be flat-out fun to watch and could make noise in A South.