Boys Basketball – 2020 NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Groups 2 and 4
The Group II and IV brackets in the NJSIAA Tournament will tip off on Tuesday and those are the two groups in which the Shore Conference is best positioned for a deep run. The top two teams in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 are from Group II while the next three in the rankings are from Group IV.
Central Jersey Group II, specifically, has been the Shore's best section over the last decade or so. Since 2009, Manasquan (three), Rumson-Fair Haven (two), Lakewood (one) and Matawan (one) have combined to win seven of the 11 CJ II championships up for grabs and with Manasquan and Holmdel the top two seeds, it is likely to be eight out of 12.
Group IV has not been as kind to the Shore Conference in that same stretch of time, but Freehold Township did break through last season by reaching the Group IV championship game. Toms River North is hoping to do the same after some state tournament heartbreaks in recent years, while Middletown South and Marlboro are high seeds looking to break through in Central Group IV.
With No. 1 seeds in three of the eight sections between Groups II and IV, the Shore will most certainly have some teams to watch on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of this week and, likely, into next week as well.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Middletown South, No. 3 Marlboro, No. 8 Manalapan, No. 11 Freehold Township, No. 13 Jackson Memorial, No. 16 Howell
Defending Champion: Freehold Township
Top Seed: Middletown South
The Favorite: Middletown South. Despite losing to Mater Dei Prep in its first Shore Conference Tournament game, the Eagles have put together the best body of work of any team in the bracket, they have a versatile, six-man rotation and have plenty of experience on the roster. It’s not an overwhelming favorite, but Middletown South looks like the team to beat.
Darkhorse: Freehold Twp. There are some years in which there are dangerous teams throughout the field in CJ IV but this year looks like a pretty favorable landscape for the favorites. If any team has the pedigree and the battle scars to make a move as a double-digit seed, Freehold Township looks like a strong candidate. The Patriots enter the tournament on a four-game losing streak and with eight losses in their last nine games, but the competition has been pretty high-level. If Freehold Township can get by North Brunswick, it will get to play a Marlboro team that the Patriots have been competitive against in two meetings.
Bracket Breakdown: No Group IV bracket is ever easy and while this Central Jersey Group IV is not as top-heavy as some in recent years, it has a few teams that could put a run together. Manalapan has not been able to compete with Middletown South in two tries, but has the senior makeup and offensive firepower to make things interesting. South Brunswick and Hightstown have both had strong years in their respective counties and are potential Middletown South semifinal opponents. On the other side, Marlboro is well-positioned to make a run and a potential semifinal vs. New Brunswick would be a fun matchup considering Marlboro’s fast-paced style and New Brunswick’s athleticism.
(1) Middletown South over (16) Howell
(8) Manalapan over (9) Princeton
(5) Hightstown over (12) Monroe
(4) South Brunswick over (13) Jackson Memorial
(3) Marlboro over (14) Hillsborough
(6) North Brunswick over (11) Freehold Twp.
(7) Montgomery over (10) East Brunswick
(2) New Brunswick over (15) West Windsor-Plainsboro South
(1) Middletown South over (8) Manalapan
(5) Hightstown over (4) South Brunswick
(3) Marlboro over (6) North Brunswick
(2) New Brunswick over (7) Montgomery
(1) Middletown South over (5) Hightstown
(2) New Brunswick over (3) Marlboro
(1) Middletown South over (2) New Brunswick
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Toms River North, No. 10 Southern
Defending Champion: No. 6 Cherokee
Top Seed: Toms River North
The Favorite: Toms River North. This is not the first time Toms River North has been the No. 1 seed, but this year marks the first time the Mariners appear to be the clear favorite in their section heading into the state tournament. There is no Shawnee juggernaut or even a team like Cherokee was last year that entered the year with a team poised to win the sectional title behind a strong group of seniors. No. 3 Atlantic City might be the top challenger to Toms River North this year, but the Vikings are also a toned-down version of what they were only a few years back, when they were one of the 20 or 30 best teams in the state every year. All that adds up to Toms River North holding the cards as it tries to win its first ever sectional title.
Darkhorse: No. 12 Rancocas Valley. Like Central Group IV, the underdogs won’t have it easy in South Jersey IV. No. 5 Eastern is a quality team and on most days, the Vikings would likely take out Rancocas Valley but if there is a double-digit-seeded team that can win a game, the Red Devils – with their solid strength of schedule – look prepared to make a run at it.
Bracket Breakdown: The question for Toms River North right now is whether or not its demoralizing loss to Manasquan in the SCT final has any lingering effects once the sectional playoffs open on Tuesday. While that is a possibility, the Mariners should get a soft-enough landing with Egg Harbor and the winner of the 8-9 game to get on track. A good team would visit the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in the semifinals but no team in the field is as complete as Toms River North is. Atlantic City has picked up steam since the beginning of the season and with its program pedigree, would likely be the most uncomfortable matchup for Toms River North at any point in the sectional tournament.
