With the holiday tournaments in the books, the Shore Conference season moves into 2017 with the preseason pecking order mostly intact. One of the preseason top five teams has struggled enough to fall out of the top 10, but the rest of the field has mostly handled its business – in some cases while dealing with key injuries.

This week is still a relatively light one as far as divisional games go, but it ends with the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale on Saturday, which will lead into the heart of the division title races in the six Shore Conference divisions. As we approach that stretch, here is how the Shore Conference is shaping up so far.


1. Mater Dei Prep (6-0, 2-0) Last Week: 1

With a lot of new players working into the rotation and Holmdel transfer Kyle Cardaci yet to play a game, the Seraphs are still a ways away from hitting their stride. Despite a few signs of rust, the defending Shore Conference Tournament champs have validated their No. 1 ranking to this point by handling the Buc Classic field and beating a strong Union Catholic team by double-digits on New Year’s Day. Saturday begins a big stretch for Mater Dei that includes the Patrick School – the No. 1 team in N.J. – at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase, St. Rose and Ranney in divisional play on Jan. 9 and 12, respectively, and Newark East Side at the Dan Finn Classic on Jan. 14.

2. Ranney (4-1, 2-0) Last Week: 2

The Panthers took a loss upon their arrival to Florida last week, but bounced back with a pair of consolation wins to close up their stay at the Battle of the Villages tournament. Ranney will ease back into N.J. basketball against Keyport on Tuesday before playing Rutgers Prep and St. Anthony on back-to-back days. The showdown with coach Bob Hurley, senior guard R.J. Cole and the storied Friars program at the Boardwalk will be the ultimate measuring stick for an all-sophomore lineup that has been impressive so far this year.

3. Freehold Township (7-0, 3-0) Last Week: 6

A perfect start to the season – which includes a WOBM Christmas Classic title and divisional wins over CBA and Neptune – catapults the Patriots three spots to the No. 3 post in the Shore Conference. While Freehold Township has exhibited a balanced offense with several weapons and dimensions, the story to this point has been the defense. Only Neptune has managed to crack the 40-point mark and the Scarlet Fliers just barely did so in a 66-42 loss. Friday’s win over Toms River North in the WOBM Classic final was the first game Freehold Township did not win by a double-figure margin.

Freehold Township senior Steve Staklinski (35) puts up a shot of Toms River North senior Jaden Rhoden. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Freehold Township senior Steve Staklinski (35) puts up a shot of Toms River North senior Jaden Rhoden. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

4. Toms River North (5-1, 2-0) Last Week: 3

After four mostly-dominant showings to start the season, Toms River North had to gut out a come-from-behind win over St. Rose in the WOBM semifinals and could not keep up with Freehold Township in the fourth quarter of the tournament championship game. The question for Toms River North now that the Mariners lost a head-to-head matchup with another public school power is can the Mariners run the A South table and how much credit will that earn them when it comes to the Shore Conference Tournament seeding? As you’ll see by reading further, there is a team in A South that helped the Mariners cause in that regard this past week.

5. Point Pleasant Beach (4-1, 2-1) Last Week: 8

After a blowout loss to Ranney on opening night, Point Beach has recovered nicely with a big win over St. Rose on the road, as well as a tournament championship at the Monsignor Kelly Classic last week. Danny Frauenheim and Chris Pina ignited the two wins over the break, while Trevor Covey was key for Point Beach in a wild win over St. Rose that saw the Garnet Gulls close the game on a 17-0 run. Point Beach will see how well it has rounded into form when the Gulls play local rival Manasquan in the Boardwalk Showcase finale on Saturday.

6. Manasquan (5-2, 2-1) Last Week: 5

Manasquan is still a very real threat to land in the top three in the rankings, but that pursuit hit a snag when senior Brian Paturzo injured his ankle during the first quarter of a loss to Long Branch on Dec. 22. In Paturzo, the Warriors lose their best defender, one of their better ball-handlers and a second offensive option with a high basketball I.Q. He will be back and Manasquan will be trouble once he is, but in the meantime, the Warriors will have to scratch and claw while continuing to ride Devin Jensen.

7. Christian Brothers Academy (4-1, 2-1) Last Week: 9

The Colts picked up a couple of wins at the Skyline Classic in Jersey City over the break, including an international win over St. Laurent of Canada. CBA is still very young, and it showed in a home loss to an older, more physical Freehold Township team on Dec. 22, but the young Colts have shown plenty of encouraging signs over the first five games of the season. CBA will get a stern test at the Boardwalk Showcase in the form of Toms River North.

8. Central (5-1, 3-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The Golden Eagles debut in the top 10 at No. 8 behind a strong showing at the Buc Classic, accompanied by a 3-0 start in Class A South divisional play. The Golden Eagles beat host Red Bank to open the Buc and after a reasonable showing in a loss to Mater Dei, they knocked off Middletown North to finish third in the tournament. Central probably won’t move up in the next week since the Eagles only play Jackson Liberty and Toms River South this week, but they look like the clear No. 1 threat to Toms River North in A South.

9. Lakewood (5-1, 3-0) Last Week: 10

Lakewood’s collection of wins so far is not especially noteworthy, but the Piners and coach Randy Holmes deserve some credit for getting off to a 5-1 start with four new starters and a relatively inexperienced varsity group. Lakewood has already beaten Barnegat and Point Boro in B South and scored wins over a Long Branch team that beat Manasquan and a Bloomfield Tech team that beat Neptune. The Piners’ lone loss came against St. Joseph Metuchen, which won the Neptune Jubilee as the No. 7 seed.

10. Rumson-Fair Haven (4-0, 2-0) Last Week: Not ranked

The Bulldogs debut in the top 10 with four convincing wins so far, albeit against unranked opponents. Class A Central doesn’t have the high-profile opponents that will give Rumson a chance to shoot up the rankings, but the Bulldogs will have a chance to make a statement at the Boardwalk Showcase against Marlboro. They also face a big divisional test when they travel down Ridge Road to play Red Bank on Thursday in a key matchup for poll position in A Central.


Dropped Out

Middletown North (3-3, 2-1) Last Week: 4 – An opening-night comeback at RBC fell short and since then, Middletown North has lost two more games – to Sayreville and Central on consecutive days – by one point each.

Marlboro (5-1, 3-0) Last Week: 7 – While Marlboro is still likely to have its best days once P.J. Ringel returns later this month, losing Emir Anda (knee) for the season is a big blow. The Mustangs have, however, showed a lot of fight in the first two weeks of the season and getting to Jan. 1 with one loss is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment.


Top 10 Watchlist

St. Rose (4-3, 2-1) – The Purple Roses are ahead of Marlboro in the pecking order after beating the Mustangs in the WOBM Classic and have lost competitive games to Point Beach, Manasquan and Toms River North as part of a tough pre-New-Year schedule.

Neptune (3-3, 1-2) – The Scarlet Fliers have two tough one-point losses to Marlboro and Bloomfield Tech and a lopsided loss to Freehold Township, but opened some eyes with a win over Ewing in their final game of the Neptune Holiday Jubilee.

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