Boys Basketball – Final Shore Conference (NJ) Playoff Projections
Somehow, some way, we have made it to Feb. 25. That means that every game that can be considered when seeding the Shore Conference postseason pods has been played and the seeding committee is, as I type, sorting through it all now and mapping out what will be (as of Thursday night) a 42-team, six-pod Shore Conference postseason that begins on Monday.
The top four pods will be played as eight-team tournaments with complete consolations rounds so that every team can play three games, as long as all of the teams are able to keep playing. The last two pods - one a six-team pod and the other a four-team pod - will feature three predetermined matchups for each team.
The top pod will feature the eight top seeds as chosen by the coaches on the seeding committee and will be a de facto "championship pod."
The composition of the field has been a topic of discussion among Shore Conferences coaches throughout the year and it has only intensified in the final week of the regular season. Four teams - Manasquan, Ranney, Red Bank Catholic and Holmdel - remain undefeated and are likely to play in the championship pod. Christian Brothers Academy and Marlboro are also virtual locks for two of the eight spots, leaving two spots up for debate.
Below is a breakdown of the field with an attempt to project which teams will get the nod for the top eight and where that leaves everyone else when the seeds are finalized on Friday afternoon. Even the teams that miss the cut for the championship pod will have a chance to play for a spot in the final Shore Conference Top 10, so there is plenty to look forward to for a lot of teams over the final nine days of the 2021 season.
*Video recorded Wednesday afternoon
Teams unable or opting not to participate: Henry Hudson, Freehold Township, Lakewood, Middletown South, Point Pleasant Beach
Championship Pod (Pod A)
1. Manasquan (8-0)
Wins: St. Rose (2), Neptune (2), Montclair Immaculate, Wall, Don Bosco, Trenton Catholic
Ranney is a serious threat, but Manasquan is the defending champion and the Warriors have done the work: three wins over teams ranked in the Shoe Top 10 and three more against teams that were in the state Top 20 when Manasquan beat them. The road to No. 1 goes through Manasquan.
2. Ranney (7-0)
Wins: Neptune (2), Wall (2), at CBA, at Marlboro, at St. Rose
At this juncture, Ranney is just relieved to get a shot after a scare with COVID-19 nearly shut the Panthers down for the season. Now that they are in the clear for the time being, they are still the clear No. 2 with five wins over teams in the Shore Top 10, including two teams in the top five.
3. Red Bank Catholic (8-0)
Wins: Long Branch (2), Rumson-Fair Haven (2), Shore, at Red Bank, Monmouth, at Wall
The first major shake-up in the top eight is Red Bank Catholic’s move to No. 3 and it comes for a couple reasons. The first reason is RBC is 8-0 and the three wins this week were of enough impact and in impressive enough fashion (two vs. Rumson and one vs. Wall) that a jump over Marlboro and CBA is well within reason (as is the alternative scenario that keeps the Caseys No. 2). Another reason is for a more fun potential semifinal. The first round would feature three rematches, but all the potential semifinal matchups would pit teams that have not met in 2021 against one another. In a season this short and this discombobulated, fun should matter.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (8-3)
Wins: Freehold Boro (2), Middletown South (2), Manalapan (2), at Marlboro, at Freehold Twp.
Losses: At Hun, Ranney, Marlboro
Of course, maybe the “fun” scenario is not so much fun for CBA, which would have to face Marlboro for a third time by dropping to No. 4. The last game between the two teams – which was played at CBA – was a tight game and a rubber match between the two A North rivals would be an intense way to kick off tournament week.
5. Marlboro (6-3)
Wins: At Howell, Colonia, at Manalapan, at Freehold Boro, at CBA, at Middletown South
Losses: St. Peter’s Prep, Ranney, CBA
Marlboro would have to travel to CBA because of how badly CBA beat the Mustangs in the first meeting but that might not be a problem for the Mustangs, who have suffered all three of their losses this season on their home floor. Marlboro opened the season No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and has the ability to play Manasquan tough, just as the Mustangs did against Ranney. They will just have to win their way into that opportunity.
6. Holmdel (6-0)
Wins: Colts Neck (2), Middletown North (2), St. John Vianney (2)
Holmdel is the forgotten contender because the Hornets have not played in two weeks. Their resume is not overly impressive, but Holmdel has handled its three opponents in six games and the shortcomings of the other top-pod contenders give Holmdel the edge when trying to pick out a No. 6 team – a significant spot in the seeding if the assumption is that Manasquan and Ranney are the two favorites.
