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The Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10 is an annual tradition that marks a starting point of the season that attempts to track where that season might go. The uneasy reality of the 2021 boys basketball season in N.J. is that, at any time, the season could unravel and the latest Top 10 could become less a prediction or assessment of what has happened and more of a window into what could have been.

If the 47 teams in the Shore Conference are fortunate to make it to the March 6 final date having played something close to a full season, then the five-week stretch from Jan. 26 to the first Saturday in March will tell the full story about the Shore Conference in 2021.

Check out the Shore's 10 best to open the year and vote on your pick to finish No. 1 to end the season.

Includes last year’s final record and SSN Ranking

1. Manasquan (31-1, 14-0) Final Rank: 1

For the first time in 57 years, Manasquan enters a season as the defending Shore Conference Tournament champion and the Warriors won their championship in dominant fashion. They also captured a second straight NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship to cap a 31-1 season, which ended when Manasquan withdrew from the NJSIAA Tournament just hours before the Warriors were to play Camden – the No. 1 team in the state. Manasquan returns with the same goal this year, with 2020 Player of the Year Ben Roy, Jack Collins, Connor Walsh and Casey Mulligan all back to the lead the way toward what they hope will be a second straight No. 1 finish.

Ranney's Kyle Rhoden challenges a shot by Manasquan's Connor Walsh. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Ranney's Kyle Rhoden challenges a shot by Manasquan's Connor Walsh. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

2. Ranney (17-10, 12-0) Final Rank: 9

With only one regular back from the 2019 Tournament of Champions winner, Ranney endured some ups and downs in 2020 and ultimately finished with a solid campaign: 17 wins, a third straight outright Class B Central championship and a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals – all with a team that had no seniors on the roster. Ranney returns with its nucleus intact and then some, led by Elijah Perkins, Kyle Rhoden, Ryan Zan and Gill St. Bernard transfer Isaac Hester.

3. Marlboro (23-7, 11-3) Final Rank: 5

Just seconds away from the first NJSIAA sectional title in program history, heartbreak struck Marlboro when South Brunswick beat the Mustangs at the buzzer in the Central Jersey Group IV championship game. With just one senior in its seven-man rotation, Marlboro walked off their home floor that night with every intention of getting back in 2021 and while there won’t be a state tournament to win this winter, there will be an experienced Marlboro team pursuing a championship. Juniors Jack Seidler, Jon Spatola, Jay Ratner and Zack Molod are all back as a core that could make program history over the next two years.

4. Christian Brothers Academy (15-13, 9-5) Final Rank: 8

Even though there was not a lot of senior influence on last year’s team, CBA did not return everyone from the 2019-20 squad. That won’t stop the Colts from going after the top spot in the Shore Conference this year with a roster that still boasts proven senior talent. Colin Farrell, Mike White and 6-foot-8 Dane Moran make up CBA’s senior trio that will try to lead the Colts to a big season – the rare season in which the Colts have the firepower to win at a high level while also flying under the radar at No. 4.

5. Red Bank Catholic (17-10, 7-7) Final Rank: 6

The Caseys had a strange 2019-20 season, but it was a good one. They endured a midseason rough patch before getting on track just in time to beat CBA and make a subsequent run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time since 1994. The most encouraging part of the late-season surge was how integral the current Caseys juniors became as sophomores, setting them up for a big 2021. Throw in talented freshmen Evan Meeks and Gio Panzini, and there is potential for a special run at Red Bank Catholic.

6. Wall (24-7, 14-0) Final Rank: 7

The season already got off to a rocky start for Wall in that it will not get off to a start at all – at least not as scheduled. Wall will miss its first two games of the season due to a school shutdown related to COVID-19, pushing two meetings vs. Ocean to later in the season, assuming the two teams can make them up. Once Wall finally does get on the court, the Crimson Knights will tackle a loaded schedule with its core that boasts championship pedigree. Pat Lacey is a returning All-Shore guard and Colin Ackerman, Logan Peters and Tom Palluzzi have all been major contributors on Wall’s last two Central Jersey Group III championship teams.

7. Freehold Township (11-16, 6-8) Final Rank: Not ranked

An 11-16 season in 2019-20 might suggest Freehold Township is a good distance away from reaching any sort of championship status, but the Patriots have been here before. After winning 11 games in 2017-18, Freehold Township won its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship in 2019 with a senior-loaded team that also had a few key contributors from its sophomores. Those sophomores are now seniors and Zach Orrico, Joe Lardaro and Jayce Schapiro will try to replicate that season as best they can.

8. Neptune (16-14, 8-6) Final Rank: Not ranked

Although it finished only two games over .500 at 16-14, Neptune got back to its roots last year by playing for a Central Jersey Group III championship for the first time since winning the 2012 Central Group III title. As they have done frequently in recent years, the Scarlet Fliers rounded into form in time for the state tournament, but this year will have to be different. Neptune plays in the Shore’s toughest pod, which includes Manasquan, Ranney, Wall, St. Rose and Ocean, with the Scarlet Fliers opening vs. Ranney. With Sam Fagan finally 100 percent after a 2018 leg injury and a young nucleus forming around him, the Scarlet Fliers will head into the season with a shot to do damage, but will have to start strong.

9. Rumson-Fair Haven (17-11, 9-5) Final Rank: Not ranked

With a lot of questions to answer heading into the 2019-20 season, Rumson made it to 17 wins by the end of the season and set themselves up for a promising couple of years. That run should start in 2020, with the Bulldogs looking at a schedule that could be conducive to making a run as long as they can make a statement against pod rival Red Bank Catholic. The junior duo of Geoff Schroeder and Scott Gymesi likely hold the key to Rumson’s hopes over the next two seasons.

10. Mater Dei Prep (17-11, 10-2) Final Rank: 10

After it appeared as though Mater Dei might fade back into the crowd following three straight trips to the Shore Conference Tournament finals – including two wins – the Seraphs returned to life last year by upsetting No. 2 seed Middletown South to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and won two more road games in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public B Playoffs. Even through three key seniors graduated from the 2020 starting lineup, Mater Dei brings back a frontcourt duo of Andreas Von Fricke and Anthony Tancredi while adding 1,300-point scorer David Shkoniy from New Dorp on Staten Island. The schedule only gives Mater Dei so many chances to impress, but the Seraphs have a roster that gives them a chance to do so.


Next Five

Holmdel – With four new starters, Holmdel has some questions to answer but will have senior All-Shore forward Alex Baker back to ease the transition.

Manchester – With a loaded junior class, Manchester is in position to take over as the top team in Ocean County

St. John Vianney – The Lancers are younger than last year, but junior Nate Williams leads a talented group that has a chance to go far over the next two years.

Jackson Memorial – With sophomores Samir Padilla and Respect Tyleek following coach Randy Holmes from Lakewood to Jackson Memorial, the Jaguars have the young talent to become a force in Ocean County sooner rather than later.

Southern – With three solid seniors back and a pair of transfers added to the mix, Southern has the lineup that can finally challenge Toms River North in what should be a balanced, competitive pod.