Boys Basketball – SCT First-Round Preview, Predictions
Shore Conference Tournament Opening Round
Tuesday, Feb. 18
No. 28 Keyport at No. 5 Wall, 5:30 p.m.
Keyport has one of the conference’s top sophomores in D.J. Thomson, but he will have his hands full going up against Wall’s tough, physical defensive unit. The Crimson Knights are too balanced and too experienced to be in any serious danger in the opening round and should set themselves up to host the round of 16 on Thursday. The Pick: Wall, 71-47
No. 26 Manchester at No. 7 Red Bank Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
The disparity between these two teams is far more pronounced in the seeds than it is on the two rosters. Manchester is a young team that leans on mostly sophomores, with senior Josh Hayes also playing a central role – a similar composition to RBC. Sophomore Wyatt Hasselbauer will have to contend with senior center Kevin Bauman, while sophomores Savon Myers, D’Maari Brown and Jordan Dupont have to find a way to outplay RBC’s sophomore trio of Cyril Arvanitis, Alex Bauman and C.J. Ruoff. RBC is riding high after a win over CBA, but will be without senior Charlie Gordinier, which gives Manchester an opening. This game should be close but home court and a motivated Kevin Bauman look like the difference. The Pick: RBC, 62-57
No. 24 Donovan Catholic at No. 9 Ranney, 5:30 p.m.
The backdrop of this game has changed significantly because the winner will now play No. 25 Raritan instead of CBA, which was the not expectation when the seeds came out. From a psychological perspective, that would seem to favor Donovan Catholic, which is now just one upset and a home win away from reaching the quarterfinals as a No. 24 seed. Ranney, meanwhile, was a win away from getting a shot at CBA and now is two wins vs. teams seeded in the 20’s away from likely facing top-seeded Manasquan. On the other hand, there is no excuse for Ranney to be caught looking past Donovan Catholic now so if the Panthers can hit shots, they should make it hard for the Griffins to keep up. The Pick: Ranney, 61-49
No. 22 Toms River East at No. 11 Manalapan, 5:30 p.m.
With lots of shooters and seniors leading each lineup, this game has a chance to be a barnburner. Manalapan is the deeper team and is more battle-tested having played in Class A North, but the Raiders have the kind of senior impact players that will be ready for tournament time. Mike Goodall is one of the conference’s top scorers and Ryan Goodall is one of Ocean County’s best all-around players and those two are going to have to have big games for Toms River East to offset Manalapan’s senior backcourt of Ryan Knorr and Jason Junquet. The x-factor matchup will be between the senior big men – Riley Engelhard of East and Blake Henis of Manalapan. Both are playing especially well heading into Tuesday and should have their moments. Out of all the first-round games, this looks like one of the better candidates for an upset. The Pick: Toms River East, 66-63
No. 21 St. Rose at No. 12 Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m.
Another home game with a tough match-up for an A North team, Freehold Township could have its hands full with St. Rose. The Purple Roses head west on I-195 to face a Freehold Township having tested itself throughout the year against the likes of Manasquan, Holmdel, Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic. John Beattie, Kevin Tombs and Fredrick Bang-Andreason give St. Rose the more senior-laden lineup by a wide margin considering Freehold Township is led by junior trio Jayce Schapiro, Zach Orrico and Joe Lardaro. St. Rose will have to contend with Freehold Township’s size in Lardaro and freshman Jayden Holmes-Cotter and will have to control the pace, but the Purple Roses enter the game prepared to make it a fight. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 45-41
No. 19 Barnegat at No. 14 Matawan, 5:30 p.m.
Matawan has been the tournament’s most jaded first-round team over the past two seasons, losing its first game at home in each of the last two tournaments – both to Ocean County programs. Two years ago, it was Brick that knocked off the Huskies while last year, Toms River East overwhelmed them in the first round. Barnegat has the wherewithal to make it three in a row thanks to a balanced group that has a tough big man in Isaiah Gerena, a dangerous shooter in junior Jaxon Baker, and tough guards led by Brendan Revello and Nick Revello. One thing Matawan has going for it is the Huskies are more of a senior team this year, with Niles Haliburton, John Beukers and Ethan Okello taking the lead. It’s not an easy matchup and there will be some real demons to overcome for Matawan, but the Huskies should have enough to finally advance. The Pick: Matawan, 55-49
No. 23 Southern at No. 10 Lakewood, 6 p.m.
