Boys Basketball – 2023 NJSIAA Tournament Preview: The Shore in Group 2
When it comes to the Shore Conference, no group has showcased the triumph and heartbreak of the NJSIAA Tournament more than Group II has. The Shore Conference has had one of the last four teams standing in Group II in eight out of the last nine contested tournaments, but is 0-7 in the Group II semifinal round during that same stretch.
This season was shaping up to tell a similar story, with Manasquan entering as a favorite in Central Jersey Group II, but with a juggernaut Camden squad looming in South Jersey. The landscape, however, changed dramatically at the end of last week, when the Camden School District withdrew both Camden and Camden Eastside from the state tournament after the two rivals were involved in an altercation Thursday night in the county tournament championship game.
There are no Shore Conference teams in the South Jersey Group II field to capitalize on Camden's sudden absence, but the team that awaits the Central Jersey winner will be significantly more beatable than Camden is. That leaves the door open for a strong collection of Shore Conference teams in Central Jersey, led by aforementioned Manasquan, which was crowned Shore Conference Tournament champion on Sunday.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 2 Manasquan, No. 3 Raritan, No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 9 Point Pleasant Boro, No. 13 Holmdel, No. 15 Monmouth
Top Seed: South River
Defending Champion: Rumson-Fair Haven
Favorite: Manasquan. After a year in Group III, Manasquan is back in Central Jersey Group II and will go for its fourth straight NJSIAA sectional championship after claiming the CJ III crown a year ago. The Warriors returned four starting underclassmen from last year and have woven in two seniors into the rotation in Quinn Peters and Jack Dettlinger who have become invaluable. A few close losses to Linden and Union Catholic probably cost Manasquan a chance to play the sectional final at home, so having to go on the road to beat South River in a potential final looks like the only reason to have any pause about the Warriors making it four sectional championships in a row.
Darkhorse: No. 11 Bordentown. While Bordentown did not win enough against top competition to land a guaranteed home game, the Scotties have played competitive games against good opponents and come out on the losing end: two close losses each to Burlington City (15-9) and Pemberton (18-7), two two-point loss to Cinnaminson (20-2) and a six-point loss to Cherokee (15-11; No. 4 seed in South Jersey Group IV). With three players averaging between 12 and 18 points, Bordentown is going to be a first-round handful for Delaware Valley and a dangerous potential quarterfinal opponent for Raritan.
On the other side of the bracket, Point Boro has the profile of a team that could upset South River and make a deep run, but the injury to Stephen Mellett just before the Shore Conference Tournament will be hard to overcome if the Panthers have to go to South River in round two.
Bracket Breakdown: The Shore Conference has dominated this bracket over the last decade, with Lakewood’s 2013 sectional beginning a run of eight championships in nine seasons for the Shore Conference in CJ II. Manasquan likely would have made it nine out of 10 for the decade had there been an NJSIAA Tournament in which its 12-0 in 2021 could compete. The Warriors and rival Rumson-Fair Haven have each accounted for three of those eight titles, with the Bulldogs winning the sectional championship a year ago for their third championship in six years. Both will have golden opportunities to get back to the final and should a rematch happen, Manasquan would have a decided edge after beating the Bulldogs, 57-30, in the Shore Conference Tournament.
Manasquan will open its tournament against a Monmouth Regional team that can be dangerous when at its best, as they were in a 44-42 loss to Rumson in the first round of the SCT. Rumson, meanwhile, could see Holmdel in the second round, with the Hornets taking their high-scoring, junior-heavy team on the road to play 2022 sectional runner-up Bound Brook in round one. For Rumson, Point Boro and Holmdel, all roads lead through South River, when the Rams have put together an impressive season behind a dynamic offense that can put up points in bunches.
Championship Prediction: Manasquan over Rumson. Although its road to the championship game is rather difficult, Rumson has the pedigree and the talent to make the run. The Bulldogs could earn a rematch with Bound Brook – the team they beat in the 2022 sectional final – in the quarterfinals and should they run into South River, the Dawgs should match-up well with the Rams thanks to Rumson’s array of shooters and athletes. If the championship game ends up in Manasquan, it is hard to see anyone beating this Warriors team. If Manasquan has to go to South River, that could be a wrinkle that gives the Rams a chance to knock off the Warriors, who are 57-1 at home over the last five seasons, with the lone loss coming to Roselle Catholic earlier this year.
(1) South River over (16) East Brunswick Magnet
(9) Point Boro over (8) Spotswood
(5) Rumson-Fair Haven over (12) Roselle Park
(4) Bound Brook over (13) Holmdel
(3) Raritan over (14) A.L. Johnson
(11) Bordentown over (6) Delaware Valley
(7) Roselle over (10) Middlesex
(2) Manasquan over (15) Monmouth
(1) South River over (9) Point Boro
(5) Rumson-Fair Haven over (4) Bound Brook
(3) Raritan over (11) Bordentown
(2) Manasquan over (7) Roselle
(5) Rumson-Fair Haven over (1) South River
(2) Manasquan over (3) Raritan
(2) Manasquan over (5) Rumson-Fair Haven