Boys Basketball – Colts Neck, Red Bank Surge; St. Rose, Manasquan Hold Steady in Week 1 Elite Sports Shore 16
The first 10 days of high school boys basketball at the Shore are in the books and already the Shore Sports Network Shore 16 has been turned upside-down. Three teams that were part of the preseason rankings have completely fallen out and two of the teams in this week’s top five started the season outside the Top 10.
The season opened with St. Rose comfortably sitting in the top spot and Manasquan leading a pack of teams vying for the No. 2 spot. The early results suggest that in addition to St. Rose being the clear-cut choice for No. 1, Manasquan might be equally qualified for the No. 2 spot compared to the rest of the Shore. That is not surprising considering Manasquan’s history, but with the Warriors losing five of seven rotation players from last season, the ease with which they have handled some of the teams on their schedule thus far has been eye-opening.
As for the rest of the rankings, they reflect a parity-filled Shore Conference that is likely to feature a revolving door at every spot of the Shore 16 beyond Nos. 1 and 2.
1. St. Rose (4-1) Last Week: 1
Since dropping an opening-night game to a Patrick School team that might be the No. 1 team in New Jersey when including non-NJSIAA teams, St. Rose has coasted to four straight wins, including Saturday’s barnburner at Rutgers Prep in which Matt Hodge scored a career-high 38 points on 15-for-17 shooting. Four out of the Purple Roses’ next five games will be high-level, out-of-conference tests: Archbishop Stepinac at the Jordan Classic, at St. George (Pa.), Bergen Catholic at the New Year’s Jump-off in Paterson and St. Benedict’s at the Boardwalk Classic.
2. Manasquan (4-0) Last Week: 2
Since opening the season as the Shore’s No. 2 team, Manasquan has looked closer to No. 1 than No. 3, which is saying something considering the level at which St. Rose is playing. The Warriors have already dominated two Shore-ranked teams in Red Bank and Holmdel and held off College Achieve of Asbury Park despite losing senior standout Alex Konov to an injury in the first quarter. The Warriors will look to cement their status as one of the Shore’s two best teams in a WOBM Christmas Classic loaded with SSN-ranked squads.
3. Colts Neck (3-0) Last Week: 12
One of those ranked challengers to Manasquan in the WOBM Classic is Colts Neck, which has been the most impressive Shore team outside the top-two thus far. The Cougars picked up a road win over Rahway to open up the season, manhandled a short-handed Red Bank Catholic squad and beat Marlboro on the road. Colts Neck goes deeper than most teams, has a dynamic two-way leader in Mike Belcher and a matchup headache in Vova Trotsko.
4. Red Bank (3-1) Last Week: 15
Following a 64-35 loss at Manasquan on Dec. 16, Red Bank looked like a team that might slip out of the rankings. Instead, the Bucs rebounded with wins over Marlboro and Christian Brothers Academy and are now off to a 3-1 start while facing nothing but teams ranked in the preseason (and current) Shore 16. With only one other ranked Shore Conference team in the Buc Holiday Classic, Red Bank is very likely to head into the New Year a top 10 team, with a very good chance to cement a top-five spot to start 2024.
5. Central (3-1) Last Week: 3
Although the Golden Eagles would like to have started the season a little cleaner than they have, they are the early leader for win of the year. Central lost to Marlboro on opening night and after picking up a 12-point win over Lawrence, pulled out an epic, 74-72, quadruple-overtime win at Southern on Dec. 19. In his last two games, junior Jaycen Santucci has scored 64 combined points and set career-highs in scoring in consecutive games.
6. Christian Brothers Academy (1-1) Last Week: 6
The Colts’ season started with an inspired win at Rumson-Fair Haven, but Red Bank dragged the Colts back to Earth, handing CBA a 64-59 loss in another game in a hostile environment hosted by a local rival. CBA has shown balance through two games, with Kevin Pikiell, Justin Fuerbacher, Charlie Marcoullier and Connor Andree all having their offensive spurts. This year, CBA will test itself outside the Shore during the break, with the Colts participating in the J.P. Flynn Tournament at Delbarton and Mendham.
7. Toms River North (3-1) Last Week: 4
With a rotation that relies heavily on players from a football team that played all the way through the NJSIAA Group championships, Toms River North is a team that should be allowed some time to settle in. Even with that expectation, it was still stunning to see the Mariners cough up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to rival Toms River South, ending a 20-game winning streak by North over South dating back to 2014. If the loss serves as an effective wake-up call, the Mariners should be a dangerous host in this week’s WOBM Christmas Classic.
8. Rumson-Fair Haven (3-1) Last Week: 7
A continuous stream of missed layups and 6-for-11 shooting from the free-throw line cost Rumson dearly in a two-point loss to CBA and if that outcome had gone the other way, the Bulldogs would be an easy choice for No. 3 in the rankings. After suffering the frustrating loss to the Colts, Rumson bounced back with a dominant performance in a win over a high-scoring Manalapan team that managed just 46 points against the Bulldogs.
9. Red Bank Catholic (3-1) Last Week: 5
Red Bank Catholic’s lone loss was an ugly, 57-26 defeat at Colts Neck, but it does come with the caveat of center Tyler Burnham not playing. Burnham has not been a prominent scorer for RBC early in the season, but he was the team’s top scorer a year ago and is the most physical presence on the team – perhaps in the whole Shore. With a full lineup, the Caseys will have a chance to prove themselves against a talented WOBM Christmas Classic field.
10. Ranney (3-0) Last Week: 8
Ranney did not do anything wrong in its first three games to fall three spots, but two teams – Colts Neck and Red Bank – did enough right to pass the Panthers for the time being. After beating Jackson Memorial on opening night, Ranney picked up consecutive wins over Long Branch and Matawan, which have combined to open the season 0-7. The Panthers will once again play in the Buc Classic this week and if they play their way into a matchup against host Red Bank, that would be a chance for Ranney to surge into the top five.
11. Marlboro (1-2) Last Week: 10 – Since an impressive opening-night win over No. 5 Central, Marlboro has lost consecutive games to Red Bank and Colts Neck.
12. Holmdel (2-1) Last Week: 11 – With its lone loss coming at Manasquan, Holmdel has not done anything to damage its ranked status and an overtime win over Middletown South suggests the Hornets are on the right track.
13. Southern (2-2) Last Week: 14 – Both of Southern’s losses are to top-five teams (Red Bank and Central) in overtime, which is a welcome sign for a young Rams squad.
14. Jackson Memorial (3-1) Last Week: Not ranked – The Jaguars are doing it with defense, holding each of their last three opponents to under 40 points after dropping the opener at Ranney.
15. Howell (3-1) Last Week: Not ranked – A cold-shooting game against Jackson Memorial is Howell’s only loss and a bounce-back effort in a win over Middletown South showed this experienced Howell has made strides since last season.
16. Donovan Catholic (3-1) Last Week: Not ranked – The lone loss for Donovan Catholic is a seven-point defeat vs. Red Bank Catholic in a game the Griffins led at halftime and trailed by one heading to the fourth quarter.
Middletown South (1-3) Last Week: 9 – It has been a rocky start for the Eagles, who are still figuring out roles and sorting out the defense while still rostering enough talent to climb back into the rankings.
Matawan (0-4) Last Week: 13 – The absence of 6-foot-7 center Jayden Elijah has significantly hindered the Huskies during the early part of the season.
Shore (4-1) Last Week: 16 – Senior Alex George still has not returned from injury and his absence hurt Shore in a two-point loss to Henry Hudson.