Boys Basketball – 2020 Shore Conference Tournament Semifinal Preview and Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals - Bracket
Thursday, Feb. 27
At RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, Toms River
No. 3 Toms River North (23-3) vs. No. 7 Red Bank Catholic (17-8), 5 p.m.
At the outset of the tournament – and really since the final days of 2019 – the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal looked like it would center around an anticipated matchup between Middletown South and Toms River North. Mater Dei Prep threw a wrench in those plans by upsetting Middletown South in the round of 16, then came up short of a comeback win in the quarterfinals against Red Bank Catholic.
While Middletown South blinked and lost its 19-game winning streak, Toms River North held up its end by rolling through its two SCT opponents and put up some record-breaking numbers in doing so. After handling Matawan, 80-65, in their opener in the round of 16, the Mariners threw up triple-digits on Marlboro and then some. Toms River North put on a show on Sunday morning with a 114-85 win over the Mustangs to get back to the SCT semifinals after falling short each of the past two seasons.
To get over the hump and reach the SCT final for the first time in 24 years and just the second time ever, the Mariners will have to beat a Red Bank Catholic team that is in the semifinal round for the first time in 26 years and has never been to a final in its program history. Despite making it this far as a No. 7 seed, Red Bank Catholic has not had to spring an upset to make it to Thursday, with Mater Dei doing the dirty work in knocking out Middletown South.
In looking at the rosters, the matchup that jumps out is RBC senior Kevin Bauman vs. Toms River North senior Najae Hallenbeck in the paint. These are probably the two strongest players in the Shore Conference and certainly two of the most imposing. Hallenbeck has been a wrecking ball all season, averaging 21.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game after 29 points n 14-for-16 shooting with 17 rebounds in the quarterfinal win over Marlboro. Bauman, meanwhile, put up 17 and 13 in RBC’s win over Mater Dei and is averaging 22 points and 10.2 rebounds during his team’s four-game winning streak.
While RBC may be uniquely equipped to curtail some of Hallenbeck’s production, the Caseys do not have an easy answer to deal with Jakari Spence, who put up 21 points and 15 assists in the win over Marlboro. The Caseys did a good job of slowing down Mater Dei’s quick guards on Sunday by mixing up its looks on defense but Spence will be harder to keep off the board.
Expect Red Bank Catholic have success in slowing the game down and making the Mariners work for their points against Kevin and Alex Bauman. The key for RBC will be to get more out of C.J. Ruoff and Cyril Arvanitis than Toms River North gets from Colin Baker and Mike Vansprang – a tall task for two freshmen against two seniors. Factor in Spence’s playmaking ability and that puts a lot of pressure on RBC across the board. The Pick: Toms River North, 66-57
No. 1 Manasquan (25-1) vs. No. 4 Holmdel (20-3), 6:45 p.m.
The second game of Thursday’s double-header features a Class A Central showdown between the division’s top two teams. With three A Central teams left standing in the last four of the SCT, the division backed up the talk from its coaches that it was the best Shore Conference division throughout the year. From a historical perspective, however, it has been a long time for the A Central teams left in the tournament - neither RBC nor Holmdel has been to the championship game and Manasquan has not won a championship since 1957, although the Warriors were in the final last year.
Of all Manasquan’s opponents this season, Holmdel might have been the most successful in disrupting the Warriors’ plan of attack – while Roselle Catholic actually beat Manasquan, Holmdel made Manasquan look sloppy and nearly won the game even with Alex Galvan in the lineup, which he was not vs. Roselle Catholic.
If there is hope for Holmdel, it is that Galvan is looking more and more likely to sit out the Shore Conference Tournament with his shin bruise, although he remains day-to-day with the ailment. Galvan carried the Hornets in the second half of that 46-40 Manasquan win in Holmdel on Jan. 30 while the Hornets guards did a good job of slowing down Ben Roy and Kieran Flanagan on the offensive end. If Galvan is indeed out, that eliminates a crutch that Manasquan leaned on in the last meeting.
On Manasquan’s side, the Warriors have had plenty of success with Galvan out of the lineup and from their own perspective, they played a poor game in that narrow win. Manasquan struggled to finish around the rim in the first half, turned the ball over and while they hit some perimeter shots to stay in the game during the first half, the Warriors never got hot from beyond the arc.
The other reason for optimism on the Manasquan side is that 6-8 senior Tim McEneny has been especially good when Galvan has been out. In 13 games without Galvan, McEneny is averaging 9.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks – all better than his season averages. McEneny and 6-5 juniors Connor Walsh and Jack Collins will have to fend off a relentless Holmdel team on the glass an also get some help from the guards, which Flanagan, Roy and junior Casey Mulligan are usually go for.
Holmdel, meanwhile, will have to find a way to create some offense against one of the state’s top defensive teams. The Hornets played a decent offensive game the last time the two teams met and still managed only 40 points against Manasquan’s stifling defense. Galvan was a force blocking shots in that one, so Holmdel will, no doubt, be looking to attack the rim and test McEneny and Walsh. With Alex Baker, Ryan Bradley, Pete Cannizzo and John Curreri, the Hornets go a little deeper in the front court and will try to outwork the Manasquan trio.
Depth could also be a strength for Holmdel in the back court, with Derek and Doug Chan, Eric Hinds and Jack Giamanco working in against Manasquan’s trio of Roy, Flanagan and Mulligan. With two extra players in the rotation, Holmdel will again likely try to lure Manasquan into a physical game – both in an attempt to wear down the Warriors, get them in some foul trouble, and ultimately frustrate them. Manasquan is a tough team and an adaptable team, as the Warriors have shown throughout the year so expect them to have an answer. The Pick: Manasquan, 56-44
SCT Quarterfinal Picks Record: 4-0
Overall 2020 SCT Picks Record: 17-6