With Central Regional winning 20 games, reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in nearly three full decades and placing two of its top players on the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Team, one could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that the Golden Eagles did not win the Class B South division outright in 2022-23.

Lacey knocked off Central on the road last year and while the Lions finished with a modest 12-14 record, they went 9-1 in divisional play to grab a share of the Class B South division championship for the first time since 2012. Central’s subsequent postseason success made it a big season for Class B South and with most of the division’s teams returning a majority of their respective starting lineups, this season figures to be another strong showing, with Central leading the way as a contender for the best public-school team in the Shore Conference.

In order to win this year’s division race, performance against the headline teams from Class A South will be crucial. If a team upsets Central within Class B South, that team will still have to outpace the division favorite in the six Class A South crossover games, which will count toward determining division champions this season. With all the talent Central returns, the Golden Eagles started off with a considerable advantage and with a roster that matches up well across the board against Class A South, Central’s edge over the rest of the field grows even more.

In predicted order of finish

1. Central

Fresh off a 20-win season, a Class B South division co-championship and its first trip to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals since 1994, Central returns with designs of accomplishing even more in 2024. The Golden Eagles graduated a steady point guard and four-year letter-winner John Truhan, but return two All-Shore wing players in senior Miles Chevalier and Jaycen Santucci to lead an experienced lineup. Both Santucci and Chevalier averaged better than 17 points in 2022-23 while also making their presence felt on the defensive end – a combination that makes them the best returning duo in the Shore Conference outside of the St. Rose juggernaut.

Santucci and Chevalier are two of four returning starters for Central, with seniors Jordan Barbot and Brayden Lowden also back in the first five. Barbot is an athletic wing who served as a third scoring option last year, while Lowden can stretch the floor as a shooter while playing solid defense. The last starting spot will be between Jackson Liberty transfer Jayson King and junior Royalty Riley. King was Jackon Liberty’s top scorer as a sophomore (13.5 points per game) and would be an ideal replacement for Truhan, while Riley was a regular contributor as a sophomore who can play a more traditional forward spot on a team full of guards.

Even with a strong first six in the rotation, coach Mike Clemente Jr. expects to have the deepest roster of his nine-year tenure. Juniors Devont King-Riley and Aidan Graham are two more athletic backcourt options, while 6-7 forward Elijah Reeder leads a trio of sophomores that could see important minutes. While winning the Shore Conference Tournament is a longshot for every team outside of St. Rose this year, Central has a roster that is good enough to win another division title, make it to the end of the SCT and challenge the top teams in South Jersey Group IV.

Central junior Miles Chevalier (33) defended by Middletown South junior Ryan Denery. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Central senior Miles Chevalier (33) defended by Middletown South senior Ryan Denery. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Central at a Glance

Head Coach: Mike Clemente, ninth season
2022-23 Record: 20-7 (9-1, tied first in Class B South)
Key Losses: John Truhan (5-10, Guard), Carlos Medina-Farres (6-4, Guard)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Miles Chevalier, Sr., 6-3, Guard

Jaycen Santucci, Jr., 6-4, Guard

Brayden Lowden, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Jordan Barbot, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Jayson King, Jr., 5-11, Guard (Transfer from Jackson Liberty)

 

Off the Bench

Royalty Riley, Jr., 6-3, Forward

Devont King-Reilly, Jr., 6-2, Guard

Aidan Graham, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Elijah Reeder, So., 6-7, Forward

Madden Leszczynski, So., 6-2, Guard

Tyler Woermer, So., 6-1, Forward

 

2. Manchester

A year after reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and ending its season with a loss to powerhouse Camden in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II final, Manchester had a lot of untested talent last season around talented 6-7 big man Evan Weiner. The results were mixed, with the Hawks winning only seven games, but breaking in some new contributors who have staying power heading into the new season.

Senior Josh Love and junior Aidan Lunn will form an experienced backcourt tandem that proved productive a season ago, with each cracking a 10 points-per-game average in 2022-23. Lunn is also a capable defender and rebounder who can mix it up inside, which frees up a chance for Manchester’s other guards to thrive in a multitude of ways. Senior Jaymire Watts sat for the first month of the season as a transfer and made an impact as a versatile, athletic wing. This year, junior A.J. Grant is the impact transfer after spending last year in the St. Thomas Aquinas program and will add to the backcourt mix.

Ny’Zyr Battle moves into the starting lineup and at 6-3, he is one of the few true frontcourt players on the Manchester roster. Coach Ryan Ramsay will have a bevy of guards on his bench to run into the game, led by junior Vasylatiy and junior Toms River South transfer Quinn Weils. The void left by Weiner will be considerable, but with the Love-Lunn-Watts trio available from the opening-tip, Manchester has should be a more stable, consistent team this season as the Hawks look to return to the top of the B South standings.

