Boys Basketball – Shore Sports Network Top 10, Jan. 21
Over the first month of the season, the Shore Sports Network Top 10 has gone through some twists, turns and bumps, but on Jan. 21, eight of the 10 teams are in almost identical positions as they were on opening night. Although two of the teams on this week’s list were not in the preseason top 10, they are in the same spots as the teams they replaced.
With all that being said, there is still a long way to go before the postseason hits. The second turn through the division has already begun and there are a number of inter-divisional games that could make a serious impact on the rankings before the start of the Shore Conference Tournament. Even though the top nine teams all look fairly safe for the time being, a lot can still happen.
1. Ranney (12-3, 7-0) Last Week: 1
Scottie Lewis is a major reason why Ranney is a hot-ticket item at showcases throughout the year, but this weekend, the Panthers proved they are about more than just a couple of five-star recruits. With Lewis sidelined due to an ankle injury, Ranney scrapped its way past Westtown, Pa., led by Duke recruit Cam Reddish. In addition to Bryan Antoine leading the offense, Savior Akuwovo continued to prove he is an offensive threat, while junior Alex Klatsky stepped up on defense while also knocking down some threes. Lewis is unlikely to play this week as he tries to get himself right for a showdown with Roselle Catholic on Jan. 31, but if Ranney has to proceed without him, the Panthers now know they can manage.
2. Mater Dei Prep (11-2, 7-1) Last Week: 2
After losing at Ranney on Jan. 11, Mater Dei came back with two wins this past week, taking down Point Beach and Keansburg. Sophomore and 6-foot-6 Trenton Catholic transfer Jamir Watkins debuted for the Seraphs and made an instant impact by scoring in double-figures twice, including a 15-point, 10-rebound showing in his debut vs. Point Beach. Watkins will give Mater Dei some depth it did not have for the first month of the season as the Seraphs look to make a run at a Shore Conference Tournament three-peat.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-1, 5-0) Last Week: 3
Rumson played just one game this week and took care of business with a double-digit win over St. John Vianney. The Bulldogs will be a little busier this week, beginning with a rematch against Matawan, which battled Rumson into the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs secured an 11-point road win over the Huskies on Dec. 19.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (8-3, 6-0) Last Week: 5
The Colts have now won five straight following Stephen Braunstein’s game-winner to beat Eastern Saturday at St. Augustine. The pushes CBA to the No. 4 spot in the rankings, its high-water mark for the year so far. This is likely as high as CBA can climb during the season given that the Colts lost to Rumson-Fair Haven and do not have a scheduled game against Ranney or Mater Dei, but a slump by any of the top three teams prior to the Shore Conference Tournament could at least spark a conversation.
5. Neptune (9-4, 6-1) Last Week: 9
The Scarlet Fliers climbed back into the Top 10 last week and after playing well again this past week, they are back in the top five. Since an ugly loss to Ocean in which it scored just 29 points, Neptune is 4-2 with wins over Colts Neck and Marlboro, a one-point loss at CBA and a four-point loss to Montclair Immaculate – the No. 13 team in the state – on a neutral court. CBA remains the frontrunner in A North, but Neptune is just one game behind with plenty of time and enough capability to overtake the Colts before the start of the postseason.
6. Colts Neck (10-2, 5-2) Last Week: 10
Colts Neck played only one game over the past week and it was a come-from-behind win over a Freehold Township team that appears to be getting its footing after an injury-marred start. Under normal circumstances, it might not have been the kind of win to warrant a four-spot jump, but Manasquan’s loss to Marlboro gives the Cougars the edge over the Warriors and a head-to-head win over Toms River North also goes a long way as well.
7. Manasquan (11-1, 7-0) Last Week: 4
The Shore’s last remaining unbeaten team of the 2017-18 season finally took a loss, with Manasquan losing at Marlboro on Saturday. The Mustangs were desperate for a win after losing to both CBA and Neptune by double-figures to fall to .500 and came to play against a Warriors team that got nicked up during the game and has also been playing without sophomore sixth man Alex Galvan. CBA, Neptune and Colts Neck all have wins over Marlboro – Neptune with two – so Manasquan will take a back seat to that trio for now, but still has a chance to go unbeaten in a deep B North division and will get a crack at No. 3 Rumson on Feb. 3.
8. Matawan (11-2, 5-1) Last Week: 7
Another undefeated week for Matawan keeps the Huskies firmly in the top 10, although they did fall one spot due to the rise of Neptune and Colts Neck. Matawan had some trouble putting away Long Branch in Long Branch, but pulled out the win nonetheless before continuing on to beat Red Bank and South Plainfield to cap the week.
9. Toms River North (12-2, 7-0) Last Week: Not ranked
The Mariners are building a case to move back into the top eight now that senior Holden Petrick is finally healthy following a bout with a sprained ankle he suffered on opening night. The came alive in the fourth quarter to beat Brick by 10 points, held rival Toms River South under 20 and to two second-half points, then hammered Highland on Saturday. A win over defending NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV champion Hunterdon Central next week would go a long way toward securing the No. 8 seed, which would guarantee the Mariners would not have to play an SCT game on the road.
10. Red Bank Catholic (10-4, 5-3) Last Week: Not ranked
In all honesty, there really is no surefire answer for the No. 10 spot this week. Ocean beat RBC head-to-head, but lost to Middletown South, which RBC beat. RBC also has wins over Marlboro and Point Boro, while Ocean boasts wins over Neptune and RBC, but is only a game over .500 at the moment. With a resume that’s just a little bit cleaner than that of the rest of the candidates, the Caseys take the No. 10 spot for now but the Top 10’s final spot is very much up for grabs.
Point Pleasant Beach (7-6, 4-3) Last Week: 6 – The strength of Point Beach’s resume was that all of its losses were to very strong teams, but a loss to 4-10 Central leaves the Garnet Gulls with a rough loss to go with a collection of wins that does not stack up with the rest of the field.
Ocean (8-7, 4-4) Last Week: 8 – The Spartans still have a case to be the No. 10 team, having defeated Neptune and RBC while suffering three of its seven losses to Manasquan (twice) and Matawan.
On the Bubble
Marlboro (7-6, 4-4) – The Mustangs were in danger of falling under .500 this week with three games against top-10 teams, but broke through by beating previously-unbeaten Manasquan. Getting back to the SCT final will be nearly impossible, but the Mustangs are shaping up to be a sleeper team in the SCT, if not a top-10 team before then.
Howell (7-3, 3-3) – The Rebels ran their winning streak to seven games, but this week will reveal how far they have actually come since a 0-3 start. The coming week for Howell includes a trip to Marlboro and home games against No. 6 Colts Neck and No. 5 Neptune.
Middletown South (8-5, 5-2) – With three straight wins, including over Long Branch and Ocean, and a second-place standing in B North at the moment, Middletown South can make a top 10 case. Losses to RBC and Point Boro, however, keep the Eagles out for the moment.
Point Pleasant Boro (9-2, 6-1) – The Panthers ran into a nightmare first half at Lakewood and could not recover in a 54-33 loss to a Piners team that looks primed to scratch and claw for its eighth straight outright division championship. As long as Point Boro can get back on track against Lacey and Pinelands this week, the Panthers should still be in good shape when it comes to the B South race. A game against rival Point Beach on Saturday will also be critical for SCT seeding.