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For the past 19 seasons, the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner in boys basketball has been a non-public program. One of the teams in the four statewide non-public sections could very well make it 20, but what makes this year unique is there appear more teams that could realistically get there - or at least some different ones than in past years. Rutgers Prep, Wildwood Catholic, Paul VI and St. Thomas Aquinas would all be new relatively new faces in the group finals and all open the tournament with a great chance to come out of South Jersey with a title.

From the Shore's perspective, it could be a much, much quieter year than the last few have been. Ranney has a chance to win a couple of games but the Panthers are not the T of C contender - and eventual winner, in last year's case - that they have been the last two years. Mater Dei, meanwhile, is the Shore's best seed in South Non-Public B at No. 11.

In Non-Public A, the Shore's best seed is Red Bank Catholic at No. 6 and perennial contender Christian Brothers Academy comes in at No. 10 while facing one of the field's top contenders in the first round. The collections of local teams is good enough to produce some wins, maybe even a few on the road, but the chances of a Shore non-public team hoisting a championship trophy are something approaching remote.

 

South Jersey Non-Public A

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 6 Red Bank Catholic, No. 8 Donovan Catholic, No. 9 St. John Vianney, No. 10 CBA
Defending Champion: No. 2 Camden Catholic
Top Seed: Paul VI
The Favorite: Paul VI. The Eagles have been soaring throughout the year and in a South Non-Public A bracket that is as wide-open as it has been in recent years, Paul VI indeed looks like the team to beat as the No. 1 seed. Only one senior plays major minutes for Paul VI, so youth could become a factor along the way, but with St. Augustine not quite at the level it has been over the past few years, the Eagles have a manageable path to the final.
Darkhorse: No. 7 St. Thomas Aquinas. The other side of the bracket has a bunch of interesting teams that including Red Bank Catholic, CBA and, of course the No. 2 (Camden Catholic) and No. 3 (St. Joseph Metuchen) seeds. St. Thomas Aquinas – which was Bishop Ahr prior to this season and won the GMC Tournament title – is the most intriguing of those teams, led by Wake Forest commit Quadry Adams. The problem the Trojans will have is their road to the final is very difficult; they have to face a capable CBA team in round one, then would have to beat defending sectional champion Camden Catholic just to get to the semifinals. In a shallow South Non-Public A field, that is an unusually tough road for a team as talented as Aquinas has.
Bracket Breakdown: Red Bank Catholic could also qualify as a legitimate darkhorse candidate given its run to the SCT semifinals as a No. 7 seed and relatively favorable draw in this bracket. St. Joseph Metuchen lost to CBA during the regular season and RBC handled the Colts, so if the transitive property applies to basketball, RBC could fair well this week. St. John Vianney and Donovan Catholic, meanwhile, will duke it out on Wednesday for the right to face Paul VI, which would be valuable for the younger players on those teams and a great make-or-break challenge for the seniors on both. CBA is the lowest-seeded Shore team and might be playing the section’s most talented team in game No. 1. If the Colts can pull off the upset, they could open up a world of possibilities.

Red Bank Catholic sophomore Alex Bauman shoots over CBA senior Charlie Ruoff. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

 

Round-by-Round Predictions

First Round

(9) St. John Vianney over (8) Donovan Catholic

(6) Red Bank Catholic over (11) Notre Dame

(7) St. Thomas Aquinas over (10) CBA

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Paul VI over (9) St. John Vianney

(4) St. Augustine over (5) Bishop Eustace

(6) Red Bank Catholic over (3) St. Joseph Metuchen

(7) St. Thomas Aquinas over (2) Camden Catholic

 

Semifinals

(1) Paul VI over (4) St. Augustine

(7) St. Thomas Aquinas over (6) Red Bank Catholic

 

Championship

(7) St. Thomas Aquinas over (1) Paul VI

St. John Vianney senior Alex Leiba. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

 

South Jersey Non-Public B

Shore Teams in the Field: No. 11 Mater Dei Prep, No. 12 Ranney, No. 14 St. Rose
Defending Champion: Ranney
Top Seed: Rutgers Prep
The Favorite: Rutgers Prep. Heading into the season, Wildwood Catholic was the favorite to win the South Jersey Non-Public B section after taking Ranney to overtime in last year’s sectional final. The Crusaders, though, have encountered some bumps along the way while Rutgers Prep has blossomed into a legitimate top-five team in the state and Tournament of Champions contender. It might have been easy to forget how young some of the Argonauts key players were in past years, so with Trey Patterson going to the next level as a junior and a supporting cast of mostly non-seniors, we all should have seen this coming.
Darkhorse: Ranney. The Panthers got some very sobering news last week in regards to the youngest son of head coach Tahj Holden, so there have been some very real-world issues hanging over the collective head of the team as they prepare to defend their T of C title. This is obviously a very different team from the one that became the first Shore team to win the state’s ultimate prize, but the draw is one Ranney could find friendly if it can rally the team for Tuesday’s opener vs. St. Joseph Hammonton. The road will ultimately lead to Rutgers Prep but Ranney at full strength, on its best day, has shown it can hang with some high-level competition.
Bracket Breakdown: The three Shore teams in the field are seeded no better than No. 11 but the good news is it appears there are only two juggernaut teams to deal with and all three locals will avoid them until the semifinals. Just like Ranney, Mater Dei has a workable draw at No. 11, which includes a trip to Doane Academy for a second straight year. If the Seraphs can win that matchup again, they should have a real shot against a No. 3 Immaculata team that has both played and competed with some quality opponents and also had some slip-ups. First-round opponent St. Rose is hoping to add to that list of slip-ups. In the end, though, this bracket should produce a 1-vs.-2 final and after coming so close a year ago, senior-heavy Wildwood Catholic will be about as motivated as a team can be.

Ranney sophomore Elijah Perkins scores over Mater Dei senior Tahaj Parland. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

 

Round-by-Round Predictions

First Round

(8) Trenton Catholic over (9) Wardlaw-Hartridge

(12) Ranney over (5) St. Joseph Hammonton

(4) Holy Cross Prep over (13) Gloucester Catholic

(3) Immaculata over (14) St. Rose

(11) Mater Dei Prep over (6) Doane Academy

(7) Holy Spirit over (10) Timothy Christian

(2) Wildwood Catholic over (15) Moorestown Friends

 

Quarterfinals

(1) Rutgers Prep over (8) Trenton Catholic

(12) Ranney over (4) Holy Cross Prep

(3) Immaculata over (11) Mater Dei Prep

(2) Wildwood Catholic over (7) Holy Spirit

 

Semifinals

(1) Rutgers Prep over (12) Ranney

(2) Wildwood Catholic over (3) Immaculata

 

Championship

(2) Wildwood Catholic over (1) Rutgers Prep