Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16 Preview and Predictions
The round-one forecast turned out to be fairly accurate, with Shore Regional spoiling an otherwise perfect round of picking winners for yours truly (we won't get into the spreads; that wasn't quite as spot-on). Shore is one of two teams that won on the road in round one that are now trying to make it two in a row and in this year's Shore Conference -- in which not much separates the third-best team from the 23rd-best team -- that outcome is very much in play.
The round of 16 might be the most fun day to follow Shore Conference basketball. It's not all in one location like the quarterfinals and semifinals, but there are eight games at eight different gyms, the updates and coming in hot and in the year 2023, you can sit in a gym for one game and live stream the others on your phone. With the staggered start time, the ambitious fan can even get to a couple different games.
However you choose to enjoy Thursday's madness, here is what I think you're going to see.
No. 23 Matawan at No. 7 Christian Brothers Academy, 4 p.m. | Streaming Link
It has been 10 years since Matawan pulled off one of the Shore Conference Tournament’s great upsets of the last decade and on Thursday, the current group of Huskies will return to the scene. Matawan’s buzzer-beating win over CBA sent the 25th-seeded Huskies to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, which set off a year-plus stretch in which Matawan emerged from a program downturn to make it to back-to-back SCT quarterfinals before winning the program’s first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1957.
This year’s group has a chance to do the same thing, with a trio of sophomores in the starting lineup: Chauncey Brown, Jayden Elijah and Amir Martinez. All three made a significant impact in the round-one win at No. 10 Colts Neck and, along with senior Colin Haluska, account for almost all of Matawan’s offense. Elijah, in particular, could pose a problem for CBA with his strong, 6-foot-7 frame. CBA does not deploy much size and rely on technique and work-rate to rebound, which has been an important part of the season for the Colts as they have dealt with inconsistent shooting. For all of its inconsistency, though, CBA has been much better lately in closing out games and that could be the difference for a Colts team one year removed from an SCT semifinal trip vs. one of the tournament’s younger teams. The Pick: CBA, 61-54
No. 11 Ranney at No. 6 Jackson Memorial, 5 p.m. | Streaming Link
It is only the round of 16, but the showdown in Jackson between the Panthers and host Jaguars has a chance to be the most entertaining game of the tournament, with a potential championship game between St. Rose and Manasquan, perhaps, the only exception. It’s a clash of two of the Shore’s best backcourts, as well as one of the conference’s best on offense vs. one of the best on defense. Ranney has been an explosive offensive team throughout the season thanks to senior standout Isaac Hester, as well as steady junior wing Drew Buck. Since the middle of January, the Panthers have had the benefit of Patrick School transfer Jahlil Bethea as well, giving Ranney two of the area’s most unstoppable offensive players in its backcourt.
Jackson Memorial counters with the senior trio of Samir Padilla, Respect Tyleek and Keith Adame – a group that not been on the floor together all season, but has shown its considerable potential when it has. Tyleek has been locked in of late, with Padilla showing signs of regaining the form he showed when he torched Freehold Township for 24 points in the WOBM Christmas Classic final to win Tournament MVP honors. Adame has been a knockdown shooter and steady two-way player and now, the Jaguars are getting the best version of senior Charlie Meglio – who missed the first third of the season with a shoulder injury. With the two backcourts going at it, Meglio and frontcourt mates Shawn Hubbard and Mehki Cherry could be the difference, as should Jackson Memorial’s penchant to rachet things up on defense. If it turns into a shootout, it will be hard to keep up with Ranney. The Pick: Jackson Memorial, 57-54
No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven at No. 8 Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m. | Streaming Link
Unlike the Matawan-CBA matchup, you don’t have to go back 10 years to find the last time these two teams met in the SCT round of 16. In fact, it was only last year that Rumson overpowered Freehold Township to reach the quarterfinals, where the Bulldogs suffered a difficult defeat at the hands of CBA. In order to get back to Middletown South for Saturday’s quarterfinals, Rumson will have to go through a Freehold Township squad that has its two best players from a year ago in Jayden Holmes-Cotter and Malachi Harris – now both seniors. Holmes-Cotter has yet to run into a team that can stop him, with Rumson just hoping that he doesn’t completely wreck the game on the glass while scoring 30.
