Boys Basketball – Manasquan Opens 2022-23 No. 1 in Shore Sports Network Top 10
If this past offseason taught us anything, it is that forecasting the favorites a year in advance is a fool’s errand in high-school basketball in 2022. At the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, Manasquan was set up to, potentially, dominate the Shore Conference, while Red Bank Catholic and Christian Brothers Academy had the most promising returning rosters among the teams hoping to challenge Manasquan for the No. 1 spot in the Shore Conference.
Fast-forward to December 2022 and the Shore Conference season will indeed open up with Manasquan as a favorite to win the Shore Conference crown for the third time in four years, but no longer as the heavy favorite thanks to a busy offseason by one of its geographical rivals.
As for the rest of the field, a pair of losses to transfers brings Red Bank Catholic to the pack, which means that after the top three in the rankings, there is a major opportunity for a whole host of teams to raise their profile and grab a top-five ranking. Looking at the Shore Conference field, this has the look of a season that is going to feature a lot of turnover in the middle of the Top 10, but the top teams look like they will set up shop at the top for the remainder of the season.
While replacing five starters from the previous season and starting four underclassmen, Manasquan racked up 25 wins, reached the Shore Conference championship game for the fourth straight year and won its third straight NJSIAA sectional championship. So much for a rebuilding year. Last year’s success sets up the Warriors for an even bigger year in 2023, when Manasquan will have four returning starters – all of whom are either juniors or sophomores. They will get a serious challenge for the top spot in both their Class C North division and for the Shore Conference Tournament title, but the full year to grow as a unit will complement the individual improvements of Manasquan’s extremely talented starting five.
2. St. Rose
At the conclusion of last season, it was hard to figure a Shore Conference team that would have anywhere near the ammo on the roster to beat Manasquan in 2023. That was before St. Rose turned into a super-team. Since the end of last season, the Purple Roses have welcomed in three overseas transfers – highlighted by impressive 6-foot-8 Belgian wing Matt Hodge – and three more transfers from around New Jersey. The influx has completely changed the landscape of the Shore Conference, with St. Rose now boasting as much – and probably more – talent than Manasquan has from the top of the roster to the bottom.
3. Christian Brothers Academy
Before St. Rose pumped in the transfer talent, CBA was best positioned to challenge Manasquan for the top spot in the Shore Conference. The Colts are still set up well to make a run at the tile as a slightly-longer shot to overcome the two heavy favorites: they have four starters back from a team that reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal and will be working in a talented freshman group to provide the lineup with some additional depth. There is not a dominant scorer on the roster, but CBA will have at least four scorers on the floor at all times and one of the best defensive units in the conference as well.
4. Jackson Memorial
Ocean County is back in the top five, with Jackson Memorial returning a deep, athletic squad that turned a corner last year. After reaching the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals a year ago, the Jaguars return four starters and several key bench contributors to go with a few additions to the roster as well. Jackson Memorial has some significant ground to make up just to get on the level of CBA, but with the Shore Conference field wide open after the top three, Jackson Memorial has the combination of experience and upside that could land the Jaguars in the Shore final four.
5. Freehold Township
While Jackson Memorial’s depth will give the Jaguars a chance at one of the SCT semifinal spots, Freehold Township’s ticket lies with its senior guard-big-man duo – particularly with the big man. Jayden Holmes-Cotter put together a dominant junior season in which he posted 21 points and 11 rebounds per game and he returns with a veteran point guard in classmate Malachi Harris. Freehold Township will have the athletes to plug in around them and if the group can put it all together from front-to-back, Holmes-Cotter is the kind of player who can change a tournament.
6. Rumson-Fair Haven
Sometimes, it’s best to bank on the name on the front of the jersey. With a lot of questions around the Shore, Rumson could either be ripe for the picking or set up perfectly to win back its top-five spot despite a heavy dose of graduation. Even with five new starters, Rumson has the makings of a tough matchups thanks to its quickness and teamwide shooting ability. There could be an adjustment period, but the Bulldogs have a decade-long history of reloading after graduating standout classes like the 2022 group that won a Central Jersey Group II title.
7. St. John Vianney
St. John Vianney did not lose an entire starting lineup, but it graduated Nate Williams, who posted the most impressive statistical season of any Shore Conference player in 2021-22. While replacing Williams’s production with one or even two players won’t be possible, the Lancers have a solid core back from a 2021-22 roster that leaned on its depth throughout the year. Sayreville transfer Emauel Domingo also joins the mix, giving St. John Vianney a 6-5 presence to go with its experienced group of guards that will try to lead the Lancers to a second straight divisional championship and deeper into the postseason.
For the early part of the season, Ranney might have to be the Isaac Hester show, as the standout senior guard will be starting in a lineup short on varsity experience until Patrick School transfer Jahlil Bethea is eligible in January. Junior Drew Buck should fill the role of second scorer in the meantime, but the schedule will be challenging: one game each vs. Manasquan, St. Rose, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney before Bethea returns, plus a Buc Holiday Classic field that could net the Panthers with another game vs. St. Rose if both win their first-round games. Ultimately, Ranney will be judged by how it plays as a finished product in February, but the Panthers will have to get there first.
9. Brick Memorial
Although the Mustangs graduated their 6-7 interior force, Luke Braaten, they return in 2022-23 with the expectation that this season will be even batter than the last – which ended with Brick Memorial losing a heartbreaker in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals. This year’s team will be a more perimeter-oriented team on both ends of the floor, but will still have some size and toughness inside to go with standout guards Josh Michigan and Brian Starrett – the latter of whom led the Shore Conference with 6.1 assists per game as a junior.
10. Red Bank
The excitement level at Red Bank is high, not just because of new coach George Sourlis, but also because the Bucs return an experienced trio of players led by Nick Valentino – a top-10 scorer at the Shore a year ago. Red Bank snagged a share of the Class B North public division co-championship and was playing some of its best basketball as the season ended. The Bucs did all that with projected top scorer Patrick Murray missing almost the entire season due to injury, so this year’s team has been through the battles and is ready for the next step.
Top 10 Watchlist
Toms River North – There are a lot of promising puzzle pieces to put together and coach Rory Caswell has shown he can figure it out. Watch out for the junior-heavy Mariners late in the season.
Red Bank Catholic – Red Bank Catholic lost an entire starting five, but should remain competitive after boasting the deepest rotation in the conference a year ago.
Central – Like Brick Memorial, Central should still take a step forward despite graduating an All-Shore big man in Justin Soranno thanks to a talented young core surrounding solid senior point guard John Truhan.
Raritan – The Rockets were painfully close to reach the Central Group II sectional final last year and while they will have to overcome the loss of standout guard Justin Rivera, they are a motivated team with enough big-game experience remaining on the roster.
Holmdel – The Hornets had a very promising underclass quartet at the end of last season, but will be without half of it – one due to a transfer and other due an injury that is likely to linger into January. Still, if Holmdel can get healthy, there is still very real Top-10 upside.
Point Pleasant Boro – The Panthers were a very deep, balanced outfit in 2021-22, so the starters graduating should not slow their progress. The Class C North division is brutal, but if Point Boro can survive, it will be dangerous in a tournament setting.
Middletown South – The Eagles have a dynamic point guard in Dylan Csik and some experience around him as they move out of what was a grueling Class A North division in 2021-22 and into a slightly-more forgiving Class B North.
Marlboro – If not for a pair of season-ending injuries to potential key pieces, Marlboro might be entering 2022-23 a Top 10 team despite graduating the entire starting five that carried the Mustangs to the No. 1 ranking at the Shore to end last year.