Boys Basketball – RBC, Marlboro Separating from the Top 10 Pack
With just one more day left in January, the Top 10 focus is beginning to shift almost entirely to the Shore Conference Tournament and with each week, we’re getting a clearer picture. Red Bank Catholic has solidified itself as the No. 1 team heading toward the postseason and after an impressive week, it looks like Marlboro is back in one of those top-two spots.
There is still plenty to sort through over the next two weeks and while some of the upcoming games will help in determining how the rest of the Top 10 shakes out, there may be some questions that remain unanswered heading into the SCT.
1. Red Bank Catholic (16-1, 8-0) Last Week: 1
It appeared as though Marlboro might be closing ground on Red Bank Catholic late in the afternoon on Sunday, but the Caseys closed out their week with their most impressive win of the season, especially under the circumstances. Playing without sophomore starting forward Zach Meeks due to an ankle sprain, RBC beat Rutgers Prep – the No. 8 team in the state – 90-79 Sunday at the Jimmy V Classic at Central, which is the highest point total of Red Bank Catholic’s season. If RBC can avoid a slip-up at surging Rumson-Fair Haven Tuesday (which is no sure thing) it’s hard to see the Caseys dropping from No. 1 before the Shore Conference Tournament.
2. Marlboro (14-2, 7-1) Last Week: 3
This past week was a big one for Marlboro to get primed for the postseason and the Mustangs did not disappoint. It started with a rout of CBA that avenged Marlboro’s first loss of the season and after narrowly escaping Middletown South, the Mustangs outlasted a St. John Vianney team that appears to be a lock for a top-five seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. With wins over RBC, CBA and SJV on the resume and the inside track to win the program’s first ever outright Class A North title, Marlboro is back in line for one of the top two spots in the SCT.
3. Christian Brothers Academy (13-3, 7-2) Last Week: 2
CBA has played close games all year and routinely found ways to win them, as evidenced by the Colts entering last week 12-1. That finally burned them this week, although the 71-36 loss at Marlboro was more of a freight train CBA could not avoid. Later in the week, though, CBA found itself in another close game at Manalapan and this time, the Colts were not the team that made the plays to win the game. After getting upset by shorthanded Manalapan, CBA struggled for three quarters vs. Mater Dei Prep before pulling away. Wins over St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven keep the Colts No. 3, but CBA appears to have some adjustments to make after a rough week.
4. St. John Vianney (13-3, 6-0) Last Week: 4
The Lancers showed a lot of fight on Sunday, when they watched Marlboro run up a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit before cutting it down to three before the two-minute mark. It was similar to Vianney’s loss to CBA earlier in January and it shows that while there may be some things to clean up to avoid falling into those double-digit holes, the Lancers have the resilience to match their considerable talent. With a win over a surging Manasquan team and losses to the top three teams in the rankings, St. John Vianney looks primed for a top-four seed.
5. Manasquan (12-2, 8-0) Last Week: 5
Manasquan has overpowered the competition in the Class C North division and will now go back to testing itself against the state’s best when the Warriors visit Roselle Catholic on Monday. The Shore’s top teams have actually interacted a lot this year but Manasquan is the exception with just one game played against any of the other top seven teams in the rankings. By comparison, every other team in this week’s top 10 has at least two such games, so Manasquan remains something of a mystery heading down the stretch of the regular season.
6. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-2, 4-1) Last Week: 6
The Bulldogs are starting to mount a major push toward the top four and a while head-to-head loss to CBA could hold them back, there is a point at which it should not. That loss came on Dec. 28 and since then, Rumson has gotten healthier and CBA has begun to struggle. In order to make it clear, though, the Bulldogs will have to beat somebody big, which they will have a chance to do Tuesday at home against a Red Bank Catholic team coming off its biggest win of the season.
7. Ranney (10-2, 6-0) Last Week: 7
Wednesday’s home game against Manchester was a must-have for Ranney, who needed it to stay in the top eight of the rankings and line up for home games all the way to the quarterfinal round of the SCT. That could be important for the Panthers, who have looked a little sharper in their home gym than away from it, with both losses coming away from home and a close call at Keyport as well. With Isaac Hester running the show and some standout athletes with size sprinkled into the lineup, Ranney remains a major threat if it can find its rhythm.
8. Jackson Memorial (10-4, 6-2) Last Week: 9
Winners of seven straight, the Jaguars are locked in a three-way tie at the top of the Class A South race and now look like the front-runner to win the division. Jackson Memorial now has season splits against both Central and Brick Memorial after rallying to beat the latter on the road last week. A third meeting with Central on Tuesday could effectively eliminate one of those teams from contention for an outright title and with the way Jackson Memorial has played of late (wins over Manalapan, Raritan, Manchester and Brick Memorial), the Jaguars will be hard to beat.
9. Manchester (10-4, 7-0) Last Week: 10
With a loss to Jackson Memorial, the Hawks needed to beat Ranney to get back into the top eight and another slow start to the game – much like the one at Jackson Memorial – was too much to overcome. From here, Manchester will try to roll through the rest of its schedule to stay in the top 10, but as it pertains to the Shore Conference Tournament, any spot outside the top eight is more about matchups than pecking order given that the round of 16 will be a road game no matter what.
10. Raritan (9-4, 3-3) Last Week: Not ranked
The Rockets are back in the top 10 and, in all honest, it is mostly by default. There has been little stability at Nos. 9 and 10 of the rankings this season and with Jackson Memorial taking off over the last two weeks, it looks like it’s just No. 10 that is begging for a team to seize the brass ring. Raritan’s qualifications are that the Rockets have only lost to Top 10 teams – Red Bank Catholic twice, Rumson and Jackson Memorial – and they have a solid win over Holmdel as well.
Brick Memorial (9-4, 6-2) Last Week: 8 – Brick Memorial is still alive for an outright Class A South championship and will have to go through Toms River North, Central and Southern the rest of the way.
Top 10 Watchlist
Freehold Township (9-6, 5-3) – The Patriots bounced back from heart-breaking losses to Marlboro and CBA by beating Long Branch and Howell.
Howell (8-5, 4-4) – The Rebels are hanging around the Top 10 conversation but just haven’t been able to secure that signature win yet.
Manalapan (7-7, 4-5) – Speaking of signature wins, Manalapan got one by beating CBA last week and doing so without top scorer Gabe Blackwell.
Holmdel (8-6, 3-3) – A road win over Central was a big one for the Hornets, who are trying to survive a challenging Class A Central division to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament.
Central (11-5, 6-2) – Injuries have damaged the Golden Eagles’ division title hopes, but they are still alive on that front, as well as for a spot in the Top 10.