(1) Toms River North over (16) Egg Harbor
(9) Williamstown over (8) Gloucester Tech
(12) Rancocas Valley over (5) Eastern
(4) Cherry Hill East over (13) Shawnee
(3) Atlantic City over (14) Kingsway
(6) Cherokee over (11) Atlantic Tech
(7) Clearview over (10) Southern
(2) Lenape over (15) Millville
(1) Toms River North over (9) Williamstown
(4) Cherry Hill East over (12) Rancocas Valley
(3) Atlantic City over (6) Cherokee
(2) Lenape over (7) Clearview
(1) Toms River North over (4) Cherry Hill East
(3) Atlantic City over (2) Lenape
(1) Toms River North over (3) Atlantic City
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Manasquan, No. 2 Holmdel, No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 10 Raritan
Defending Champion: Manasquan
Top Seed: Manasquan
The Favorite: Manasquan. No doubt about this one – Manasquan is the heavy favorite to repeat, even after getting a scare from Holmdel in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. If anything, expect the Warriors to be even tougher to beat now that they are healthier and will be in their home gym.
Darkhorse: No. 6 Lincoln. This answer is a bit of a cop-out as Lincoln is a perennial factor in the bracket and seeded above No. 9. At the same time, Manasquan, Holmdel and either No. 4 Robbinsville or No. 5 Bordentown look highly likely to reach the semifinals, so the only mild surprise that looks to be on the table is the sixth-seeded Lions getting back to the sectional final for a second straight year.
Bracket Breakdown: Manasquan could be facing some familiar opponents en rout to a second straight sectional title and two of them have played the Warriors tough this year. If Rumson gets by Johnson in round one, there will be a rematch of a 40-30 Manasquan win in which the Bulldogs were within two with a minute to go before the game got out of hand – both on the scoreboard and on the court with flagrant fouls and ejections. On the other side, Holmdel is the front-runner to reach the final but will have to get through either Hillside or Lincoln. Holmdel has already played Manasquan three times and lost the last two by a combined margin of 10 points, while Hillside ran into the Manasquan buzzsaw on Feb. 1. Lincoln has not played Manasquan this year, but the Lions got a first-hand look at a fully functional Warriors team in last year’s one-sided sectional final.
(1) Manasquan over (16) Metuchen
(9) Rumson-Fair Haven over (8) A.L. Johnson
(5) Bordentown over (12) South Plainfield
(4) Robbinsville over (13) Spotswood
(3) Hillside over (14) Delaware Valley
(6) Lincoln over (11) Newark Collegiate
(10) Raritan over (7) Roselle
(2) Holmdel over (15) Governor Livingston
(1) Manasquan over (9) Rumson-Fair Haven
(5) Bordentown over (4) Robbinsville
(6) Lincoln over (3) Hillside
(2) Holmdel over (10) Raritan
(1) Manasquan over (5) Bordentown
(2) Holmdel over (6) Lincoln
(1) Manasquan over (2) Holmdel
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 Barnegat, No. 7 Point Pleasant Boro, No. 8 Manchester,
Defending Champion: No. 2 Haddonfield
Top Seed: Camden
The Favorite: Camden. The championship aura is back in Camden, as the Panthers enter March as the No. 1 team in N.J. and have a chance to become the first public school to win the Tournament of Champions since they did it back in Dajuan Wagner’s junior year in 2000. That would be especially fitting considering Wagner’s son, freshman D.J. Wagner, is a star guard on this year’s team. The Panthers also boast 6-10 Kentucky commit Lance Ware and 6-7 junior Ta’Quan Woodley, which makes the overwhelming favorite in this section and – despite Manasquan’s presence – all of Group II.
Darkhorse: No. 12 Pleasantville. The Greyhounds are coming off a strong season in 2018-19 and while the No. 12 seed suggests it has been a down year, it is somewhat misleading. Pleasantville enters the tournament 13-12, which is respectable given the quality of competition it has played this year. With those battle scars, don’t be surprised to see the Greyhounds win a couple of games before running into Camden.
Bracket Breakdown: Barring multiple injuries to key players, Camden should roll to a sectional title by beating the winner of a likely Haddonfield-Haddon Heights showdown in the championship game. Haddonfield has turned in some inspired performances against Camden in recent years but the Bulldogs aren’t quite what they were either of the last two seasons and Camden is much better. While Haddonfield should be safe in the first two rounds, a good effort from Point Boro in the quarterfinal could keep the game close. Manchester and Barnegat, meanwhile, would run into Camden before the sectional final so both will take what they can get in the meantime.
(1) Camden over (16) Lower Cape May
(8) Manchester over (9) Camden Academy Charter
(12) Pleasantville over (5) Barnegat
(4) West Deptford over (13) Middle Twp.
(3) Haddon Heights over (14) Medford Tech
(11) Sterling over (6) Delran
(7) Point Boro over (10) Cedar Creek
(2) Haddonfield over (15) Pennsauken Tech
(1) Camden over (8) Manchester
(12) Pleasantville over (4) West Deptford
(3) Haddon Heights over (11) Sterling
(2) Haddonfield over (7) Point Boro
(1) Camden over (12) Pleasantville
(3) Haddon Heights over (2) Haddonfield
(1) Camden over (3) Haddon Heights