Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16 Preview and Predictions
Eight quarterfinal spots are on the line Thursday at eight different gyms around the Shore Conference and the theme on Thursday is rematches.
Of the eight games, five of them are rematches from earlier this season and another is a rematch from last year’s round of 16. The home team on Thursday won in four of the five games earlier this season and the same goes for the rematch from the 2023 tournament. Does that mean those teams are just better or will the early-season get-together benefit the team that knows it needs to adjust?
Let's take a closer look at who might be poised to earn a trip to Saturday's quarterfinals at Middletown South High School.
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No. 16 Freehold Boro at No. 1 St. Rose, 7 p.m. | Watch Live
Freehold Boro junior Brian Tassey believes his team is the second-most athletic team in the Shore Conference and he has a pretty strong case. The Colonials boast four players at 6-foot-4 or taller who move like guards, with Tassey being one of them. In a 73-55 round-one win over Ranney, those three combined for 48 points and Freehold’s guards also stepped up during a big third quarter. When the Colonials are cooking, they are a fun group to watch and there are a number of highly-ranked teams they could take down.
Unfortunately for them, St. Rose is not one of those teams. After all, there is a reason Tassey said his team was the second-most athletic in the tournament. The Purple Roses already beat Freehold, 69-41, although Tassey did not play in that game. St. Rose has had four much-needed days off and that should help the top seed enter the tournament recharged, but there is a chance the Roses have to shake off some rust. If that happens, Freehold Boro has a shot to keep it close, but as fast as the Colonials like to play when they are at their best, St. Rose is likely to do it better. The Pick: St. Rose, 72-49
No. 15 St. John Vianney at No. 2 Central, 6:30 p.m. | Watch Live
A year ago, Central made it to the SCT quarterfinals as a No. 12 seed and this year, it is a different feel as the No. 2 seed in the field. The Golden Eagles have been transitioning from hunter to hunter over the course of the season and it has gone well for them so far. They enter Thursday on a 14-game winning streak and not only have two All-Shore players performing at their peak in Jaycen Santucci and Miles Chevalier; Central also has its role players delivering as well, led by point guard Jayson King and senior forward Jordan Barbot.
We last saw a 15-vs.-2 upset in the Shore Conference Tournament in 2020, when now-closed Mater Dei Prep upended Middletown South. The conditions are somewhat similar in this game: a program seeded as high as it has ever been facing a non-public program that has taken some time to gel. Mater Dei even beat Point Boro in round 1 in 2020, although Point Boro was much closer to beating St. John Vianney on Tuesday than it was to beating Mater Dei. The Lancers have some athletes that can challenge the Golden Eagles, but the difference for Central is defense – just as it was when Central beat SJV at the WOBM Christmas Classic before either team hit its stride. The Golden Eagles don’t take nights off on that end of the floor and that should make them less susceptible to an upset in this round. The Pick: Central, 44-39
No. 14 Marlboro at No. 3 Manasquan, 6:30 p.m. | Watch Live
This game is a rematch of the WOBM Christmas Classic quarterfinals, which came at a time when both Manasquan was playing some of its best basketball of the season and Marlboro had already banked one of its biggest wins of the season – an opening-night upset of Central. The Warriors defense was too much for Marlboro in a 55-36 win and now, Manasquan will get the Mustangs in its home gym and with 6-foot-7 senior Alex Konov in the lineup after he missed the first meeting with a foot injury. Although Manasquan has its entire lineup back (outside of senior Ryan Frauenheim), the Warriors are 3-4 over their last seven games – the biproduct of an unforgiving stretch of opponents that includes a quality win at East Orange (16-5).
