Boys Basketball – Jersey Shore Final Four Preview and Picks
Wednesday is day two of the Shore Conference boys basketball postseason and for four teams, it is the night that will decide which two squads will meet Friday for the unofficial Shore Conference championship in 2021.
Pod A features the top four seeds going at it for a shot at the title, but there are 12 other teams still playing for a pod championship and 26 more in action on Wednesday evening. Read on for a look at each of the 21 games on tap for Wednesday, starting with a more in-depth look of the two semifinals in the championship pod.
Shore Conference Pod Playoffs
Pod A (Championship Pod) Semifinals
No. 4 Christian Brothers Academy (9-3) at No. 1 Manasquan (10-0), 5:30 p.m.
The underdog role is not entirely new for CBA – the Colts play quality competition every year, both within the Shore and outside of it – but what makes this challenge for CBA so unique is the Colts won’t be at a major physical or athletic disadvantage. Monday’s win over Red Bank Catholic showed CBA can handle a team with size and shooting and on Wednesday, the Colts will be dealing with a little more length and quickness.
Manasquan is also a far more experienced opponent than Red Bank Catholic is – not just because Manasquan starts four seniors to RBC’s one but also because Manasquan has played one of the tougher schedules in the state this season. CBA threw a fullcourt man-to-man defense at RBC to throw the Caseys off their game on Monday and it’s not likely the strategy would have the same impact on the top seed considering they have multiple capable ball-handlers.
CBA’s chances to pull off an upset could simply come down to hitting shots. The Colts should be the more rested team – they had four days off prior to Monday’s game and their two games last week were blowouts over Manalapan. Manasquan, meanwhile, has been running the gauntlet (six games in 10 days between Feb. 20 and Monday) and while that has them battle-hardened, it could also be draining.
As much as Manasquan can, the Warriors will have to impose their will early against CBA. They let Neptune dictate the tempo on Monday and it kept the Scarlet Fliers in the game. CBA, meanwhile, could try to reverse course from Monday’s play by slowing things down against a fast Manasquan team, but coach Geoff Billet has also not been afraid to try to push the pace against teams that like to run.
Ultimately, it may just come down to shooting. CBA did not shoot the ball well in losses to Ranney and Marlboro, while Manasquan is coming off a subpar shooting game against Neptune. For CBA to pull the upset, it will need Colin Farrell, Mike White and Pat Lautato to find the mark when open and big men Dan Moran and Joe White could have a chance to contribute on that front too.
Manasquan, meanwhile, just has to keep doing what it has been doing, although the Warriors will need to be careful not to let down for too long. Despite the 10-0 record, they have trailed in eight of the 10 games so if CBA can get on a roll, the Colts have to find a way to keep their foot on the gas and Manasquan has to be ready for that. From what we have seen so far this year, Manasquan will respond to every challenge.
Prediction: Manasquan, 61-55
No. 3 Marlboro (8-3) at No. 2 Ranney (8-0), 5 p.m.
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Marlboro and Ranney will run it back after meeting on Feb. 12, this time with a spot in Friday’s championship on the line rather than a last-minute addition to the schedule at 1 p.m. on a Friday in mid-February. That game was only 19 days ago, but it feels like much longer considering how things have gone for the two squads.
In Marlboro’s case, the Mustangs swallowed back-to-back losses to Ranney and CBA and have come out the other end a stronger team. Marlboro’s halfcourt defense has been much better since those back-to-back losses and that part of the Mustangs’ game will be critical to beating Ranney on Wednesday. Marlboro is at its best while pressing and has a little more playable depth than it has had in recent years, but pressing a Ranney team with two excellent ball-handlers and plenty of size will only work in small, well-timed doses.
In the first meeting, Ranney did a good job making Jack Seidler and Jon Spatola work hard for their scoring, but score they did. Seidler caught fire in the second half on the way to 26 points and Spatola scored 19, but the Panthers did not let the Marlboro supporting cast hurt them like Holmdel did on Monday.
What makes Ranney such a hard matchup is the Panthers have been a committed defensive team throughout the year with both the athletes, length and depth to be dominant on that end of the floor. When 6-foot-9 Kyle Rhoden is locked in, he can defend any player on the floor and the same can be said for Elijah Perkins and Charles Anyichie on the Ranney end.
