Boys Basketball – Ranney Surges to No. 3 in Latest Shore Sports Network Top 10
Beyond Manasquan and St. Rose being the top two teams, sorting out the Top 10 has been an ordeal all season long and the Shore Conference Tournament was a real opportunity to provide some clarity.
Three rounds into the tournament, it is becoming more and more clear that it is never going to be clear. St. Rose and Manasquan are each one win away from earning the right to settle the No. 1 ranking on the court, but beyond that, there won’t be much opportunity to settle anything.
What the Top 10 lacks in stability it makes up for in intrigue and there is plenty to talk about this week after the last week of the regular season came and went with little movement to the rankings.
1. Manasquan (20-4, 9-1) Last Week: 1
In each of Manasquan’s first two Shore Conference Tournament games, the Warriors led by single-digits at halftime, only to blow the game wide open in the second half. After pulling away from Southern on Thursday, the Warriors found themselves with a 14-11 lead over Rumson late in the second quarter and proceeded to rip off a 17-0 run to send the Bulldogs reeling. Manasquan opened the season with four returning starters and some depth questions, but coach Andrew Bilodeau has been comfortably using seven players, with seniors Jack Dettlinger and Quinn Peters now settled in as dependable regulars and senior Mike Flanagan picking up his minutes for additional depth.
2. St. Rose (21-2, 9-1) Last Week: 2
Speaking of depth, St. Rose continues to impress and of the two Shore Conference Tournament co-favorites, the Purple Roses have been the more dominant team. St. Rose drilled a solid-but-injured Point Boro team, 70-28, and rolled through CBA, 61-39, with the Colts also suffering a key injury during that game on Saturday. With each game, the pieces in St. Rose’s rotation fit better and better and with 6-foot-8 senior Matt Hodge – who recently picked up an offer from Virginia Tech – running things, the Purple Roses will be hard to beat.
3. Ranney (15-9, 4-6) Last Week: Not ranked
No team has increased its stock during the Shore Conference Tournament more than Ranney has. The Panthers started to look like a threat once senior Jahlil Bethea became eligible on Jan. 14, but questions about the team’s lack of size and depth still lingered as the SCT started. Ranney has not only overcome those concerns, but they haven’t seemed to be issues at all to this point. After dominating their first game against Lacey, Ranney pulled away on the road to beat a very dangerous Jackson Memorial team, then ran away with a win over an equally-talented Toms River North squad. The first two matchups vs. St. Rose suggest the Panthers’ deficiencies will catchup up to them on Tuesday, but with the way Isaac Hester, Drew Buck and Bethea have played, they may just be peaking at the right time.
4. Toms River North (18-6, 8-2) Last Week: 5
For most of the season, we have been wondering which team would emerge as the third-best team behind Manasquan and St. Rose. Toms River North appeared to have a lane to grab that torch, but as it turned out, the Mariners got lined up against a Ranney team that has taken off and taken over as the favorite to finish No. 3. Tough draw aside, the Mariners have had some close calls recently against Lacey and Shore and lost a tune-up game vs. Hammonton, but have also done plenty of the course of the season: they won a tough Class A South outright, beat Jackson Memorial twice, have a quality win over Moorestown early in the year and their other four losses (Brick Memorial, Southern, Colts Neck and St. Augustine) are to opponents ranging from solid to excellent.
5. Jackson Memorial (17-6) Last Week: 6
Like Toms River North, Jackson wound up with a bad SCT draw when Ranney pulled a No. 11 seed and came to town to face the Jaguars on Thursday. Jackson Memorial held a halftime lead, but just couldn’t score with Ranney, which was necessary because the Jaguars’ usually disruptive defense was not as effective against a Panthers team with three adept ball-handlers. Jackson’s losses are all to quality teams – twice to Toms River North and once each vs. Southern, Bishop Eustace, Bishop Walsh (Md.) and Ranney – and the Jaguars have taken out Freehold Township, Red Bank Catholic and Cherokee along the way.
6. Raritan (19-1, 10-0) Last Week: 3
It may look like Raritan has fallen three spots after beating both Red Bank Catholic and Central to advance to the SCT semifinals, but the last set of rankings did not account for the Rockets’ loss to sub-.500 Cedar Creek – a loss that would have dropped them to the back of the Top 10 had it been factored into the last update. So, in that regard, Raritan is moving back up after clamping down on a usually-high-scoring RBC team, then steamrolling Central – a team it beat in triple overtime on the road during the regular season – in Saturday’s Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The lack of high-profile teams on Raritan’s schedule has held the Rockets back when compared to some of the other top teams, but that is going to change with Tuesday’s game against Manasquan. Raritan could also match up against Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals.
7. Rumson-Fair Haven (17-6, 7-3) Last Week: 7
The last SCT Watch had Rumson-Fair Haven projected as the No. 7 seed and the Bulldogs validated that by going on the road and knocking off Freehold Township in the round of 16 to advance to the SCT quarterfinals as the No. 9 seed. That meant facing Manasquan, who was too much for the Bulldogs in the second half after Rumson slowed the game down and hit a few shots to get within 14-11 late in the second quarter. It was a good tune-up for the Bulldogs, who will hope to meet Manasquan again, because it would mean Rumson is in the Central Jersey Group II championship game.
