Boys Basketball – SSN Top 10, Jan. 28
Another week, another top-10 shuffle. For those of you paying close attention to the week-by-week rankings, this latest installment will look pretty familiar, with a large chuck of the field reverting back to preseason form. If everything holds over the last two weeks of the regular season, we may end up with a Shore Conference Tournament field that looks close to the one anticipated in the regular season, but there is no more foolish expectation in this year’s Shore Conference than stability.
1. Ranney (15-2, 8-0) Last Week: 1
After losing arguably their biggest game to date on Sunday, the Panthers are gearing up for their biggest game of the regular season – a 1-vs.-2 showdown with Roselle Catholic on Wednesday at Brookdale Community College as the second-leg and main event in the Shore Challenge double-header. It’s also a rematch of last year’s classic NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game, which Roselle Catholic won, 63-61, in Toms River. Ranney’s ultimate concern is winning the Tournament of Champions but coming off a loss to a legitimate T of C contender like Gill St. Bernard, a second loss could be a little disorienting for a team that seemed invincible coming off the Federal Way win Monday and welcoming Ahmadu Sarnor back on Sunday.
2. Christian Brothers Academy (13-3, 9-1) Last Week: 4
There has been a whole lot of action between the group of five or six teams vying for the No. 2 spot in the rankings and after another week of madness, the team that started the year in this spot is back. The Colts closed the week with a loss to the Hun School of Princeton but prior to that, they turned back Long Branch and Middletown South to keep pace with Freehold Township in the A North race. With two wins apiece over Middletown South and Marlboro, CBA stays ahead of Manasquan (lost to Marlboro) and Rumson-Fair Haven (lost to Middletown South) in the pecking order. CBA’s week will end with a rematch against Freehold Township in Freehold, a game that could very well decide the Class A North champion.
3. Manasquan (16-2, 9-1) Last Week: 5
Like CBA, Manasquan returns to the spot it occupied in the preseason rankings and does so after an impressive, three-win week against Rumson-Fair Haven, Holmdel and Old Bridge. The Warriors’ losses are to Marlboro in December and Red Bank Catholic on the road and Manasquan will have a chance to avenge the defeat at RBC when the teams meet again in Manasquan on Feb. 5. A win over the Caseys would mean an eighth straight division title for Manasquan, unless two A Central teams can upset the Warriors.
4. Rumson-Fair Haven (12-3, 8-2) Last Week: 2
Rumson is also back to its preseason slot, but the Bulldogs return after dropping two spots in the rankings following a 1-2 week. There is a case to be made that Rumson should have fallen farther given it lost to No. 7 Middletown South at home, but all of the resumes in the 4-through-7 range are complicated enough that Rumson’s two wins over Red Bank Catholic and its win over St. Peter’s Prep keep the Bulldogs in the top four. The schedule gets significantly easier after last week’s gauntlet of Manasquan, Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South, so the Bulldogs are likely to stay in this vicinity through the end of the regular season.
5. Red Bank Catholic (15-2, 8-2) Last Week: 3
Only one team has beaten the Caseys this season and that team beat them twice. Rumson knocked off RBC for the second time this season this past week, snapping RBC’s 12-game winning streak and damaging the Caseys’ push to chase down the No. 2 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. That push is not lost, however, because RBC has wins over Manasquan, Middletown South (twice) and Freehold Township and also has a showdown with CBA coming up on Saturday. If the Caseys make it to the end of the season with two losses, it’s hard to see how they would not be the No. 2 seed.
6. Middletown South (11-6, 7-3) Last Week: 7
After adding a win at Rumson-Fair Have to its resume, Middletown South climbs a spot in the rankings over the team it beat by 18 points in their first meeting. Middletown South’s strength of schedule is probably the best of any of the Shore Conference public schools, with wins over No. 7 Freehold Township, No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 8 Toms River North and Matawan to its credit and losses to No. 2 CBA (twice), No. 5 Red Bank Catholic (twice) and No. 3 Manasquan. Middletown South’s only game remaining against a ranked team will be against Freehold Township in a little less than two weeks so there may be limited opportunity for the Eagles to move up.
7. Freehold Township (13-2, 9-1) Last Week: 6
Despite a two-game advantage in the A North standings, Freehold Township drops behind Middletown South because of South’s win over Rumson coupled with a convincing win over Freehold Township. Although the are at the bottom of the five-team totem pole at the moment, Freehold Township still has a chance to climb as high as No. 2 if it can avenge that loss to Middletown South and beat CBA for a second time. If Freehold Township can pick up those two wins, RBC beats Manasquan and CBA beats RBC, Freehold Township would just about have to be the No. 2.
8. Toms River North (13-3, 10-0) Last Week: 8
Owners of the longest active winning streak in the Shore Conference (10) and a 56-game winning streak in divisional play, Toms River North is as hot as any team in the Shore Conference right now. After beating Cherokee last Saturday, the Mariners topped a talented, 14-3 Bishop Ahr squad this Saturday. Losses to Middletown South and Freehold Township keep the Mariners in the No. 8 spot and might relegate them to the No. 8 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. Now healthy and with its junior-heavy roster rounding into form, Toms River North is doing its best to show it belongs in the conversation for a top-five ranking.
9. Wall (13-3, 10-0) Last Week: 9
A loss to Jackson Memorial last week probably halted Wall’s chanced of climbing into the top eight, but with a chance to beat Manasquan on Feb. 9, the Crimson Knights are not totally out of the hunt. They still boast a perfect 10-0 mark in a Class B North division that has eight capable teams, if not any great ones. On top of that, Wall is in the running for the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group III section – an impressive list of accomplishments for a relatively young team that graduated the Shore Conference’s leading point-scorer from a year ago and is playing for a new head coach.
10. Neptune (10-5, 6-4) Last Week: Not ranked
For the first time since dropping out after the first week of the season, Neptune is back in the top 10 on the heels of its five-game winning streak. Like every team outside the top eight, the Scarlet Fliers have a few losses (St. John Vianney, Matawan, Middletown North) that suggest maybe they should not be the last top 10 team, but the body of work, the improved play since adjusting to the injury to Sam Fagan and a couple solid results over Payne Tech and Matawan put Neptune in the conversation.
Matawan (11-6, 6-4) Last Week: 10 – Double-digit losses to sub-.500 St. John Vianney (8-9) and Holmdel (7-8) drop the Huskies from the Top 10.
Top 10 Watch List
Marlboro (9-9, 4-6) – The Mustangs won three games last week to get back to .500 and with a win over Manasquan on the resume and Alex Ratner close to returning from an ankle injury, Marlboro is in position to get back into the rankings.
Pinelands (11-3, 8-2) – The Wildcats made a statement by beating Brick Memorial, 74-49, on the road this weekend and if they can run the B South table to win their first ever division title, Pinelands might have a top-10 case given the parity around the conference.
St. John Vianney (8-9, 4-6) – Although the Lancers are under .500, the have two wins over Matawan and one over Neptune, so they have to be considered a threat to crack the top 10.
Holmdel (7-8, 5-5) – The Hornets have run hot-and-cold but capped the week with an eye-opening 61-35 win over Matawan.