7. Neptune (2-4)
Wins: Wall (2)
Losses: Ranney (2), Manasquan (2)
Neptune drops one spot from the last projection after two very understandable losses to Manasquan. The Scarlet Fliers just returned to the court after a shutdown and were welcomed back by the Shore’s top team. Two wins over Wall still give Neptune a nice edge over other teams that will be coming for their spot, but the reward will be a third try against a Ranney team that already beat the Fliers twice.
8. Southern (10-1)
Wins: Toms River South (2), Toms River East (2), Toms River North, Asbury Park, at Donovan Catholic, at Lacey, Pinelands, at Manchester
Losses: At Toms River North
Here is the big move. On the strength of its 10-game winning streak, which included a clutch, double-overtime win at Manchester, Southern moves into the No. 8 spot in the playoff seeding by jumping Wall. With Wall losing to Red Bank Catholic Thursday, Southern now has a significant edge in record and even though the strength of schedule heavily favors Wall, Southern actually has a stronger collection of wins than does Wall or Rumson heading into the seeding. This would be a tremendous accomplishment for Southern and its starting lineup of four seniors.
Championship Pod Pairings
(8) Southern at (1) Manasquan
(5) Marlboro at (4) CBA
(6) Holmdel at (3) Red Bank Catholic
(7) Neptune at (2) Ranney
Playoff Pod B
9. Wall (4-6)
Wins: St. Rose (2), Red Bank, Point Boro
Losses: Neptune (2), Ranney (2), at Seton Hall Prep, at Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic
10. Rumson-Fair Haven (4-4)
Wins: At Red Bank, Barnegat, at Middletown South, Middletown North
Losses: Red Bank Catholic (2), Colonia, Monmouth
11. Mater Dei Prep (6-3)
Wins: Keyport (2), Keansburg (2), Point Beach (2)
Losses: Olympus Prep, Patrick School, at Don Bosco
12. Manchester (6-2)
Wins: Jackson Liberty (2), Pinelands (2), Point Boro (2), at Toms River North
Losses: Lacey, Southern
13. Toms River North (9-3)
Wins: Toms River South (2), Toms River East (2), Southern, Lacey, at Brick Memorial, Howell, at Donovan Catholic
Losses: At Southern, Manchester, Donovan Catholic
14. Middletown North (5-5)
Wins: Raritan (2), at Matawan, at Montgomery, at Colts Neck
Losses: Holmdel (2), Matawan, at Rumson-Fair Haven, Colts Neck
15. Lacey (4-3)
Wins: Toms River South (2), at Monmouth, at Manchester, at Toms River South
Losses: At New Egypt, at Toms River North, Southern
16. St. John Vianney (5-5)
Wins: Toms River East, at Colts Neck, Middletown South, Sinai Christian, Matawan
Losses: Holmdel (2), Colts Neck, at Matawan, at St. Thomas Aquinas
Wall drops out of the top pod even though its seven losses are all to teams in the top pod. At some point, though, the Crimson Knights had to actually beat someone of consequence and it just never happened. They are likely one of the eight most talented teams, but the results on the court have to mean something. Wall had a chance to measure themselves against the best at the Shore during the first seven games and now it is someone else’s turn. The Crimson Knights will now try their hand against the middle class of the conference and they should stack up rather nicely.
Rumson has a case to be ahead of Wall because its wins are better, but the Bulldogs also have a bad loss (Monmouth) by Pod B standards while Wall’s losses are all to power teams.
The next four teams could go in any order, with Manchester appearing to right the ship after an ugly loss to Lacey, Middletown North boasting a strong win at Montgomery, Mater Dei losing to only prep powers and Toms River North racking up a bunch of wins before stumbling vs. Donovan Catholic on Thursday.
Lacey is a young team starting to heat up and while a loss to Toms River North might cap their climb, a blowout win at Manchester might be reason to consider the Lions for a higher spot. St. John Vianney rounds out the pod with some losses to quality teams and a few nice wins over Middletown South, Matawan and Colts Neck.
