Boys Basketball – 2020 NJSIAA Preview: Groups 1 and 3
The NJSIAA Boys Basketball Tournament tips off Monday with the opening round of the Groups I and III sectional tournaments. The Shore will be represented in three of those eight sections, with Central Jersey Group III home to seven Shore Conference squads - more than any other section.
Wall is the defending champion in Central Group III and as the No. 1 seed in the section once again, the Crimson Knights are the Shore's best hope of a CJ III title. Matawan and Neptune reside on the opposite side of the bracket and could combine with Wall to make an All-Class-B-North final. Lakewood is another high-profile Shore program with a high seed (No. 3) and designs on winning a championship - which the Piners have not done since 2013.
South Jersey is much more of an uphill climb for the Shore in Group III, with Toms River East drawing the best seed of any local team at No. 10.
The Shore has only two Group I teams that qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament and those two B Central programs - Keyport and Point Pleasant Beach - are seeded in the top-half of the field in Central Jersey.
Read on for a more detailed look at each of the sections with Shore Conference teams in Groups I and III with a best guess at how the brackets will play out.
Central Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Wall, No. 3 Lakewood, No. 6 Matawan, No. 7 Neptune, No. 12 Ocean, No. 13 Red Bank, No. 15 Freehold Boro
Defending Champion: Wall
Top Seed: Wall
The Favorite: Wall. While Wall has not been a dominant team this season, it was not one last year when the Crimson Knights won the Central Jersey Group III title as a No. 1 seed. Wall is again the No. 1 seed and the Knights enter the tournament 10-0 on their home court with no team in the bracket standing in their way that is not, at least partly, flawed.
Darkhorse: No. 11 Burlington Twp. The Falcons have been a work-in-progress all year and are hoping to peak over the next week, as they did last year during a run to the sectional final. Burlington’s three-top scorers last year were juniors, but one – Wesley Robinson – transferred to Life Center Academy and another – John Paul Oluwadare – missed the first 14 games of the season. With Oluwadare back to go with Emmanuel Ayetigbo, Burlington is a legitimate threat to run the CJ III table but will first have to deal with a talented Matawan team. Burlington handled the Huskies last year but Matawan is better suited to stay in the game this year and the winner of that first round game could well be the favorite to reach the final from that side of the bracket. Red Bank is a year removed from springing a first-round upset and Ocean already won a road SCT game – making the two B North teams double-digit threats on the other side of the section.
Bracket Breakdown: Few brackets in the state are more wide-open the Central Jersey Group III, which is why Wall’s experienced roster coupled with its home-court advantage could be the difference. With that said, Wall has played plenty of close games throughout the year and there are several teams in the field good enough to give the top seed trouble. No. 4 Nottingham is two years removed from winning Group III and its rebuild is starting to take shape – evidenced by a run to the Mercer County Tournament final. Ocean gave Wall trouble in the second of two meetings and has been playing its best over the last two weeks. The other side of the bracket could be even more unpredictable. Somerville is a solid-but-unspectacular No. 2 that has to deal with a sneaky No. 15 Freehold Boro team, then possibly a Neptune team with recent success in this bracket. Lakewood is back in the picture thanks to senior Ryan Savoy and a hard-working cast around him, but the Piners will have to play either Matawan or Burlington Twp. – arguably the two most talented rosters on this side of the bracket – in the quarterfinals.
(1) Wall over (16) Woodbridge
(8) Hamilton West over (9) Lawrence
(12) Ocean over (5) Allentown
(4) Nottingham over (13) Red Bank
(3) Lakewood over (14) Steinert
(11) Burlington Twp. over (6) Matawan
(7) Neptune over (10) Northern Burlington
(2) Somerville over (15) Freehold Boro
(1) Wall over (8) Hamilton West
(4) Nottingham over (12) Ocean
(11) Burlington Twp. over (3) Lakewood
(7) Neptune over (2) Somerville
(4) Nottingham over (1) Wall
(11) Burlington Twp. over (7) Neptune
(11) Burlington Twp. over (4) Nottingham
South Jersey Group III
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 10 Toms River East, No. 12 Lacey, No. 14 Pinelands, No. 16 Toms River South
Defending Champion: No. 1 Moorestown
Top Seed: Moorestown
The Favorite: Moorestown. The Quakers are proving they are not a one-year wonder after winning Group III to reach the Tournament of Champions, winning a T of C game and bowing out to Ranney as one of the final four teams left standing in New Jersey during 2019. Moorestown enters the tournament with only two losses, the latest of which came to South Jersey Non-Public A No. 1 seed Paul VI to end a 20-game winning streak. No. 2 Timber Creek should serve as a worthy adversary from the other side of the bracket, but the early edge goes to Moorestown.
