Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Championship Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Championship
Saturday, Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m.
At Ocean First Bank Arena, Monmouth University
No. 1 Mater Dei Prep (23-3, 12-2) vs. Marlboro (17-5, 11-3)
Note: Listen to the game live on 1160/1310 AM or streaming on the Shore Sports Network.
Lineups and History
Mater Dei Prep
Key Bench Players
Head Coach: Ben Gamble, second season
Prior SCT Final Appearances: 2 (1984 2016)
SCT Championships: 1 (2016)
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 17 Red Bank Catholic 78-35, No. 9 Manasquan 80-55 and No. 5 Toms River North 73-68
Key Bench Player
Head Coach: Mike Nausedas, fifth season
Prior SCT Final Appearances: 0
SCT Championships: 0
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 11 Lakewood 64-44, No. 3 Freehold Township 69-59 and No. 2 Ranney 50-47
The road through the Shore Conference Tournament was set up to end up at a third meeting between Class B Central rivals Mater Dei Prep and Ranney – the top-two seeds in the tournament and two of the state’s top 10 teams heading into the week. Instead, the crowd at Ocean First Bank Arena will be treated to a clash between David and Goliath.
Marlboro already won one such meeting when the Mustangs knocked off Ranney, 50-47, in Tuesday’s semifinal and will look to do the same to a Mater Dei team that split its regular-season meeting against the Panthers with a 58-56 and a 76-72 win. The Mustangs stifled Ranney’s offense in the first half, kept the Panthers from surging in front in the third quarter, slowed the game back down in the fourth, and hit big shot after big shot down the stretch. The question is: Can Marlboro replicate a similar formula on Saturday?
Let’s first answer that question with another question: Does Marlboro need to replicate that same formula? While the Mustangs put together a brilliant gameplan and used their physicality to throw Ranney off early, they did not exactly play a perfect game. They missed a slew of shots in the paint and shot just 9-for-18 from the free-throw line. In that respect, Marlboro hopes to be sharper on Saturday, which would mean it won’t necessarily have to own the glass or shoot 7-for-15 from three-point range again.
One obstacle Marlboro with have to overcome against Mater Dei that the Mustangs did not against Ranney is depth. Ranney plays eight players, but getting into the bench against the Panthers represents an advantage for the opponent. That’s not really the case with Mater Dei because the Seraphs have a mix of scorers and athletes to change the look of the lineup on the floor or to simply spell the starters.
This reason this is a big deal for Marlboro is because the Mustangs only go six deep. The five starters plus senior guard Brian Levine are the only players lined up to play big minutes heading into any game and senior Noah Turner is the next man up should two players get into serious foul trouble. That scenario did creep up on Marlboro in the first half when Levine and Marcus picked up three fouls. Not only does it force players to the bench, but it also limits them defensively against a Mater Dei lineup that knows how to take advantage of such a situation.
Mater Dei is also a better three-point shooting team than Ranney as presently constructed. When the Seraphs go small, they boast Kyle Cardaci, Kenny Jones, Yasin Pretlow and Elijah Barnes – all of whom are legitimate three-point threats. Ranney made just two three-pointers against Marlboro, so the Mustangs will have to limit the open looks for those shooters, which means the Mustangs will likely show a good deal of man-to-man again. They will have to mix in some 2-3 zone and some pressure, but Marlboro has shown it can man-up against talented teams.
When Mater Dei goes small, the Seraphs could potential exploit an advantage in quickness. Marlboro plays two true frontcourt players in Dylan Kaufman and Justin Marcus and if one of those is matched up against Barnes, then the other will likely guard Elijah Mitchell, with P.J. Ringel on Jones, Ryan LaRocca on Pretlow and Dan Weiss on Cardaci. Marlboro coach Mike Nausedas might prefer Weiss on Barnes, but that would leave one of the forwards to guard Cardaci or Pretlow on the perimeter, which could mean Levine becomes a bigger factor in the game when Marlboro wants to play man-to-man. The potential mismatches in Mater Dei are a big reasons Marlboro will likely have to show a fair amount of zone and might even keep things simple by playing an aggressive 2-3 that covers the three-point line.
For Mater Dei to win, the Seraphs will have to have a fair-to-above-average shooting night, continue to hit their free throws and bottle up Ringel. So far this tournament, Ringel has taken a back seat to Kaufman, Weiss and LaRocca and simply played the role of distributor, but he has the ability to put up 20 points while still getting those three involved. If Mater Dei can keeper Ringel on the perimeter, make him a shooter and keep him under 12 points or so, Marlboro will likely have a tough time keeping up.
That plan, however, is much easier said than done. Ringel got into the lane a lot against Ranney and just didn’t finish his chances. He is also one of the best players in the conference at playing passing lanes, as well as stripping ball-handlers. If he can avoid some of the yips that crept up on him while trying to finish at the rim in the Ranney game, Mater Dei may have a hard time keeping Ringel under 20.
“The public schools can play. We play the same basketball that (non-public) schools play. Summer basketball is the same. So we bring it out here on the high school court. Public, private; we can all play.” – Marlboro senior P.J. Ringel
“It’s going to be a great challenge, regardless of who we play. Honestly, we’d love to see Ranney so we can prove we’re the number one team. Everyone doesn’t seem to think so.” – Mater Dei senior Elijah Barnes, before tip-off of Marlboro vs. Ranney on Tuesday
Considering some of the adversity Marlboro had to deal with over the course of this season, the Mustangs have been a great story, regardless of Saturday’s outcome. To finish the run off with a perfect ending, they will need LaRocca and Weiss to keep shooting the way they have since the second half of the team’s first-round win over Lakewood. They will also need Kaufman to continue to be a force inside and for Marcus to keep inhaling rebounds on both ends.
The x-factor, however, is Ringel. Mater Dei does not have an on-ball defender that should be able to shut him down, but if Ringel is struggling to finish, it is less of a concern for the Seraphs. Considering Mater Dei’s advantage in depth and overall offensive balance, Ringel has to win the head-to-head vs. Kenny Jones for Marlboro to have a chance to win and probably by a wide margin. If Ringel can do that, Marlboro doesn’t need LaRocca and Weiss to shoot the lights out to have a chance to win. The Mustangs play great defense and will be in the game as long as they can score into the 50’s. If Ringel is on, they are hard to keep out of the 50’s.
For some idea of what a Marlboro win would look like, the last two SCT finals offer some perspective. Last year, Mater Dei came out as flat as can be and fell behind CBA by 18 points late in the third quarter. The Seraphs only rallied thanks to its fullcourt, man-to-man press, which they do not have this year – at least not like they did a year ago. On top of that, Marlboro is much better equipped to handle a press because of Ringel’s ball-handling ability.
The other reference Rumson’s stunning 50-24 win over CBA in the 2015 final. While Marlboro is drawing worthy praise for its upset over Ranney, Rumson still owns the SCT’s most stunning win in the modern history of the tournament. Not only did the No. 11 seed in the tournament beat the No. 1 seed and overall standard of Shore Conference basketball, but they did so in most convincing fashion – outscoring CBA, 31-5 in the second half.
In that Rumson triumph, Brendan Barry took over the game and owned the night. While Ringel is nowhere near the shooter that Brendan Barry is, he has the ability to own a game in a similar way and if Marlboro is going to pull this off, it will be because Ringel carried the Mustangs home.
It’s more likely that Mater Dei is too much for Marlboro, but a Mustangs win is not nearly as far-fetched as it would have seemed just one week ago.
The Pick: Mater Dei, 55-49