Boys Basketball – Breaking Down the SCT Field
Just by virtue of popular opinion and everyone’s desire to sound like an expert (present company included, of course), every tournament, whether professional, collegiate, high school, AAU, or fourth-period gym class has a “favorite.” Predicting games are a fool’s errand, albeit a fun one, and part of predictions among a large group of people is the phenomenon of consensus.
In recent years of the Shore Conference Tournament, it could be said that there were two, maybe three teams that garnered some consideration from observers as favorites to win the tournament, much like elections are whittled down to two candidates or that cola preference has been simplified to the question, “Coke or Pepsi?” (RC Cola anyone?).
This year, there is only one favorite. Only one team is a reasonable choice as the favorite and anyone who says otherwise has a horse in the race. Point Pleasant Beach has been the best team from day one of the season and not only have the Garnet Gulls been dominant, but they have been dominant against many of the top teams in this tournament outside of their Class B Central division.
The great thing about sports, though, is that it’s not an election. Point Beach is not the winner of the tournament because everyone picks them, and unlike a democracy, the failure of public opinion to pick the winner is actually a welcome surprise.
It’s not likely that any team is beating Point Beach, but the teams of the Shore Conference are ready to take their shot. Here is a breakdown of the field, starting with the teams that are the longest shots to win, all the way to the teams that have a chance to do some real damage.
Hey, you never know
For these teams, just getting out of the first round would make for the upset of the tournament.
28. Mater Dei Prep
The Seraphs don’t have any wins over the field and have not been able to keep up with the better teams on their schedule. If Mater Dei is looking for hope in the first round against Manasquan, perhaps it can draw upon its experience from just playing against Point Beach and even teams like Shore and St. Rose. The Shore game was the most competitive of those five games, so maybe the Seraphs have their best shot against A Central.
Long Branch is going to have its hands full stopping Keyport senior Alex Thomson, but the Green Wave have shown it can defend game in and game out. If Keyport is to have a chance to win just one game, it will have to play on another level defensively. Keyport can score, but the defense – especially on the defensive glass – has to show up to hang with Long Branch. And that’s just one game.
Bad time, bad draw
Pretty good teams, but the circumstances are not in their favor.
21. Toms River South
Even if Toms River South was a completely healthy team, drawing Red Bank Catholic in the first round with a potential game at Manasquan on the horizon is awfully tough. Both A Central teams are rolling lately and present so many match-up problems on either end of the floor. Then factor in that Toms River South will be without junior guard and leading scorer Tymere Berry, and the task becomes all the more daunting. The Indians have played fairly well (3-3) without Berry, but they were not deep to begin with and now will face a very deep and skilled Caseys team.
17. Monsignor Donovan
Out of all the opening-round road teams, Monsignor Donovan probably has the best chance to win. The Griffins have played some of their best games away from their home floor – wins over Brick Memorial and Point Boro, a close loss to Lakewood – and they have an army of guards that could give Southern a problem. After the first round however, Monsignor Donovan would have to go to Point Beach and while Monsignor Donovan has some elements (depth, shooters, balance) that could bother the No. 1 seed, Beach is just so much better than the rest of the field right now. The Griffins could have been a sleeper in the tournament, but with this draw, it might be better to call them “dreamers.”
The resumes are not great, but the talent, as well as the draw, could make these teams interesting.
The Mustangs have only one win over a team in the tournament (Colts Neck) and there is not much on the resume to suggest that the Mustangs will get by Shore. But the roster is solid and, more importantly, improving over the course of the season. George Elghoul, Justin Markowitz and Matt Ringel have all had runs as a top scorer, so Shore will have to bring it defensively to avoid a scare. If Marlboro should survive Shore, the Mustangs are also good enough to win a second game, but the run will not go past the quarterfinals.
24. Rumson-Fair Haven
Since beating Shore on opening night, the Bulldogs have not been able to close out games against top competition, which has to be unsettling going into a game at Jackson Memorial on Tuesday. The good news for Rumson is that the Bulldogs have been competitive in most games, so they should be able to give Jackson Memorial a run. Like Marlboro, Rumson is good enough to win two games, but the run would stop against Point Beach in the quarterfinals.
The tournament’s lone team under .500 will have to travel to Neptune in the first round, which is as much of a challenge as any team faces in round one. Lacey, however, has the style and personnel to give the Scarlet Fliers a 32-minute headache. Beating Neptune is still a longshot and Lacey’s resume reveals a team with some holes, but the draw – which includes potential games against the Freehold Township-Holmdel winner and then possibly CBA – is a little bit more manageable than the teams that have already been listed.
