The Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 is already set up to be an advantage for the better seeds, who get one last chance to play on their respective home courts before the tournament shifts to a neutral site the rest of the way. That advantage will be even further exaggerated this year, with the top eight seeds all getting byes to Thursday’s second round and six of them playing an opponent that had to play on Wednesday.

Other than Freehold Township and Toms River North, the home teams on Thursday will be playing a team that had to win one night earlier just to get the game. That could also affect those six home teams, who did not get a chance to practice for their opponents, who might have had a chance to prepare for two teams.

It is likely to be a case-by-case basis, but the eight rested teams should have an overall advantage on Thursday.

On a side note, my opinion matters little after the poor first-round calls. I went 4-4 and Donovan Catholic was not far off from making it 3-5. Let’s see we can beef up that record in the round of 16.

Ranney senior and McDonald's All-American Scottie Lewis. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(17) Jackson Liberty at (1) Ranney, 5:30 p.m.

Every time Ranney plays a game this tournament, the Panthers will be a favorite and a heavy one at that, as long as they stay healthy. That is only exacerbated in the round of 16, when the opponent is a No. 17 seed and the game is in Ranney’s home gym after four days to rest, recover and prepare. Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis will be presented with their McDonald’s All-American jerseys in a pre-game ceremony and will then take the floor against a Jackson Liberty team coming off its first Shore Conference Tournament win.

There is not much breaking down to do here. It will be worth keeping an eye on Bryan Antoine, who is expected to play tonight after sitting out Saturday’s win over Asbury Park with a sore left foot that he injured in the loss to Montverde Academy on Saturday. It would probably take another injury or two to give Jackson Liberty a shot in this one but the Lions accomplished their goal in this tournament and can use this opportunity to improve heading into the state tournament.

The Pick: Ranney, 86-54

Toms River East junior Ryan Goodall goes up for a shot vs. Manasquan's Alex Galvan. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(18) Toms River East at (2) Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.

After a strong showing on the road Wednesday at Matawan, Toms River East will take a second shot at Manasquan after losing by 25 to the Warriors in the WOBM Christmas Classic quarterfinal round. The Raiders were very reliant on both Mike and Ryan Goodall for scoring earlier in the year and have steadily spread the wealth over the last few weeks. The result is a five-game winning streak for Toms River East heading into the game and the improved play of players like Riley Engelhard and Josh Nicol will help the Raiders cover up some of that 25-point spread.

Manasquan enters the game on a 13-game winning streak, which is the second-longest in the Shore Conference behind Toms River North (15). The Warriors are coming off an eight-point win over Wall, which might have been their most competitive overall game of the winning streak, and should be fresh after a four-day layoff. Junior Alex Galvan has worn out most of Manasquan’s opponents this season and he did exactly that in December with 20 points and 20 rebounds against Toms River East. Manasquan has really made teams have to make difficult decisions on defense because Galvan, Brad McCabe, Kieran Flanagan and Ben Roy have all made teams pay as scorers, while Xander Korolik, Casey Mulligan and Tim McEneny have all done a little bit of everything as well.

Toms River East will have to find a way to neutralize Manasquan’s perimeter threats and hope a more battle-tested Engelhard is ready to give Galvan some more trouble this time around.

The Pick: Manasquan, 67-51

CBA seniors Josh Cohen (with ball) and Stephen Braunstein led the Colts to victory Friday at Marlboro. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(14) Jackson Memorial at (3) CBA, 4 p.m.

After a huge third quarter propelled them to a win over Pinelands on Wednesday, the Jaguars will head up to CBA to play a Colts team whose tuned up for the SCT by beating Freehold Boro on Monday and clinching the outright Class A North championship. Jackson Memorial is playing in its first SCT Round of 16 since 2013-14, when the Jaguars reached the quarterfinals and gave top-seeded Point Pleasant Beach an overtime scare. Five years have passed, so these Jaguars seniors are in uncharted waters but have some experience in competing with quality teams like Toms River North and Wall, the latter of which Jackson Memorial beat. There will be also be some motivation on Jackson’s side with brothers Matt and Ryan Mahala returning to CBA after transferring to their new school before this season.

CBA is plenty motivated to make an SCT run as well, especially coming off a heartbreaking loss at Elizabeth on Saturday in a game that could have propelled the Colts well into the state top 20 had they held on to win. They were also seeded behind Manasquan in this tournament, which is sure to drive the senior-led squad and could be the fuel that pushes CBA to a semifinal showdown with the No. 2 Warriors. Jackson will battle, but expect CBA to be zeroed in on a strong SCT showing.

The Pick: CBA, 65-49

Freehold Township senior Greg Billups drives the lane vs. Brick Memorial. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(20) Brick Memorial at (4) Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m.

If the first meeting between these two teams is any indication, Brick Memorial might be well-advised to stay home. Freehold Township overwhelmed the Mustangs, 81-46, in the WOBM Classic first round behind a dominant second half and the Patriots have only improved since December. They are a well-rounded team that is dominated by seniors and with a bench that is becoming more and more of a factor as the season advances. Freehold Township has not been to the SCT semifinals since winning the tournament in 2007 and has never won an NJSIAA sectional title, but this team has the look of one that could accomplish both goals.

Just to be clear, Brick Memorial should absolutely board the bus. Yes, the Mustangs were no match for the Patriots in December, but that was December. Brick Memorial already proved a lot can change in a week when they shook off a five-game losing streak and beat rival Brick on the road with an impressive second half. If the Mustangs could reverse course in a week, a lopsided loss from nearly two months ago shouldn’t weight them down. If seniors Matt Bernstein, Kyle McMahon and Nick Manso can all get going, the Mustangs will make Freehold Township earn it.

