Boys Basketball – SCT Round of 16 Preview, Picks
Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16
Thursday, Feb. 20
No. 11 Manalapan at No. 6 Marlboro, 4 p.m.
Thursday marks the third meeting between the two Class A North rivals and while Marlboro swept the season series, it was not a convincing sweep. After losing two games by a combined 11 points, Manalapan will try to get over the hump against the Mustangs, which the Braves almost did in a three-point loss the last time the teams met in Manalapan. Both teams have had to overcome some health issues, with Marlboro missing sophomore Jon Spatola on Tuesday vs. Point Beach due to a fever and senior Alex Ratner coming back from a week-long absence because of the flu on Tuesday. Manalapan, meanwhile, has worked senior Ryan Szatkowski back into the lineup after an extended absence and is still without senior Chris Clark due to injury.
The energy level of Ratner and Spatola will be an x-factor Thursday night, particularly going head-to-head with Manalapan senior guard Ryan Knorr, who averages better than 20 points per game. Junior Aleksy Friedman has stepped up for Marlboro in a big way and can pick up any slack left behind as Ratner and Spatola get healthy. In the front court, Marlboro sophomore Jack Seidler has been one of the Shore’s breakout stars but will have to win the battle against Manalapan senior Blake Henis for Marlboro to make it three in a row against the Braves. If Ratner or Spatola can round into form, Marlboro has the edge but Manalapan has already shown it can compete with the Mustangs and will be ready to pounce on any opportunity. The Pick: Marlboro, 81-77.
No. 14 Matawan at No. 3 Toms River North, 5 p.m.
Now that Matawan has gotten past the first round after back-to-back years of round-on upsets, the Huskies will have to contend with one of the legitimate SCT title contenders and the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV favorite. Toms River North has barreled through most of its competition this season, with just three losses on its resume and only one of its wins coming by a margin of fewer than nine points. Toms River North has had some trouble against longer, athletic teams along the way but allayed some of those concerns by beating New Brunswick, 82-67, on Saturday behind a triple-double by senior Jakari Spence.
That win over New Brunswick is the perfect tune-up for Thursday against Matawan, which boasts size and length on the interior and the wings, as well as plenty of athleticism in the lineup and off the bench. Senior center John Beukers has been on his game recently, while classmates Niles Haliburton, Ethan Okello and Zaire Williams can present issues for Toms River North on both ends. On the other side, 6-7 bruiser Najae Hallenbeck will give Matawan issues with his strength around the basket and Spence, Colin Baker and Mike Vansprang have enough length and athleticism to counter the Huskies. If Spence and Hallenbeck keep doing what they have been doing game in and game out, Toms River North should survive and with a big showing from Baker, the Mariners are almost unbeatable. The Pick: Toms River North, 70-58
No. 25 Raritan at No. 9 Ranney, 5:30 p.m.
Raritan advanced to the round of 16 without having to take the floor because of CBA’s scheduling error that led to a forfeit. That means the Rockets will play their first game of the tournament on the home floor of the defending SCT champions and Tournament of Champions winner. That’s a tall task and while Raritan has been challenged plenty by a Class A Central schedule that includes Manasquan, Holmdel, Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven, the Rockets did not come all that close to winning any of those games. They have core of senior contributors to lead the way, led by senior Jaylen Smith, whose brother, Scottie Lewis, helped Ranney make history over the past four years.
No team in the SCT is more of a wild card than Ranney. The Panthers do not play any seniors and have added players to the lineup throughout the season without dealing with significant injuries. That means the roster is as complete as it has been and is playing better together than at any point this season. It is also a deeper team that has a handful of shooters who can get hot, but the explosiveness of sophomore guard Elijah Perkins and the combination of size and athleticism of Kyle Rhoden, Charles Anyichie and Ryan Zan make Ranney as dangerous as any team outside the top three – perhaps even including one or two of that trio. With one more win, Ranney is likely to get a shot at one of those three and expect that showdown to be set for Sunday. The Pick: Ranney, 64-45
No. 21 St. Rose at No. 5 Wall, 5:30 p.m.
There is nothing quite like a rivalry game in a tournament setting and that is exactly what this matchup offers. Wall and St. Rose do not play each other annually in basketball, so in addition to the two schools being separated by fewer than three miles, there is an air of unknown that does not exist in the Marlboro-Manalapan showdown or in a potential Wall-vs.-Manasquan game. With that being said, the players on the two teams will know each other well and that should make for an intense game, particularly with a gym that is likely to be especially lively.
St. Rose got by Freehold Township by showing plenty of poise on offense, shooting 53 percent from the field and holding Freehold Township’s backcourt duo of Jayce Schapiro and Zac Orrico to a combined four points. Playing a tough Class A Central schedule likely prepared the Purple Roses for that challenge and should have them ready for Thursday’s test against the Class B North champions. St. Rose leans on balanced scoring, with junior Tom Turnbach and senior John Beattie stepping up in Tuesday’s win. Wall is similar in its balance, with senior Quinn Calabrese playing the role of No. 1 option on most nights. Anything goes in a rivalry game and St. Rose has proven capable against teams of Wall’s ilk. Good thing for the Crimson Knights they appear to be peaking and are 9-0 on their home floor. The Pick: Wall, 50-44
No. 20 Ocean at No. 4 Holmdel, 6:30 p.m.