Manchester at a Glance

Head Coach: Ryan Ramsay, 19th season
2022-23 Record: 7-15 (5-5, third in Class B South)
Key Losses: Evan Weiner (6-8, Forward), Javion Glenn (6-1, Guard), Eli Casalan (5-9, Guard)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Josh Love, Sr., 5-8, Guard

Aidan Lunn, Jr., 6-2, Guard

A.J. Gant, Jr., 6-1, Guard

Jaymire Watts, Sr., 6-3, Guard

Ny’Zyr Battle, Jr., 6-3, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Tre Ross, Sr., 6-0, Guard

Amari Brown, Sr., 5-9, Guard

Ryan Dunkley, Sr., 6-3, Guard

M.J. Goins, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Alex Vasylatiy, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Quinn Weils, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Chris Kafka, So., 5-10, Guard

Malik Pharmes, So., 6-3, Forward

James Ruocchio, So., 5-9, Guard

 

3. Lacey

The composition of the Lacey roster changes significantly from last year to the upcoming season, with the Lions graduating three big-time producers in Chris Venturoso, Troy Buxton and Dylan Hall. Venturoso and Buxton were four-year starters and top scorers from the time they were freshmen, so things will be much different for coach Sean McAndrew this season as his Lions look to replace a significant amount of scoring.

While it remains to be seen how Lacey will account for the lost offense, the Lions have a group of talented players who deferred to their older teammates a year ago and are ready to grab the reins this season. Logan Brash is a dangerous shooter who should see a tick up in his scoring, while seniors Trevor Santucci and Joe Miereles – the latter of whom averaged 1.7 blocks per game as a junior – give Lacey two returning players in the frontcourt with size to exploit on both ends.

Juniors D.J. Duffy and Jon Stabile round out the starting five and classmates Maris Mooney and Anthony Mazza will be two of the top contributors off the bench. It is much different lineup without the 2023 graduates, but there is experience back from a team that equaled Central in winning a share of the Class B South championship. If the Lions can sort out the scoring balance and lean into a more defensive identity, they should pose a challenge to the top of the division again in 2024.

Lacey at a Glance

Head Coach: Sean McAndrew, seventh season
2022-23 Record: 12-14 (9-1, tied first in Class B South)
Key Losses: Chris Venturoso (6-1, Guard), Troy Buxton (6-0, Guard), Dylan Hall (5-10, Guard), Ryan Fitzgerald (5-11, Guard), Peter Murphy (6-3, Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

D.J. Duffy, Jr., 6-1, Guard

Logan Brash, Sr., 5-11, Guard

Jon Stabile, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Trevor Santucci, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Joe Miereles, Sr., 6-5, Center

 

Off the Bench

Maris Mooney, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Anthony Mazza, Jr., 5-11

 

4. Barnegat

Barnegat’s 2022-23 season hardly got off the ground, with the Bengals winning on opening night, followed by a seven-game losing streak that severely dented their postseason hopes. Powered by a young lineup that grew together once the calendar flipped to 2023, however, Barnegat went 9-7 following that 1-7 start to build some momentum heading into the upcoming season. With no starters graduating, the optimism in Barnegat is climbing to a level not seen since the 20-win season of 2019-20.

This year’s Barnegat roster is heavy on juniors, but will rely on one of the best returning seniors in Ocean County in 6-3 guard Jamari Smith, who posted just under 14 points and three assists as a junior. Classmate Shawn Javines is another senior starter who was the third-leading scorer a year ago and gives coach Mike Puorro some defensive versatility on the floor. Junior Mason Krey is another athletic guard with experience, while classmates Cole Toddings and 6-5 center Kyle Greenleaf will be a dual presence in the paint, with Toddings averaging 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore.

After two rebuilding seasons for a program that showed steady improvement each year since Puorro took over, Barnegat appeared to turn the corner last season and figures to carry that momentum into 2023-24. This will be its last run with Smith as its top scoring option, but with three juniors in the starting five and four more capable juniors rounding out the bench options, Barnegat is set up for a strong two years in Class B South, with a legitimate chance to climb into the top two in the standings this season.

Barnegat at a Glance

Head Coach: Mike Puorro, 10th season
2022-23 Record: 10-14 (4-6, fourth in Class B South)
Key Losses: None

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Mason Krey, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Jamari Smith, Sr., 6-3, Guard

Shawn Javines, Sr., 6-0, Forward

Cole Toddings, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Kyle Greenleaf, Jr., 6-5, Center

 

Off the Bench

Kalil O’Neal, Sr., 5-7, Guard

Todd Muhammad, Jr., 6-0

Stephen Griffin, Jr., 5-11

Luke Tortorici, Jr., 6-0

Johnnel Johnson, Jr., 5-7

 

5. Pinelands

It is not easy to find silver linings surrounding a 2-21 record, but Pinelands coach Fred Johnson does not have to look too far into history to find a positive spin for his team’s struggles in 2022-23. In Johnson’s first season as head coach in 2016-17, Pinelands posted an identical 2-21 record. A year later, the Wildcats had a winning season and a year after that, they went 18-7 and finished one game behind first-place Jackson Liberty for the Class B South championship.

