You know what’s really awesome? When you spend all day at a basketball tournament and then your Internet connection goes on the fritz on a Sunday night. You know what’s even better than that? When the Jets go out to the West Coast and lay their third egg to a horrendous team to do their best to blow their playoff chances. I was at Ritacco Center for the WOBM Classic first-round boys hoops action on Sunday refreshing the score in between watching games, doing interviews, etc., and I thought maybe the Jets would have some heart and pull it out late until I was doing an interview, got a text message in the middle of it and then checked it after I was done talking to a player. It was from my Dad: “Mangini must go!” That pretty much told me how the final outcome turned out for a team that I really question why I continue to root for. Then my phone exploded with about 8 million texts from my fellow Jets fans and friends.
But enough about that, you’re here to read about basketball, so I will get right to it. I broke it up between boys and girls, so just scroll to whatever you want to look at. This includes some thoughts on the WOBM Classic as well as stuff from Friday and Saturday’s regular-season action. I’ll promise to start blogging more in between everything else. This was just a hectic weekend with games all day and a mandatory family event on Saturday night.
I’ll start with the WOBM stuff first because it was the most recent.
- Toms River North was a little close for comfort with Jackson Memorial, but I’m never shocked early in the season when a team with a new coach and high expectations has a close game early on. The Mariners are still adjusting to Chris Kane, and the bottom line is that they got it done. The defending champs moved on, and if they continue to advance, no one will look back too much on this game. However, as I said in the season preview, I think new Jaguars coach Joe Fagan is going to do some good things with this program. He has some young guys to work with, particularly freshman point guard Elliot Bell, who can really help build a foundation at a school where the wrestling program dominates the news in the winter.
- Good win for Toms River East against a frenetic Manchester team. I have a story coming up involving the Raiders that will be posted later today that you should definitely look out for, as it has been an emotional week for them. I saw some good things from Raiders junior guard Richie Suhr, who is a good rhythm shooter off the catch and does a good job of finding open space to get a good look on kickouts and skip passes against the zone. Manchester plays at hyperspeed, and if the Hawks could get a lot of their better looks to fall and play a little more under control, they would be a scary team. They can turn over other team’s guards quickly in their full-court press, but they have to convert more of those turnovers into points. Jermaine Jackson had 24 for the Hawks and can stick the 3 and put it on the floor and get to the rim while also adjusting his shot in midair. I don’t believe his brothers Tito and Michael were in attendance on Sunday, so maybe later in the season.
- I liked what I saw from Brick Memorial’s Matt O’Brien in a lop-sided win over Wall. He plays very confidently and has range behind the arc and the ability to put it on the floor. Wall wasn’t very physical with him at all, so I’m interested to see how he will do against teams that lean on him a little more all game. Brick Memorial is a fun team to watch because it pushes the pace pretty relentlessly on offense. The Mustangs also used O’Brien up top in the middle of their 3-2 zone, which is what St. Rose is also doing with senior center Sean McPaul. With not many teams having a post presence to worry about, teams are taking their big guys and using them to harass shooters on the perimeter and prevent penetration up the middle.
- Newcomer Mike Pierce makes a big difference for Lacey, which knocked off Raritan. He can consistently break his man down off the dribble, which gives Lacey two players who can do that, as senior John Pierce (no relation), a four-year varsity player, is another. That is huge when you have two guards who can handle the ball like that and create shots for themselves and others. They also have a good finisher in rugged senior forward Justin Smith, a junkyard dog who holds his own against bigger forwards. I also liked what I saw from Lacey freshman Logan McDonald, who came up with some big baskets and made some heads-up plays. This team has the ability to cause problems in Class A South. As for Raritan, 6-7 Rockets freshman Michael Aaman looks like he is going to be a good one because he already has one thing that most coaches usually have to beat into freshmen – aggressiveness. Aaman will get in there and mix it up with anybody and does not shy away from contact or taking a big shot. He has the potential to be a fearsome shotblocker because of his willingness to attack. As far as the game, the Rockets just didn’t shoot well from the field and missed 14 free throws. I still think this team has potential and will be one to watch in Class A Central, because it has a big frontcourt and guards who can shoot.
- Not much to say about the Point Boro-Old Bridge game. Old Bridge played their jayvee in the first half, most likely for disciplinary reasons, and Point Boro was up 26-4. Not a whole lot you can learn from this one.
