Boys Basketball – SCT Quarterfinal Preview, Picks
Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinals
At RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, Toms River North
No. 3 Toms River North (22-3) vs. No. 6 Marlboro (19-5), 11 a.m.
Only one of the four games on Sunday is a rematch from earlier in the season and it is the morning game pitting Marlboro against a Toms River North squad playing in its home gym. Toms River North won the first meeting, 94-81, in the WOBM Christmas Classic semifinals, which also took play at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, on the way to a second-place finish in the tournament.
In addition to enjoying the built-in advantage of playing at home, Toms River North also likely had an edge in energy. Marlboro had to play Wall – one of the SCT quarterfinalists – the day before while relying on a short bench early in the season and pressing throughout both games. The Mariners, meanwhile, put their quarterfinal game against Donovan Catholic away early and did not have to expend too much energy. If there is reason to buy Marlboro’s chances Sunday, it would be that the Mustangs have had two days to recover and prepare, which should level the playing field a little bit.
On the other hand, Marlboro enters Sunday with health concerns, although the Mustangs should be getting healthier. Sophomore Jay Ratner sat out Thursday’s overtime win while dealing with what coach Mike Nausedas described as the “tail-end” of an illness and he is expected to be ready by Sunday. Alex Ratner and Jon Spatola, meanwhile, are just getting over the flu and should be closer to 100 percent by Sunday morning. Senior Nick Malucelli will not be back after injuring his ankle at an early-week practice, so Marlboro hopes to go six deep after essentially playing only five players in Thursday’s overtime win over Manalapan. Junior Aleksy Friedman and sophomore Jack Seidler have been huge for Marlboro in weathering this storm of injuries and those two should get a little more help on Sunday.
A well-rested Marlboro is sure to press Toms River North again, despite the strategy backfiring the first time. Senior Jakari Spence had a field day in the first meeting and senior Colin Baker was a major difference-maker in scoring 26 points – one of three Mariners to eclipse 20 points in the game. The Mustangs also don’t really have an answer for Najae Hallenbeck, so the formula for Marlboro will be to make the big man work on defense or make him pay for not doing so, even if Toms River North sits in its zone. Another factor for Toms River North is senior Mike Vansprang, who has picked up his production recently and can be an alternative as a third scorer if Marlboro commits any extra attention on Baker.
With the way things turned out back in December, Marlboro might not turn its pressure on in the first quarter and let it ride. The Mustangs might have to check the pace of the game from time-to-time and pick their spots, but they will have to speed up the game at some point and make sure Toms River North doesn’t beat them at their own game this time. If anything, though, Toms River North has looked a little more vulnerable against teams trying to slow the game down, so this matchup should still suit the Mariners. The Pick: Toms River North, 84-77
No. 7 Red Bank Catholic (16-8) vs. No. 15 Mater Dei Prep (15-9), 12:45 p.m.
When a major upset goes down in a tournament, sometimes that takes away some of the intrigue in the next round with one of the prominent teams in the original field now out of the picture. That is not the case in game two on Sunday. Red Bank Catholic and Mater Dei Prep have developed a bitter rivalry on the football field and there is reason to expect it to have some carry-over to the basketball court with each team boasting two football players on their roster. One of those players is Kevin Bauman, who has stepped his game up over the last two weeks to turn Red Bank Catholic from a floundering team with mounting injuries to a re-imagined lineup that is looking at its best chance to reach the SCT semifinals since the Caseys last did so in 1994.
To end that 26-year wait, RBC will have to get by a Mater Dei team flying high after ending No. 2 Middletown South’s 19-game winning streak. That is the second time this season Mater Dei played Middletown South tough for most of the game and this time around, in a tournament setting and on the road, the Seraphs delivered the knockout punch in the form of a Pete Gorman buzzer-beating drive. Gorman, Sean Turner and Tahaj Parland are the senior trio of guards who make Mater Dei go and the Seraphs got a lift on Thursday from 6-foot-5 junior Andreas Von Fricke in the form of 15 points. Von Fricke and sophomore Anthony Tancredi will be important players for Mater Dei in dealing with Bauman and his younger brother, Alex, on the interior.
