Boys Basketball – 2017-18 Preview: Preseason Top 10
The 2017-18 boys basketball season is one that will feature some very optimistic teams from the Shore Conference, with aspirations ranging from sectional championship to a Tournament of Champions title. Since 2014-15, however, only four teams have been ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and those four teams are all in this year’s top five as well. Those four teams – Mater Dei, Ranney, Rumson-Fair Haven and CBA – are all set up to be good in each of the next two seasons, so it would be best to get used to seeing them ranked highly.
Outside of the top five, the field is wide open and it is deep. The next five teams in the top 10 are close in talent, as are the next five or so teams that did not crack the top five. That dynamic should make for a fun season, a wild, competitive Shore Conference Tournament, and a good showing in the NJSIAA Tournament.
In the end though, there is one team that has serious designs on finishing No. 1 in the state in each of the next two years.
Listed with last year’s record and final ranking.
1. Ranney (22-5, 13-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 2
Five returning junior starters including three All-Shore players and two five-star recruits would be enough to cement the preseason No. 1 spot, so adding 6-8 center Savior Akuwovo is just icing on the cake when it comes to the Shore Conference. Akuwovo will give Ranney a real chance to push for the No. 1 ranking in the state by the end of the season, although the road through the Non-Public B bracket is still a minefield.
2. Mater Dei Prep (25-4, 13-1) Final 2017 Ranking: 1
The roster may not be as imposing as the one Ranney has, but Mater Dei still has a backcourt that will go toe-to-toe with any opponent on the schedule and a winning pedigree that coach Ben Gamble has established in just two years on the job. Depth will be more of an issue than it has been in either of the last two Shore Conference Tournament championship seasons, but the first six or seven players is still good enough to make Mater Dei contenders in B Central, the Shore Conference Tournament and South Jersey Non-Public B Tournaments.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (24-3, 12-0) Final 2017 Ranking: 6
There is a case to be made that the difference between Mater Dei and Rumson is smaller than the difference between Ranney and Mater Dei. If Rumson can get all of its talent working on the same page, the Bulldogs might actually have a more talented, balanced, deeper roster than Mater Dei has, which could once again throw a wrench in the possibility of a Ranney-Mater Dei SCT final. Rumson has seven starter-quality players, with Red Bank transfer Devin Cooper, a healthy Elijah McAllister and exciting sophomore Phil Wheeler joining four returning varsity players from last year’s Central Jersey Group II championship team.
4. Neptune (14-12, 9-5) Final 2017 Ranking: Not ranked
While Neptune does not return four or five starters nor welcome in a key transfer like a lot of teams in the top 10, the Scarlet Fliers do bring back one of the conference’s best players in 6-8 big man Jared Kimbrough. Starters Dwaine Jones and Scott Fields are also back as seniors from a team that performed well against CBA, Colts Neck and Marlboro in a tough A North last year. Neptune is just three years removed from an SCT semifinal appearance and the Fliers have chance to get back there again.
5. Christian Brothers Academy (16-11, 8-6) Final 2017 Ranking: Not ranked
Growing pains were always going to be part of CBA’s 2016-17 season after the Colts graduated an entire starting five from the previous year. All-in-all, however, literal pain was more of a problem than the figurative pain: point guard Liam Kennedy suffered an ankle injury as he and the team started to take off, which killed some of the Colts’ momentum. This year, they return four starters, they have size and the sophomores are now juniors, which means CBA should be on its way back toward the top of the conference.
6. Colts Neck (15-9, 9-5) Final 2017 Ranking: 10
The Cougars return four starters from a team that lost two heartbreakers to Middletown North – one in the Shore Conference Tournament and the other in the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament. Like CBA, Colts Neck had a lot of production to replace from a successful 2015-16 season and did so admirably behind the breakout seasons of Danny Gaines and Ben Bosland. With some more depth this year, Colts Neck looks poised for another step forward.
7. Manasquan (18-11, 10-4) Final 2017 Ranking: 8
Losing leading scorer Devin Jensen is a big hit to Manasquan, but the Warriors have a history of reloading and the talent to do so this year. Junior Brad McCabe was second on the team in scoring last year and is greatly improved coming into this season. Manasquan also returns point guard Ryan Flanagan and big man Xander Korolik while also adding some more size to the rotation, which will keep the Warrior competing for the top spot in B North.
8. Point Pleasant Beach (18-10, 10-4) Final 2017 Ranking: 9
The absence of Chris Pina until early February will limit Point Beach early in the season, but once the Garnet Gulls get whole, they will one of the 10 best rosters in the conference with a chance to push their way in the SCT semifinals and make a run in Group I. Danny Frauenheim and Trevor Covey lead a roster that should be more athletic and a tad deeper than last year once Pina is back.
9. Toms River North (28-3, 14-0) Final 2017 Ranking: 4
The depth of Toms River North’s program will be put to the test this year after the Mariners graduated their two top scorers and an athletic point guard from last year’s South Jersey Group IV finalist. The return of starters Travis Holland and Holden Petrick are a good starting point and if the Mariners can infuse some promising sophomores into the mix, they will have a chance to win A South and make the SCT semifinals for the fourth straight year.
10. Middletown North (16-11, 10-4) Final 2017 Ranking: 7
Although Middletown North will rely heavily on its three returning players, those returnees are good enough to carry the Lions to big things this year. Junior Rob Higgins led the Shore Conference in scoring as a sophomore last year and is one of the better guards in the state. Seniors Dave Campbell and Sky Cherry are also accomplished varsity players who will produce even more this year and help Middletown North compete for the B North title and during the postseason.
The Next 10
Matawan – The talent is there for Matawan to be in the top 10 and it’s just a matter of the Huskies proving they belong after finishing .500 a year ago.
Howell – Like Matawan, the Rebels still have to win their way into the top 10, but with four starters back and Brandon Wilson back from Mater Dei, the talent is undeniably there.
Long Branch – The Green Wave return nearly its entire team after some ups and downs last year, so the chemistry and experience will be there and a potentially big season could follow.
Red Bank Catholic – The Caseys are young, but the talent is good enough that RBC can compete this year and set itself up for a big season two years down the road.
Freehold Township – Only one starter returns from a 25-win team, but Greg Billups showed a lot of promise as a sophomore and the Patriots always have the players and the system to field a competitive team.
Ocean – Andrew Seager and Jack Miller will form a dynamic duo and if the Spartans can figure out the roles around them, they will be B North contenders and top-10 candidates.
Point Pleasant Boro – With three starters back and some proven varsity players to plug into the openings, the Panthers are set up to challenge for the B South title again and potentially end Lakewood’s run of seven straight outright division titles.
Marlboro – The graduates from last year’s team were a huge part of Marlboro’s success, but Dylan Kaufman leads a returning group of players with talent, a taste of success, and something to prove.
Lakewood – Just the name Lakewood is enough to make the Piners a top-10 possibility and they are athletic and well-coached enough to overcome some inexperience and get back into the top 10.
Barnegat – After recording the best season in program history last year, the Bengals are set up to be even better this year with an entire starting lineup returning and B South open for the taking.