Not only did Ocean go on the road and take down a Rumson team that played Holmdel tough twice; the Spartans did it without two starters. There is no guarantee that Ocean will have seniors Cole Kelly and Sam Meeks back in the lineup Thursday night, but if one or both plays, that will add an element of scoring – and in Kelly’s case, size – that was not on the court at Rumson on Tuesday. On that night, Corey Miller and Jack Miller carried the scoring load, junior Evan Peters got hot from three-point range in the first half and Matt Shaw and I’Shyne Woodard stepped up and filled in for the missing contributors.
One reason Ocean was able to hold on for the upset was Rumson’s cold shooting for most of the game, something against which Holmdel seems to have built an immunity. It’s not to say the Hornets don’t have off nights shooting the ball, but they are a physical team that plays the kind of defense and scratches together enough offense as a workaround. That defense should make things harder on Ocean in this round and junior Alex Baker gives Holmdel interior scoring Ocean did not have to account for in round one. The Spartans are talented enough to hang around but Holmdel looks built to last in this tournament. The Pick: Holmdel, 62-54
No. 15 Mater Dei Prep at No. 2 Middletown South, 6:30 p.m.
For about 25 minutes, Mater Dei looked like it was ready to take out one of the Shore’s top teams when Middletown South paid the Seraphs a visit on Feb. 8. Mater Dei led, 41-40, early in the fourth quarter before Middletown South closed the game on an 18-1 run to pull away, 58-42. Middletown South battled heavy foul trouble in that game and will hope a game on its home floor and a little more control of the defensive end will result in a rematch with fewer anxious moments than in the regular season.
Mater Dei also would like this game to go differently – at least in the final four minutes. The Seraphs have the guard play to compete with any team in the field as long as shots are falling at a reasonable clip and in the first meeting between the teams, Mater Dei just didn’t make enough shots down the stretch. Pete Gorman, Tahaj Parland and Sean Turner are sure to have their moments in round two, but Middletown South’s six-man rotation and sharp shooting in its own gym make this a tough draw for the Seraphs. Expect Luke Albrecht and James Anderson to be more of a factor this time around as Middletown South kicks off what it hopes will be a special tournament. The Pick: Middletown South, 75-59
No. 17 St. John Vianney at No. 1 Manasquan, 7 p.m.
For the first time in 12 years, St. John Vianney advanced to the round of 16 of the SCT and did so by topping Class B North rival Neptune. The Lancers shook off the loss of senior point guard Kevin Greene to a season-ending knee injury in early January and kept on trucking toward the program’s best season in more than a decade. On Thursday, the Lancers will try to take this season to another level by pulling off what would be one of the great upsets in tournament history.
The status of Alex Galvan, who is dealing with a bruised shin, is the dark cloud hanging over Manasquan’s dream season and should he be unable to suit up for a fourth straight game, SJV’s chances will certainly go up to some degree. Lancers 6-foot-6 senior Alex Leiba can make a greater impact on the game with his play in the paint if Manasquan is one big man short. They will also need sophomore Nate Williams and senior Jahmal Garraway to protect the ball and knock down some shots, while senior marksman Brian Stuart will also need to have a big day. Ultimately, Manasquan should be able to pull it out because the Warriors are used to playing without Galvan by now and have thrived even in his absence. Thursday night should not be any different. The Pick: Manasquan, 67-47
No. 10 Lakewood at No. 7 Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.
Heading into last week, Red Bank Catholic appeared to be facing doom and has since put together four strong performances thanks to the emergence of sophomore C.J. Ruoff and the resurgence of senior Kevin Bauman. At some point, the Caseys will miss injured senior Charlie Gordinier (hand) but at this point, it appears they have made the adjustment to playing without him since losing to Monmouth Regional in their first game without him.
After handling Manchester in round one, Red Bank Catholic welcomes in another B South opponent – this time division champion Lakewood. The Piners got by Southern in round one despite scoring only 33 points and getting exactly zero from its dynamic freshman duo of Samir Padilla and Respect Tyleek. Lakewood will need the two rookies to flip the script on Thursday to help out senior Ryan Savoy, who scored 22 of the team’s points on Tuesday. While Savoy is one of the Shore’s best talents, Bauman’s physicality could present a problem when Savoy tries to work in the lane. For Lakewood to win, it needs Savoy to make his usual impact on both ends with some big moments from the freshmen. RBC, meanwhile, could use some more sharp shooting from Ruoff and classmate Cyril Arvanitis. That means it could go either way and if one road team looks positioned to win, it is a Piners team that has played well away from its gym. The Pick: Lakewood, 51-49
First-Round Picks Record: 8-3