Boys Basketball – Shore Sports Network Final 2022-23 Top 10
From the very start of the Shore Conference boys basketball season, there were two teams that stood out above the rest in their talent and potential to win championships over the course of the season and you will find those two teams topping the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 below.
The journey to get to this point, however, was anything but predictable. One of those two top teams lost to another Shore Conference team after that seemed like it was a far-fetched proposition and the two Shore powers combined to lose nine games over the course of the season. Ultimately, both won championships and with one of them winning both a Shore Conference Tournament and overall group championship, it was easy to pick a No. 1 team to cap this season.
As for the rest of the field, it is so close that there are bound to be some unhappy teams. There are reasonably 16 teams with a case to be ranked in the top 10 and only four that did enough to consider themselves completely shielded from being unranked. The regular season revealed that every team outside the top two had its shortcomings and the NJSIAA Tournament showed that none of those teams were quite good enough to overcome them.
So, how to sort through all this? First off: forget about division championships. It is a great team accomplishment, it is the first goal for most teams during the season and it earns you a place on the banner in the gym, but for purposes of ranking the Shore Conference – particularly this year – it is too much of a limitation. In more than one instance, there are teams that won a division title, but had an inferior record against common opponents compared to a team that finished behind them in the standings. On top of that, there were eight divisions this season, which meant fewer division games and a smaller percentage of the season belonging to the division schedule.
Secondly, the regular-season games between the start of the Shore Conference Tournament and the start of the NJSIAA Tournament do count. They do not, however, carry the same weight. Several teams dressed up their résumés during that time period, but beating a team head-to-head during the stretch isn’t a silver bullet to jump them in the rankings as much as a head-to-head win is earlier in the year. Marlboro, for instance, boosted its profile by beating St. Rose, but the Mustangs are not going to jump the Purple Roses just because they won a head-to-head matchup two days after St. Rose lost a crushing Shore Conference Tournament semifinal to Ranney in overtime. The same goes for Shore Regional beating Middletown South by 15 points two days after both lost in the SCT and Freehold Township beating Toms River North after both were bounced from the SCT.
Lastly, it is about the overall résumé first. When teams are bunched up and close in the overall body of work, the head-to-head results carry a lot of weight. When one résumé, however, is far superior to another, a head-to-head win for the team with the inferior résumé can only go so far. There is one team, in particular, that finished the season with a strong body of work, but a couple problematic head-to-head results. Ultimately, the overall collection of wins carries the day.
This was as difficult a final Top 10 to sort through as there has been in the last couple decades, so apologies to the teams that rightfully assumed they were one of the 10 best teams in the Shore. The problem is there are probably 15 or 16 teams that thought that when their seasons ended, so there are going to be a few on the short end of the debate. That debate will carry on through the offseason, but as for SSN’s take on the final Top 10, here it is.
1. Manasquan (28-4, 9-1) Preseason Rank: 1
The season started with Manasquan as the No. 1 team, but with a co-favorite to finish the season at No. 1 in St. Rose. By the final day of the season, the Warriors left no doubt about who the Shore’s top team was in 2022-23. Manasquan won its third Shore Conference title in the last four years while reaching the championship game for a fifth straight season. The Warriors then went on to win their fourth straight NJSIAA sectional championship on the way to winning the program’s first ever NJSIAA Group II title. All four of Manasquan’s losses (Linden, St. Rose, Roselle Catholic and Union Catholic) came against teams that won a sectional championship, with Union Catholic and Roselle Catholic winning the two non-public championships. The Manasquan-vs.-St. Rose head-to-head matchups were high-level and should deliver more of the same next year, when the defending champion Warriors bring back four starters: Darius Adams and Griffin Linstra as juniors and Ryan Frauenheim and Alex Konov as seniors.
2. St. Rose (24-5, 9-1) Preseason Rank: 2
One two-minute stretch of a single game cost St. Rose a chance to reach its first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship game, and in that regard, there is an element of “what if” to the Purple Roses season. That should not obscure the fact that St. Rose still its best season in almost a half-century, piling up 24 wins and dropping three of their five losses to group champions Manasquan and Roselle Catholic (twice). The Purple Roses bounced back from the SCT disappointment to win the program’s first South Jersey Non-Public B title since 2004 and gave Roselle Catholic a competitive, highly-entertaining championship game to close out the season. After spending a lot of this past season acclimating new players into the program, next season sets up to be even better as St. Rose expects its top seven players back for 2023-24.
