Boys Basketball – SSN Final Top 10
The 2017-18 season is in the books and it was an overall positive one for the Shore Conference. The Shore had three teams ranked among the top 20 in the state, according to NJ.com, over the course of the season, finished with two teams in the top 20 and had its highest-ranked team in more than three decades.
Within the Shore, the rankings fell into place with a clarity that rarely shows itself during a season with so many twists and turns. There will always be room for debate, but this year's final top 10 in the Shore Conference looks a lot like it has all year long, which should further justify the final ranking.
1. Ranney (28-5, 14-0) Preseason Rank: 1
After nearly knocking off No. 1 Roselle Catholic – which has not lost to a team in N.J. this year – Ranney is set up with a pretty good case to be the No. 2 team in the state to finish out the year, assuming Roselle Catholic wraps up the Tournament of Champions title with two more wins. The 2017-18 Panthers are the best Shore Conference team in quite some time and might be in the conversation as the best ever. With four starters and five key players returning as seniors next year, Ranney has a chance to make even more history.
2. Mater Dei Prep (23-6, 12-2) Preseason: 2
Four of Mater Dei’s six losses came at the hands of Ranney and the Seraphs almost picked off the Panthers in the second regular-season meeting, only to be foiled by Bryan Antoine. The other losses were to Roman Catholic of Philadelphia and a Montclair Immaculate team that took out the Patrick School and Hudson Catholic in the NJSIAA Tournament. A resounding win over Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals left no doubt who the No. 2 team in the Shore was this season.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (25-3, 12-0) Preseason: 3
This was arguably the most well-rounded, talented Rumson team in the history of the program and the Bulldogs have the accomplishments to prove it. They reached the Shore Conference Tournament final four in a year in which the two finalists were top-20 teams in the state, then won their second straight Central Jersey Group II title. Rumson’s only losses came against teams ranked in the state – No. 11 St. Peter’s Prep in December, No. 15 Mater Dei in the SCT semifinals and No. 20 Haddonfield in the Group II semifinals. Ian O’Connor, Jackson McCarthy and Phillip Wheeler were the team’s three top scorers down the stretch and are all set to return next season.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (17-8, 12-2) Preseason: 5
Although CBA did not win Class A North, the Colts paid Neptune back by beating the Scarlet Fliers in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals. CBA’s eight losses were the product of a strong schedule – one that included losses to Ranney, Cherokee and Blair Academy. Even a loss to Red Bank Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals doesn’t sink the Colts, because they beat RBC two other times earlier in the season. CBA will miss seniors Rob Mahala and Nolan Madden, but Stephen Braunstein, Josh Cohen and Liam Kennedy lead a deep class of juniors who are coming back as seniors next year.
5. Neptune (22-6, 13-1) Preseason: 4
The Scarlet Fliers have a decent case for the No. 4 spot in the rankings after winning A North and outscoring CBA in the three meetings between the two teams. The two losses to CBA, however, put the Colts at No. 4 and Neptune at No. 5 – a strong campaign for Neptune’s best team since winning the Shore Conference Tournament and a sectional title in 2012. An overtime loss to CBA in the SCT and a three-point loss to a strong Moorestown team in the Central Group III semifinals were bitter losses, but that A North title makes 2017-18 a success. Guards Sam Fagan and Dwaine Jones return next year, but the team will be dramatically different without center and La Salle commit Jared Kimbrough.
6. Manasquan (20-7, 12-2) Preseason: 7
The Warriors won B North – their sixth straight season with at least a share of a division title – and reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the seventh straight year. In those SCT quarterfinals, Manasquan had the ball with a chance to send it to overtime in the final possession before coming up just short against No. 2 Mater Dei. Senior point guard Ryan Flanagan was one of the Shore’s most improved players, but the Warriors are set up to succeed without him next year, when Brad McCabe, Xander Korolik and Alex Galvan all return off strong seasons.
7. Point Pleasant Beach (21-10, 10-4) Preseason: 8
The Garnet Gulls have the worst loss of any team in the top 10 (at 8-18 Central) but responded to that wake-up call by hammering Colts Neck on the road to reach the SCT quarterfinals, then capturing the program’s first sectional title since Matt Farrell’s senior year in 2013-14. Point Beach’s signature win this year was its overtime triumph at Burlington City in the Central Jersey Group I championship, led by its senior trio of Danny Frauenheim, Mohamed Traore and Trevor Covey. Of Point Beach’s seven rotation regulars, only one – sophomore Jake Clark – will be back next season.
8. Colts Neck (19-8, 10-4) Preseason: 6
For the second time in three years, Colts Neck recovered from a round-of-16 SCT loss by catching fire in the state tournament and reaching the Central Jersey Group IV final. The Cougars nearly won another sectional title at the buzzer, but senior Danny Gaines’s three-pointer would not go down as time expired in the sectional final vs. Trenton. Four of Colts Neck’s eight losses came against CBA and Neptune and two more came between the SCT and NJSIAA Tournaments with the Cougars missing senior starter zach Albom. Colts Neck will have to replace five senior starters plus reliable forward Mike Federici next season, but the Cougars have consistently recovered from losses to graduation.
9. Toms River North (25-5, 14-0) Preseason: 9
Not only did Toms River North win its fourth straight A South title – the Mariners extended their winning streak in divisional play to 46 and counting heading into 2018-19 with another perfect 14-0 showing. Toms River North reached the WOBM Classic final, the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and the South Jersey Group IV semifinals with losses to Manasquan, Ranney and Atlantic City in each. Coach Rory Caswell did a nice job of working younger players into the rotation and the result will be a capable group of returnees – Najae Hallenback, Jakari Spence, Nick Duncsak and Colin Baker – on hand for next season.
10. Red Bank Catholic (18-11, 9-5) Preseason: Not ranked
The last spot in the top 10 has been a revolving door and the Caseys ended up in the club to finish the season thanks to a memorable, historic win over CBA in the South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals. It had been nearly 30 years since Red Bank Catholic beat its Monmouth County rival and the Caseys did it with a team that has a strong core of returning talent to match up against CBA’s deep returning class of seniors next year.
The Next Five
Ocean (17-11, 8-6) – The Spartans won a game each in the SCT and NJSIAA Tournament before running into top 20 teams in the state – Mater Dei in the SCT and Nottingham in Central Jersey Group III. A January win over Neptune remains Ocean’s best of the season.
Barnegat (22-7, 10-4) – The Bengals turned in a historic season by their standards and if not for injuries to senior captain Mike Revello early in the year and in the final game of the season, Barnegat might have been both a division champ in B South and a sectional finalist in South Jersey Group II.
Middletown South (15-13, 8-6) – The Eagles enjoyed their best season in eight years, reaching the SCT, sporting a 1,000-point scorer in Ryan Purcell, and winning a road game vs. Marlboro in the Central Jersey Group IV first round.
Marlboro (12-12, 8-6) – Despite a rough finish, Marlboro turned in a solid season with wins over Manasquan and CBA. The Mustangs return their two best offensive threats next year in junior Dylan Kaufman and sophomore Alex Ratner.
Matawan (20-6, 10-2) – The Huskies were one of nine Shore teams to win 20 or more games and the they also picked up an early-season win over Ocean. Although Matawan did not win a postseason tournament game and has to replace top player Mike Dunne, it returns a strong core of juniors-to-be next year.