- I caught parts of the Southern-Central game, and Southern’s size up front really changes everything. Sophomore Ray Darnell, junior Harry Givas, and senior Robert Kraft allow the Rams to play inside-out and for guard Joe Tomczuk to get more looks. Tomczuk also doesn’t have to worry about running the point thanks to senior Nick Nichols, who converted to point guard before this season. That frees Tomczuk up to run the floor and get in the best position to score. The Rams also have two of their top seven players out injured right now, so they should only get stronger from here. As for Central, the Golden Eagles are really searching for that second option after Ibn Moye. I’ll tell you one thing, though, and I was talking to tournament organizer Kevin Williams about this. Senior Tyler Palagonia is a tough, hard-nosed point guard, who, if he wasn’t asked to score a whole lot and just had to handle the ball against pressure, play tough defense, get the ball to open teammates and score occasionally, would be talked about a lot. It’s just that Central needs more scoring after Moye, so Palagonia and his teammates have that on their mind as well, but Palagonia would be the perfect point guard on a team with just a little more offensive talent.
- Scott Nelson was as advertised for Ocean in its double-overtime win over Toms River South. They run a lot of double screens up top and Nelson does a good job of moving without the ball and reading the defender. TR South coach John MacIntosh told his team plenty of times that they had to fight over the top of those screens and couldn’t slide behind them because Nelson would get an open look from behind the arc and bury it. Nelson can drive opposing coaches nuts because they know he is a 3-point specialist but he still finds a way to get good looks from downtown. As for Toms River South, Tyler Gebler is just a tremendous all-around athlete who has a sense of when it’s time to take over. He hit two big threes in overtime, but Nelson matched them. What makes Gebler tough is that he is 6-5, so he can shoot over smaller guards trying to run out at him when he is behind the 3-point line. He also is closing in on 1,000 points, and a few of his buddies had a dry erase board in the corner that they kept erasing and adjusting every time Gebler scored a basket to read how many points Gebler had to go to get to 1,000. I’m pretty sure it was 104 by the end of the game.
- St. Rose has a nice inside-outside combination with Joey Quinn and center Sean McPaul, as they rolled over Brick. Usually St. Rose is very guard-oriented, but the more attention McPaul commands in the paint, the more dangerous the Purple Roses will be, because teams will have to pick their poison. I think a big thing for McPaul is stamina and conditioning because he started last season very strong and faded a little bit at the end. If he is 100 percent the whole way, this team is going to be tough to beat because there aren’t many players McPaul’s size who can handle him in the paint in the Shore Conference.
OK, deep breath, and now on to some other stuff from the opening weekend of boys hoops.
- Not the best debut for CBA in a lop-sided loss to state-ranked Union in the Tip-Off Classic. The Colts will have to come back to Class A North and regroup, and then they head to a Christmas tournament in Brooklyn, as they are not playing in the Holiday Jubilee at Neptune this season. If an athletic team like Union can give them fits, it will be interesting to see what happens when they face a team like Monmouth or perennial nemesis Neptune, although Neptune has a lot of inexperience in the frontcourt.
- I’m pretty shocked that I wasn’t shocked this weekend. Usually opening weekend brings some eye-opening scores (like last season’s buzzer-beater win by Freehold over Neptune on opening night), but everything pretty much made sense this weekend to a degree.
- I was a little surprised at how close the Manasquan-Shore game was, which means maybe Shore is better than we thought after graduating a lot from season’s team. Keep an eye on forward Rich Vivian. As for Manasquan, several opposing coaches are big fans of guard Matt Vadas, who looks like he could be something special if he can be consistent every night.
- Great job by “The Pit,” the student section at Point Boro‘s home games. I took in the Panthers’ season-opening, 39-38 win over Central, and The Pit was in it from the opening tip and celebrated the win like it was a division title. They have some imaginative chants, too, not just the usual stuff. As for Point Boro, watch out for freshman guard Shawn Cooke. I thought the play picked up when he was in there, and he is a little quicker off the dribble than guards Ty Hughes and Shane O’Connor. He also was called upon to take two technical foul free throws at a crucial juncture of the game, which shows the confidence that coach Kevin Hynes already has in him. I wonder if anybody’s first career points ever came on shooting free throws from a technical foul whistled on the other team’s coach. That may have never happened before. Panthers senior Pat Hart had an off night from the outside and still battled, and senior forward Mark Ward picked everyone up with some big plays. He twice went left along the baseline for big buckets in the second half.
