Boys Basketball – NJSIAA Tournament Preview: Non-Public A and B
Despite the state's No. 1 team residing in Group II this season, the non-public brackets remain the toughest tournaments to win on depth alone, with most of the teams in the field boasting at least some Division I talent and ranked teams all over the place.
In the two South Jersey sections, the field is more forgiving than in the north, if only slightly. Red Bank Catholic leads the Non-Public A field on the strength of a resume that features more power points than any team in the state when the tournament was seeded, buoyed by a neutral-court win over Rutgers Prep -- another of the Non-Public A contenders.
While the Caseys are one of a host of teams capable of winning Non-Public A South, the South side of Non-Public B is headlined by Trenton Catholic and sprinkled with teams like Ranney, St. Joseph Hammonton and Bishop Eustace -- dangerous teams on their best day but not always guaranteed to have their best day.
Ranney is the Shore's first, last and only Tournament of Champions winner, while Red Bank Catholic represents the conference's best chance to end a 27-year drought without a Non-Public A champion.
Here is a look at the chances of those two Shore contenders, as well as a handful of others beginning with Wednesday's first-round action.
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, No. 6 CBA, No. 7 St. John Vianney, No. 10 Donovan Catholic
Defending Champion (2020): No. 5 St. Augustine
Top Seed: Red Bank Catholic
Favorite: No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas
Darkhorse: Paul VI. The two teams in this bracket that figured to be the most dangerous as overall Non-Public A contenders are No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas and No. 3 Rutgers Prep and as the No. 8 seed, Paul VI will duck the survivor between those two until the final. Neither Camden Catholic not Red Bank Catholic – the Eagles’ first two potential opponents – will be easy and RBC could be downright ruthless as a No. 1 seed, but Paul VI has gone through a challenging schedule and pulled off wins over the likes of Eastern, Overbrook, Sterling, Pemberton, St. Joseph Hammonton and Burlington Township. Although they have 10 losses, the Eagles have only lost three of them by more than five points and they were to Rutgers Prep and Camden twice.
Bracket Breakdown: Red Bank Catholic by no means has an easy road to the sectional championship game next week at Lenape, but the Caseys got almost the best draw they could have hoped for. Rutgers Prep and St. Thomas Aquinas are on the other side of the bracket and while Paul VI, Camden Catholic, No. 4 St. Joseph Metuchen an St. Augustine are all dangerous opponents, all would have to make the trip to Red Bank to try and knock off the section’s No. 1 seed. RBC was playing its best basketball in January and will need to rediscover that magic to win a tough section – something that can also be said for both CBA and St. John Vianney. CBA appears to be emerging from its three-week slump after reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, while Vianney is mired in a three-game skid heading into Wednesday with a chance to avenge a Shore Conference Tournament loss to Donovan Catholic back at the scene of the crime in Holmdel.
Championship Prediction: Rutgers Prep over St. Augustine. At the end of the day, experience is going to play a key role in this bracket and St. Augustine is always a title contender – one that has played in and one a lot of close, competitive games in 2021-22. As for Rutgers Prep, the Argonauts have played a schedule that has them ready for anything and while a regular-season loss to Red Bank Catholic is reason for pause, they have the firepower to get past CBA, St. Thomas Aquinas and whichever opponent awaits in the championship game.
(8) Paul VI over (9) Camden Catholic
(5) St. Augustine over (12) Notre Dame
(4) St. Joseph Metuchen over (13) Pingry
(3) Rutgers Prep over (14) Union Catholic
(6) CBA over (11) Immaculata
(7) St. John Vianney over (10) Donovan Catholic
(1) Red Bank Catholic over (8) Paul VI
(5) St. Augustine over (4) St. Joseph Metuchen
(3) Rutgers Prep over (6) CBA
(2) St. Thomas Aquinas over (7) St. John Vianney
(5) St. Augustine over (1) Red Bank Catholic
(3) Rutgers Prep over (2) St. Thomas Aquinas
(3) Rutgers Prep over (5) St. Augustine
Shore Teams in the Field: No. 3 Ranney, No. 11 St. Rose, No. 12 Mater Dei Prep
Defending Champion (2020): No. 9 Wildwood Catholic
Top Seed: Trenton Catholic
Favorite: Trenton Catholic
Darkhorse: No. 6 Bishop Eustace. While the Crusaders have not been the field’s most consistent team at 15-11, they have played a schedule that is pretty unforgiving. Bishop Eustace has played Camden twice, taken on Cherry Hill East and has a win each over Woodrow Wilson, Camden Catholic and Paul VI. Throw in the fact that they are in the side of the bracket opposite No. 1 Trenton Catholic and Bishop Eustace looks like a tough out.
Bracket Breakdown: Trenton Catholic is the field’s most dangerous team, but the Iron Mikes have had some close calls against more run-of-the-mill competition, so a team like Ranney that posts some real talent could pose a significant threat to Trenton Catholic if the Panthers can make the final. First, however, Ranney – which is technically still the defending Tournament of Champions champion – will likely have to deal with a battle-tested Bishop Eustace team and, potentially, No. 2 St. Joseph Hammonton on the road – the site of Ranney’s state tournament loss in 2020. St. Rose and Mater Dei are also in the mix, with St. Rose having to deal with Bishop Eustace and Mater Dei hitting the road to play Doane Academy – both tough matchups for the Shore squads.
Championship Prediction: Trenton Catholic over Bishop Eustace. While the side of the bracket with St. Joe’s, Ranney and Bishop Eustace beats each other up, Trenton Catholic is set up to make the run to the final as the No. 1 seed, although No. 4 Holy Spirit could prove a worthy adversary. Ranney is the Shore’s best hope here, but the Panthers have struggled against top competition, with the exception of home wins over Manchester and Jackson Memorial.
(9) Wildwood Catholic over (8) Gloucester Catholic
(5) Doane Academy over (12) Mater Dei
(4) Holy Spirit over (13) Princeton Day
(3) Ranney over (14) Moorestown Friends
(6) Bishop Eustace over (11) St. Rose
(7) Holy Cross Prep over (10) Calvary Christian
(1) Trenton Catholic over (9) Wildwood Catholic
(4) Holy Spirit over (5) Doane Academy
(6) Bishop Eustace over (3) Ranney
(2) St. Joseph Hammonton over (7) Holy Cross Prep
(1) Trenton Catholic over (4) Holy Spirit
(6) Bishop Eustace over (2) St. Joseph Hammonton
(1) Trenton Catholic over (6) Bishop Eustace