Boys Basketball – 2023 SCT Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions
Even after all these years of making game-by-game predictions in the Shore Conference Tournament, it is a good feeling going 9-1 in one round. You would think after all these years I would be ready to be humbled in the next round but this tournament will catch you by surprise every year – especially this one.
After the near perfect round, Thursday’s record was decidedly more pedestrian at 4-4. Ranney and Central proved to be road warriors as double-digit seeds, Raritan protected its home court with a lockdown defensive performance, and Rumson mustered more postseason mojo in beating Freehold Township just two days after barely escaping No. 24 Monmouth Regional.
The rest of the picks were on-point, with the top two seeds cruising in the quarterfinals and both Toms River North and CBA surviving battles at home. That brings us to Saturday’s quarterfinal, the unofficial “greatest day of the season” for basketball fans at the Shore. It is a great appetizer for Sunday’s football frenzy and there is enough intrigue in the four games to keep everyone guessing from 11 a.m. until about 5:45 p.m.
Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinals
Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
At Middletown High School South
No. 2 St. Rose (20-2) vs. No. 7 Christian Brothers Academy (13-7), 11 a.m.
It has been 13 years since CBA last won a Shore Conference Tournament, which is sort of like the Yankees not winning a World Series since 2009: that’s not that long of a drought for most teams, but for the Yankees in Major League Baseball and CBA within the Shore Conference, it feels like several generations. Despite CBA’s long wait between titles, the SCT championship almost always runs through CBA. The Colts have lost to the eventual champion six times in the past 12 seasons, including three straight trips to the championship game from 2014 to 2016.
It is fitting that this St. Rose team will have to get past this CBA team considering the coaching matchup. CBA head coach Geoff Billet and St. Rose coach Brian Lynch were teammates on CBA’s 1994-95 NJSIAA Non-Public A championship team and the two were reunited as opponents last Saturday, when Lynch returned to his alma mater with his new team and guided the Purple Roses to a 59-51 win that capped their regular season in grand, fitting fashion.
Those who saw that first matchup between the two teams got a good look at how this next installment might look, particularly if CBA is going to make a real run at beating the favored Purple Roses. The Colts have been an inconsistent shooting team this year and ran into more of that Thursday against Matawan, when they barely slipped by the Huskies, 44-43. They have, however, improved on the glass thanks to the efforts of Justin Fuerbacher, Joe White and Colin Torres and that group will have another tall order Saturday. Fortunately for CBA, its players have already seen the challenge up close.
St. Rose is loaded with solid players well into its bench and Matt Hodge is a player with whom few teams can match up. He is not a shoot-first player, but he has a knack for hitting a big shot or coming up with a big putback and that has foiled some of the teams that have played the Purpled Roses close. CBA’s best hope is for its strong defensive unit to make it more of a run-of-the-mill game for Hodge and his younger brother, Jayden, rather than a dominant one and keep the supporting cast in check so as to stay within striking distance. Easier said than done: The Pick: St. Rose, 58-46
No. 3 Toms River North (18-5) vs. No. 11 Ranney (14-9), 12:45 p.m.
This one has the makings of the day’s best game, with Toms River North coming off a close call vs. Shore that makes it three straight games in which the Mariners have won by three after leading by 20, lost, and won by five at home to the No. 19 seed. Coach Rory Caswell is hoping that is more of a wakeup call than a harbinger and, perhaps, the sight of Ranney and its dynamic backcourt on film will shake Toms River North out of its mini funk.
If it does, the Mariners are formidable. They have a handful of exceptional athletes, several of whom were integral in leading Toms River North to a 14-0 season on the football field. No. 1 on that list is Micah Ford, who is the team’s top scorer, as well as a relentless rebounder from the backcourt. Junior Owen Baker is the engine that makes the offense go, while 6-foot-7 Delani Hyde is a difference-maker around the court – whether in the paint or out at the three-point line. Most of the offense will come from those three, but Tareq Council, Sherrod Nelson, Jeremiah Pruitt and Garrett Dusheck can all impact a game on both ends. When Toms River North is on its game, the Mariners are probably have the best balance within a seven-man rotation of any team in the tournament other than St. Rose.