Although Bauman has been at the center of RBC’s revitalization, the key for both teams is likely to be dealing with the opposing guards. Mater Dei will have to keep tabs on sophomores C.J. Ruoff and Cyril Arvanitis at the three-point line as both can catch fire and break a game open. Ruoff has been particularly hot of late and is starting to get to the basket more as well. On the other side, RBC will be more concerned with Mater Dei’s speed and physicality in the back-court, with Gorman and Parland both dangerous off the dribble and Turner a threat to go inside as well as step out. If the Mater Dei trio can routinely get into the paint, set up Von Fricke inside, get some open looks at the three-point line and maybe even get Kevin Bauman in foul trouble, the Caseys could have a rough day.
The key player could be Alex Bauman. He has emerged as a defensive stopper for the Caseys, both against true guards and bigger players and if he can handle marking one of Mater Dei’s quick guards, the Caseys should be in business. Both teams should be ready for the challenge having played good schedules and looking at the recent body of work, RBC seems like it has the more balanced lineup while Mater Dei has a big advantage in speed in the backcourt. If the longer the Bauman boys stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, the more this one tips toward RBC. The Pick: Red Bank Catholic, 56-54
No. 4 Holmdel (19-3) vs. No. 5 Wall (20-5), 2:30 p.m.
While Red Bank Catholic’s wait to get to back to the SCT semifinals has been a long one, it is not the longest wait among the teams left. Wall’s last venture to the semifinals was 1974, although the Crimson Knights got close in 2015, when they lost a tight quarterfinal game to Toms River North. They already made a good bit of history last year when they won the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship since that same 1974 season, but last year’s banner season for Wall did not include a trip to the SCT quarterfinals. As Wall gears up for a title defense in Central Jersey Group III in a little more than a week, it is already surpassed last year, when the Knights finished 21-9, in some respects.
Last year, Holmdel was the surprise team in the SCT quarterfinals, defeating Rumson-Fair Haven in the round of 16 before falling to Freehold Township in the quarterfinal round. The Hornets appeared to be positioned to make their move in 2020 so getting to the quarterfinals a year earlier than expected looks like it was an important jumping-off point for this year’s team. While Holmdel could not overcome Manasquan in finishing second place in Class A Central, the Hornets have just one loss outside of Manasquan and a win on Sunday would be their 20th of the season. It would also mark the team’s first trip to the SCT semifinals since 1999.
Holmdel and Wall are similar teams in that both incorporate a lot of players in the offense while also having a few who can take over a game. Wall senior Quinn Calabrese will be the best athlete on the floor and has been the Crimson Knights’ No. 1 option on offense over the past two seasons. Junior Pat Lacey is also capable of carrying the offense for stretches of a game and sophomore Colin Ackerman is more of a distributor but has had his share of offensive outbursts as well. When more than one of them heat up from the three-point line, Wall can be very difficult to stop.
On Holmdel’s side, senior twins Doug and Derek Chan have been Holmdel’s most consistent producers on the wing, with Derek starting the year strong and Doug coming on lately. The two key players for Holmdel to lean on and for Wall to contain will be junior forward Alex Baker and senior Jack Giamanco. Baker poses a matchup problem for the Crimson Knights, who lack the size to directly match up with the 6-5 Baker, as well as 6-5 junior Ryan Bradley – who scored 19 points off the bench vs. Ocean on Thursday. Wall forwards Logan Peters, Mike Caputo and Ian Ackerman will have their hands full dealing with the two Holmdel bigs and if any of the three can make a prominent offensive contribution, it will be a bonus. Giamanco, meanwhile, is an x-factor off the bench as well and if he catches fire from beyond the arc, Holmdel should win going away. If Wall can keep him to a low percentage or limit his looks, the pendulum swings in Wall’s favor.
Anything can happen in a given game and Wall has the talent to end the 46-year wait between SCT semifinal appearances, but on the entire 2019-20 body of work, Holmdel has been the slightly-better version of Wall. The Hornets have a little more size, a little more shooting, are slightly more physical and have been more competitive in their toughest games during the regular season. Wall definitely has a real shot to advance, but Holmdel is the clear favorite. The Pick: Holmdel, 63-55
No. 1 Manasquan (24-1) vs. No. 9 Ranney (16-7), 4:15 p.m.
