Boys Basketball – 2024 Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions
The 2024 Boys Basketball Shore Conference Tournament is almost two tournaments in one. The first tournament is the overall tournament, which is St. Rose’s to lose and it doesn’t look like the Purple Roses plan on losing again this season. In that respect, the overall tournament could very well be a formality, with three more teams hoping to prove that sentiment wrong.
The other tournament within the tournament is more interesting, assuming unpredictability is interesting. The round of 16 featured three games that went down to the wire, with the No. 13 seed upsetting the No. 4 seed while No. 7 and No. 8 survived challenges on their respective home floors.
If you are a fan of the tournament within the tournament, then Saturday’s slate is for you. St. Rose will kick things off against a Rumson-Fair Haven team that is likely to be a player short, followed by three games that really could go either way. The number of games that could be described as such remaining in this tournament are likely to be dwindling, but Saturday’s matchups should make for a memorable day of games, even if the tournament ends how most of us expect it to on Feb. 17.
Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinals
Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024
At Middletown South High School
No. 1 St. Rose vs. No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven, 11 a.m.
As dominant as St. Rose has been this season and as good as it was last year, it is easy to forget that the Purple Roses had never been to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals prior to the 2022-23 season. They were on the cusp of earning their first trip to the championship game as well, but squandered a 13-point lead in just 1:45 and lost to Ranney in overtime.
That loss lit a fire under St. Rose, which responded by winning the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B championship and giving Roselle Catholic a challenge in a Non-Public B championship game loss. The fire is still burning this year: senior Matt Hodge has cited that loss to Ranney multiple times as the game that has remained in the team’s collective memory. The Purple Roses have dominated all comers from the Shore Conference this year and have not let up because of the scars that still remain from giving up a 13-point lead in less than two minutes.
Thus far, no team from the Shore has been anywhere near 13 points away from St. Rose in the fourth quarter, let alone the last two minutes. A 63-44 win over Manasquan is the closest margin of victory over the Shore and St. Rose was up by at least 13 the entire second half and at least 14 for the entire fourth.
Rumson is the rare team that can match frontcourt height with Manasquan, but that could be in question after 6-foot-6 center Andrew Goodes missed Thursday’s win over Red Bank Catholic with what coach Chris Champeau called a “tweaked Achilles.” His status for Saturday is undetermined, but with Rumson highly unlikely to beat St. Rose and with a real chance to win the Central Jersey Group II title, it would be a surprise is Goodes played. With him, Rumson could mount some resistance against St. Rose on the glass. Without him, the Purple Roses should roll.
The Pick: St. Rose, 68-36
No. 3 Manasquan vs. No. 6 Toms River North, 12:45 p.m.
Of all the games on Saturday at Middletown South, this one figures to be the most intense. Toms River North can be a mercurial team, but when the Mariners are on, they can beat anybody in the field outside of St. Rose. Manasquan found that out first hand when Toms River North beat the Warriors, 63-53, in the WOBM Christmas Classic championship game to close out December – an eye-opening win after Manasquan started the season on fire with wins over Red Bank, Holmdel, College Achieve, Marlboro and Red Bank Catholic.
Both teams will have players in the mix that were not available for the first meeting. Manasquan was missing 6-7 senior Alex Konov in December due to a foot injury, while Toms River North has since added forward Sean Gathers – a transfer from Georgia who had to sit the first 22 days of the season, per the new NJSIAA transfer rule. Konov is one of the Shore’s best shooters and also gives Toms River North some extra size it will have to deal with on both ends. Gathers adds to Toms River North’s depth and is another above-average athlete who can go on a scoring spurt – a player profile the Mariners have more of than almost any team in the tournament.
PHOTO GALLERY: Shore at Toms River North by Ray Rich Photography
Toms River North’s strength and athleticism was a major factor in the first meeting between the teams, plus seniors Micah Ford and Jeremiah Pruitt made big shots throughout the game, which was played on the Mariners’ home floor. On the other side, Manasquan struggled to finish layups against a physical Toms River North defense.
When Manasquan has lost this year, it has been when its defense can’t keep opponents under 60 points. The Warriors are 0-4 when allowing 60 or more points and have not allowed more than 50 in any of their other 18 games, during which they are 17-1. The defense was locked in and the offense broke out Thursday in an 80-30 rout of Marlboro that suggests Manasquan made the most of a much-needed five-day layoff.
Neither program is a stranger to the SCT quarterfinals, but Manasquan has been particularly adept at making it this far and moving on. The Warriors are appearing in the quarterfinals for the 13th consecutive season and have been to the championship game in each of the past five years. Toms River North, meanwhile, has a well-rounded basketball team made up of multi-sport athletes – several of whom were key players in the Mariners football team going 26-2 with two overall Group V titles over the past two seasons.
Manasquan excels at picking a player or two to lock down on defense. For Toms River North to win, the Mariners have to share the ball and find the favorable matchup, which means players like Gathers, Pruitt, Sherrod Nelson and Bryce Kazanowsky will be as important as Ford, Owen Baker and Tareq Council. Manasquan focused on Baker in the first meeting and Ford and Pruitt had big games. That ability to lean on multiple weapons is what makes Toms River North a dangerous basketball team and its winning pedigree just adds to the difficulty. Manasquan will be motivated, but so will Toms River North and a motivated Mariners team is a dangerous Mariners team.
The Pick: Toms River North, 57-54
No. 2 Central vs. No. 7 Holmdel, 2:30 p.m.