If Toms River North beats teams with depth, Ranney does it with a big three. Isaac Hester, Jahlil Bethea and Drew Buck have not only been clicking as scorers, but the trio showed what it could do defensively in Thursday’s win over Jackson Memorial. Hester is as good of a scorer as there is in the conference and Bethea and Buck have been able to play off him on offense while getting better with each game on defense as well. The two other starters – sophomore MeSean Williams and Glen Cantalupo – have both bought into their roles, with Williams thriving as a spot-up shooter and Cantalupo as a workhorse inside despite his modest six-foot-frame.
Toms River North’s athleticism and toughness at the guard positions will be a unique challenge to Ranney and Ranney’s pure skill on the perimeter will challenge Toms River North to be sharp with its defensive communication and efficient on offense in order to keep the pressure on Ranney to steadily put up points. On skill alone, Ranney very likely has the three best players on the floor, but Ford is a game-breaker and Baker has the ability to approach those Ranney guards with the way he controls the offense and shoots the ball. There should be a mismatch somewhere else on the floor and Toms River North will have to find it in order to stave off another Ranney “upset,” although that term no longer applies to the Panthers. The secret has long been out. The Pick: Ranney, 63-59
No. 1 Manasquan (19-4) vs. No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven (17-5), 2:30 p.m.
Two fierce rivals get reacquainted in game No. 3, with Manasquan playing Rumson-Fair Haven for the first time since beating the Bulldogs in the 2020 Central Jersey Group II championship game. From 2018-19 through this season, Manasquan has been the Shore’s best public school program by a wide margin, racking up two Shore Conference titles (one official and one unofficial) in four consecutive championship-game appearances, as well as an NJSIAA sectional championship in each of the past three seasons the tournament has been contested. Manasquan graduated a decorated senior class in 2021 and lost returning star Ben Roy to a torn ACL and still managed to make the SCT final and win a Central Group III title with an entirely new starting five – albeit a very talented one.
Prior to Manasquan’s emergence, Rumson was the Shore’s preeminent public-school team for a four-year stretch from 2014-15 until 2017-18. It actually started in 2013-14, when the Bulldogs followed a forgettable regular-season with a run to the Central Jersey Group II title game, which they lost to Matawan. The following year, Rumson shocked CBA to win its first Shore Conference Tournament championship, but had to watch Manasquan win the Central Group II section after the Bulldogs were upset by Bordentown in the sectional semifinals.
Manasquan appeared to have Rumson’s number when the Warriors beat the Bulldogs in the 2016 sectional semifinals, but Rumson would have its day the following year. The Bulldogs won the first of back-to-back Central Group II championships, beating Manasquan in 2017 and going 25-3 the following season. While The Warriors surpassed the Bulldogs over the next three seasons, last year saw the teams turn in similar seasons, with Manasquan winning the Central Group III title and Rumson claiming its third Central Group II crown in six seasons.
So, that’s the history. Now to the present. The lineups are almost identical in the way they break down by grades of the players, but the Warriors are far more experienced after last year’s run Sophomore Darius Adams and junior Ryan Frauenheim are the Shore’s premier backcourt duo until someone beats them, while sophomore Griffin Linstra is a swiss-army-knife player with an expertise in locking opposing scorers up. Throw in Alex Konov’s shooting and two vastly-improved seniors in Quinn Peters and Jack Dettlinger and there is little Manasquan can’t throw at opponents.
Rumson’s lineup suffered from a significant lack of experience coming into the season after five starters graduated, but this Bulldogs group has learned quickly. Sophomores Luke Schorr and Davey Carr have made an instant impact and are already pure scorers, while junior Nick Rigby has picked up his offensive contribution lately. Senior Mason Yablonski is a tough, two-way guard and senior Luke Mikolajczyk is the team’s best defender. Junior Sean Trinder fits right in off the bench with his ability to shoot and defend.