It’s not often that a tournament bracket comes out and the most intriguing potential matchup comes in the quarterfinal round, but that is more-or-less what happened with this year’s Shore Conference Tournament. Not only does is the Manasquan-Ranney main event Sunday a rematch of last year’s wildly entertaining SCT championship game, but it is also a matchup of the two teams that opened the season Nos. 1 and 2 in the Shore Sports network Top 10. The other part of this game’s appeal is that Manasquan already handled five of the other top-seven seeds in the field so with the exception of Marlboro, every other team has had their shot at the Warriors and – with the exception of Holmdel in the second of two meetings – all of them lost handily.
Ranney could very well meet the same fate but there is a lot working in the Panthers’ favor heading into Sunday evening. Every high school team opens the season as a work-in-progress, but coach Tahj Holden opened the season knowing his Ranney squad would require more work and more progress to get back among the group of contenders in the Shore Conference. The Panthers opened the season with three key players ineligible, no seniors and all but one player on their roster a sophomore or freshman. The result was some ugly early results, but since the calendar turned to 2020, Ranney has not only patched up its record but has risen to the challenge of playing tougher competition – including hard-fought losses to Middletown South, Hudson Catholic and Roselle Catholic. Ranney also has two convincing wins over Mater Dei Prep, which just upset No. 2 Middletown South.
One reason for Ranney’s resurgence is the players it has added – which include 6-1 junior Brian Day, 6-6 sophomore Charles Anyichie and 6-9 junior Kyle Rhoden. Day and Anyichie have played for most of the season after transferring to Ranney in the middle of the 2018-19 campaign but Rhoden just played his first game earlier this month and has posted five straight double-doubles to start his Ranney career. With Anyichie, Rhoden and 6-6 sophomore Ryan Zan, Ranney is uniquely qualified to counter Manasquan’s considerable size in the front court.
Ranney’s leader, however, is sophomore point guard Elijah Perkins, whose play has gotten better and better with each passing week. His 14 points and 11 assists nearly led Ranney to a win over Roselle Catholic and his rim-rattling dunk last week against Mater Dei put an exclamation point on a third straight outright division title. For Ranney to thrive, Perkins needs to be dynamic and over the last month-and-a-half of the season, he has not disappointed.
As talented as Roselle Catholic and Hudson Catholic are, Sunday is probably Ranney’s hardest challenge of the season. Manasquan is a matter of seconds from being an undefeated team, having lost to Roselle Catholic on a last-second basket and following that defeat at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Classic with 14 straight wins. What makes those 14 straight wins even more impressive is that most of them have come with 6-7 senior Alex Galvan sidelined with two different injuries. The aforementioned front court of 6-8 senior Tim McEneny, 6-5 junior Jack Collins and 6-5 junior Connor Walsh has held the fort while Manasquan’s guards continue to play as well as any group at the Shore.
Manasquan’s keys to victory on Sunday are pretty simple. First off, if Alex Galvan – who coach Andrew Bilodeau said is “50-50” to play on Sunday – plays and is close to himself, it’s hard to see a path to victory for Ranney. Secondly, whether Galvan plays or not, Manasquan will look to bottle up Perkins. He is the head of the proverbial snake and The Warriors have three guards in Kieran Flanagan, Ben Roy and Casey Mulligan who are capable of handling the assignment. Flanagan has been Manasquan’s stopper all year so expect him to be glued to Perkins from the opening tip.
Roy and Flanagan are also be dynamic offensive players and a big performance from either would go a long way in ensuring Manasquan advances. Even without a great offensive showing – and Manasquan is coming off a modest one in a 59-45 win over St. John Vianney – the Warriors can win with their defense. Ranney’s path to victory requires a lot more to go right – the Panthers have to get multiple shooters going, they will need some offensive contribution from their three big men and will need Perkins to protect the ball while also producing as a scorer and distributor. Manasquan’s margin for error is greater because it has been the greater team this year but for Ranney to advance, it only has to be great for 32 minutes. It seems like this young Ranney group is ready for the big stage, but they are facing a team that has made it clear it can play on the big stage. The Pick: Manasquan, 61-51
Round of 16 Record: 6-2
Overall 2020 Picks Record: 13-6