Too close to the sun
These teams have a right to have high hopes, but each will be met by a heavyweight early in the tournament.
The Rams have a tough first-round game and could be going home early, but if Southern has shown anything over the last two years, it’s that it can step up and compete with an elite team. If Southern can survive round one, the Rams would be one of the more dangerous teams that Point Beach could play, just because of their size at each position and the sheer athleticism of Mike Gesicki.
15. Brick Memorial
The St. Rose match-up in the first round is so close that the home team would probably have the edge in any match-up. That means that Brick Memorial is probably more likely to win the 15-vs.-18 game, but St. Rose comes in closer to the top because they probably have a better chance to go to CBA and win, albeit a still-remote chance.
18. St. Rose
The Purple Roses were supposed to play CBA, Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic before the weather decided they would not. While that would have toughened St. Rose up, a 37-36 loss to Jackson Memorial is a pretty good indicator that St. Rose is ready to be a problem for any team they face. A potential second-round game at CBA would be tough, but the Purple Roses have seen Point Beach twice and would not be intimidated.
Good enough draw. Good enough team?
19. Toms River North
The plan at Toms River North from the start of the season was to build up its team full of juniors and sophomores and make its move late in the season, and with this seed, the Mariners are in a position to do that. They are plenty good enough to knock off Manchester after losing to the Hawks in the WOBM first round, but Lakewood is probably too much to handle. A draw of Point Boro in the first round and Matawan in the second round would have been a better draw. Speaking of which…
20. Middletown North
The Lions are struggling as much as any team in the tournament right now, but this is a new week and, essentially, a new season. With a pretty good mix of front-court and wing players, Middletown North will have some match-up advantages against Point Boro and, potentially, against Matawan, but it all comes down to whether or not the Lions can right the ship.
13. Point Pleasant Boro
The first-round game against Middletown North is probably a toss-up and Point Boro comes a spot ahead of the Lions on the countdown because 1) they are home and 2) they are playing a little better lately. The Panthers don’t have anything on the resume that strongly suggest they are poised to make a deep run, but the match-ups will give Point Boro a chance to compete and pull an upset in the round of 16.
The Roaring Twenties
Who could be this year’s Matawan (20-plus seed to win two games)? Probably nobody, but if that team is out there, it’s probably one of these two.
22. Colts Neck
The Cougars have flown under the radar this season and have played a little better each week. That’s to be expected with such a young team and now as the tournament begins, it may be time to stop with the baby steps and make a big leap. Red Bank has been very tough at home, but the Bucs are also young. If Colts Neck puts a good game together in round one, that could give the Cougars some momentum going into a round-of-16 match-up against Long Branch.
For a stretch of about two weeks, Holmdel was the hottest offensive team in the conference and the prospect of running into that Holmdel team has to worry Freehold Township and Neptune. Freehold Township has been solid all year, but the Patriots have had a couple of scares against a similar type of team in Marlboro. With a lot of weapons for an opponent to cover and an experienced big-game coach in Sean Devaney, Holmdel will be a tough out as long as the Hornets are around.
The Initial Threat
One of these two teams will likely have the first shot at Point Beach on a neutral floor. This is the part of the piece in which the chances to beat one of the top teams become more of a possibility.
9. Jackson Memorial
The Jaguars already lost to Point Beach at Long Branch by 20 at the Boardwalk Showcase, so there is some potential for déjà vu in the quarterfinals. Just to get there, Jackson Memorial will have to survive a couple of dangerous A Central teams in Rumson and Shore, both of which have the kind of guard play that could challenge the Jaguars. With Eric Carter and Jesse Hill, however, Jackson presents plenty of problems in their own right.
While Point Beach steamrolled its way to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions last season, the one Central Jersey Group I team that hung around with the Garnet Gulls was Shore. There have been some games in which the Blue Devils defense has not been up to par, but when this team defends, it is very dangerous. On a good shooting night, defense or not, the Blue Devils would probably be too much for a lot of teams. Point Beach is not one of those teams.
Looking for daylight
The door is open a crack for this handful of teams.
The Hawks have not been able to compete with Lakewood for four quarters, so the chances of them getting past the second round are more remote than that of Middletown North, but Manchester has also proven it can beat a top 10 team. If Manchester can find the formula against Lakewood – not an impossible proposition, mind you – the Hawks will then become a serious threat to reach the semifinals.