Marlboro has a 6-6 center in Brave Haugh who can challenge Manasquan inside while also posing a threat to create offense outside the paint. On the perimeter, Manasquan is so good defensively that the Warriors can just pick two players to shut down and get it done, which is exactly what they did when they held Marlboro’s two top scorers – seniors Steve Scimone and Dan Elmasri – to a combined six points in the December meeting. For Marlboro to win, it will need Haugh to be presence near both rims while getting much more production from its top two scorers in the halfcourt. Manasquan, meanwhile, will try to balance attacking on transition opportunities and keeping the pace slow enough that Elmasri and Scimone can’t get any easy buckets of their own. Marlboro is a capable team and this is a matchup of two of the most successful Shore public school programs of the last seven years, but Manasquan is never not in the SCT quarterfinals. Mark the Warriors down for a 13th straight SCT final eight appearance. The Pick: Manasquan, 54-43
No. 13 Howell at No. 4 Red Bank, 7 p.m. | Watch Live
This is the fourth of five rematches in the SCT round of 16 and it was the best game of the five. Howell nearly knocked off Red Bank in Red Bank, but the Bucs came up with two huge blocks – one by Jameson Ackerman to prevent a winning layup in the final seconds of regulation and another by Zayier Dean to protect a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. Those two plays illustrate two reasons why Red Bank is 17-3 heading into the SCT: commitment to defense and a nose for making a winning play late in the game. The Bucs are 8-1 in games decided by a margin fewer than 10 points and you can expect a competitive game from the Rebels on Thursday.
Howell needed a late surge to shake off Toms River South on Tuesday and it was once again 6-6 senior D.J. Orloff leading the way with 27 points. Red Bank has managed to thrive this season without a whole lot of size and Orloff has the ability to challenge the Bucs in the paint. He will have to have his usual 20-and-10 performance, but the key will be getting a big effort from a couple players in the backcourt among the group of Chris Meehan, Zach Padilla, Cayden Parker and Joe Vella. If Howell is going to win, it will have to push the game into the 50’s and that is going to require at least one of those four players to have a big night, or two to have good nights scoring the ball. The Rebels don’t have a defensive stopper to contain Dean, so their best bet is to keep Red Bank to one shot and make the most of their possessions on offense. Of all the games on Thursday, with the exception of the 8-9 game in Rumson, this is the game in which the road team has the best chance to win. The Pick: Red Bank, 57-52
No. 12 Donovan Catholic at No. 5 CBA, 5 p.m. | Watch Live
With NJSIAA Tournament seeding going down to the wire over the next three days, there is a scenario in which CBA and Donovan Catholic could be paired up to face one another in both the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A Playoffs. Both teams have a good blend of guard-play and size, with Donovan Catholic actually boasting a more traditional high-school front court with 6-5 forward James Gibbons and Kai Pritchard. CBA will have its hands full on the glass against those two, but will also counter with 6-5 duo of Justin Fuerbacher and Connor Andree as versatile players who can both match the Donovan Catholic front court’s size while also exploiting an athletic advantage.
In the back court, Donovan Catholic junior Ryan Jacobs is playing at a high level heading into Thursday and is likely to be shadowed by CBA junior wing Kevin Pikiell, who has added a two-way standout to CBA’s lineup this year after transferring from Gill St. Bernard’s. The Griffins also have seniors Jack Malek, Matt Gerrity and Chris Miranda to work off of Jacobs, plus an x-factor in freshman Amare Walker. CBA is very tough to beat when sophomore Charlier Marcoullier and senior Peter Noble are hitting threes, but if the Colts are relatively cold from the field, Donovan Catholic has the weapons to keep up and pull off an upset. Coming off a 30-point loss to Mainland, CBA will need to hit some shots early to get that winning feeling back and if that doesn’t happen, Donovan Catholic will start to smell the upset. Call it a hunch, but expect a bounceback performance by the Colts. The Pick: CBA, 66-51
No. 22 Shore at No. 6 Toms River North, 6:30 p.m.
The lone road team to win in Tuesday’s first round, Shore will now take its travelling act back to RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, where the Blue Devils came up five points shy of Toms River North in last year’s round of 16 as the No. 19 seed playing against the No. 3. There is once again a 16-seed difference between the two teams and while the Mariners have far more of its 2022-23 roster back than does Shore, the Blue Devils are starting to resemble the team that won 21 games and reached the NJSIAA Central Group I championship game a year ago. Senior Alex George is rounding into form after missing the first month of the season, while Gianni Fiumefreddo, Joe Santi, Dom DiFiore, Bryce Crowe and Tyler Jackson have all stepped up in greater roles this year – DiFiore as a transfer.