Darkhorse: Toms River East. This bracket shapes up to be a good one for the favorites, in all likelihood, but Toms River East has the kind of team that could hang with a good team. The Raiders will have to do that right away against a tough Highland squad and the winner of that game could give Timber Creek a headache in the quarterfinals.
Bracket Breakdown: For a few weeks now and maybe longer, the CJ III bracket has looked like a Moorestown-Timber Creek collision course. With that being said there are some quality teams in a crowded second tier of teams, with Westampton Tech and Mainland boasting strong resumes and Highland, Ocean City and Toms River East all bringing something the table. From the Shore perspective, Lacey has the offensive firepower to give Cherry Hill West a tough game, while Pinelands and Toms River South both have their work cut out for them.
(1) Moorestown over (16) Toms River South
(8) Delsea over (9) Seneca
(5) Cherry Hill West over (12) Lacey
(4) Mainland over (13) Winslow
(3) Westampton Tech over (14) Pinelands
(6) Ocean City over (11) Deptford
(7) Highland over (10) Toms River East
(2) Timber Creek over (15) Pennsauken
(1) Moorestown over (8) Delsea
(4) Mainland over (5) Cherry Hill West
(3) Westampton Tech over (6) Ocean City
(2) Timber Creek over (7) Highland
(1) Moorestown over (4) Mainland
(2) Timber Creek over (3) Westampton Tech
(1) Moorestown over (2) Timber Creek
Central Jersey Group I
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 Keyport, No. 7 Point Pleasant Beach
Defending Champion: No. 1 Burlington City
Top Seed: Burlington City
The Favorite: Burlington City. The Blue Devils are out for a repeat in Central Jersey Group I after coming so close in 2018 and finishing the job a year ago. Senior Deonte Woodbury (18.3 points per game) leads Burlington City and sophomores Jamaal and Jameel Morris have provided a huge boost in keeping the Blue Devils the favorite in the field.
Darkhorse: No. 11 New Egypt. There is no underdog in the bracket that jumps out but there are a few higher seeds that look susceptible to an upset and New Egypt happens to be lined up with two of them. No. 6 South Hunterdon is a strong offensive team that will make for a tough matchup for New Egypt, but not an impossible one, in round one. Academy for Urban Leadership Charter is the No. 3 seed and has had a strong season, but has not played a high-level schedule. New Egypt, meanwhile, recently beat a St. Rose team that was playing well and if that sort of effort can be duplicated, the Warriors could win a game or perhaps even two.
Bracket Breakdown: Keyport and Point Beach stand as the Shore’s only hope in this bracket and despite Point Beach winning two regular-season meetings in Class B Central, Keyport got the better seed and, in turn, the better draw. The Red Raiders will play a winnable second round game if they can get there and with a sophomore-dominated roster led by D.J. Thomson and pull out a quarterfinal win, that would be a major springboard going into next season. Point Beach, meanwhile, will have to deal with Bound Brook in the sectional quarterfinals should both teams advance and the Crusaders are looking like a team poised to challenge for the title. Point Beach, meanwhile, has improved during the season and bounced back nicely from a one-win season a year ago, but the Garnet Gulls are still a longshot to beat both Bound Brook and Burlington City for a second sectional title in three years.
(1) Burlington City over (16) Central Jersey Collegiate Charter
(9) Florence over (8) STEM Civics
(5) Keyport over (12) Academy Charter
(4) Middlesex over (13) Manville
(3) Academy for Urban Leadership over (14) Riverside
(11) New Egypt over (6) South Hunterdon
(7) Point Beach over (10) Perth Amboy Tech
(2) Bound Brook over (15) Willingboro
(1) Burlington City over (9) Florence
(5) Keyport over (4) Middlesex
(11) New Egypt over (3) Academy for Urban Leadership
(2) Bound Brook over (7) Point Beach
(1) Burlington City over (5) Keyport
(2) Bound Brook over (11) New Egypt
(1) Burlington City over (2) Bound Brook