Boys Basketball – Breaking Down the Field: 2024 Shore Conference Tournament Preview
Players from 26 Shore Conference teams woke up Tuesday with grand visions for themselves and their teammates in the Shore Conference Tournament, which starts later the same day. Round one will feature 21 of the 27 teams in action, with the top six teams awaiting a winner while on a bye.
Before the tournament starts, let’s take a look at each team’s chance to make a deep run in the tournament. All 26 teams fall into one of 10 tiers and we will count down from tier 10 all the way to tier 1.
If you want to see the picks for round one, you can skip to the bottom.
Tier 10: One-and-Done
These three teams are major first-round longshots.
Sophomore Ahmir Wiggins is a tough cover for most teams and Holmdel is not a big team that will bully opponents in the paint. Other than that, it is going to be a difficult for a relatively young Falcons team to play with a senior-heavy Holmdel squad in round one. The Hornets are a better offensive team than they are a defensive one, but they are savvy and get stops when they need them. Monmouth will have to have a big shooting game from players like James Curley, Jaylin Reeves and Michael Griffin – the last two of whom are sophomores – because it is going to take points to beat Holmdel.
25. Henry Hudson
With a 16-3 record and the program’s first Shore Conference division championship since 1989, Henry Hudson has been a great story within the Shore Conference and even throughout the state this year. Junior Jack Fitzpatrick will be the Player of the Year in the Class A Central division and is a legitimate All-Shore candidate. The near future remains bright for the Admirals as well, but Tuesday’s first-round game at Rumson is not likely to go well. The Bulldogs boast 6-foot-6 center Andrew Goodes and 6-8 wing Luke Cruz – more size than Henry Hudson has seen and will know how to counter. Rumson’s guards are a level or two above what Henry Hudson has seen as well, plus the Bulldogs are going to be heated after losing to Toms River North by 17 on Saturday.
24. Point Pleasant Beach
The Garnet Gulls are more battle-tested than Henry Hudson, so they should be slightly more equipped to handle a top 10 team in the conference on Tuesday. Red Bank Catholic has had some slip-ups and close calls over the course of the season, but most of those were against Group IV schools like Howell, Middletown South and Manalapan. The Caseys are a well-oiled machine on offense and with a freshman-heavy lineup and not much to combat RBC 6-6 big man Tyler Burnham, Point Beach will have trouble keeping up.
Tier 9: Playing for their Championship in Round One
These two teams enter the SCT with the goal of winning one game, because game two would be at St. Rose.
When Ranney beat Manasquan on Thursday, the Panthers became just the third team in the last six seasons to beat the Warriors at Manasquan High School. The other two were Roselle Catholic last season and St. Rose this season. For those keeping score, that is the No. 1 team in New Jersey at the end of 2022-23 and the team that is currently No. 1 in the state this season. That’s rather esteemed company for Ranney to join and although this Manasquan team is much different than the Warriors teams of the last five years, it is still an accomplishment that went unrewarded by the seeding committee, which stuck the Panthers with the worst slot in the entire tournament. Ranney lost to Freehold Boro during the season in a game in which sophomore Shaan Nayar – the team’s second-leading per-game scorer - injured his knee and went on to miss the next three games. Ranney is capable of beating the Colonials on the road, but St. Rose awaits the winner. Although Drew Buck, MeSean Williams, Nayar and Josh Engel were all part of last year’s run to the SCT final – which included an upset of St. Rose – this year’s Purple Roses team is an entirely different beast.
16. Freehold Boro
Most of what applies to Ranney also applies to Freehold Boro, which knocked off Ranney while the Panthers were still ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. The Colonials have a roster that would keep a lot of opposing coaches up at night and Freehold Boro has already taken down Ranney this season. Brian Tassey has been a triple-double factory, Christian DiGiso is a veteran point guard and juniors Qua’Mir Everett and Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk are two of the best athletes in the tournament. This, however, is by far the hardest game any home team will have to play in the first round of the tournament and there are road teams that might have easier matchups than the Colonials will have to tackle when Ranney walks into the gym Tuesday night. If Freehold was seeded somewhere in the 18-to-23 range instead of No. 16, the Colonials might have a legitimate chance at an extended run. Instead, they will just hope to pick up another win over Ranney and give it their best shot at St. Rose.
Tier 8: Possible Round-One Sleepers
These two teams have a better chance to win than the One-and-Done group, but are still big underdogs.