With St. Rose losing to Montverde a week ago, Central is now on the longest winning streak of any team in the Shore Conference at 15 games. The second-longest? Why, that would belong to Holmdel, which has rattled off nine straight since getting clobbered at home by St. Rose. The Hornets needed a surge over the last 10 minutes of regulation Thursday to take Manalapan into overtime and survived a couple of point-blank misses by the Braves in the final seconds to pull out a two-point win.
Facing Manalapan was great preparation for Holmdel’s defense, which will face a similar collection of athletes with size in Central. Manalapan creates more dilemmas with its shooting, but Central is not as reliant on the three-point shot and is especially good in transition, led by junior standout Jaycen Santucci. That puts the onus on Holmdel to protect the ball on offense and the paint on defense, which the Hornets did well enough on Thursday, but could stand to do better.
That won’t be an easy chore against a Central squad that plays championship-level defense. Only two teams have cracked 50 points against the Golden Eagles in regulation-length games this season and that was in a 50-47 loss to Red Bank Catholic in a WOBM Classic consolation game and a 57-51 win over Mainland – the current No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group III section. They have also held four teams with winning records (Barnegat, Toms River South, Donovan Catholic and Haddonfield) below 40 points.
Central is a disruptive defensive team that uses its athleticism to force turnovers, while Holmdel is a high-scoring offense that has seen its share of athletic teams this season and had some success against them. St. Rose aside, Holmdel’s only rough outing came at Manasquan, which was the first game the Hornets played without senior guard Nick Seeloch, who is closing in on 1,000 career points. Seeloach has since returned to form by averaging 24 points in Holmdel’s last four games, giving the Hornets three creative senior offensive players for Central to deal with, along with point guard Ben Kipnis and forward James Vallillo.
This game gets dangerous for Central if the Hornets secure the ball, keep it moving and are getting made shots from the two other starters in the lineup – senior Daxx Carneiro and sophomore Jack Vallillo. If Central has to start worrying about either of those two, it could open things up for the big three later in the game.
In a close game that goes possession-by-possession in the half court, Holmdel gains an edge. Central is athletic and will have an advantage on the glass, but the Golden Eagles don’t have traditional front court size to exploit Holmdel’s lack of size. Central will have to get it done on the glass, including on the offensive end in order to create some easy baskets on second chances.
Central’s x-factor is its outside shooting, which can run hot-and-cold. Senior Miles Chevalier is the shooter Holmdel will have to contain, but Jayson King, Brayden Lowden and Jordan Barbot can make defenses pay as well. Holmdel will have to make Chevalier work to get his looks and hope none of the supporting cast catches fire.
With Central a defense-first team and Holmdel likely looking to keep Central’s offense in the halfcourt by controlling the tempo, expect a low-scoring game. Long winning streaks can become a burden and Central will be put to the test more than it has at any point during the streak. The Golden Eagles are now a marked team and will be facing a complete team for the first time in a while after beating Mainland, Haddonfield and St. John Vianney teams that were missing starters. Central has not had to close out a close game in the last two minutes during this current winning streak. Holmdel, meanwhile, just did it. If it's close late, advantage, Holmdel.
The Pick: Holmdel, 45-43
No. 5 CBA vs. No. 13 Howell, 4:15 p.m.
CBA was hoping for a chance at revenge against Red Bank in this round of the tournament, but it will instead be Howell out for revenge against CBA after playing one good half at CBA before falling apart in the second in a 67-44 loss to the Colts.
Before the conversation moves to beating CBA, it is important to mention that just getting this far is a big deal for Howell. The Rebels have only been to the SCT quarterfinals one other time and that was in 2011 as a No. 12 seed. They have never been to the SCT semifinals and are now in position to do so after knocking off No. 4 Red Bank – another team that beat Howell during the regular season – in Thursday’s round of 16.
Howell’s advantage over Red Bank – as it has been vs. many other teams – is that the Rebels have a 6-6 interior presence in senior D.J. Orloff. That was true for a half at CBA, where Howell was within four points at halftime before CBA took over on the glass and pulled away in the second half. Justin Fuerbacher and Connor Andree led the effort on the glass in that Colts victory, but only one of the two will be available to CBA on Saturday after Andree injured his ankle and left Thursday’s win over Donovan Catholic. Taking one of the two 6-5 forwards off the floor will be an equalizer for Orloff and Howell, at least as it pertains to rebounding.
Without Andree, CBA is likely to go to a smaller lineup that will play faster and could, potentially, put up more points. Dylan Kielb, Gavin Marlin and Cam Reynholds will pick up the Andree’s minutes, while Fuerbacher and fellow starters Peter Noble, Kevin Pikiell and Charlie Marcoullier pick up the slack from the jump. CBA will still have its shooting prowess, so scoring points against Howell should still be within CBA’s power, even if the Colts are somewhat short-handed.
For Howell to solve CBA, the Rebels will need a full 32 minutes from the back court, which struggled in the second half of the first meeting. Junior Zach Padilla had a big first half to keep Howell in it and the Rebel have a collection of guards who are capable of the same: senior Chris Meehan, sophomore Cayden Parker and junior Joe Vella.
In order to win, Howell will likely need to win the battle in the paint, because CBA will still be dangerous on the perimeter – both shooting the ball and defending Howell’s guards. Orloff is good enough to make that happen, so this one might just come down to which team is hitting or missing more than usual. With a team of quality perimeter defenders, CBA is the favorite because the Colts are the more likely team to force an opponent into a bad shooting day.
The Pick: CBA, 64-56
Round-of-16 Picks Record: 7-1
2024 SCT Picks Record: 14-4