3. Ranney (17-11, 4-6) Preseason Rank: 8
After starting the season 5-6, the Panthers welcomed senior transfer Jahlil Bethea into the fold and became one of the Shore’s top teams. Once Bethea joined forces with Isaac Hester and Drew Buck, Ranney took off, going 12-5 the rest of the way, with its only losses coming to Manasquan (twice), St. Rose, Rutgers Prep and Bishop Eustace. During that stretch, the Panthers also took down Immaculata, Jackson Memorial, Toms River North and St. Rose, with that win over the Purple Roses going down as the unofficial game of the year in the Shore Conference. With Hester and Bethea moving on the graduation, Buck and projected returnees MeSean Williams and Shaan Nayar will hope to carry the torch into 2024.
4. Raritan (21-3, 10-0) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
Although Raritan did not play as many games or as difficult of a schedule as some of the other top 10 contenders, few teams in the conference were more consistent than the Rockets. Raritan won its first 17 games of the season and the only thing that kept the Rockets from entering the postseason 18-0 was a slip-up against Cedar Creek in a showcase at Barnegat on the same day as the Shore Conference Tournament seeding meeting. Other than that, their only other losses both came against No. 1 Manasquan, the second of which was a real scrap that Raritan kept close until the fourth quarter. On top of that, Raritan beat Central Regional twice – including once to reach the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals – and also took down Red Bank Catholic, 21-win Shore Regional and 23-win Delaware Valley. With five senior starters, Raritan will look to rebuild while working toward the standard that this year’s senior class set over the past two seasons.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (18-8, 7-3) Preseason Rank: 6
The next five teams could go in just about any order you would prefer, although it might surprise some to see Rumson come in at No. 5. The Bulldogs finished second behind Middletown South in the Class B North standings, but here is an equally-important comparison that works in Rumson’s favor: in games vs. common opponents – including a split in the regular-season series with one another – Rumson went 10-3 while Middletown South went 9-4. Factor in Rumson beating Marlboro to deal the Mustangs a serious blow in attempting to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament, plus losses to power programs like St. Peter’s Prep, Manasquan, Ranney and Newark East Side and Rumson’s résumé plays well, especially considering the Bulldogs opened the year with minimal varsity experience. That lack of experience meat a lot of youth on the roster, which bodes well for the Bulldogs looking ahead to 2023-24.
6. Marlboro (15-10, 3-5) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
From missing the Shore Conference Tournament to cracking the Top 10, Marlboro passes division rivals Christian Brothers Academy and Freehold Township to land in the No. 6 spot to end the year. The case for Marlboro to go ahead of the next two teams in the rankings is simple: the Mustangs own the head-to-head edge. The case for Marlboro over Freehold Township is a little more complicated, but the Mustangs did win two out of three, including a road state tournament game at Freehold Township. The case to finish ahead of CBA is the most complicated and here it is: Marlboro’s two losses to CBA were by a combined seven points and factoring in those two results into the record-vs.-common-opponent comparison, Marlboro and CBA still finished tied at 8-5. CBA’s best wins outside those 13 games were against Notre Dame and Matawan, while Marlboro pulled off wins over Middletown South, Central, Westfield and Group III runner-up state Nottingham. The A North season was not kind to Marlboro, but once the Mustangs made it to February finally healthy, they again played like one of the Shore’s better teams.
7. Central (20-7, 9-1) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
When Central dropped a 47-44 home game to Lacey to end the last full week of January, it cost Central the outright Class B South title and looked like it might send the Golden Eagles into the postseason on a slide. Instead, it woke up the Golden Eagles and they went on to beat Middletown South to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 1994. Central also beat a tough No. 12 seed in Rancocas Valley in round one of the NJSIAA Tournament before losing an overtime heartbreaker to Eastern. The Golden Eagles will head into 2023-24 coming off a 20-win season with both of its top two scorers – sophomore Jaycen Santucci and junior Miles Chevalier – back for one more year together.
8. Middletown South (18-7, 8-2) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
Although Middletown South comes in at No. 8, the Eagles have done enough for top-five consideration. They won their second division championship in the last four years, this time surviving the war of attrition that was the Class B North race. Two rough stretches within the season hurt the Eagles in their quest to crack the top five, which were the 0-4 start that included losses to Marlboro, Rumson and Brick Memorial, and the loss to Central in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16. Beyond that, the season was basically flawless, with Middletown South rattling off 15 wins in a row between the 0-4 start and SCT loss, followed by a statement road win over Jackson Memorial in the Central Group IV quarterfinals. Saying goodbye to Dylan Csik and Pat Brown will be difficult, but the Eagles have some junior and sophomore talent already established and ready to take the next step in 2023-24.