23. Toms River East
The Raiders are not quite up against what Monmouth, Henry Hudson and Point Beach are up against in the first round and in the event that the Raiders pull off an upset at Manalapan on Tuesday, their reward won’t be a trip to St. Rose like it would be for Freehold Boro and Ranney. So, in that respect, Toms River East is better-suited to make a run than any of the five teams already discussed. It still will be a steep climb for the Raiders, who are facing a Manalapan team that has shooters all over the floor and is also senior-heavy. Senior Jason McKelvey is capable of putting a big game together on the scoresheet and on the glass, but it’s the defensive end where the Raiders will need to shine. It would get even tougher in the round of 16 if the Raiders win, which would likely mean a trip to Holmdel – an ever higher-scoring team than Manalapan.
Shore’s draw might even be a little tougher than that of Toms River East. Colts Neck doesn’t light it up from the three-point line like Manalapan does, but they are tougher to handle on the interior and they can lock teams up. Should Shore pull the upset, it would mean a trip to Toms River North, which boasts the most athletic roster in the tournament outside of St. Rose. The Blue Devils, however, deserve praise for their battle-tested roster. Senior Alex George is back and playing well after leading Shore to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I final in 2022-23 and players like Joe Santi, Gianni Fiumefreddo, Dom DiFiore and Bryce Crowe have emerged as first-year starters and contributors. The draw is rough, but Shore will be tough.
Tier 7: First-Round Threats
These teams can all be hopeful about pulling off round-one wins on the road, even if the second round won’t offer as much hope.
With an athletic lineup and some scorers who can get hot, Barnegat is not a team Marlboro should be taking lightly leading into Tuesday. The Bengals will be missing junior forward Cole Toddings due to a broken nose, which will once again leave them shorthanded – just as they were when they were missing top scorers Jamari Smith and Mason Krey earlier in the season. The experience Barnegat gained playing through injuries will help and Smith and Krey are both playing well right now, but missing a frontcourt player against Marlboro big man Brave Haugh will elevate the degree of difficulty. On top of that, if Barnegat does pull off the road upset of the Mustangs, the Bengals will head to defending champion Manasquan.
18. Point Pleasant Boro
Within this tier, Point Boro has as good a chance as any team to win in the first round. St. John Vianney poses some matchup problems, but also has a tendency to play to its competition, while Point Boro is also capable of playing up. The Panthers are a junior-heavy group that is led by senior point guard Jake Venturoso. Junior Thomas Turner is a physical player on the interior, but dealing with 6-foot-6 Vianney senior center Emanuel Domingo is going to be a tall order (no pun intended). If coach Kevin Hynes cooks up a winning scheme, it would mark the 400th win of his accomplished career at Point Boro. The reward would be a trip to play No. 2 Central, which presents even more matchup challenges for the Panthers.
Southern has had been a roller-coaster team all season. The Rams have knocked off Toms River North and lost to Jackson Memorial. They took Red Bank and Central to overtime (four overtimes, in the case of Central) and also lost to Toms River South after scoring six points in eight seconds to send that game into overtime. A young backcourt might have something to do with Southern’s inconsistency and heading into a tournament setting, underclassmen like sophomore Jake Sliwinski and freshman Noah Perna are hard to predict. Both have showed up in big games and will need to do the same at Donovan Catholic on Tuesday. Southern has older players like Caden Schubiger, Leo Crowley and Cooper Dempsey who can fill in the gaps that the young backcourt can’t cover vs. a solid, well-coached Donovan Catholic squad. It is a draw Southern is capable of handling, although a win would mean a trip to CBA and that challenge looks tougher than what the last team in this tier will have to face.
20. Toms River South
Like Southern, Toms River South has been a hard team to predict this season. Not many people envisioned the Indians starting the season 6-1, including a win over Toms River North and a WOBM Christmas Classic championship that included wins over Freehold Township, Toms River East and Donovan Catholic. After establishing a reputation with that tournament, the Indians went on to lose to Point Boro, Barnegat, Brick Memorial and Jackson Memorial – the last two of which came just before the tournament. The Indians have capable offensive guards in Kai Barckley, Jordan Jones and Shane Gambarony and a versatile 6-4 senior in Rob Peirson that will have to deal with standout 6-6 forward D.J. Orloff when Toms River South tackles Howell on Tuesday. Howell has lost to Jackson Memorial and Donovan Catholic this season, so there is hope for Toms River South if it can summon one of its better efforts. Red Bank awaits the winner of that first-round game in Howell, and while the Bucs are 17-3, they have played a lot of close games and don’t have much size – a combination that any underdog would sign up to face.
