Boys Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Semifinal Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Semifinals
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019
At RWJ Barnabas Health Arena, Toms River
No. 1 Ranney (22-3, 12-0) vs. No. 4 Freehold Township (19-3, 12-2), 6 p.m.
The amount of talent on Ranney’s roster is basically unprecedented in the Shore Conference and were it not for that anomaly at this time and place, a team like Freehold Township would be a serious darkhorse contender to win this championship. The Patriots have already defeated CBA and their only three losses are a December defeat at the hands of Red Bank Catholic, a rematch with CBA and a road loss to Middletown South in which the Eagles shot 17-for-28 from three-point range. With four seniors in the starting lineup and two more key seniors coming off the bench, the makeup and pedigree of this Patriots team is such that they should be taken seriously as a contender in any tournament they enter.
In this particular game, however, it’s hard to see how Freehold Township matches up with Ranney. Greg Billups is Freehold Township’s tallest player at 6-foot-5 and while it wouldn’t necessarily take size to put a scare into the top seed, it will be hard to combat a team that has battled 6-10 front lines throughout its non-conference schedule without some frontcourt size. One way to circumvent Ranney’s size advantage would be to lean on the three-point shot, which Freehold Township doesn’t do to an extreme degree. They can play five players at a time who can hit threes but relative to a high school landscape that relies increasingly on the three-point shot, Freehold Township is not hoisting them up like a lot of programs are. Coach Brian Golub stressed that his team is going to play its game against Ranney and an increase in three-point attempts might be a wise wrinkle to throw into the game plan.
On the other side, Ranney is coming off its worst shooting performance of the year. The Panthers shot 0-for-17 from three-point range and still beat Middletown South, 72-53. Bryan Antoine also aggravated a nagging right shoulder injury in the game and even before the injury, he was coasting through a rather quiet game (13 points) by his standards. Scottie Lewis has been Ranney’s most consistent player of late and he was the Panthers’ best player in last year’s SCT as well. With Lewis, Ahmadu Sarnor and Phillip Wheeler all playing at a high level right now, Ranney shouldn’t need to ask too much from Antoine just yet.
If Freehold Township can pester Lewis and Sarnor in the half court, keep Wheeler from killing them in the paint and limit Antoine’s transition offense, the Patriots can hang around. Ranney will have to miss some more shots and Freehold Township will have to get good ones on the other end without turning the ball over and feeding into the Ranney highlight show. With Billups, Cristian Corcione, Seth Meisner, Zach Barilka, Kevin Kilinskas and Matt Santangelo providing the senior leadership, Freehold Township is more than capable of executing the game plan but that is only a small part of the battle. The Patriots will have to go above and beyond just to make it to the final two minutes with a shot and with Ranney coming off a sub-par performance in the quarterfinals, the Patriots will have the full attention of the No. 1 seed.
The Pick: Ranney 79, Freehold Twp. 56
No. 2 Mansaquan (24-2) vs. No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy (20-4), 7:45 p.m.
If you concede that a Ranney repeat in this tournament is inevitable, then the second game of Thursday’s double-header is the marquee game of the tournament. With the exception of some early-season chaos in the top 10, Manasquan and CBA have been the two favorites to reach the SCT final all season long and while so many teams from the top tier of the Shore have clashed at one point or another this year, Manasquan and CBA have not run into one another and that is what makes this semifinal game so interesting.
Both teams are hitting their stride at this point, particularly Manasquan. The Warriors have won 15 straight games and are one win away from matching Toms River North for the longest streak in the Shore during the 2018-19 season. During that run, only three of Manasquan’s opponents have come within 10 points of the Warriors and their SCT opponents were not among that group. Manasquan pummeled both Toms River East and Red Bank Catholic to reach the semifinal round and neither game was ever in doubt. The last time Manasquan had to sweat out a win was its last regular-season win, which came on the road against Wall.
CBA, meanwhile, does not have the robust winning streak that Manasquan has but have played similarly well given its schedule. Since losing to the Hun School – a team with post-graduate players, including Ocean graduate Andrew Seager – on a neutral floor, CBA has gone 7-1 with the only loss coming at the buzzer to an Elizabeth team that just lost its first game on Tuesday night. The Colts were locked in a battle with Toms River North on Sunday and a 12-0 run to close the third quarter and a key fourth-quarter basket by Stephen Braunstein proved to be the difference as the Colts ended the Mariners’ 16-game winning streak.
Both programs have been regulars in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. CBA has been to the SCT final five times and won twice since Geoff Billet took over the program in 2007-08 and Manasquan is in the SCT semifinals for the fourth time in coach Andrew Bilodeau’s tenure but has not been to the final since 2005. Manasquan lost to CBA in that 2005 final and the two teams have met twice in the SCT since then, with CBA beating Manasquan in the 2015 quarterfinals and again in the 2016 semifinals.
For the first time in recent memory, Manasquan appears to be the favorite in an SCT showdown with CBA. The Warriors want for nothing on their roster – they have plenty of size, length, athleticism, shooting and ball-handling and Bilodeau has his team playing as well together as any team in the field. The unofficial prevailing opinion among coaches and regular observers at Sunday’s quarterfinal round in Toms River was that Manasquan is the team that has the best shot to upset Ranney because of that combination of attributes. While CBA has those qualities to a degree as well, Manasquan is a little bigger and a little more athletic across the board.
So where is CBA’s advantage on Thursday? The Colts have the biggest player on the floor in 6-11 Josh Cohen, who will be tasked with keeping junior Alex Galvan off the glass and vice versa. CBA also has an army of shooter who have all been clicking recently, led by seniors Stephen Braunstein and Liam Kennedy and sophomores Mike White and Collin Farrell. An x-factor for Thursday will be the health of freshman Ryan Mabrey, who sat out Sunday with what Billet described as a minor knee injury. Mabrey has been one of the team’s top three-point threats and a steady hand at point guard and his status might be the difference between winning and losing for CBA.
Manasquan’s back court was a bit of a question heading into the year but junior Kieran Flanagan has emerged as one of the better guards in the conference and freshman Ben Roy appears to be hitting his stride as well coming off the bench. Galvan and senior Brad McCabe have been the top dogs on Manasquan all year and the support cast around them is playing at a level that makes the Warriors a nearly impossible matchup. That athleticism and speed – both as individuals and as a unit – is championship caliber and it makes going against Manasquan on Thursday a dangerous proposition.
The Pick: Manasquan 65, CBA 61
Quarterfinals Picks Record: 4-0
Overall SCT Picks Record: 15-5