Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Preview: Groups II and IV
The NJSIAA Tournament tips off Monday evening, beginning with Groups II and IV statewide. Of the eight sections whose playoffs begin on Monday, three have No. 1 seeds from the Shore Conference. Freehold Township (Central Jersey IV), Rumson-Fair Haven (Central Jersey II) and Toms River North (South Jersey IV) all earned No. 1 seeds and will open up Monday as potential favorites in their respective sections.
The field, however, is not limited to those three when it comes to contenders from the Shore Conference. Four of the eight sections that tip off Monday have at least one Shore team in them, many of which are positioned to make a run. Here is a look at each of the four sections.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Freehold Twp., No. 4 Marlboro, No. 7 Middletown North, No. 10 Colts Neck, No. 16 Middletown South
Defending Champion: Colts Neck
Top Seed: Freehold Twp.
The Favorite: Freehold Twp. In a bracket with a lot of capable teams, a homecourt advantage and plenty of time to prepare can make a big difference. Freehold Township hasn’t quite clicked over the last two-to-three weeks, but the Patriots got a chance to decompress after losing to Marlboro and will be fresh and motivated to start their state tournament run as they try to bounce back from last year’s heartbreaking sectional final loss to Colts Neck.
The Dark Horse: Colts Neck. Speaking of the defending sectional champs, the Cougars are flying under the radar heading into this year’s tournament as the No. 10 seed and with a roser that is almost completely different from the one that reached the Group IV semifinals last year. Colts Neck’s road is not easy, but the Cougars have steadily improved over the course of the year, they have shooters and senior Brendan Clarke – last year’s hero in the sectional final – is still around.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Freehold Twp. over (16) Middletown South
(9) Trenton over (8) Montgomery
(5) Sayreville over (12) Hightstown
(4) Marlboro over (13) Princeton
(3) South Brunswick over (14) East Brunswick
(6) Old Bridge over (11) North Brunswick
(10) Colts Neck over (7) Middletown North
(2) Hunterdon Central over (15) Hillsborough
(1) Freehold Twp. over (9) Trenton
(5) Sayreville over (4) Marlboro
(6) Old Bridge over (3) South Brunswick
(2) Hunterdon Central over (10) Colts Neck
(5) Sayreville over (1) Freehold Twp.
(2) Hunterdon Central over (6) Old Bridge
(5) Sayreville over (2) Hunterdon Central
Last year’s final featured two Shore Conference teams and this year could yield the same thing. Picking this bracket is often a crapshoot and this year is no exception, maybe even more so. Middletown North and Colts Neck are both threats to reach the sectional final, as are Marlboro and Freehold Township. The team whose roster looks the most complete, however, is Sayreville. The Bombers have plenty of size, athleticism and shooting and proved they are a contender by reaching the GMC final against St. Joseph, Metuchen.
Marlboro made a similar run in the Shore Conference Tournament and the two teams are likely to square off in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Whichever team can overcome the emotionally draining championship loss the best will head into the semifinals with some renewed momentum. Marlboro has just one day to bounce back from losing to Mater Dei Prep on Saturday and if the Mustangs fight off No. 13 Princeton on Monday, they will have their hands full with Sayreville.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 4 Manasquan, No. 7 Point Boro, No. 14 Holmdel
Defending Champion: No. 2 Bordentown
Top Seed: Rumson-Fair Haven
The Favorite: Rumson-Fair Haven. The Bulldogs are still licking their wounds from a 79-35 manhandling at the hands of Toms River North in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, but have proven to be a tough team at home, where they will play every game as long as they are still alive. Bordentown is not quite as imposing as it was last year, but the Scotties remain a legitimate contender as the No. 2 seed and defending champion.
The Dark Horse: No. 15 Newark Tech. In recent years, Bordentown and a few Shore Conference teams have accounted for teams that overplayed their seeds to a significant degree. Holmdel fits the profile this year and could tackle A.L. Johnson in the first round this year, but Newark Tech is an especially dangerous No. 15 seed considering the competition it plays. The first-round game between Bordentown and Newark Tech is better than most 2-vs.-15 games and the winner could be the favorite to reach the final.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (16) Spotswood
(8) Delaware Valley over (9) Delran
(5) North Plainfield over (12) New Providence
(4) Manasquan over (13) Robbinsville
(3) A.L. Johnson over (14) Holmdel
(6) Lincoln over (11) Bernards
(7) Point Boro over (10) Roselle
(2) Bordentown over (15) Newark Tech
(1) Rumson-Fair Haven over (8) Delaware Valley
(4) Manasquan over (5) North Plainfield
(6) Lincoln over (3) A.L. Johnson
(2) Bordentown over (7) Point Boro
(4) Manasquan over (1) Rumson-Fair Haven
(2) Bordentown over (6) Lincoln
(4) Manasquan over (2) Bordentown
The Shore Conference highlight in this bracket is a potential semifinal showdown between Rumson and Manasquan – a game that went down to the wire when the two teams met in Rumson during the regular-season. Manasquan has been battling all injuries and some inconsistency all year but the Warriors are a dangerous team heading into the state tournament after taking the last week to get ready. Rumson is in a similar position and while the shooting comes and goes for the Bulldogs, they are sound defensively. Both should make it to the semifinals and the winner has a great chance to give the Shore Conference a sectional title, which would be the first ever for Rumson should the Bulldogs finish the job.
