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Opening week of the high school basketball season is one of the most exciting times of the year and the holiday tournament week provides some of the regular season’s best matchups. With that being said, it always feels like the real season starts in January, when the division races kick into high gear and the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament pictures start to take shape.

As 2023 gets underway, St. Rose has established itself as the Shore Conference front-runner, while Manasquan readies itself for a rematch with the Roses by continuing to play some of the state’s best competition. Those two Shore behemoths will remain favorites until somebody knocks them off, but the rest of the Shore appears to be even more volatile than expected. Christian Brothers Academy looked like a safe pick as the No. 3 team, but already has three losses (one inside the Shore), and every other team that began the season in the Top 10 has at least one loss.

The next month of games will answer some and create more questions as it pertains to ranking or seeding the teams in the Shore Conference, but the games that will unfold in the process are sure to be wild.

1. St. Rose (7-0, 2-0) Last Week: 1

The Purple Roses cemented their spot at the top of the rankings with a dominant performance at the Buc Classic, winning three games over Long Branch, Notre Dame and Red Bank by at least 21 points each. St. Rose barely beat Red Bank Catholic on opening night and had a little trouble gaining separation in wins over Matawan and Wall, but that was before Matt Hodge found the groove he is currently in right now. On top of Matt and Jayden Hodge playing like one of the state’s best duos, the supporting cast is starting to come into its own and within the next two weeks, St. Rose is set to add to that cast with the three in-state transfers becoming eligible.

2. Manasquan (5-3, 1-1) Last Week: 2

Because of how well it played last year, it is sometimes easy to forget how young Manasquan’s team is. The Warriors have played three tight games so far this season and have lost all three – an overtime loss to Linden, an eight-point loss at St. Rose and a nine-point loss to Roselle Catholic. Against the rest of the schedule – including wins over Ranney and Brick Memorial teams that were ranked at the time – Manasquan has dominated, so with its roster heavy on junior and sophomore impact, the Warriors are still ironing out some of the wrinkles.

Jackson Memorial senior Keith Adame (left) guarded by Manasquan sophomore Griffin Linstra. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Jackson Memorial senior Keith Adame (left) guarded by Manasquan sophomore Griffin Linstra. (Photo: Tom Smith |

3. Jackson Memorial (6-1, 1-1) Last Week: 9

Responding to losses is a big part of a basketball season and Jackson Memorial’s response to a road loss to Toms River North has been impressive. The Jaguars handled two teams – Red Bank Catholic and Freehold Township – that were playing well heading into each game and did so on the same court in which they lost to Toms River North. To add to Jackson Memorial’s optimism, the lineup still isn’t complete yet, with returning senior starter Charlie Meglio still waiting out a shoulder injury before joining the rotation sometime in the next few weeks.

4. Freehold Township (5-1, 0-0) Last Week: 4

Freehold Township fell victim to a hot-shooting night from Jackson Memorial’s Samir Padilla and Keith Adame and could not match that marksmanship in a loss to the Jaguars on WOBM Christmas Classic championship night. The Patriots got a good look at how teams are going to try to beat them: swarming big man Jayden Holmes-Cotter and making the supporting cast cash in from the perimeter. Just as Jackson Memorial bounced back from its first loss, Freehold Township will have a chance to do the same this week with a road game at CBA on Thursday.

5. Brick Memorial (5-1, 2-0) Last Week: 5

Manasquan humbled Brick Memorial in the WOBM Classic bracket semifinals last week, but good teams getting routed by Manasquan and St. Rose is likely to be a recurring occurrence throughout the season. Beyond that loss, Brick Memorial has played like the well-rounded, senior-laded team that it is and appears to be the team best positioned to win the Class A South title, although there is still much work to be done. The first matchup with Jackson Memorial is still a week-and-a-half away, but Southern will provide the Mustangs with a good test this week.

6. Raritan (5-0, 2-0) Last Week: 7

The Rockets roll into the New Year undefeated after handling Trenton Catholic at the Bulldawg Classic at Fort Monmouth. Raritan has a senior-heavy team that is playing with a chip on its shoulder after last year’s heartbreaking ending to the season in the Central Group II semifinal, and convincing wins over Trenton Catholic and Holmdel are early indicators that the Rockets are even stronger than they were a year ago.

7. Colts Neck (5-1, 2-0) Last Week: 6

Sometimes, an opponent just has a good day and Freehold Township was locked-in when Colts Neck ran into the Patriots in the WOBM Christmas Classic semifinal round. To the Cougars’ credit, they scored impressive wins over Toms River North and Red Bank Catholic at the WOBM, with the 13-point win over RBC coming two days after the loss to Freehold Township. The buzz from the coaches who saw Colts Neck for the first time at the WOBM was about how much bigger and more physically imposing the Cougars are this year and that has played out in their matchups so far.

8. Red Bank (4-2, 1-1) Last Week: Not ranked

After falling victim to an upset at Colts Neck, Red Bank inflicted some hurt of its own by shocking CBA in the Buc Classic semifinals. The first two-plus weeks of the season suggest that the Class B North race will be the most competitive of any in the Shore Conference: Red Bank barely beat Middletown North, Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven both slipped past Middletown South and while Colts Neck has been impressive early, the Cougars will still have to do it over the long haul. For Red Bank to stay in the hunt, Tuesday’s home game vs. Rumson-Fair Haven will be a big one.

9. Christian Brothers Academy (3-3, 0-0) Last Week: 3

With a pair of losses in Florida to open the year and a 12-point blown lead in a loss at Red Bank, CBA takes a plunge in this week’s rankings, but the Colts are a volatile case right now – one that could look drastically different with just one win this week. That win would likely have to come on Thursday, when CBA hosts Freehold Township in a huge Class A North showdown. Those two teams are the heavy favorites to compete for the division title and with only eight division games for each A North squad, each of those games between the Colts and Patriots will be momentous.

10. Toms River North (5-2, 1-1)

Despite bowing out to Colts Neck in the first round of the WOBM Classic, the Mariners hold on to their Top 10 spot thanks to their win over Jackson Memorial, which promptly went out and won at the WOBM Classic after losing to Toms River North. That win over Jackson Memorial was crucial for Toms River North to stay in the running for the Class A South championship after losing at home to Brick Memorial earlier in the week, and with a team of juniors – many of whom are transitioning from a long football season – the Mariners could still be the A South team with the highest ceiling.


Dropped Out

Red Bank Catholic (3-4, 2-0) Last Week: 10 – Double-digit losses to Jackson Memorial and Colts Neck drop the Caseys out of the Top 10 again, but with games against Colts Neck, St. John Vianney and Red Bank this week, the opportunity to climb back in is right in front of them.


Top 10 Watchlist

Rumson-Fair Haven (4-1, 1-1) – The Bulldogs are still piecing things together with an inexperienced rotation and will learn a lot about themselves this week in taking on Red Bank and Ranney.

Point Pleasant Boro (6-0, 2-0) – The unbeaten Panthers are very close to cracking the Top 10 and while asking them to beat Manasquan this week to earn their spot might be a little too tall a task, a Ranney win over either Rumson or Holmdel this week would provide a nice jolt since the Panther already have a win over Ranney.

Shore (5-0, 1-0) – Shore is not only unbeaten, but four out of the five Shore wins were by at least a 16-point margin and the fifth was an eight-point win over Lacey.

Holmdel (4-2, 2-1) – With wins over St. John Vianney and Old Bridge and losses to St. Thomas Aquinas and Raritan, the Hornets are hanging around the edges of the top 10, waiting to strike with a big win.


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