Toms River North has a very similar roster to the one that reached the SCT quarterfinals a year ago, with transfer Sean Gathers emerging lately to cover the loss of Delani Hyde to graduation. The Mariners will own a substantial athletic advantage over Shore and the goal will be to exploit that advantage as much as possible. What makes this game dangerous for Toms River North is the Mariners have been vulnerable when there is not a lot of buzz in the building: their best performances have been in the WOBM Classic and, more recently, the Metro Classic at Franklin High School, there they handled Rumson-Fair Haven. That makes Toms River North dangerous if it can make it to Saturday’s quarterfinal round, but Shore could sneak up on the Mariners – even after giving them a challenge last year. The Pick: Toms River North, 60-47
No. 10 Manalapan at No. 7 Holmdel, 5:30 p.m. | Watch Live
Not many teams remaining in the field boast more well-rounded offensive lineups than the two teams that will clash at Holmdel High School on Thursday night. Manalapan has shooters everywhere, led by athletic, physical guard Anthony Leger, who is the most capable slasher on the team. Junior Aiden Sosinov has caught fire recently and he and senior Phil Pearlman are two 6-4 players who can crash the boards and knock down an open three. If the threes are falling for Manalapan, Holmdel could have a long night.
Manalapan, however, will also be up against it on the defensive end. Holmdel has a maestro at point guard in Ben Kipnis, who has an array of weapons to set up if he is not creating a good shot for himself. Fellow senior Nick Seeloch appears to be all the way back as a top scoring option after having an emergency appendectomy in December and forward James Vallillo has had a stellar comeback season after missing most of his junior year. Kipnis, Seeloach and Vallillo are the core of the Hornets, but Manalapan also can’t sleep on sharpshooter sophomore Jack Vallillo and senior forward Daxx Corneiro. With so many capable scorers on the floor for both teams, this is bound to be a high-scoring game. If Manalapan has an advantage, it is that it has a tad more length in the front court, while Holmdel’s advantage is that its offense can get just about any shot it wants. The Pick: Holmdel, 81-72
No. 9 Red Bank Catholic at No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven, 6:30 p.m. | Watch Live
The last of the round-of-16 rematches is a classic rivalry game in a classic venue for a rivalry game. After losing to RBC at the Eck Center exactly two weeks ago in downtown Red Bank, Rumson now gets to host the Caseys in front of the Dawg Pound. The matchup is a clash of styles to some degree, with Rumson a physical team that is best in a lower-scoring game, while RBC is better with more of an open game that gives its many shooters and scorers space to operate. The Caseys got what they wanted the first time around, putting up 71 points and riding hot-shooting days from junior Ryan Prior, senior Pasquale Sabino, senior Colin Cavanaugh and junior Sean Saxton. Although RBC has a 6-6 offensive lineman down low in Tyler Burnham, the Caseys looked more to their guards to beat Rumson the first time around.
One of the reasons RBC did not lean as much on Burnham to beat Rumson was because the Bulldogs have the size to defend him. Andrew Goodes goes 6-6 and sophomore Luke Cruz, while not a prototypical front court player, is 6-8. Cruz is also Rumson’s top shooting threat and the Bulldogs are at their toughest when he gets going and becomes a top scoring option. That frees up slashing guards Nick Rigby and David Carr, who have been consistent sources of offense all year. Despite so many Caseys having big games the first time around, Rumson still might have won if not for a dismal performance on the free-throw line. Converting free throws and layups have been a problem in the Bulldogs’ losses and the silver lining is Rumson is creating opportunities for free throws and layups. With a trip to the quarterfinals on the line and the game in its own gym, Rumson gets the edge this time around. The Pick: Rumson, 71-65
First-Round Picks Record: 7-3