Tier 6: On a Mission for Middletown
These two teams would run into St. Rose in the quarterfinals at Middletown South, so the goal is to get there by winning what is likely to be a rivalry rematch.
9. Red Bank Catholic
RBC has prepared itself for this tournament about as well as a team can when it comes to the schedule. On top of playing a difficult division and crossover slate, the Caseys have played the likes of St. Rose, St. Peter’s Prep, Manasquan, East Orange, Central and Northern Highlands. It was losses to Middletown South and Howell that landed RBC outside the top eight, despite the fact that the Caseys beat Rumson-Fair Haven – their likely round-of-16 opponent seeded one spot ahead of them – head-to-head. RBC is likely to have a harder time beating Rumson on the road, which is what the Caseys will have to do. In the event that RBC beats Rumson, a trip to St. Rose does not look promising after the Purple Roses dominated the first meeting in a 47-point victory in Red Bank.
8. Rumson-Fair Haven
A loss to Toms River North on Saturday cost Rumson a more favorable seed and now the Bulldogs will have to contend with an RBC team that already beat them this season. The good news is Rumson will get its rematch with RBC on its own home floor, which in and of itself could be enough to close the gap. That loss to RBC was one of the handful of games in which free-throw shooting bit Rumson, so this is a Bulldogs team that has some soft spots. They also have a little bit of everything as well: size, athleticism, depth, perimeter shooting. Had Rumson landed anywhere else in the field, it would be a threat to go to the final. In this spot, revenge against RBC is the ceiling, even if the Bulldogs’ size and toughness could be more of a challenge than most teams in the field can offer St. Rose.
Tier 5: Quarterfinal Hopefuls
Not a lot of Shore Conference fans would fill out a bracket with any of these teams playing in the quarterfinals, but it would not be outlandish to do so.
15. St. John Vianney
Since senior guard Dylan Costa became eligible, St. John Vianney has stood up to some of the Shore’s top teams. Costa gives the Lancers a dependable scoring option to go with a top big man in Domingo, a well-rounded athlete in Deon Jackson and a balanced group of role players. Tuesday’s first-round game against Point Boro will require a sharp effort from St. John Vianney and on the other side of that game for the winner is a trip to Central, which has not lost since December. We have seen hot teams go cold in the tournament, and St. John Vianney has the talent to provide resistance against Central. First thing’s first, though: the Lancers have to survive Point Boro.
Marlboro won the Shore Conference Tournament in 2022 and missed it by one win a year ago, so the Mustangs have felt two extremes of the tournament over the past two years. This year, Marlboro falls right in the middle of the two extremes while literally falling in the middle of the field at No. 14 and will face a Barnegat squad that has sprung some quality wins this season – including one over Toms River North. Mustangs senior Steve Scimone closed out last week with 43 points in a win over Middletown North and Haugh is a matchup problem for Barnegat down low. Those advantages subside in a potential rematch with Manasquan, which handled Marlboro at the WOBM Classic in December.
12. Donovan Catholic
Central, Red Bank, St. Rose and Holmdel get a lot of credit for how often each has won since Jan. 1, and Donovan Catholic deserves the same praise. The Griffins’ only loss in 2024 was against Central, which has not lost at all in 2024. Donovan Catholic will put their streak on the line against Southern on Tuesday and has successful games against Howell, Shore, Toms River South and Robbinsville to lean on when it comes to closing out victories. Ryan Jacobs has emerged as a go-to scorer, while the Griffins have some size with James Gibbons to go along a quality collection of guards. CBA awaits the winner and that will be a step up in competition for the Griffins, who are no lock to get by Southern but are also capable of mustering up a run at CBA.
Howell will have to deal with a senior-led Toms River South team on Tuesday that can score, which is a lot like how one might describe Howell’s team. The Rebels have enjoyed quality contributions from juniors Zach Padilla and Joe Vella, plus sophomore Cayden Parker, but the senior duo of D.J. Orloff and Chris Meehan have been the drivers all year. Orloff, in particular, has been a rock for the Rebels and he will be the biggest matchup issue for the Indians, who will be limited in what they can throw at the 6-6 Rebels senior. If Howell can avoid a first-round slip-up – and slip-ups have been part of Howell’s season – the Rebels should match-up well with No. 4 Red Bank. The Bucs needed overtime to beat Howell during the regular season.