8. Christian Brothers Academy (13-8, 7-1) Last Week: 8
The Colts did not earn any style points during the Shore Conference Tournament, blowing out the last season, Keansburg, before escaping a scare from No. 23 Matawan and bowing out to No. 2 St. Rose by 21. Before the SCT, though, CBA started to look more like the team that returned four starters from last year’s SCT semifinalist. The Colts beat out Freehold Township for the Class A North title, which included a road win over the Patriots, as well as two wins over a Marlboro team that has been hot lately and, let’s face it, should have been in the SCT. CBA is lined up to face Rutgers Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public A first round, which would be a very rough draw and could mean CBA is either going to finish in the top five (if the Colts win) or, potentially out (if they lose).
9. Freehold Township (17-4, 6-2) Last Week: 9
The Patriots entered the SCT seeding with a reasonable argument to be ranked ahead of CBA despite finishing behind the Colts in the A North standings and had Freehold Township beaten Rumson while the Colts barely got past Matawan in the SCT round of 16, that would have bumped Freehold Township up. As it is, the Patriots have lost to good teams (CBA, Rumson, Jackson Memorial and Marlboro) and have a win over Colts Neck to go with a strong A North résumé – enough for them to hold on to a top 10 spot heading into the NJSIAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group IV.
10. Central (18-6, 9-1) Last Week: Not ranked
For the first time this season, the Golden Eagles ascend into the Top 10 and it comes on the heels of a strong finish to the regular season (wins over Brick Memorial and Manalapan) followed by a win at Middletown South that snapped a 15-game winning streak by the champions of Class B North. Central’s good fortune ran out against Raritan in the SCT quarterfinals, but the Golden Eagles made their first trip to the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament since 1994.
Middletown South (15-6, 8-2) Last Week: 4 – The Eagles are an illustration of just how fragile a high ranking in this year’s Shore Conference is. They had a strong case to be the No. 3 seed in the SCT, drew the No. 5, and after an SCT round-of-16 loss to Central and a 15-point loss to Shore, the Eagles are out of the rankings heading into the state tournament.
Colts Neck (15-7, 6-4) Last Week: 10 – Injuries and illness hit Colts Neck at the worst possible time. The Cougars dropped a competitive game to Middletown South at full strength with the Class B North division on the line, then suffered double-digit losses to Matawan and Immaculata while dealing with managing some injuries.
Top 10 Watchlist
Point Pleasant Boro (14-7, 5-5) – Now that Ranney is in the top 10, it is official: all of Point Boro’s losses (three to St. Rose, two to Manasquan, one at Ranney and one at CBA) are to teams ranked in the Top 10, with six of the seven coming against the three best teams in the Shore at the moment.
Shore (16-5, 7-3) – The Blue Devils lost a home game vs. Ocean with a division title on the line and have since played inspired basketball. They have knocked off Donovan Catholic, Brick Memorial and Middletown South over the last week-and-a-half and barely lost at Toms River North.
Red Bank Catholic (14-11, 6-4) – RBC couldn’t find its offense in an SCT loss to Raritan, but the Caseys remain a young team with a quality résumé that includes some good wins (CBA, Rumson, Middletown South, Colts Neck) and mostly quality losses.
Southern (14-10, 6-4) – The Rams got back on track by pulling out a thrilling SCT opening-round game vs. Class C South champion Ocean and played a very good first half at Manasquan before letting the game get away in the third quarter.
Brick Memorial (14-10, 6-4) – The Mustangs have missed senior Jeremiah Crispin while he has been injured and then ran into a hot-shooting Shore team in the first round of the SCT. The Mustangs will try to regroup for the Central Group III Tournament, hoping to build on last year’s sectional semifinal loss.
Ocean (15-7, 8-2) – The Spartans were oh-so-close to pulling out a first-round road win at Southern in the SCT and getting a shot at Manasquan in the round of 16. As it is, Ocean is an outright division champion for the first time since 1971 and could be a dangerous state-tournament draw.
Marlboro (11-9, 3-5) – The Mustangs are probably one of the best teams to miss out on the Shore Conference Tournament in quite some time, with wins over Freehold Township, Central, Red Bank Catholic and Nottingham.
Matawan (13-10, 4-6) – The Huskies have a pair of bad losses to Long Branch and Freehold Boro and were lucky not to lose twice to both those teams. On the bright side, Matawan has an SCT win over Colts Neck and has been competitive against CBA, Raritan and Ranney.
Manalapan (10-12, 4-4) – Manalapan is under .500, has lost six in a row and does not have a win over a team that made the Shore Conference Tournament. On the other hand, the Braves have only lost to SCT-qualified teams (or out-of-area teams) and they also have two wins over a very good Marlboro team.