9. Toms River North (20-8, 8-2) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
While Toms River North has a lot of résumé bullets in its favor – 20 wins, an outright division championship with two wins over the second-place team in a competitive Class A South, a win over South Jersey Group III champion Moorestown and no bad losses – there is a head-to-head issue for Class A South when measuring its teams against the B North field. Class B North went 7-5 crossing over against Class A South and was 6-2 when taking games involving the teams with losing records (Middletown North, Toms River East and Toms River South) out of the equation. With that in mind, it’s hard to make a strong case that Toms River North should finish ahead of Middletown South – the champion of the division that was superior when its member teams met head-to-head. To paint a rosier picture, Toms River North is set to return six key players (Micah Ford, Owen Baker, Sherrod Nelson, Garrett Dusheck, Tareq Council and Jeremiah Pruitt) from this year’s team next season.
10. Jackson Memorial (20-7, 7-3) Preseason Rank: 4
The Jaguars round out the top 10 as a 20-win team that ran into the wrong opponent in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group IV Tournaments. Ranney eliminated Jackson Memorial from the SCT on the way to reaching the conference final as the No. 11 seed in the field, while Middletown South made the proper adjustments following an early SCT exit and took down the Jaguars in the Central Group IV quarterfinals. Of course, Jackson Memorial had plenty of positive results as well, with the Jaguars picking up back-to-back double-digit wins over Red Bank Catholic and Freehold Township in December and shutting down Cherokee in late January. Four of Jackson Memorial’s starters are graduating, but that group had some missed games over the course of the season that gave the next wave of Jaguars players a chance to lay the groundwork going forward.
The Next 10
Christian Brothers Academy (13-9, 7-1) Preseason Rank: 3 – The Colts won the Class A North title, with more than half of their wins coming within the division. Two wins over Marlboro highlight the Colts résumé, while a relatively quiet postseason and non-conference results make CBA more of a borderline case than a surefire top 10 team at season’s end.
Freehold Township (20-5, 6-2) Preseason Rank: 5 – Freehold Township owns a 2-4 record vs. ranked teams and beat No. 9 Toms River North in a regular-season game right before the state tournament, but a double-digit loss to Jackson Memorial and a 1-2 record vs. Marlboro are keep the Patriots out.
Colts Neck (18-9, 6-4) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – The injury bug tripped up Colts Neck at Shore Conference Tournament time, but the Cougars picked up some quality wins over the course of the season: Toms River North, Rumson-Fair Haven and two each vs. Red Bank Catholic and Brick Memorial.
Point Pleasant Boro (16-10, 5-5) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – The Panthers picked up a noteworthy win over Ranney, won a round in each of the postseason tournaments, and all 10 of their losses came against teams in the top 10, plus Freehold Township, CBA and 26-win South River.
Red Bank Catholic (16-12, 6-4) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – RBC split with four of its five B North opponents while sweeping Middletown North and added non-division wins over CBA and Notre Dame, leaving the Caseys with a solid jumping off point when they return most of the team in 2023-24.
Shore (21-6, 7-3) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – The past season marked a return to championship contention for Shore, which made it back to the Central Jersey Group I final for the first time since 2015. Wins over Brick Memorial and Middletown South showed the Blue Devils could hang vs. larger schools.
Brick Memorial (16-11, 6-4) Preseason Rank: 9 – An injury to senior Jeremiah Crispin was hard to overcome a Mustangs team without a lot of depth, but the senior core managed 16 wins and a round-one win over Burlington Twp. in the NJSIAA Tournament.
Southern (14-12, 6-4) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – The Rams were in first place through one half of the division schedule in Class A South before running into a bunch of solid A South teams bent on payback. Southern recovered in time to win a Shore Conference Tournament game over Ocean.
Ocean (16-10, 8-2) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – With a team of players mostly set to return next year, Ocean won its first division championship since 1971. The Spartans lost a tough SCT road game at Ocean, but still closed the season with a tough home win over Hopewell Valley before a loss to No. 1 seed Ewing in the NJSIAA Tournament.
Matawan (14-14, 4-6) Preseason Rank: Not ranked – Although they battled some inconsistencies, the Huskies showed considerable potential with a sophomore-led team that won a round in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group III Tournaments and played several ranked teams tough: No. 2 St. Rose, No. 3 Ranney, No. 4 Raritan and No. 10 Jackson Memorial, plus a one-point loss at CBA.