Boys Basketball – SSN Top 10, March 2
After this week installment, there will only be one more Shore Sports Network Top 10 in 2019-20 and it will be set in stone, or whatever the internet equivalent is. The Shore Conference Tournament left no doubt which team is No. 1 in 2020, but then again, so did the WOBM Christmas Classic back in December, as it turns out.
The rest of the field, however, is still trying to make moves up the rankings and the NJSIAA Tournament is as good a place as any to do it. With the state tournament tipping off on Monday evening, let’s take a look at where the top teams stand and which are best set-up to make a climb over the last two-to-three weeks of the year in N.J. high school basketball.
1. Manasquan (27-1, 14-0) Last Week: 1
In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, Manasquan proved that it is the best team in the Shore Conference this season by winning the Shore Conference Tournament final in convincing fashion over Toms River North. Even if, by some chance, Manasquan were to lose in the Central Jersey Group II sectional playoffs, the body of work is so overwhelmingly better than the next closest team. Put it in the book: Manasquan is the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in 2020.; everyone else is playing for second.
2. Holmdel (20-4, 12-2) Last Week: 4
While the No. 1 ranking is locked up, No. 2 is anything but. For the first time this season, Holmdel ascends to the No. 2 spot on the strength of a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and giving Manasquan a scare for the second time this season. No Shore Conference team has played Manasquan as close as Holmdel has and the Hornets have done it twice. On top of that, Holmdel has only one other loss outside of its three to Manasquan and that was against Carteret in December. If Holmdel can put three more good games together, it will likely get a fourth crack at Manasquan.
3. Toms River North (24-4, 14-0) Last Week: 2
There is no shame in losing to Manasquan by any margin, so getting steamrolled by the superior Warriors on Saturday in the SCT final alone did not drop Toms River North. It was the combination of another double-digit loss to Manasquan coupled with Holmdel’s second near-upset of the Warriors that triggers the shakeup. That amounts to style points changing the rankings, which means Toms River North is still in position to finish the year No. 2 with a strong showing in the state tournament. For the Mariners, that means holding serve at home and winning their first ever South Jersey Group IV title.
4. Middletown South (24-2, 14-0) Last Week: 3
Holmdel’s performance against Manasquan also drops Middletown South, which only got one shot at Manasquan and came up 20 points short. Middletown South’s resume is still exceedingly good and like Toms River North, the Eagles can still climb back to the No. 2 spot in the Shore Conference with a special NJSIAA Tournament run. Middletown South is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV and if both the Eagles and Toms River North hold serve at home in March, they will clash in the Group IV semifinal with a trip to the Group IV final and likely the No. 2 ranking in the Shore on the line.
5. Marlboro (20-6, 11-3) Last Week: 5
For a lot of the year, Marlboro was in the second tier of Shore Conference teams along with Middletown South and Toms River North but three losses to Middletown South and two more to Toms River North put some serious distance between the Mustangs and the top of the Shore Conference. Even in falling behind the top four teams, Marlboro is still in comfortable position to finish in the top five and now that the Mustangs are mostly healthy, a trip to the Central Group IV final and a fourth chance at Middletown South is not out of the question.
6. Red Bank Catholic (17-9, 7-7) Last Week: 6
The Caseys’ SCT quarterfinal win over a Mater Dei team that beat Middletown South might have given RBC an angle to move up over the No. 4 Eagles if not for a 20-point loss to Middletown South in December. RBC’s year has been a mixed bag but the Caseys got it together in time to make a memorable SCT run – the deepest in program history in 26 years. The Caseys also might have a chance to make some noise in the state tournament, with a home game in the first round and a trip to St. Joseph Metuchen – a team that lost to CBA in the regular-season – on the other end of that one.
7. Christian Brothers Academy (14-12, 9-5) Last Week: 8
Games between the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Tournament don’t carry much weight, but they can serve as a tiebreaker between close teams. In this case, CBA benefits from a tune-up win over Ranney last week in the Colts’ first game since forfeiting their SCT first-round game to Raritan. A loss to Ocean one night after the Ranney win adds to CBA’s hot-and-cold body of work, but at the end of the day, the Colts have more quality wins than Ranney does without any especially bad losses.
8. Ranney (17-9, 12-0) Last Week: 7
CBA’s forfeit in the SCT might have helped Ranney advance to the quarterfinal round but it probably limited Ranney’s ability to climb up the rankings. The Wednesday game between the two teams certainly lacked a whole lot of real ramifications, especially on Ranney’s side, so perhaps an SCT game would have ended differently and positioned Ranney to make a case as the No. 5 or 6 team in the rankings. As is, they have to stay behind CBA, RBC and Marlboro and while Ranney is capable of winning a couple games in the South Non-Public B final, it will probably take a stunning upset of Rutgers Prep to get them higher.
9. Mater Dei Prep (15-10, 10-2) Last Week: 9
With its win at Middletown South in the SCT round of 16 and a competitive loss to Red Bank Catholic in the quarterfinals, the Seraphs all but locked up a spot in the final Top 10. There is still the possibility of an unranked team winning a sectional title and putting the squeeze on Mater Dei, but the Seraphs have a great shot to advance in the opening round of the South Jersey Non-Public B bracket and further make their top-10 case.
10. Wall (20-6, 14-0) Last Week: 10
As the top seed in Central Jersey Group III, Wall has the inside track to win a second straight sectional title and with all the Shore Conference teams in the field, the Crimson Knights might have to in order to finish the year in the top 10. With Wall holding two wins each over Matawan, Neptune, Ocean and Red Bank, it’s not as simple as one of those teams replacing Wall by beating them but it remains a fluid situation. The bottom line is if Wall continues to win games in its gym, where the Crimson Knights are 10-0, the No. 10 ranking is the worst-case scenario.
Top 10 Watch List
Manalapan (14-9, 8-6) – The Braves will have a chance to make a top 10 statement with a first-round win over Princeton, which would likely set up a third shot at Middletown South.
Lakewood (19-7, 12-2) – The formula for Lakewood is simple: win its first sectional championship in seven years and earn a top-10 ranking. Easier said than done, of course.
Matawan (14-12, 10-4) – With six seniors on the roster and one more cheering on his teammates, the Huskies are hoping to have a special run in them over the next 10 days.
Ocean (14-10, 6-8) – With wins over Rumson and CBA and a close game at Holmdel in the last two weeks, the Spartans appears to be peaking at the right time.
St. John Vianney (17-9, 8-6) – The Lancers can get to 18 wins by beating Donovan Catholic on Wednesday but will have a tall order in facing Paul VI should they win that first-round game.
Rumson-Fair Haven (16-10, 9-5) – For Rumson to finish in the top 10, it will at least have to hang close to Manasquan in a potential sectional quarterfinal matchup. The Bulldogs managed to do it the last time they travelled to Manasquan so it’s not out of the question.