Rumson’s advantage will be its shooting, which is usually an edge for a Bulldogs team that will play five capable shooters at one time throughout most games. Freehold Township has bee streakier when it comes to shooting the ball, with Nick Cardone and Andrew Silverman the x-factors. If the Patriots can extend their defense to the three-point line – something they do well with Holmes-Cotter in the paint to clean up on the glass – and play a clean game on offense, they should roll. Rumson, meanwhile, will hope to draw Holmes-Cotter away from the rim, get hot from three-point range and hope the Freehold Township big-man’s production represents the only Patriots player to have a big game. The Pick: Freehold Twp., 59-53
No. 19 Shore at No. 3 Toms River North, 6 p.m. (No Live Stream)
The bracket set up for Toms River North to potentially play two Class A South opponents on, what the Mariners hope, will be a run to the SCT semifinal round. Instead, it will be Shore that heads to the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena to challenge the Mariners for a spot in Saturday’s quarterfinal round. The Blue Devils caught fire in the second half on Thursday, outscoring Brick Memorial, 39-19, in the second half to knock of the No. 14 seed in the tournament. Monday’s 80-38 win over Lakewood seemed like a throwaway game for Shore, but the Blue Devils did not treat it as such and carried their hot shooting into the SCT.
That shooting will have to continue in the arena Thursday night, as Toms River North boasts an athletic lineup with a lot of ways to beat teams. Shore is one of the lesser teams remaining athletically and this matchup will not be as favorable as the Brick Memorial matchup was. Still, the Blue Devils are a savvy group and are currently zeroed in on the rim when it comes to shooting the ball. If Shore can manage the tempo, avoid turnovers and create more good looks for Alex George, Liam Gajewski, Brett Sweeney, Donovan Hughes and Richie Studer – all capable shooters in the starting lineup – the Blue Devils will have a chance. If Toms River North gets up-and-down with Micah Ford, Delani Hyde, Tareq Council and Jeremiah Pruitt, while Owen Baker and Sherrod Nelson manage the game in the backcourt, it could be a mismatch. The Pick: Toms River North, 60-51
No. 13 Red Bank Catholic at No. 4 Raritan, 6 p.m. | Streaming Link
Raritan’s only loss this season came in the Rockets’ last game, which was a 54-51 defeat to 11-14 Cedar Creek on Saturday in Barnegat. Now, Raritan will venture into the postseason looking to respond to a loss for the first time this season and will do so against a Red Bank Catholic team that is likely the best competition the Rockets have faced all season. Although Raritan is a 17-1 team, the Rockets have not dominated most of their opponents and have crossed the 60-point threshold just twice this season – both times against a Holmdel team that likes to play up-tempo and has allowed 60 or more 10 times in 19 games.
Red Bank Catholic, meanwhile, has started to click lately and has scored 64 points or more in its last four games vs. Shore Conference opponents. The Caseys have three shooters in Ryan Prior, Colin Cavanaugh and Sean Saxton that Raritan must account for, plus a 6-6 big man in Tyler Burnham. Raritan is a senior-laden team with no shortage of toughness and should be able to make Burnham work hard for position. The key for the Rockets is controlling the tempo of the game and not letting it get so wide-open that they struggle to stay with the shooters. If they can do that, then it’s just a matter of not letting Burnham, well…burn them. The Pick: Red Bank Catholic, 55-51
No. 12 Central at No. 5 Middletown South, 6 p.m. | Streaming Link
This game features a team that has played its best basketball of the season over the last four games vs. a team that hasn’t lost in 15 games. Central bounced back from a home loss to Lacey with a dominant week last week, followed by a 15-point win over Point Beach in Tuesday’s first round. Miles Chevalier and Jaycen Santucci have been borderline unstoppable as a scoring tandem and have also played with great energy, with each of them coming off back-to-back double-doubles entering Thursday’s action. Central also has a steady point guard in John Truhan and a well-rounded supporting cast that should match up well with a Middletown South team that also doesn’t have much traditional size but can still rebound and defend the paints.