The Pick: Freehold Twp., 65-56

Rumson senior Jackson McCarthy goes up for a shot in one of Rumson's two meetings vs. Holmdel. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(12) Holmdel at (5) Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.

The last time these two teams played one another, Holmdel celebrated a buzzer-beating, 52-50 win on its home floor over the Bulldogs, who played that game without senior Jackson McCarthy. Although McCarthy is back and had a chance to rest his recovering left-ankle sprain over the last three days, he did play Saturday in a loss to Red Bank Regional, which might give Rumson some pause heading into Thursday’s game.

The key difference between the losses to two Holmdel and Red Bank and Thursday’s game will be the venue. While Rumson has not been untouchable at home, the Bulldogs have been better there. When Holmdel paid Rumson a visit earlier in the season, the Bulldogs rolled to a 64-43 win. Holmdel appears to be trending up, which makes sense given its reliance on juniors Doug Chan, Derek Chan and Jack Giamanco and sophomore Alex Baker – the latter of whom converted the winning shot in the win over Rumson. Both teams can get going behind the three-point arc and with the game in Rumson’s gym, the Bulldogs are the better bet to take advantage of that.

The Pick: Rumson, 57-49

Toms River North junior Najae Hallenbeck. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(11) Neptune at (6) Toms River North, 6:30 p.m.

No team in the Shore Conference is hotter than Toms River North, winner of 15 straight games overall and 60 in a row within the Class A South division. Neptune comes close, having won 11 of its last 12 games with only a home loss to Marlboro mixed in with an otherwise flawless stretch. Other than Manasquan – winners of 13 in a row – it wouldn’t be a reach to call this a matchup of the two hottest teams in the Shore Conference right now.

While Toms River North has won 15 straight, none of those 15 have come against a Monmouth County opponent. In the Mariners’ only two games against teams from Monmouth County, they lost by double-digits in Toms River: to Middletown South, 73-56, and Freehold Township, 69-59. Thursday is a chance to pick up that elusive Monmouth County win and there is plenty of reason to believe it is coming. Toms River North has been hitting on all cylinders since the return of Colin Baker from a knee ailment and during that time has defeated Cherokee (16-7) and Bishop Ahr (19-3).

Neptune will have to contend with junior big man Najae Hallenbeck and devise a plan to slow down leading scorer Jakari Spence. On the other end, Toms River North will try to limit Dwaine Jones, who nearly threw up a triple-double in Tuesday’s win over Lacey. Sean Young could also pose a problem after hitting eight three-pointers on Tuesday. Both teams have been expanding their base of weapons throughout the season which should make for one of the round’s best games.

The Pick: Toms River North, 59-53

Red Bank Catholic junior Charlie Gordinier. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(10) Wall at (7) Red Bank Catholic, 7 p.m.

Despite struggling as much as any team coming into the tournament, Red Bank Catholic still cracked the top eight seeds and will get a chance to play at home, where the Caseys have been a little sharper than they have been on the road. Opponents have really keyed in on Charlie Gordinier, who is averaging 11 points during RBC’s 2-5 stretch and Wall is sure to be no different. The Crimson Knights gave Manasquan a good run over the weekend and will try to carry that over to Thursday against RBC.

Both teams feature plenty of athleticism but the advantage Wall has is that it has not relied on one player to the degree that RBC has relied on Gordinier. Junior Quinn Calabrese is actually averaging more as a scorer than Gordinier is but Wall has shown it can win games without Calabrese going off. The most noteworthy example was a win over Middletown North in which Calabrese scored two points.

It would be easy to go with Wall by citing RBC’s recent struggles, but the Caseys should not be counted out. Before their recent skid, they were 14-1 with a 12-game winning streak and five-day hiatus might have been just what the doctor ordered.  Expect RBC to be closer to rejuvenated than demoralized on Thursday night.

The Pick: Red Bank Catholic, 56-53

Marlboro junior Alex Ratner drives against RBC's Steve Lubischer as Marlboro senior Dylan Kaufman (30) looks on. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

(9) Marlboro at (8) Middletown South, 7 p.m.

The second of two matchups between divisional opponents, Marlboro and Middletown South will play for at least the third time this season after splitting the regular-season series (both teams are also in the Central Jersey Group IV NJSIAA bracket and would meet if both teams win in the first round). Middletown South won the first meeting, which was the game Alex Ratner suffered his ankle sprain that knocked him out for four weeks. With Ratner back in the second meeting, Marlboro won, 59-47, in Middletown – the site of Thursday’s potential rubber match.

With Ratner playing a full game, Marlboro is 8-3 this season with losses to Red Bank Catholic, Long Branch and Freehold Township and wins over Manasquan, Middletown South and Neptune. The Mustangs were down by double-digits when he got hurt vs. Middletown South, but they rallied from a 15-0 deficit in the win at Middletown South and have shown a propensity to rally. Marlboro senior and all-time leading scorer Dylan Kaufman is a tough matchup for Middletown South and the Mustangs will look for every opportunity to go to him down low.

Middletown South was struggling heading into Saturday’s game against rival Middletown North and snapped out of it with an offensive explosion in an 85-42 rout. Middletown South is capable of that kind of shooting performance, which they road to regular-season wins over Freehold Township and Toms River North and put up in a 74-72 loss to CBA. James Anderson and Jack Sheridan are especially dangerous on their home floor and Middletown South’s success might simply come down to how many of their shots fall. On their home floor, despite the loss to Marlboro a couple weeks ago, the Eagles are still the safer bet.

The Pick: Middletown South, 63-59

 

Round One Picks Record: 4-4

 

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