Pod B Pairings
(8) St. John Vianney at (1) Wall
(5) Toms River North at (4) Manchester
(6) Middletown North at (3) Mater Dei Prep
(7) Lacey at (2) Rumson-Fair Haven
Playoff Pod C
17. Barnegat (8-3)
Wins: Pinelands (2), Middletown South, Freehold Twp., at Toms River East, Red Bank, Point Boro, at Jackson Liberty
Losses: At Rumson-Fair Haven, at Point Boro, Jackson Liberty
18. Central (7-2)
Wins: Lakewood (2), New Egypt, Jackson Memorial, Donovan Catholic, Howell, Brick Memorial
Losses: At Washington Twp., at Jackson Memorial
19. Howell (7-4)
Wins: Lakewood (2), Brick Memorial (2), Brick, Donovan Catholic, at Jackson Memorial
Losses: Marlboro, at Freehold Twp., at Central, at Toms River North
20. Matawan (6-4)
Wins: At Middletown North, at Raritan, Colts Neck, at Long Branch, Donovan Catholic, St. John Vianney
Losses: Middletown North, Raritan, at Colts Neck, at St. John Vianney
21. Colts Neck (4-6)
Wins: At St. John Vianney, Matawan, at Jackson Liberty, at Middletown North
Losses: Holmdel (2), St. John Vianney, at Matawan, Raritan, Middletown North
22. St. Rose (1-5)
Wins: At Freehold Boro
Losses: Manasquan (2), Wall (2), Ranney
23. Keyport (8-2)
Wins: Asbury Park (2), Keansburg (2), Ocean, at Roselle Park, at Point Beach, Koinonia Academy
Losses: Mater Dei (2)
24. Raritan (5-4)
Wins: At Ocean, at Matawan, Brick, at Colts Neck, Roselle Park
Losses: Middletown North (2), Freehold Boro, Matawan
Barnegat and Central lead off the pod as Ocean County teams with good record and Barnegat gets the nod at the top because its best wins and its worst losses are better than that of Central. Howell has a head-to-head loss to Central that could have put the Rebels in the Pod B had it gone the other way, so their junior-heavy squad will settle for a lower pod that they can definitely win with a good week.
Matawan and Colts Neck were part of an in-season pod in which five of the six teams all beat up on one another, with Holmdel watching from its perch at the top. St. Rose and Keyport are enigmas – St. Rose because its five losses all came against Top 10 teams and Keyport because two games against Mater Dei were the only real test the Red Raiders faced.
Raritan grabs the last spot as a team from a competitive pod with a winning record and a young, improving roster. A loss to Freehold Boro might knock them down a pod, but the Rockets have gotten better while the Colonials have plateaued some over the last coupe of weeks.
Pod C Pairings
(8) Raritan at (1) Barnegat
(5) Colts Neck at (4) Matawan
(6) St. Rose at (3) Howell
(7) Keyport at (2) Central
Playoff Pod D
25. Jackson Liberty (6-5)
Wins: Pinelands (2), at Jackson Memorial, at Toms River East, at Long Branch, at Barnegat
Losses: Manchester (2), at Shore, Colts Neck, Barnegat
26. Manalapan (2-6)
Wins: Freehold Boro (2)
Losses: Freehold Twp. (2), CBA (2), Marlboro, Middletown South
27. Freehold Boro (4-6)
Wins: Shore, at Raritan, at Point Boro, at Long Branch
Losses: CBA (2), Manalapan (2), Marlboro, St. Rose
28. Monmouth (3-5)
Wins: Ocean, at Red Bank, at Rumson-Fair Haven
Losses: Long Branch (2), at Ocean, Lacey, at Red Bank Catholic
29. Donovan Catholic (4-6)
Wins: Toms River East (2), at Toms River South, at Toms River North
Losses: Toms River South, at Central, Southern, at Matawan, at Howell, Toms River North
30. Point Pleasant Boro (2-6)
Wins: Pinelands, Barnegat
Losses: Manchester (2), Freehold Boro, at Pinelands, at Wall, Barnegat
31. Ocean (7-4)
Wins: Asbury Park (2), Henry Hudson, Monmouth, Long Branch, Shore, at Brick
Losses: Raritan, at Keyport, at Pinelands, at Monmouth
32. Red Bank (2-6)
Wins: Shore (2)
Losses: Rumson-Fair Haven, at Wall, Monmouth, Freehold Twp., Red Bank Catholic, at Barnegat
The fourth-tier of the pod playoff is the final pod that will actually conduct a conventional eight-team tournament with consolation games. That makes these eight spots pretty desirable for the teams remaining and the first of those eight projected spots goes to a team that will definitely appreciate the opportunity. Jackson Liberty won only three games last season and has bounced back with a winning record to date on the strength of a five-game winning streak that just ended Thursday night in a close loss to Barnegat.