For Marlboro to win, the Mustangs will need big performances out of Jay Ratner, Zach Molod, Nick Malucelli and Vinny Spatola in support of their big two, while also hoping they can keep Ranney star sophomore Isaac Hester as quiet as he was against Southern (two points). There is a lane for Marlboro to win, but the Mustangs will have to be very fine about conducting their pace and will need all hands on deck.
Prediction: Ranney, 71-64
Pod A Consolation
No. 8 Neptune (2-6) at No. 5 Red Bank Catholic (9-1), 5:30 p.m.
Red Bank Catholic entered the postseason as hot as anyone in the conference, but Neptune had the far better showing in Monday’s opening round. The Caseys will get a chance to regroup at home and while this won’t necessarily be a comfortable game for RBC, it can’t get much more unsettling than Monday’s loss at CBA was. The Caseys still boast a ton of firepower and the loss at CBA in the first round should served the young roster well in the long run. Prediction: RBC, 60-53
No. 7 Southern (10-2) at No. 6 Holmdel (7-2), 5:30 p.m.
Ranney was probably a little too challenging of a test for Southern given the jump in competition from what the Rams faced throughout the season. On the bright side, it should make playing a very solid Holmdel team a little less jarring. With that being said, Holmdel is a team with a lot of pride and the senior-led Hornets are going to be out to right the ship after losing their last two against two very good opponents (RBC and Marlboro). Prediction: Holmdel, 64-50
Pod B Semifinals
No. 8 Howell (8-4) at No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven (7-4), 7 p.m.
Two junior-led teams square off with a spot in the Top 10 still up for grabs and Howell has to be feeling itself after picking apart Manchester – the top seed in the pod – on Monday. Rumson, however, is a battle-tested bunch that will feed off its home gym and the momentum the Bulldogs have coming off a strong showing vs. Mater Dei. Prediction: Rumson, 58-52
No. 3 Toms River North (10-3) at No. 2 Wall (6-7), 5 p.m.
If there was any worry Wall would be unmotivated after missing out on the championship pod, the Crimson Knights quickly dispelled it with a complete victory on Monday vs. Central. Toms River North is also a proud program looking to make a statement with an inexperienced roster as far as the postseason goes and when it comes to postseason experience, you won’t find much more than what Wall’s got. Prediction: Wall, 66-57
Pod B Consolation
No. 5 Mater Dei Prep (6-4) at No. 1 Manchester (8-3), 7 p.m.
One bad quarter doomed each of these teams on Monday, with Mater Dei falling behind 17-3 at Rumson after one quarter and Manchester giving up a 24-8 third quarter at home to Howell. Mater Dei brought in new players this season and has never really had a full chance to gel, while Manchester is desperate to go into the offseason on a high note. Prediction: Manchester, 51-50
No. 7 Central (7-3) at No. 6 Barnegat (9-4), 4 p.m.
This game is a clash of styles, with Barnegat boasting a roster full of perimeter players and Central build around its frontcourt duo of Justin Soranno and I-Meer Johnson. Barnegat faced a similar challenge on Monday at Toms River North, but this time the frontcourt duo is more offensively inclined than what Toms River North had. To win, Barnegat has to dominate on the perimeter. Prediction: Central, 61-58
Pod C Semifinals
No. 5 Colts Neck (5-7) at No. 1 Matawan (7-5), 4 p.m.
One of two pod-play games that feature a third meeting between the two participants, Colts Neck and Matawan will square off in a runner match after splitting a pair of competitive regular-season pod match-ups. Andre Wells was electric in both games, while Colts Neck has shown to be ready for a battle every night. Prediction: Matawan, 57-54
No. 7 Jackson Liberty (7-6) at No. 3 Middletown North (7-6), 5:30 p.m.
There are a number of similarities between the two teams in this game, some superficial and some not as much. Both are the Lions, both are 7-6, both have already exceeded their win total last year and are both trying to clinch a winning record in 2021. Middletown North is getting great play out of its guards while Jackson Liberty has completely bought in after a 1-4 start to the season. Middletown North is heavier on the offensive firepower and that might be enough. Prediction: Middletown North, 62-54
Pod C Consolation
No. 8 Donovan Catholic (4-8) at No. 4 Lacey (5-4), 3:30 p.m.
