Elite Physical Therapy SSN Boys Basketball Preseason Shore 16
For the first time in its boys basketball coverage, Shore Sports Network is going beyond the top 10 in its week-by-week rankings. The weekly Shore 16 starts with the preseason rankings – a collection of teams that is almost certain to change from week to week.
The 2022-23 boys basketball season at the Shore opens with a clear-cut No. 1 team, and while that is not unprecedented, rarely does a team with no championship history within the conference enter a season with such a great opportunity to win a conference title. St. Rose has a roster with as much talent as any in the recent history of the Shore Conference, including the memorable 2018-19 Ranney team that won a second straight SCT title and became the first and only Shore Conference team to ever win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
The Purple Roses will open the season No. 1 and it would take an exceedingly surprising development to keep the Purple Roses from raising the SCT championship trophy in 2024, but that does not mean there won’t be drama during the season. The rest of the Shore Conference field will duke it out for postseason spots and the race for the No. 2 ranking in the SCT followed by the battle to earn a spot in the SCT final will start on Thursday night and carry all the way to the conference championship game on Feb. 17.
As Ranney showed in beating St. Rose in last year’s SCT semifinal, nothing is a given – even with a roster as loaded as what St. Rose brings back. The Purple Roses will get everyone’s best shot each night and the pressure to live up the expectations will be there all season long.
1. St. Rose
One look at the St. Rose roster – or even better, a few minutes of St. Rose on the court – and one might be tempted to engrave the Shore Conference Tournament trophy leave it under the Christmas tree in Belmar rather than waiting all the way until February for the Purple Roses to claim it for the first time in program history. Resist that temptation, however strong, because a year ago, St. Rose looked like a sure thing to reach the Shore Conference Tournament final and that did not happen. It still has to be won on the court and while the Purple Roses have all the pieces in place to dominate the Shore Conference and make a run at the No. 1 ranking, they will still have to fight off a host of teams trying to make their season by beating one of the most talented teams the Shore has ever seen.
Manasquan ran neck-and-neck with St. Rose through the 2023 Shore Conference Tournament semifinals, when the Warriors advanced to the SCT final and St. Rose suffered its stunning loss to Ranney. From there, Manasquan took over the No. 1 spot by winning the SCT and never gave it up. This season, the Warriors will have considerable adversity to overcome in order to beat St. Rose for the title. On top of the graduations of seniors Jack Dettlinger and Quinn Peters, Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Darius Adams transferred to La Lumiere and senior point guard Ryan Frauenheim suffered a torn ACL in the summer. Despite the hardship, Manasquan still has talent and depth on hand, plus one of the top coaching staffs in the state, led by Andrew Bilodeau.
The brass ring for every Shore Conference team not named St. Rose this season is to reach the Shore Conference Tournament final and give it their best shot before heading into the NJSIAA Tournament. Manasquan has been a staple in the title game for the past five seasons, so if knocking off St. Rose is a tad ambitious, catching Manasquan after the Warriors lost their two First Team All-Shore players sounds within reason. That will be Central’s goal after making it to the SCT quarterfinals a year ago on the way to 20 wins. Jaycen Santucci and Miles Chevalier make up a top-flight duo within the conference and the talent is there to make a run to the SCT final and cause problems in the Group IV playoffs.
4. Toms River North
It is hard to separate what Toms River North and Central did last season: both won their respective divisions and both made it to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals. The difference is that was Central’s best season in almost 30 years, while it was Toms River North’s best season in three years. The Mariners returned to the top of Class A South and bring back a roster loaded with athleticism and skill – enough to be a handful if and when they run into one of the three teams ranked above them.
5. Red Bank Catholic
Technically speaking, Red Bank Catholic is the only team in the rankings to bring back every starter from last season (St. Rose started seniors while waiting for the transfers to become eligible). The Caseys’ top six in the rotation are all back and while a 16-12 record a season ago is not especially noteworthy, RBC turned in some impressive performances vs. quality competition. With a battle-tested roster, the Caseys head into the season with a real shot to make it to the Shore Conference Tournament final for the first time in program history.
6. Christian Brothers Academy
The 2022-23 season ended with CBA outside the Shore Sports Network Top 10 for the first time in a decade and that was after the Colts entered the season with top-five expectations following a trip to the 2022 SCT semifinals with a lineup that mostly remained intact. Two of those starters – senior Peter Noble and junior Justin Fuerbacher – from 2021-22 remain and the CBA defense remained solid last season. If the Colts can regain their shooting stroke, they have the athletes to make a push back into the top four in the conference.
7. Rumson-Fair Haven
Although the Bulldogs lost leading scorer Luke Schorr to Union Catholic, Rumson remains a balanced roster with athletes who can shoot, slash and defend. That has been the recipe at Rumson during coach Chris Champeu’s tenure, particularly over the last six or seven years. Last year’s team was guard-heavy, while this year’s group has two projected starters who stand 6-foot-6 (Andrew Goodes) and 6-8 (Luke Cruz), respectively. While that gives the Bulldogs another dimension, they will still be the same Rumson team that can light it up from beyond the arc and keep opponents in check on the other end.
Ranney weathered the early storm last season until its team was whole, then stormed into the Shore Conference Tournament championship game for the first time since winning it in 2019. Drew Buck was one third of Ranney’s triple-threat scoring tandem and will be the focal point of the Panthers’ offense this season. While Ranney has a young squad, it is a group that boasts plenty of skill and shooting. Playing against teams with size will again pose Ranney potential problems, but the Panthers will have ways of countering that lineup thanks to their ability to move the ball and hit open shots.
9. Middletown South
Although Middletown South graduated two All-Shore players from the No. 8 team in the final 2022-23 rankings, the Eagles are set up to return to the top 10 on the strength of a group of returning players who played key roles on a Class B North championship team. Middletown South exhibited depth that most teams envy and that depth should feed a starting lineup that will be capable despite having to replace some key pieces from last year – including head coach Joe Mazzarella taking over for Jimmy Cranwell.
What looked like it might be a lost season in 2022-23 turned into an uplifting one as the Mustangs bounced back from missing the Shore Conference Tournament to rattle off eight straight wins and reach the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinal. They got a boost from the return of A.J. Schwartz from a leg injury that was initially expected to keep him out for the entire season and Schwartz is one of the four key seniors the Mustangs will have to replace. Despite that, Marlboro enters the season with experience and new blood that should give them plenty of options navigating a tough schedule.
11. Holmdel – The Hornets bring back five players who started at different times last year, including a three-senior nucleus that has been playing together at the varsity level since their freshman season.
12. Colts Neck – Despite losing an All-Shore wing in Will Surdez, Colts Neck returns some size, athleticism and skill throughout the lineup that should blend together as the season goes on.
13. Matawan – With 6-7 center Jayden Elijah and crafty 6-3 guard Chauncy Brown back as juniors, Matawan could be primed for a memorable two-year run after make noise late in 2022-23.
14. Red Bank – The addition of junior All-Shore guard Zayier Dean via transfer is a big boost for a Red Bank lineup that is looking to replace its top two scorers from a year ago.
15. Southern – Despite graduating four starters, Southern is back with a new-look lineup that will push the pace and challenge for the top spot in Class A South once again.
16. Shore – The Blue Devils graduated four starters from a team that came up four points shy of a Central Group I sectional title, but the one that returns is top scorer and all-division performer Alex George.