Point Boro is the Shore’s best hope on the other side of the bracket and the Panthers will have to go through Bordentown to make the final. The Panthers, though, have the potential to make that run and reach the sectional final, and if they can beat Point Beach, they can beat any team in this field. Holmdel is always a well-prepared tournament team and has a winnable first-round game against A.L. Johnson.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Toms River North, No. 13 Jackson Memorial, No. 14 Brick Memorial
Defending Champion: No. 5 Atlantic City
Top Seed: Toms River North
The Favorite: Atlantic City. The Vikings’ recent history in the state tournament makes them a favorite most years, even when Toms River North boasts its best team in a long time and has homecourt advantage throughout.
The Dark Horse: No. 10 Williamstown. The Braves have won six straight and nine of their last 11 heading into the tournament. They also have a two-point loss to No. 2 Shawnee, who would be Williamstown’s second-round opponent if both win on Monday.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Toms River North over (16) Vineland
(9) Kingsway over (8) Millville
(5) Atlantic City over (12) Eastern
(4) Cherokee over (13) Jackson Memorial
(3) Lenape over (14) Brick Memorial
(6) Cherry Hill East over (11) Washington Twp.
(10) Williamstown over (7) Rancocas Valley
(2) Shawnee over (15) Egg Harbor
(1) Toms River North over (9) Kingsway
(5) Atlantic City over (4) Cherokee
(3) Lenape over (6) Cherry Hill East
(2) Shawnee over (10) Williamstown
(5) Atlantic City over (1) Toms River North
(2) Shawnee over (3) Lenape
(2) Shawnee over (5) Atlantic City
The top-five seeds in this bracket all have reason to be optimistic about their chances, but Toms River North has to love this opportunity. Having to beat Atlantic City before the championship is awfully tough for a team that earned the No. 1 seed, but with the way the Mariners have shot the ball, they should not fear anyone. Both Toms River North and Atlantic City took top-10 caliber teams to the wire last week – Toms River North against Mater Dei Prep and Atlantic City against St. Augustine. The Mariners will have to overcome Atlantic City’s quickness and big-game experience, but they have proven capable so far.
Shawnee and Lenape are both tough teams that will give either Atlantic City or Toms River North a real test in a potential final. Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial are also in this field and Jackson Memorial’s size and senior-heavy roster makes the Jaguars a potentially dangerous team for an unsuspecting host.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 4 Barnegat, No. 15 Manchester
Defending Champion: No. 1 Camden
Top Seed: Camden
The Favorite: Camden. Camden lost standout junior guard Corey Greer to a torn ACL early in the year, but has fought on and remain the team to beat in South Jersey Group II.
The Dark Horse: No. 14 Middle Twp. Both Middle and Medford Tech are primed to pull off first-round upsets, which would mean an 11-vs.-14 game in the quarterfinals.
Round by Round Picks
(1) Camden over (16) West Deptford
(9) Sterling over (8) Collingswood
(5) Cinnaminson over (12) Lower Cape May
(4) Barnegat over (13) Cape May Tech
(14) Middle Twp. over (3) Overbrook
(11) Medford Tech over (6) Pennsauken Tech
(7) Willingboro over (10) Pleasantville
(2) Haddonfield over (15) Manchester
(1) Camden over (9) Sterling
(4) Barnegat over (5) Cinnaminson
(14) Middle Twp. over (11) Medford Tech
(2) Haddonfield over (7) Willingboro
(1) Camden over (4) Barnegat
(2) Haddonfield over (14) Middle Twp.
(1) Camden over (2) Haddonfield
Camden is not as close to invincible within this bracket as the Panthers have been, however, their peak level is still very good. While they lost twice to both Camden Catholic and Bishop Eustace, they also beat St. Augustine and came within a point of beating St. Anthony. Barnegat, the Shore’s top seed in the field, could earn a shot at Camden with two home wins, but the Bengals are likely not ready to go to Camden and challenge the perennial Group II contenders.
As No. 15 seeds go, Manchester is very interesting because the Hawks have a legitimate scoring threat in L.J. Robinson and have been playing better recently as the supporting cast has gained experience. If the Hawks were one seed higher, they would be in position to win at least one game. As it is, they will have their work cut out for them when they travel to Haddonfield to play a Bulldogs team that beat Lakewood during the regular season. The draw is not ideal for Manchester, but don’t count the Hawks out.