11. Red Bank
Few teams are as deep as the Bucs, who have had 10 different players score in double-figures this year. The one issue that could stop Red Bank is its suspect road record this season, but with a home game to open things up and a road game at division rival Long Branch, the Bucs are not such a long shot to reach quarterfinals.
10. Freehold Township
It would have been interesting to see how Freehold Township handled CBA a second time, and the Patriots probably would have liked to find out before the tournament started. Holmdel is a dangerous first-round opponent and Neptune is a tough place to win in the second round, but those are manageable games for a deep, dangerous Freehold Township team. If they get by those two, the Patriots will get their second game against CBA.
12. Red Bank Catholic
Outside of a 19-point loss at Shore, Red Bank Catholic has been untouchable since early January. Despite a 12-1 record since Jan. 7, the Caseys only drew a No. 12 seed, but that doesn’t mean RBC can’t storm into the semifinals. The last time RBC met Manansquan – its potential second-round opponent – the Caseys won by 16 points at home. If they are good enough to beat Manasquan like that, they are good enough to get to the semifinals at Brick Memorial and maybe even give Point Beach a good game.
Neptune would not have to see Point Beach until the championship game, but the prospect of having to play CBA, Lakewood and Point Beach in consecutive games makes Neptune’s road harder than that of a team that plays Point Beach earlier in the tournament. Neptune’s second-half surge has coincided with a run of home games, and even then, Lakewood won by 23 points in Neptune. Perhaps Neptune can pull out a win over CBA on a neutral court, but it’s hard to see any team beating those three opponents in a row.
These three teams have all had their moments and might be able to pull off a big upset late in the tournament.
The projections on this site had Manasquan as the No. 4 seed and recently, the Warriors have played better than Matawan, so this order is a reflection of that. The Huskies should be able to reach the quarterfinals where they will be looking at a game against either Manasquan or Red Bank Catholic. Manasquan has played at a higher level, but Matawan is probably the better bet to reach the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
A round-of-16 game against Red Bank Catholic is tougher than Matawan’s match-up against either Point Boro or Middletown North, but the Warriors are coming together at the right time. Manasquan has a lot of quality role players around four good scorers in the starting lineup and now the Warriors add CBA transfer Luke O’Shaughnessy to the rotation. With a tough, physical style on defense, Manasquan might have the best roster to challenge Point Beach.
6. Long Branch
The No. 6 position might be the best spot outside of the top three, at least when it comes to reaching the semifinals. Long Branch would have to go through a similar gauntlet that Neptune faces, but the difference is that Long Branch has already defeated Lakewood. Long Branch is not the most consistent team, but in this tournament, consistency is only as valuable as a team’s ceiling is high and Long Branch has a high ceiling.
2. Christian Brothers Academy
CBA would be the favorite in a game against Lakewood, which makes this positioning a bit counterintuitive. The Colts have not lost inside the Shore Conference and have the kind of size, length and skill that can take advantage if the Garnet Gulls have a bad game. The one concern for CBA is that it rolled through a Class A North division that was less loaded than usual and could not come within 10 points of DeMatha, St. Anthony and the Patrick School. The schedule was good, but CBA did not win any of those high-profile games, which it will have to do in order to win this tournament.
Lakewood already had a shot at Point Beach and came up 23 points short, but consider a few factors. First, Lakewood got very little out of Ben Watson in the first meeting and the senior center is the key to the physical style that could bother Point Beach. Secondly, Point Beach – specifically Noah Yates – lit it up from behind the three-point line which may or may not have happened despite good Lakewood defense. Finally, a young group of Lakewood players grew up a lot during the course of that game and started to battle with Beach’s players. Lakewood is among the most battle-tested teams in the tournament and the Piners still profile as the team with the best chance to take out Point Beach.
The Overwhelming Favorite
1. Point Pleasant Beach
It should say something about how good Point Beach is when the team with the best chance to beat the Garnet Gulls already lost to them by 23 points and was out of the game by the second quarter. If not for an especially shallow bench because of an injury to junior Mike Frauenheim, Point Beach might have beaten the Patrick School and entered the tournament 22-0. The Garnet Gulls are on a mission after losing the SCT final last year and coming up just short in a Tournament of Champions loss to Atlantic City. Assuming the Garnet Gulls get to, and stay at, full strength, it’s hard to see any team in this field coming within a few baskets of the Beach.