Manalapan and Freehold Boro follow, with Manalapan beating Freehold twice and the Colonials packing in a few key wins while struggling within their pod. Monmouth, Donovan Catholic, Point Boro and Red Bank are four more teams with losing records that make the cut, with Monmouth, Donovan Catholic and Point Boro all holding wins over top-20 teams to boost their respective profiles. Red Bank, meanwhile gets the last spot thanks to two wins over Shore this week that proved to be for the last spot in Pod D.
Ocean also pulls in at No. 7 in the pod thanks to a six-game winning streak. The Spartans were No. 45 at one point and have reversed their fortunes over the last two weeks.
Pod D Pairings
(8) Red Bank at (1) Jackson Liberty
(5) Donovan Catholic at (4) Monmouth
(6) Point Boro at (3) Freehold Boro
(7) Ocean at (2) Manalapan
Playoff Pod E (Six Teams)
33. Shore (2-5)
Wins: Jackson Liberty, Long Branch
Losses: Red Bank (2), at Freehold Boro, at Red Bank Catholic, at Ocean
34. Long Branch (2-7)
Wins: Monmouth (2)
Losses: Red Bank Catholic (2), Freehold Boro, Matawan, at Ocean, at Shore, Jackson Liberty
35. Pinelands (2-8)
Wins: Ocean, Point Boro
Losses: Barnegat (2), Manchester (2), Jackson Liberty (2), at Point Boro, at Southern
36. Brick (4-4)
Wins: Brick Memorial (2), Lakewood (2)
Losses: At Howell, Toms River South, at Raritan, Ocean
37. Brick Memorial (5-6)
Wins: Jackson Memorial (2), Lakewood (2), at Toms River South
Losses: Howell (2), Brick (2), Toms River North, at Central
38. Jackson Memorial (1-5)
Losses: Brick Memorial (2), at Central, Jackson Liberty, Howell
Pod E will feature predetermined matchups rather than a tournament style in order to give every team a chance to play three times during the week. Shore just misses the cut for the next pod up, while Long Branch climbs out of the 40’s and well into the 30’s thanks to two wins this week over Monmouth.
Pinelands has been competitive in just about every game and should be a threat to go 3-0 against this field. Brick Memorial started the season as a candidate to be the best team in Ocean County, but an injury to center Luke Braaten threw the Mustangs for a loop. Two of their losses came to Brick, which reached the .500 mark with two wins over Lakewood this week.
Jackson Memorial rounds out the pod with its full roster now eligible, although it did not help the Jaguars in a 25-point home loss to Howell – Jackson’s first game since Feb. 6.
Playoff Pod F (Four Teams)
39. Asbury Park (5-6)
Wins: Keansburg (2), Henry Hudson (2), at Point Beach
Losses: Keyport (2), Ocean (2), at Southern, Point Beach
40. Toms River South (3-9)
Wins: At Donovan Catholic, at Brick, at Toms River East
Losses: Toms River North (2), Southern (2), Lacey (2), Donovan Catholic, Toms River East, Brick Memorial
41. Toms River East (1-9)
Wins: At Toms River South
Losses: Donovan Catholic (2), Toms River North (2), Southern (2), at St. John Vianney, Toms River South, Jackson Liberty, Barnegat
42. Keansburg (3-6)
Wins: Point Beach, Koinonia Academy, Manville
Losses: Asbury Park (2), Mater Dei (2), Keyport (2), at Point Beach
The final pod features two teams from Toms River and two from the Class B Central pod and all four teams – whichever teams end up in this pod – will face one another one time each.
Asbury Park has a case to be ahead of Jackson Memorial, but its best win is not better than Jackson’s win over Central. Toms River South also has a win over Donovan Catholic that looks better after the Griffins beat Toms River North, but the Indians also lost to Toms River East at home.
Keansburg is the final team, but the Titans could make a case to jump one spot because of a record that is superior to that of Toms River East.