The basketball season tips off Friday night and the teams of the Shore Conference are all gearing up at a run within their respective divisions and perhaps even more. While most of the usual suspects are among those most likely to be playing for a conference title in February, there appears to be a good deal of competitive balance through the Shore. While a lot of top players moved on in graduation, many second-scorers return and several teams return strong cores of either seniors or juniors.

The preseason Top 10 begins with a team that is familiar with the position and is followed by a team just getting comfortable at the top. From there, there is a good deal of uncertainty with a number of teams returning quality rosters joined by teams with new players, situations and combinations. At this point, it’s still anybody’s game, which is what makes opening night so much fun. Enjoy.

JackLaffey and CBA look to finish what they started last year and win the program's first SCT title in five years. (Photo by Bill Normile)

 

1. Christian Brothers Academy

Last year, CBA lost the Shore Conference Tournament championship game to a team that lost in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game the year before. CBA hopes to follow Point Beach’s footsteps by getting back to the SCT final and winning it this time around. Pat Andree is considered one of the top juniors in the state and senior Jack Laffey gives CBA two of the top returnees in the conference. There is a certain degree of inexperience, but the Colts are set up to succeed in Class A North with an eye on peaking for tournament time.

2. Matawan

Like CBA, the Huskies gave Point Beach its best shot during the SCT but ultimately came up short. Seniors Jason Dunne and Joe Piscopo are one of the best, if not the best, returning duo in the conference and Matawan will attempt to continue to cultivate its culture of winning after its best season in five decades. Like CBA, the supporting cast has some learning to do, but having two talented leaders like Dunne and Piscopo is a great place to start.

3. Manasquan

The Warriors proved last year that roster turnover is not a serious obstacle as long as there are a few holdovers to continue steering the ship. This year, not only does Manasquan return two proven scorers, but it also returns three quality starting-caliber players who came off the bench last season. The addition of Monmouth transfer Kyle Bradshaw adds even more versatility to the mix for a team that will have plenty of scoring, athleticism, and experience.

4. Lakewood

Taking a top player away from Lakewood in recent years is like trying to slay one of those mythical regenerating dragons who grow six heads for each one that gets chopped off. The Piners continue to load up on depth from season to season, and while these Piners have a trio of quality seniors, their depth lies mostly in a junior class that has done a lot of winning together. Amir Tyler is an ideal leader for this program this year, and with a deep, cohesive group around him, the Piners should overcome some significant scoring losses and once again compete for a championship at every stop.

5. Shore

Although Shore graduated its top scorer from a year ago, Dan Pillari, the Blue Devils return three starters and a sixth man from last year’s team. Shore is loaded with seniors who have been playing together for three years of high school and a number of years as youth players as well. While teams like Neptune, Point Beach and Southern could possibly make the claim that they are better on paper, the Blue Devils will not need as much time to jell and should have the chemistry part of the game more than those teams early in the season.

6. Point Beach

There are plenty of people who insist Point Beach will be right back in the SCT semifinals and a Group I favorite, and with the transfers of Jimmy Panzini from St. Anthony’s and Jesse Hill from Jackson Memorial, it’s not hard to see the Garnet Gulls returning to championship form again this year. I’m going to temper the enthusiasm just a bit to open the season because any team that graduates three all-conference players who are Division I athletes and replaces them with players from outside the program is going to take time to get on the same page. On the flip side, the Garnet Gulls put things together rather quickly in 2012-13 with the addition of Dom Uhl and Noah Yates, so if the back court duo of Panzini and Mike Frauenheim click quickly, then this ranking will look more foolish than conservative.

7. Red Bank Catholic

The Caseys return plenty of shooting and perimeter scoring from a team that came on strong at the end of the year. The obvious missing piece is center Quenton Nelson, who had an All-Shore season as a center on the court after dominating as an offensive guard during football season. Nelson was a huge part of what RBC did, so the Caseys will miss that element this year. Still, RBC can space the floor with five shooters if it pleases and there is enough athleticism and length to make it work. B North will be a gauntlet, but a team like RBC will just need to compete, get in the postseason and get hot shooting the ball.

8. Neptune

Like Point Beach, Neptune gets a conservative ranking to start the season knowing full well that the Scarlet Fliers could end up playing for more than one championship. The reason for the guarded optimism for Neptune is the loss of 30 points per game between Shakeem Richardson and Myles Mooney, leaving Neptune with a lot of returnees in the front court and on the wing who did not score much this year. On the other hand, the arrival of transfers Royal Moore and Barry Brown, as well as freshman Jared Kimbrough, and the improvement of Keishawn and Kerry Kirkwood might be enough to ignite the scoring.

9. Southern

The Rams have a lot of talent on the roster once again, but with all due respect to players like Jake Logue and Peyton Wejnert, no one on the team is Mike Gesicki, who was a game-changing force against any opponent. With that being said, the Rams have to move on from Gesicki somehow, and a tandem of Logue and Wejnert is a good place to start. The emergence of the supporting cast, led by Zac Halliday and Eric Ray, hold the key to Southern’s season.

10. Toms River North

With so many good choices for the last spot of the first – and most meaningless – of the top 10 lists, the Mariners get the call with every member of its rotation back from last year. Toms River North came on strong at the end of the year with an entirely new team and had the Mariners qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament, they might have knocked some unsuspecting team off. With a fresh start and a balanced lineup, the Mariners will challenge for an A South title and look like a potential sleeper come postseason time.

 

On the Bubble

Rumson-Fair Haven – Another of many worthy top 10 teams that did not yet make the cut, the Bulldogs reached a sectional final thanks to a win over Lakewood and will look to make a statement on opening night against Manasquan.

Freehold Township – The Patriots’ first shot at CBA comes right out of the gate, as Freehold Township looks to shoot up the rankings with a fast start.

Red Bank – The Bucs return nine players from a 12-man rotation, including leading scorer and rebounder Sadiq Palmer. Even in a deep B North, Red Bank should win enough to hang around the top 10 periphery.

Manchester – A standout junior trio has Manchester poised to continue its progression, even without standout KaShaun Barnes this year.

Colts Neck – The Cougars return just about everyone from a young, talented them that held its own against the top teams in A North.

Manalapan – It won’t happen overnight, but if transfer NyRhique Smith can get on the same page as the rest of the roster, the Braves could be mighty dangerous.