While a 15-game winning streak might seem like a good sign heading into a tournament, long winning streaks are known to play with teams’ heads when they carry into a tournament. Middletown South learned that with its 2019-20 team, which took a 19-game winning streak into the SCT, only to lose as a No. 2 seed its first game following a first-round bye. This year’s Eagles squad has surely heard the cautionary tale and will try to avoid the same fate and will have its hands full against a Central team they beat, 53-48, for the second win in the winning streak. From that game on, Middletown South has been very adept in close games and is starting to look like a team that is legitimately good in pressure situations. The Eagles execute on both ends, they have a quality point guard in Dylan Csik and they make free throws. All of that bodes well for Middletown South in the playoffs and if Pat Brown and Brady Hahn can find the range from three, the Eagles should loosen right up in a game that is sure to be tight. The Pick: Middletown South, 61-59
No. 16 Southern at No. 1 Manasquan, 7 p.m. | Streaming Link
Southern went from a team that was finding different ways to win against good teams during an 11-3 start to the season to one that could not figure out how to close games during a 1-6 stretch. The Rams not only needed a win in the worst way Tuesday against Ocean, but might have also needed to win in the manner they did: by coming back in the fourth quarter, getting a big go-ahead three from Cooper Dempsey and scrapping their way to the free-throw line for the winning foul shot with one second left. It wasn’t the prettiest 32 minutes, but Southern finally got the winning feeling back and hopefully, for the Rams’ sake, they have savored it for the last 36 hours.
Manasquan has been a well-oiled machine for a more than a decade and particularly over these last five seasons. The Warriors have been to the SCT quarterfinals in 11 straight seasons, including the modified tournament during the COVID-shortened 2021 season, which Manasquan won. In order to make it 12, they will have to get past a Southern squad that is going to attempt to slow the game down, lean on the physical play of Tom Menegus and Max DiPietro while also looking for a backcourt scoring spark from Pat Gaffney, Caden Schubiger and Dempsey. Manasquan has had some games this season in which the offense has stalled out a bit and Southern is going to need to catch the Warriors on one of those days. Even if that all breaks right, Manasquan has a long list of winning scripts and its talented, dynamic, versatile roster will find a way. The Pick: Manasquan, 64-43
No. 15 Point Boro at No. 2 St. Rose, 7 p.m. | Streaming Link
St. Rose enters Thursday night with only two losses, just one of which came against a Shore Conference team and that was top-seeded Manasquan – a team St. Rose also beat for Manasquan’s only loss vs. the Shore this season. There was one close call, however, for the Purple Roses and that came against Point Boro the first time the two teams met in Class C North divisional play. Point Boro slowed the game down, made St. Rose earn every inch and held a 26-21 lead with three minutes to go. The Purple Roses made several big shots in the final two minutes, clamped down on defense and escaped with a 30-28 win.
The second time the two teams met was not so close, but it was intense. Unlike the first time the team’s met, St. Rose now has a complete, healthy team with Gio Panzini, Peter Mauro and Evan Romano now in the fold along with year-long mainstays Matt Hodge, Jayden Hodge and Bryan Ebeling. On the flipside, Point Boro is not healthy, with senior Ryan Mellett injuring his arm over the weekend and leaving the Panthers without its most versatile player – particularly on the defensive side. That puts the pressure on Danny Coughlan and Thomas Turner – who stepped up in a big way Tuesday against Manalapan – to handle the rebounding and interior defense, while Shane Ryan, Jake Venturoso and Noah Knauf serve as the scoring threats. Beating St. Rose requires so much to go right and when Mellett went down, so did Point Boro’s chances at finishing off an upset. The Pick: St. Rose, 62-45
Round 1 Picks Record: 9-1
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