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As the final days of 2020 wind away, the 2021 high school basketball season has a scheduled start date and a format for the teams at the Shore but getting to opening night on Jan. 26 is still a hope rather than a certainty. On top of that, there are sure to be games canceled over the course of the six-week season, so the schedule will be in constant flux.

With that being said, the Shore Conference came up with a scheduling format that gave teams some hyper-local opponents to play a de facto divisional opponents while also granting athletic programs some leeway to pick up at least two in-state opponents of their choice.

We took a look at the newly-designed pods for the 2021 season that will eat up eight-to-10 games of each team's schedule and now, it's time to look at some of the best matchups between teams from different pods or against teams from outside the Shore area. With a limited chance for a team to showcase itself - whether for rankings or positioning in the Shore Conference's championship week pods to close out the season - those out-of-pod games will be a chance for teams to differentiate themselves from the pack.

It is also worth taking a look a the scrimmage schedule. Each team is limited to one scrimmage and looking at the matchups between Feb. 22 and 24, the teams most likely to live in the Top 10 are playing other potential powerhouses. Those scrimmages are still going to be for practice and evaluation above all else, but with so few opportunities to play competitive games against high-level opponents, don't be surprised if teams play those games with a little more intensity than usual.

With less than a month to o before the first scrimmages and a little more than a month until opening night, let's have a look at some of the best out-of-pod match-ups, as well as a few scrimmages that could prove to be revealing.

 

The 10 Best Non-Pod Games at the Shore in 2021

Manchester at Toms River North, 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 5

These two could very well be the top two squads in Ocean County this season and for the first time in a while, Toms River North is not the clear No. 1 team in the county. The Mariners graduated their three best players from last year, but still deserve plenty of respect based on their track record under Rory Caswell and the talent of returning junior guard Jaiden Fraser. Manchester, meanwhile, has a chance to really take off this year with Savon Myers, Wyatt Haselbauer, D’Maari Brown leading a strong group of juniors hoping to come into their own.

St. John Vianney at Trenton Catholic, 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 5

St. John Vianney will have a new look this year with a younger roster, but its best playmaker is back and he is only a junior. Nate Williams showed his promise as a sophomore and is ready to make another leap as a junior while becoming to the unquestioned leader of the Lancers. While the pod schedule will challenge St. John Vianney with two games vs. Holmdel, the Lancers would get their toughest test of the year when they travel to play Trenton Catholic. The Iron Mikes are slated to be led by returning guards Freddie Young and Braxton Jones.

CBA at Ranney, 1 p.m. on Feb. 6

It’s safe to assume these two Monmouth County Non-Public powers will both be ranked in the top five of the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10, with each squad bringing back a slew of players from their respective up-and-down 2019-20 teams. CBA lost promising junior Ryan Mabrey – whose family moved to Indiana to be closer to older sisters Michaela (coach) and Dara (player) at Notre Dame – but bring back a senior-packed starting lineup from a year ago. Ranney, meanwhile, has one of the Shore’s most explosive players in Elijah Perkins and will also benefit from a full year of 6-9 forward Kyle Rhoden.

Holmdel at Red Bank Catholic, 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 12

During the program’s best season in two decades, Holmdel barreled through every Shore team on its schedule outside of Manasquan, which beat the Hornets four times. That success included two regular-season victories over Red Bank Catholic during Class A Central play, which means the handful of returning regulars for the Caseys will be set on payback against a Holmdel team that has a lot to replace around two athletic 6-5 seniors – Alex Baker and Ryan Bradley.

Marlboro at Neptune at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 12

You would be hard-pressed to find two Shore Conference teams more eager to start the upcoming season than Marlboro and Neptune following bitter ends to the last one. Both squads lost in their respective NJSIAA sectional championship games – Marlboro on a buzzer-beater by South Brunswick in the Central Group IV final and Neptune in overtime at Wall in the Central Group III title game. Marlboro is set to bring back everyone from last season except lead guard Alex Ratner, while Neptune will lean on its top guard – Monmouth University commit Sam Fagan – even more this season.

Mater Dei Prep at Don Bosco, 4 p.m. on Feb. 13

Mater Dei will be a heavy favorite to finish first place in its pod, which is the usual collection of Class B Central teams minus Ranney (Asbury Park, Henry Hudson, Keansburg, Keyport and Point Beach). That means the Seraphs will want to make the most of their non-conference slate, which is once against set to be challenging. Mater Dei is scheduled for games against Don Bosco and Trenton Catholic, with the first one coming against the Ironmen. Bosco features five-star sophomore Akil Watson, who has six Division I offers so far, and 6-8 freshman Tarik Watson, who already has offers from Georgetown and Creighton, according to Verbal Commits.

Toms River North at Central, 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19

Central has been trying to chase down Toms River North since coach Mike Clemente Jr. took over the program and this might have been the Golden Eagles’ best chance to do it had the two teams been in the same division. As it currently stands, Central will still get a crack at the Mariners and with junior Justin Soranno and seniors I-Meer Johnson and Marvin Goodwine Jr. all back as experienced starters, the Golden Eagles could finally gain the upper hand now that Toms River North does not have as much established production as it has had throughout recent years.

Patrick School at Manasquan, 6 p.m. on Feb. 19

When last we saw Manasquan, the Warriors had won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship in dominant fashion and were gearing up for a Group II semifinal showdown against Camden – the No. 1 team in the state by the end of the year. With COVID-19 breaking out in the state, however, the Manasquan administration pulled out of the game and the state tournament, and the rest of the state followed by the end of the night. With four rotation players back from last year – led by 2020 SSN Player of the Year and current junior guard Ben Roy – Manasquan was ready to load up its schedule again this year and will settle for a stacked Shore Conference pod and two tough non-conference opponents. The one home game among the two non-pod games will come against a talented Patrick School Team that has had a rough offseason off the court but has a towering front line led by 6-10 UConn commit Samson Johnson.

Ranney at Red Bank Catholic, 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 26

On the final Friday of the regular season, two teams with two of the better collections of juniors in the Shore Conference will collide in Red Bank, with the Caseys coming off a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals a year ago. Alex Bauman, Cyril Arvanitis and C.J. Ruoff are the core of the RBC juniors and will get a boost from a talented incoming group of freshmen who will (hopefully) have 11 games to work out the varsity jitters before taking on the most talented opponent on their regular-season schedule.

Manasquan at Bergen Catholic, 2 p.m. on Feb. 27

Just two days before the Shore Conference postseason begins, Manasquan will close its regular season with a trip to play a Bergen Catholic team that, like Manasquan, was still alive in the NJSIAA Tournament when the season was canceled. The Crusaders won the always-tough North Jersey Non-Public A section in 2020 and bring back a dynamic junior backcourt duo of Will Richardson and Julian Brown – the team’s top scorers in 2019-20, when they were just sophomores. They also welcome in skilled freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau, which will give Manasquan’s returning quartet of Roy, Casey Mulligan, Jack Collins and Connor Walsh another high-level challenge.

 

Six Scrimmages that Matter (Kind of)

Marlboro at Red Bank Catholic, 4 p.m. on Jan. 20

Roselle Catholic at Manasquan, 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 20

Holmdel at Wall, 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 20

Rumson-Fair Haven at CBA, 5 p.m. on Jan. 21

Manchester at CBA, 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 21

Ranney at Freehold Twp., 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 22