With a win over Colts Neck and a near-win at Red Bank Catholic, Manalapan has shown that it can beat teams in the middle of the field. That is what the Braves will have to do to make it to Middletown South and the SCT quarterfinals for the first time since 2015. First, they will have to beat a senior-led Toms River East team and would then likely head to Holmdel to play an even more senior-led team. Speaking of seniors, Manalapan has plenty of them in prominent roles, led by multi-year starters Anthony Leger and Phil Pearlman. Junior Aiden Sosinov is coming off a big performance in an overtime win over Howell and freshman Joe Farino has been a knock-down shooter, so any Manalapan opponent has a lot to think about.
Tier 4: Final-Four Ceiling
These two teams would be in the conversation as potential finalists had they been seeded differently.
5. Christian Brothers Academy
A win over Mainland on Saturday likely would have clinched a top-three seed for CBA, but the Colts not only lost; they lost big. That 30-point loss to the Mustangs dropped CBA to the No. 5 seed, which still gives the Colts a chance to get to the final four of the SCT, but instead of facing a team like Manasquan, Central or Red Bank in the semifinal, it would almost certainly be St. Rose. For now, CBA awaits the Donovan Catholic-Southern winner and will have an advantage playing at home against that team as long as the Colts use the practice time to iron out the wrinkles they found in the loss to Mainland. In a potential rematch with Red Bank, CBA will have to come up with an answer for Zayier Dean and get a big effort from Justin Fuerbacher to pay back the Bucs for beating them in December for the second straight season.
4. Red Bank
With the fieldhouse at Red Bank Regional hosting the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, Red Bank will be as motivated as any team to make it to the semifinals. In order to do that, Red Bank is going to have to get through either Howell or Toms River South on Thursday and very likely CBA in a potential quarterfinal at Middletown South. Coach George Sourlis is 2-0 vs. CBA and if the two teams meet again, the stakes will be far higher this time around. On the plus side, Red Bank has been excellent in high-stakes moments, showing time and time again that it can navigate close games thanks to solid defense and the playmaking ability of Dean. If Red Bank does make it all the way to the semifinal, it’s hard to envision the Bucs getting to show off their prowess in a close game against St. Rose, which would be a considerable favorite.
Tier 3: The Sleeper
This is the double-digit seed with the best chance to make it to Monmouth University, just as Ranney did a season ago.
11. Colts Neck
In the first few games of the season, Colts Neck looked like a potential top-five team. Then, the Cougars lost an overtime game to Toms River North in the WOBM, hit a mini-rut and weren't able to finish off competitive games against Red Bank and Rumson on the road. On the bright side, Colts Neck has shown it can do some good things against quality competition and now has a draw that will give the Cougars a chance to do some major damage if they can hit their peak. Mike Belcher and Vova Trotsko are difficult matchups for a lot of teams and can compete with Toms River North’s athleticism should the two teams meet again in the SCT round of 16. There are teams with easier roads to the championship – Colts Neck is looking at what would be a potential WOBM re-run of Toms River North, Manasquan and Central in order to get there. As tough as that slate is, Colts Neck has the upside to beat anyone not named St. Rose.
Tier 2: The Davids
These teams are all on the side of the bracket opposite St. Rose and are best positioned to reach the SCT final at Monmouth on Feb. 17 as the heavy underdog.
There is no other way to put it: Holmdel getting seeded below Toms River North was a slap in the face to the Hornets – both to the players and the program at large. They went into RWJ Barnabas Health Arena on Jan. 2, dominated the fourth quarter and beat Toms River North with senior standout Nick Seeloch still not able to play. Holmdel went on to go 10-1 in January and its only loss of the month was to St. Rose. The Hornets won at Matawan by double-digits five days after Toms River North lost to Matawan. They took down St. John Vianney, Ranney and Freehold Boro during the month. They have, anecdotally speaking, the most respected coach in the conference in Sean Devaney, who is one of two active Shore Conference coaches to take a team to the Tournament of Champions. And still, Toms River North was seeded ahead of Holmdel. That can’t be interpreted as anything else but a dismissal of a senior-led team with a top-tier coach, a great record and some program pedigree. We could discuss the matchups against Manalapan, Central and maybe even Toms River North, but I’ll just leave it at this: don’t be surprised if the middle part of the SCT is the Holmdel revenge tour.