Both Ocean County squads are coming off close losses, with Lacey dropping its first-round game at home. The Lions are trying to set up a special run over the next two years with this current group of sophomores while the Griffins have embraced the role of spoiler – a great attitude for a consolation bracket. Prediction: Lacey, 53-48
No. 6 Keyport (8-3) at No. 2 St. John Vianney (6-6), 5:30 p.m.
The Pod C Consolation bracket has four teams that should feel hopeful about 2022, with Keyport looking to prove it is more than just a solid team for a Group I school. This is the Red Raiders’ chance to prove it and they will have to deal with a St. John Vianney team that is coming off two slow offensive games – one of them, however, a win over St. Rose. Prediction: St. John Vianney, 73-62
Pod D Semifinals
No. 8 Freehold Boro (6-6) at No. 4 St. Rose (2-6), 3:45 p.m.
After playing one of the wildest games of 2021, St. Rose and Freehold Boro lock up again in the Shore Conference Postseason – this time with the scene shifting from Freehold to Belmar. On Feb. 23, St. Rose overcame a 16-point deficit with six minutes left, outscoring Freehold Boro, 22-3 over those final six minutes after the Colonials built a 36-20 lead over the first 26. St. Rose finished off the comeback after Jiasion Carpenter fouled out so keeping the 6-6 senior on the floor will be an x-factor. Prediction: Freehold Boro, 49-45
No. 6 Point Boro (4-6) at No. 2 Manalapan (4-6), 3:45 p.m.
Manalapan has played quality teams all year and have started to beat some of them recently, with down-to-wire wins over Freehold Boro, Matawan and Monmouth – all decided by one score and with Manalapan scoring the winning basket in the final five seconds in two of them. Point Boro has also won three of its four games by double-figures, with Monday’s double-overtime game at Ocean being the first close one. Prediction: Manalapan: 56-51
Pod D Consolation
No. 5 Raritan (7-5) at No. 1 Red Bank (2-8), 6:30 p.m.
After putting together a five-game winning streak, Raritan hit a wall at St. Rose in Monday’s 17-point loss. Red Bank, meanwhile, has lost five games to teams in the top two pods (Rumson twice, Red Bank Catholic, Wall and Barnegat) and the three losses are by margins of four points or fewer. Prediction: Red Bank, 50-46
No. 7 Monmouth (4-7) at No. 3 Ocean (7-6), 4 p.m.
The 2021 season opened with Monmouth and Ocean scheduled for zero games against one another. In a very 2021 development, Wednesday will mark the third meeting between the teams, which scheduled an impromptu home-and-home when both teams were losing opponents to COVID protocol and Monmouth was desperate to get its season going after a late start. The Falcons dominated the first game and the Spartans paid them back, which ignited a six-game winning streak. After tough losses on Monday, both teams will be hungry to close out the season with a pair of wins. Prediction: Monmouth, 51-50
Toms River South (3-10) at Brick Memorial (6-7), 5 p.m.
In a game featuring two teams that have cooled off after solid starts, Brick Memorial is the one within striking distance of a winning season and a resume that suggests the Mustangs are well-suited to close the season strong. Prediction: Brick Memorial, 64-52
Pinelands (3-9) at Brick (5-5), 4 p.m.
Pinelands showed Monday it can be dangerous and all of those close losses to quality teams during the year helped the Wildcats grow. They should continue to dress up their record on Wednesday. Prediction: Pinelands, 57-48
Toms River East (1-12) at Jackson Memorial (2-6), 4 p.m.
Jackson Memorial could probably compete in some of the higher pods with Lakewood transfers Samir Padilla and Respect Tyleek now in the fold. Against a one-win Toms River East team, the Jaguars are primed to feast on Wednesday evening. Prediction: Jackson Memorial, 63-49
Shore (5-5) at Long Branch (3-9), 4 p.m.
Long Branch will get a third chance to beat the Blue Devils in the last week, putting the old refrain that it’s “hard to beat a team three times” to the test. It’s flawed theory in more instances than it works, but it could come through for Long Branch on Wednesday. Prediction: Long Branch, 52-48
Asbury Park (5-7) at Keansburg (3-9), 4 p.m.
Yet another third meeting between teams on Wednesday and like the Shore-Long Branch tilt, it features a team trying to make it a three-game sweep. Asbury Park won a pair of competitive games during the season while fending off 20-point-per-game scorer Davon Jackson and the Blue Bishop have the firepower to make it a third. Prediction: Asbury Park, 63-60