Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Preview: Groups I and III
The NJSIAA Tournament will continue Tuesday with the opening round of the sectional tournaments in Group III and Group I, as well as Non-Public A. Central Jersey Group III features more Shore Conference teams than any other NJSIAA section, Central Jersey Group I features one of the Shore's most battle-ready teams, and South Jersey Group I is headlined by a Shore team as the No. 1 seed. As usual, South Jersey Group I does not have a Shore Conference team in the bracket.
Check back later for the Non-Public preview, which will feature a look at both Non-Public A and Non-Public B in South Jersey.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Neptune, No. 7 Ocean, No. 8 Lakewood, No. 9 Long Branch, No. 10 Matawan, No. 11 Brick, No. 12 Wall, No. 14 Red Bank
Defending Champion: Pemberton
Top Seed: Ewing
The Favorite: Ewing. The Blue Devils were upset by Pemberton – now in South Jersey III – in last year’s sectional final and return with a battle-tested team that might actually be a little more beatable this year. Neptune and No. 2 Nottingham already have wins over Ewing this season, so a Blue Devils loss would not be quite as eye-opening this year.
The Dark Horse: Ocean. No. 2 Nottingham has had a strong showing during its 20-win season, but Ocean has shown it can match quality opponents and have even won a few of those games. The Spartans could also easily lose to Matawan, but if they can earn a trip west to face the Northstars, they have a great shot to pull the upset, which they nearly did at Ewing last year.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Ewing over (16) West Windsor-Plainsboro North
(8) Lakewood over (9) Long Branch
(5) Moorestown over (12) Wall
(13) Pennsauken over (4) Westampton Tech
(3) Neptune over (14) Red Bank
(11) Brick over (6) Lawrence
(7) Ocean over (10) Matawan
(2) Nottingham over (15) Allentown
(1) Ewing over (8) Lakewood
(5) Moorestown over (13) Pennsauken
(3) Neptune over (11) Brick
(7) Ocean over (2) Nottingham
(1) Ewing over (5) Moorestown
(3) Neptune over (7) Ocean
(1) Ewing over (3) Neptune
With Ewing seemingly beatable again this year, there are a lot of serious contenders. Two of those contenders will meet in the first round when Lakewood hosts Long Branch in a meeting of two traditional Shore Conference power players. Like Ocean, Lakewood suffered a crushing season-ending loss at Ewing, with the Piners leading by double-digits in the fourth quarter of that game. Long Branch, meanwhile, has run hot-and-cold this year but has the personnel to beat any team in this bracket.
On the other side of the bracket, Neptune tries to regroup from a five-game losing streak. The Scarlet Fliers hope they began to do that by beating St. John Vianney on Friday, but it remains to be seen if Neptune can get back to the high level it reached in January. Ocean and Matawan, meanwhile, both represent potential sleepers in the bracket, particularly Ocean, for reasons stated above. Nottingham is also capable of wiping out the bracket with one of its best teams in more than a decade.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 5 Point Beach, No. 13 Keansburg, No. 15 Keyport
Defending Champion: No. 1 Florence
Top Seed: Florence
The Favorite: No. 2 Bound Brook. Point Beach would be the favorite if the status of 6-3 junior Chris Pina was a little more certain, but an ankle injury could keep Pina sidelined for the entire week. The Garnet Gulls are still a serious contender among the field, but Bound Brook gets the edge as a No. 2 seed that is playing well at the moment.
The Dark Horse: No. 9 Metuchen. No. 1 Florence has scuffled a bit heading into the tournament and Metuchen is in the best position to take advantage. The Bulldogs would face the Flashes in the quarterfinal round.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Florence over (16) South Amboy
(9) Metuchen over (8) Academy Charter
(5) Point Beach over (12) Piscataway Tech
(4) Burlington City over (13) Keansburg
(3) Perth Amboy Tech over (14) Somerset Tech
(6) New Egypt over (11) Riverside
(7) Middlesex over (10) Stem Civics
(2) Bound Brook over (15) Keyport
(9) Metuchen over (1) Florence
(5) Point Beach over (4) Burlington City
(6) New Egypt over (3) Perth Amboy Tech
(2) Bound Brook over (7) Middlesex
(5) Point Beach over (9) Metuchen
(2) Bound Brook over (6) New Egypt
(2) Bound Brook over (5) Point Beach
Point Beach coach Nick Catania said he hopes Pina can play on Thursday in a potential quarterfinal game at Burlington City. The Garnet Gulls do not go too deep on their bench, so Pina’s status will make a big difference. While Point Beach is capable of beating any team in the field without its junior starter, stringing four wins together is much more palatable with a lineup that is close to 100 percent. Florence’s struggles also suggest Point Beach might be able to get through the first three games and go into the final with a full arsenal.
Although Point Beach has a great shot to make the final, the Garnet Gulls, Florence and Burlington City all have a tougher route than Bound Brook. The Crusaders will have to go through Keyport, likely followed by Middlesex and either New Egypt or Perth Amboy Tech. Keansburg and Keyport will look to spring upsets in their first-round games, with Keansburg the greater threat of the two because of the matchup.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Central, No. 11 Toms River South, No. 14 Toms River East
Defending Champion: No. 8 Winslow
Top Seed: Central
The Favorite: No. 3 Ocean City. The Vikings are playing a tick better than Highland and Central heading into the tournament, so with three relatively even teams heading the field, go with the one playing the best.
The Dark Horse: No. 12 Cumberland. As one might guess in the case of a No. 12 seed, the Colts have had an up-and-down season, but have proven tough against some solid opponents, including Ocean City. Cumberland fell to the No. 3 seed in the field, 56-55.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Central over (16) Absegami
(8) Winslow over (9) Seneca
(12) Cumberland over (5) Delsea
(4) Mainland over (13) Camden Tech
(3) Ocean City over (14) Toms River East
(6) Triton over (11) Toms River South
(7) Pemberton over (10) Timber Creek
(2) Highland over (15) Bridgeton
(1) Central over (8) Winslow
(4) Mainland over (12) Cumberland
(3) Ocean City over (6) Triton
(2) Highland over (7) Pemberton
(1) Central over (4) Mainland
(2) Highland over (3) Ocean City
(2) Highland over (1) Central
Although Central hit a wall in February, the Golden Eagles reached the state tournament with a golden opportunity. Every game Central plays will be in its building and the Golden Eagles also go into play Tuesday feeling a little better about themselves after coming back to win an SCT game and winning a pair of tune-up games following a road loss to Rumson. Mainland will be a tough out in a potential semifinal but Central has the balance and the depth to match up well throughout the bracket.
Highland was playing well early in the season and hit a bit of a snag when junior Dante Masino – the team’s second-leading scorer – got hurt and missed three weeks. The Tartans reached the sectional final last year by rallying to beat Toms River East and also beat a Shore team this year when they topped Donovan Catholic during Masino’s absence. Toms River South and Toms River East are both on the Highland and Ocean City side of the bracket, with Toms River East playing Ocean City in round one. If both could win on the road in the first round, the two Toms Rivers would play one another.