Lakewood’s torrid finish and return to prominence in Class B South has been one of the better stories in the Shore Conference this season, but Southern’s performance in Class A South has been an underrated story that is impressive in its own right. The Rams continue to develop a balanced, defensively-committed lineup under first-year head coach John Pampalone and will head to Lakewood looking to slow the Piners down and play the game in the low 40’s. Southern may not be able to stop Lakewood senior Ryan Savoy, so the Rams will focus on bottling up talented freshmen Samir Padilla and Respect Tyleek. Southern will also have to find a way to be dynamic on offense and junior Ben Ridgway is the most likely source for a big scoring effort. Lakewood should have enough firepower to survive a defensive struggle but expect Southern to give the Piners a real battle. The Pick: Lakewood, 46-39
No. 27 Point Beach at No. 6 Marlboro, 6 p.m.
Given Marlboro’s ability to get up and down the floor and turn teams over with its press, this has the makings of the most one-sided of the first-round games. Both teams are led by a standout senior that is surrounded by underclassmen, but Marlboro’s group has been through the battles this season and competed with just about everyone on its schedule. Alex Ratner vs. Jake Clark will be a good matchup, but Ratner and Marlboro will have too much firepower for Clark and Co. to handle. The Pick: Marlboro, 86-54
No. 18 Point Boro at No. 15 Mater Dei Prep, 6 p.m.
Point Boro stormed out to an 8-0 start in Class B South divisional play by playing with poise in close games, but found itself overmatched a few times when the competition picked up – namely against Toms River North, Freehold Township and the second meeting vs. Lakewood. Mater Dei, meanwhile, has played one of the Shore’s better non-divisional schedules and played a handful of those teams tough. Point Boro will need a big game from 6-5 senior Sam Young against a young Mater Dei front line because Mater Dei’s guard trio of Pete Gorman, Tahaj Parland and Sean Turner will have a decided edge over Point Boro’s back court, led by senior Alex Drucquer and sophomore Matt Lee. If Lee can get hot beyond the arc, Mater Dei could be in trouble, but that trio of guards is going to be hard for Point Boro to overcome. The Pick: Mater Dei, 53-45
No. 17 St. John Vianney at No. 16 Neptune, 6:30 p.m.
The only first-round game between division rivals, Neptune hosts St. John Vianney in what will be a rubber match for the two Class B North programs. Neptune won the latest meeting just a week ago, 54-47, to effectively clinch a spot in the Shore Conference Tournament, while Vianney won the first meeting in its first game without senior point guard Kevin Greene, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Lancers have successfully reinvented themselves without Greene, with sophomore Nate Williams and senior Jahmal Garraway combining on the point guard duties. Senior shooter Brian Stuart and 6-6 center Alex Leiba compliment the other two guards and will give Neptune some matchup issues. The Scarlet Fliers have an experienced back court in junior Sam Fagan and seniors Saadiq Armstead, Azmere Wilson and Makai Suit and its difference-maker down low has been sophomore Malik Fields. Neptune has shown an ability to rise to the occasion in the postseason in recent years and should have the edge in one of the first-round’s more competitive matchups. The Pick: Neptune, 48-45
No. 20 Ocean at No. 13 Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
Ocean entered the season as a team on the cusp of the Top 10 and actually spent a week in the Shore Sports Network rankings – something Rumson has yet to do this season despite a recent push toward ranked status. The Spartans have a talented group led by guards Jack Miller, Corey Miller and Sam Meeks and if marksman Evan Peters can catch fire from deep, Rumson is going to have a lot of weapons to cover. One weapon Rumson likely won’t have to deal with is 6-5 forward Cole Kelly, who broke his nose in home loss to Wall on Feb. 7 and is not likely to return before a potential round-of-16 game on Thursday. Without that size, Ocean is going to have to find a way to score on the interior and keep Rumson off the glass. The Bulldogs can play several styles and are likely to push the pace Tuesday night to let Geoff Schroeder and Jack Carroll attack with their athleticism and set up the shooters. Ocean has been an unpredictable team all year and might have a big performance in store for tonight, but Rumson looks like the safe pick at home, especially Ocean missing some size. The Pick: Rumson, 60-54