Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Quarterfinal Preview, Picks
Sunday’s collection of quarterfinalists in the 2019 Shore Conference Tournament is a mix of usual suspects and new faces: four of the final eight teams made it this far last season and three of them have been absent from this round for at least the last eight seasons – two of them for two decades.
The three also happen to be the lowest-ranked teams to make the quarterfinals at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena. No. 12 Holmdel knocked off Rumson-Fair Haven to reach the round of eight for the fist time since reaching the semifinals in 1999, No. 8 Middletown South is back in the mix for the first time since losing in the 2010 championship game, and No. 7 Red Bank Catholic ended a 25-year wait when the Caseys beat Wall on Thursday.
What do all three have in common? All of them were eliminated by CBA in those years. Holmdel lost to the Colts in the 1999 semifinals, Middletown South in the 2010 final and RBC in the 1994 semifinals.
Toms River North will try to make sure no other team loses to CBA in this year’s tournament by beating the Colts and extending the Shore’s longest winning streak to 17. Freehold Township, meanwhile, will try to reach the semifinals for the first time in 12 years after reaching this stage of the tournament for the third time in the last five seasons.
Ranney and Manasquan, meanwhile will try to remain the two most dominant teams in the field for at least one more round. That’s the scene for Sunday’s festivities, so let’s have a look at each of the four games coming up in Toms River.
(1) Ranney vs. (8) Middletown South, 11 a.m.
It has been nine years since Middletown South made it this far in the tournament and the Eagles have the foundation to do some serious damage over the next 13 months given all the juniors on this roster. That damage, however, is unlikely to manifest itself on Sunday, when Middletown South will become just the second Shore Conference team from outside B Central to challenge Ranney during this regular season. As well as Middletown South has looked at its best – wins over Toms River North, Freehold Township and Rumson as well as a loss to CBA in a thriller – the Eagles are a junior-heavy team about to take on a Ranney squad with five senior starters – two of whom are McDonald’s All-Americans an another who was a nominee. Advancing to the SCT quarterfinals is a big deal for this Middletown South team and expect things to only get better for the Eagles, albeit after a loss on Sunday.
The Pick: Ranney, 81-54
(4) Freehold Township vs. (12) Holmdel, 12:45 p.m.
Game two on Sunday is a rematch of a Jan. 12 meeting in Holmdel between these two teams and if that game is any indication, Holmdel’s run will be over shortly. While that 51-31 Freehold Township win could indeed be an indicator of the distance between the two teams, Holmdel has shown growth over the last month. Since that loss, the Hornets have defeated Rumson-Fair Haven twice and Red Bank Catholic once and have made that noise with a team loaded with juniors alongside breakout sophomore Alex Baker. It stands to reason that with this group – a guard-heavy outfit that has, as is usually the case at Holmdel, bought into coach Sean Devaney’s system – there is a good chance Holmdel is in the process of making the leap to an entrenched top 10 team at the Shore.
Freehold Township, meanwhile, is where Holmdel hopes to be next year. The Patriots are a top-five team at the Shore, a favorite to reach the SCT semifinals and a serious threat to win their NJSIAA section (Central Jersey Group IV). With a balanced, cohesive senior class and a developing core of sophomores as part of a deep rotation, Freehold Township will be a tough matchup for a Holmdel team trying to build something similar.
The Pick: Freehold Twp., 55-45
(2) Manasquan vs. (7) Red Bank Catholic, 2:30 p.m.
For the ninth time in the last three years, Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic will butt heads. This, however, will be the first time during that stretch that the two meet in the SCT. There is a lot to digest in this matchup: Manasquan is on fire, having won 14 straight games since losing at RBC on Jan. 12. The Caseys, meanwhile, are 3-5 since winning their 12th straight game and improving to 14-1, but Thursday night’s win over Wall was a very encouraging development for RBC. In that double-overtime win, the Caseys defense clamped down in crunch time and came up with some key baskets – a sign that perhaps they are getting back to the form that won them the WOBM Christmas Classic in the same building in which they will play on Sunday.
Manasquan is looking more and more like a Group II favorite and the front-runner to meet Ranney in the SCT Final. The Warriors threw up 96 points on Toms River East on Thursday, giving them at least 70 points in each of their last four games. The first of those games was against RBC and Manasquan picked the Caseys apart for the better part of three quarters before RBC cleaned up the score in the fourth. In the last meeting, though, it was RBC that dominated play. The Caseys have it in them to beat Manasquan and given the stakes and the venue (RBC is 4-0 at the arena this year) this one should live up to the billing more than the first two.
The Pick: Manasquan, 63-56
(3) Christian Brothers Academy vs. (6) Toms River North, 4:15 p.m.
The last game of the day is probably the most intriguing. Toms River North carries a 16-game winning streak into the weekend and will have a chance to play an imposing CBA squad on its own home floor. If not for a buzzer-beater by undefeated Elizabeth, CBA might be on a seven-game winning streak going into Sunday. The Colts just bombarded Jackson Memorial by 49 points – the same team that was leading Toms River North at halftime of their last meeting in Class A South.
Najae Hallenbeck has given Toms River North a big advantage in the paint in most of its games but CBA’s 6-11 big man, Josh Cohen, is likely to take that away. Even if the two were to cancel out, CBA’s perimeter game is performing at its peak right now, with Stephen Braunstein, Mike White, Ryan Mabrey, Liam Kennedy, Colin Farrell and Paul Waraksa also knocking down shots recently. With all of their weapons firing at the same time, CBA will be hard for any team to beat and that firepower might be the undoing of the Shore Conference’s longest streak.
The Pick: CBA, 70-62
Round of 16 Picks Record: 7-1
Overall Picks Record: 11-5