Given how young Pinelands’ roster was last year, the conditions are ripe for the Wildcats to continue on a similar trajectory over the next two seasons. Pinelands returns four starters from last year’s team, led by junior guard and leading scorer Ty Kline. While Kline was the top guard, senior forward Gerald Newsome was the second-leading scorer and top rebounder. Newsome will have plenty of help with sophomore forward Josh Barongo and junior Braden Fence joining him in the front court, while senior Aiden Falduto provides senior leadership in the back court with Kline.

Falduto and Newsome are the only seniors in line to play significant minutes, so Pinelands shapes up as an ascendant team in Class B South over the next two years. The teams at the top of the division don’t figure to fall too far, so Pinelands will have to do more than just get older. With that being said, Johnson has already climbed the standings with a young team, so expect to see marked improvement from the Wildcats this season and into 2024-25.

Pinelands at a Glance

Head Coach: Fred Johnson, eighth season
2022-23 Record: 2-21 (0-10, sixth in Class B South)
Key Losses: Mike Hall (6-1, Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Aiden Falduto, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Ty Kline, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Gerald Newsome, Sr., 6-1, Forward

Josh Barongo, So., 6-2, Forward

Braden Fence, Jr., 6-3, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Tyler McNally-Ferguson, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Kevin Bennett, Jr., 6-1, Forward

Mateo Skeie, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Ryan Dunaj, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Jayden Hadzovic, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Lance Heuston, So., 5-11, Guard

Cayden Lucas, Fr., 5-10, Guard

Jayden Arias, So., 6-1, Forward

 

6. Brick

Varsity experience will be in short supply at Brick this season, but the Green Dragons head into 2023-24 with a proven senior guard as their centerpiece a handful of solid program players ready for their chance to make an impact, and a young core of up-and-comers that provide for some upside. Junior Jayden Johnson is primed for his best season after earning his spot as a varsity regular as both a freshman and sophomore for the Green Dragons.

Aidan Dvorak is one of four seniors in the mix to absorb roles in the rotation and Dvorak brings legitimate varsity experience to the table after earning minutes off the bench as a junior a year ago. Classmate Sam Karavangelos will join him in the starting five and Anthony Zarilli and Justin Vieira are also working toward enhanced roles in the program and will contribute to the collective senior voice on the team.

Junior Gavin Maffei and sophomore Mike Sullivan round out the new-look starting five, with Sullivan the lone projected starter taller than 6-2. Juniors Dom Giovine and Sean Gilson are among the first wave off the bench, while sophomore Erik Varela and freshmen Jamel Pitts and Sean Nausedas are underclass difference-makers and future program staples. With four starters to replace and not a whole lot of experience on hand, Brick will need its group to gel quickly and settle into new roles that could set the foundation for a move up the standings in coming years.

Brick at a Glance

Head Coach: Rob Panasuk, second season
2022-23 Record: 9-15 (3-7, fifth in Class B South)
Key Losses: Alex Jenkoski (6-2, Guard), Nick Verdesco (5-11, Guard), Stephen Novak (6-2, Forward), Brandon Farber (6-4, Forward)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Jayden Johnson, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Gavin Maffei, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Aidan Dvorak, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Sam Karavangelos, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Mike Sullivan, So., 6-2, Center

 

Off the Bench

Dom Giovine, Jr., 6-1, Forward

Sean Gilson, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Erik Varela, So., 5-11, Guard

Anthony Zarilli, Sr., 5-8, Guard

Justin Vieira, Sr., 5-11, Guard

Sean Savannah, Jr., 6-1, Forward

Zy’mier Barnes-Jones, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Jamel Pitts, Fr., 5-7, Guard

Sean Nausedas, Fr., 5-10, Guard

Ryan Tufaro, Fr., 5-5, Guard

 

Class B South Starting Five (With 2022-23 Stats)

Jaycen Santucci, Central (17.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.9 blocks)

Miles Chevalier, Central (17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals)

Jamari Smith, Barnegat (13.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.75 assists, 2.75 steals)

Josh Love, Manchester (10.5 points, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals)

Jayson King, Central (13.5 points, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals at Jackson Liberty)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Jaymire Watts, Manchester

Royalty Riley, Central

Joe Miereles, Lacey

Josh Barongo, Pinelands

Logan Brash, Lacey

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