The Bulldogs have been a team that likes to get up and down, like they did in Thursday’s 68-59 win over Freehold Township, but coach Chris Champeau has shown a willingness to change the script, which he most certainly will do for this game. Rumson’s best shot is to slow the game down, make Manasquan adjust to different looks and hope to catch fire from three-point range on offense on two or three stretches of the game. The prospects for an upset are not great given how potent Manasquan is, but the Bulldogs showed last round against a very balanced, senior-driven Freehold Township team that they still have some tournament magic. On Saturday, they will have to empty their bag of tricks. The Pick: Manasquan, 55-47
No. 4 Raritan (18-1) vs. No. 12 Central (18-5), 4:15 p.m.
The Saturday quadruple-header wraps up with a showdown between two teams that likely were not on many radars as SCT final-four threats heading into the season. Raritan slowly-but-surely proved its standing as one of those teams over the course of the season by winning its first 17 games, and while a loss to Cedar Creek was reason to pump the brakes, the Rockets were recharged for an impressive win over a dangerous Red Bank Catholic team in the round of 16.
On the other side, Central looked like a team that might limp into the Shore Conference Tournament when it lost a crushing, 47-44 game at home to Lacey, which cost the Golden Eagles an outright Class B South championship that seemed to be theirs in a runaway based on the way they handled Lacey on the road the first time those two teams played. Instead of that loss sending Central into a tailspin, the Golden Eagles have rallied to win four straight games – all impressive in their own way. The latest was a road win over Middletown South in which Central bounced back from an early 16-6 deficit to end the Eagles’ 15-game winning streak.
Saturday’s finale will be the second game in which the teams have already met this season, with Raritan defeating Central in a triple-overtime slugfest in Bayville on Jan. 4. That game was 25-25 after three quarters and Central point guard John Truhan got knocked out in the first quarter with a cut above his eye that required staples. If this game plays out at all like that one did, especially with a spot in the SCT semifinals on the line, it will not be for the faint of heart.
Raritan is seeking in its first SCT quarterfinal since 2012, when the Rockets won the tournament as a No. 3 seed. They rely on a balanced lineup of players that know one another extremely well and the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. The best of those parts this season has been senior Jack O’Leary, who is the team’s top scorer and rebounder, while his classmates Billy Tigar, Mike Diller and Jack Coleman have all shined as offensive contributors at various points this season as well. Raritan is also a strong defensive team, but more than that, the Rockets are masters of tempo. The offense doesn’t rush and the defense is disciplined enough to take away lanes to the basket and rebound the ball on misses. It makes for a slower-paced game, hence the lower scores in Raritan’s 19 games this season (they have scored more than 60 just twice this season).
Central has not been this far in the SCT since 1994 and has never made it past the quarterfinals. The Golden Eagles are the more dynamic offensive team in this game, led by junior Miles Chevalier and sophomore Jaycen Santucci, the latter of whom has been one of the Shore’s real breakout performers in 2023. Both average in the 17-to-18-point range while also working the glass, getting teammates involved and playing disruptive defense. Truhan, meanwhile, is a playmaker averaging 5.3 assists per game and Jordan Barbot, Royalty Riley and Brayden Lowden are solid role players who all made their presence felt the first time these to teams played.
The outcome will depend upon the pace of the game and if the game is close late, Raritan figures to have a decided advantage given the number of close games the Rockets have won this season thanks to the senior leadership that powers them. Central looks like a dangerous team and already beat a Middletown South team that beat the Golden Eagles earlier in the year, but after last round, I’m done doubting the Rockets. The Pick: Raritan, 42-38
Round-of-16 Picks Record: 4-4
2023 SCT Picks Record: 13-5