6. Toms River North
Even though Toms River North had no business being seeded ahead of Holmdel, the Mariners are still as capable as any team of getting to the championship game, outside of St. Rose. Toms River North is loaded with seniors, is deep, is athletic, can defend and can get on a roll shooting the ball. The only disadvantage the Mariners face compared to past years is none of the neutral-court rounds are in Toms River this season and all three will be in Monmouth County. In order to make it to the championship game for the second time in five seasons, Toms River North could very well face three teams it has beaten: No. 11 Colts Neck, No. 3 Manasquan and No. 2 Central. And to be fair, as much as Holmdel should have been rewarded for beating Toms River North, the Mariners made a case for themselves as a top-five seed with that impressive collection of wins. Toms River North’s players know when it’s a big game and they almost always show up with their best.
Since losing a close game to Red Bank Catholic in a WOBM Classic consolation, Central has gone 14-0 with wins over Toms River North, Mainland and Haddonfield. Mainland just beat CBA by 30 points and Haddonfield was unbeaten when Central beat the Bulldogs on Saturday, albeit with Haddonfield missing its top scorer, Sam Narducci. Still, Central held a team that entered averaging 71.7 points per game to half that number – a reflection of the way Central has played defense all season long. As great as Jaycen Santucci and Miles Chevalier have played as reigning All-Shore players and a well as the supporting cast has stepped up in recent weeks, that defense is what makes Central a dangerous team in this tournament and also the South Jersey Group IV Tournament. The Golden Eagles have a dynamic scorer in Santucci, a three-and-D type in Chevalier, plus a group of players embracing their roles and buying in on defense. No matter the matchups, that’s a team that can do damage.
Central has been more consistent lately than Manasquan has been and has the look of a more complete, deeper team right now. Still, this is Manasquan. The Warriors have been to the Shore Conference final in each of the past five seasons and have won three of them. This year’s team is not as talented as any of those previous five finalists, but that is because those teams were immensely talented and this year’s team lost two First-Team All-Shore players during the offseason – one to transfer (Darius Adams) and another to injury (Ryan Frauenheim). Seniors Alex Konov and Jason Larned have been dealing with injuries during the season as well, and yet, Manasquan is still a 16-win team that can lock up opponents on defense and has one of the conference’s best players in junior Griffin Linstra. A rematch with Toms River North would be an intense game – the Mariners beat Manasquan in the WOBM Classic final while Konov was still out with a foot injury – and Central is capable of matching Manasquan on the defensive end. That being said, tread carefully when doubting Manasquan to navigate through the field and make it to the championship game.
Tier 1: Goliath
Good luck beating these guys.
1. St. Rose
The 2018-19 Ranney team was one of the biggest tournament favorites in recent memory and played like it during its run to a second straight championship. That year, Manasquan was within four points of the Panthers during the fourth quarter of the championship game before Ranney finished off an 80-70 win. Based on what we have seen from St. Rose, it’s hard to envision any team in this field playing St. Rose as close as Manasquan played Ranney five years ago. The Purple Roses have completely manhandled every Shore Conference opponent thus far, with Manasquan’s 63-44 loss the closest any Shore Conference team has come to beating the Purple Roses and that game was 27-7 midway through the second quarter. It would take multiple injuries for St. Rose to lose its considerable edge over the field and with all the fourth-quarter rest the Purple Roses starters have enjoyed this season, fatigue won’t be a factor. A few new opponents could pop up: Rumson, Red Bank, Toms River North and Central have yet to get a shot at St. Rose this season. Are any of those teams a tougher matchup than Manasquan, CBA, Red Bank Catholic or Holmdel? It’s possible, but it’s also not likely to matter. After the way last year’s SCT ended for St. Rose – with a loss to Ranney in the semifinals – good luck catching the Purple Roses off-guard.
First Round Predictions
(7) Holmdel over (26) Monmouth
(8) Rumson-Fair Haven over (25) Henry Hudson
(9) Red Bank Catholic over (24) Point Beach
(10) Manalapan over (23) Toms River East
(11) Colts Neck over (22) Shore
(21) Southern over (12) Donovan Catholic
(13) Howell over (20) Toms River South
(14) Marlboro over (19) Barnegat
(15) St. John Vianney over (18) Point Boro
(17) Ranney over (16) Freehold Boro