The first round of the Shore Conference Tournament is a little lighter than in recent years since only 24 teams qualified, but all eight first-round games on Tuesday have a chance to be pretty competitive. The common refrain in this year’s tournament is that it is a march to a Ranney-vs.-Mater Dei final, but the time for assumptions and guesswork ends at 5:30 on Tuesday when the tournament tips off.

Before the games begin, here is a little more guesswork.


(20) Barnegat at (13) Central, 5:30 p.m.

Given how things are going for both teams, Central and Barnegat are probably both happy to see one another in the first round. From Central’s perspective, the Golden Eagles draw a team that has two wins over Donovan Catholic and no other wins against teams in the tournament. By comparison, Barnegat gets a Central team that has survived a couple of close calls against sub-.500 teams and also lost to Toms River South. It’s just a hunch, but Central has a senior-laden group that hasn’t had a year this successful and it’s possible they’ve been waiting for this time of year to kick it back into gear. Barnegat is definitely on the up and up, but the Bengals are more likely a year away. The Pick:  Central, 58-50


(23) Matawan at (10) Colts Neck, 6 p.m.

Both Matawan and Colts Neck are teams dependent on juniors, but have been going in different directions. The Cougars went from wondering if they would get a home game to a top-10 seed thanks to wins over CBA and Neptune, while Matawan has cooled off after winning seven of eight to offset a 2-6 start to the season. Matawan’s offense comes mostly from two sources – Mike Dunne and Reggie Tawiah – and for the Huskies to have a chance, the wealth will have to be spread around to take some pressure off of those two. Colts Neck will most certainly have it in for them and the Cougars have developed a balanced lineup of their own in recent weeks, with junior Danny Gaines riding a hot streak lately. Matawan has it in them to pull this off – the Huskies lost to Rumson on free throws in the final seconds – but it’s hard to know which team will show up. It seems Colts Neck is bringing its A-game every night now. The Pick: Colts Neck, 60-49


(22) Holmdel at (11) Lakewood, 6 p.m.

This looked to be a lost year for Holmdel after the Hornets graduated four starters and lost Kyle Cardaci to Mater Dei, but there are rarely lost years for coach Sean Devaney’s program. Holmdel finished second in A Central and has seen the likes of Rumson and Freehold Township to get them prepared to face some of the teams it will have to beat. The Hornets will be a tough out for Lakewood, which has been steadily improving over the course of the season. The Piners have been shooting much better lately and while that could carry them on a deep run, it’s worth watching to see if they can avoid falling in love with the perimeter if the shots aren’t falling. Holmdel will, no doubt, try to force that as the Hornets pull out the upset. In the end, Lakewood has a little too much, but it could be a grinder. The Pick: Lakewood, 53-46


(21) Donovan Catholic at (12) CBA, 6 p.m.

These two teams met in last year’s NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals in a game CBA barely pulled out, but the rosters are entirely different. Donovan Catholic is riding high off a big home win over Point Boro and for their efforts, the Griffins will have to face a CBA team that is playing well enough to be a top-eight seed. The Colts got sophomore guard Liam Kennedy back on Saturday after he missed three games with an ankle injury, and despite the fact that CBA went 1-3 in the three games without him, plus the one in which he got hurt, the Colts were competitive against very good teams (losses to Colts Neck, Marlboro and Wildwood Catholic and a win over Neptune). CBA has struck a nice balance and as long as the Colts don’t get caught looking too far ahead, they should roll. The Pick: CBA, 57-41


(17) Red Bank Catholic at (16) Neptune, 6 p.m.

A week ago, this seemed like potential round-of-16 matchup but rough weeks for both Neptune and RBC dropped them into the mid-teens. This is an especially raw deal for RBC, which won a share of a very competitive Class B North division and won’t even get a home game out of the deal. Instead, the Caseys go to Neptune and will look to take down a Scarlet Fliers squad looking to snap out of a four-game funk. Jared Kimbrough has been Neptune’s meal ticket and this game should be no different. The Caseys could find it tough getting to the rim, but they have a tough group of front line players to make Kimbrough work. RBC is going to have to shoot well to solve Neptune’s defense, so senior Mike Conley and freshman Charlie Gordinier are the guys to watch for RBC. This should be a fun one, especially with a chance to play top-seeded Mater Dei going to the winner. The Pick: Neptune, 49-47

RBC senior Terrence Calandrillo leads the team with 17 points per game over the team's first two. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)
RBC senior Terrence Calandrillo. (Photo by Mark Brown, B51 Photography)

(24) Brick at (9) Manasquan, 6:30 p.m.

Although Brick has been inconsistent lately and has not fared well against good competition, this is still a dangerous game for Manasquan. The Green Dragons have offensive weapons and good athletes, which can pose a problem to any team if Brick plays its best game. For Manasquan to handle its business, this game has to be all about the defensive end for them. The Warriors have not been a great defensive team game-in and game out, but have had some inspired performances along the way. Bottling up Shane and Brandon Williams will be tough for Manasquan, but Brick also does not have an answer for Devin Jensen. Brick’s best bet may be to focus its attention on supporting scorers like Brad McCabe and Seamus Hogan, but with Manasquan healthy again, there are enough options to step up and help Jensen. The Pick: Manasquan, 63-52.


(19) Ocean at (14) Point Boro, 7 p.m.

Friday’s loss to Donovan Catholic might have doomed Point Boro’s chanced to make a run because now the Panthers have to play a formidable first-round opponent just to earn a chance to play one-loss Freehold Township on the road. On the plus side, Point Boro has shown plenty of chops against good competition this year: the Panthers have wins over Point Boro and Lakewood and they let a double-digit lead slip away against Marlboro in December. Ocean, meanwhile, has not been the most consistent team but the Spartans have also stepped up in bigger games. They have a win over Middletown North, were competitive against Manasquan and also beat a good Old Bridge team in December. Point Boro has to win the back court in this game in order to advance and even then, the Panthers will have to find an answer for Andrew Seager. Of all the games, this one most resembles one primed for an upset. The Pick: Ocean, 55-50


(18) St. Rose at (15) Long Branch, 7 p.m.

The final first-round game represents a clash of styles in more ways than one. Long Branch thrives on the dribble-drive and the three, while St. Rose can still work the Princeton offense, even as the Purple Roses have transitioned into more of a slash-and-kick team. The other contrast is that Long Branch has shown the capacity to beat the best teams on its schedule, as well as lose to some of the lesser ones. St. Rose has handled every game the Roses should win but has not been able to get over the hump against the big teams, save for a win over a short-handed Marlboro team in the WOBM Classic. This game probably comes down to how Long Branch shoots the ball, because Green Wave sophomore Marc Dennis has been getting to the basket at will and the Green Wave are tough on the boards. With two Goliaths in its division and the toughest bracket in the state tournament awaiting, St. Rose will try to highlight its season with an SCT road win. With seniors Brendan Hueth, Billy Frost and Nick Paterno leading the way, the Purple Roses certainly have a chance. The Pick: St. Rose, 47-46


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