- I had a feeling that Stephen Frost was going to be Red Bank’s latest stat sheet stuffer, and he dropped 22 points in a solid opening win against Ocean. The Bucs may not have the name players of the past few seasons, but they still have some talent there.
- Jacob Grant had a monster game for Lakewood in its opener against Manchester, and I think he has the potential to make a dark horse push for first-team All-Conference honors if he can bring it every night.
- Still trying to interpret Rumson falling in a 17-5 hole to Matawan and having to rally to win. Does that mean the Huskies are much-improved under Tom Stead? Or was it opening-night jitters for the Bulldogs, who only got a combined 10 points out of stars Matt Blumel and James LeCardi?
- Freehold Township knocked off Marlboro in its opener, and Steve Talbott had 25 points. The senior forward is an athlete who drew high praise from Brian Golub and his staff over the summer and if he can become a Chris Ballester-type all-around player, but with more scoring punch, this team will be very dangerous because it already has a good scorer in Matt Devine.
- Neptune has to be feeling good after a big second half led to a convincing win over Mendham, and that was without several players in the frontcourt rotation for the Scarlet Fliers. I have them at No. 1, and Tuesday should be a great test against No. 5 Freehold to kick off the Class B North wars.
- Here is a fun stat: Raritan‘s bench players were a perfect 10-for-10 from the field in the Rockets’ season-opening win over Red Bank Catholic.
- Still trying to get over the “postponed because of floor conditions” game between St. John Vianney and Holmdel. That’s supposed to happen when the air-conditioning breaks in the summer, not in December. That is bizarre. Actually, this is what I believe they waxed the floor with.
All right, now on to the girls side.
WOBM Classic thoughts:
- It looks like Toms River North could do some big things in Class A South this season, and the Mariners meetings with Jackson Memorial could be good ones. They routed Lacey in the first round of the WOBM Classic, and with three solid scorers in Dana Coronato, Sam Heck and Maria Gerew, this team looks like it will be a solid contender. We’ll really see the Mariners possibilities when they play top-seeded Rumson, which rolled over Monsignor Donovan, in the quarterfinals. If TR North can show something against a perennial power like Rumson, that will make people sit up and pay attention.
- Manchester vs. Raritan in the quarterfinals is going to be an interesting contrast in styles. Manchester is a run-and-gun, we-have-better-athletes-than-you-do team that attacks relentlessly. Raritan is a grind-it-out, defensive, slowdown team. Whomever controls the tempo will have a big leg up in this game. This also is a good showcase game for Manchester senior Camille Valmon to show she can get it done against a good defensive team from Monmouth County. The Hawks want respect beyond just their backyard, and this is one step toward earning it. As for the Rockets, the less said about their 31-21 win over Central, the better. A win is a win, and they’ll take it and move on to face the Hawks. Central battled hard defensively, but just couldn’t get anything to fall offensively. However, it did provoke a great quote from Central coach Meredith Parliman, who yelled out in the middle of the game, “You are playing beautifully on this end ladies, so just stop screwing it up on the other end!”
- I watched Ocean‘s win over Point Boro, and the Spartans definitely feel a little underappreciated. They have four good athletes in particular in Gina Samples, Annie Farrow, Jennah Fisher and Marlena Klein. I think Farrow is the key, because if she can command a double team in the post and effectively pass out of it to find open shooters, this team will sneak up on some people. Klein and Samples can bury the three, so Farrow’s work in the paint is huge. Defense is this team’s calling card, and against high-octane running teams like division rival Neptune, they are going to have to do their best to slow the game down and dig in defensively. They face Southern in the WOBM quarterfinals, so if Farrow is matched up with Southern’s Kristen Sharkey, that should be an interesting match-up. Southern beat Ocean in the Shore Conference Tournament last season, and even though Ocean is a man-to-man team, you will probably see a lot of zone in order to collapse on Sharkey and force the Rams to hit jumpers.
- Wall was one of my sleeper teams in the preseason, and the Crimson Knights arrived with a bang by knocking off a Jackson Memorial team that was coming off an impressive win over Southern in the season opener. Kathryn Campbell is one of the most underrated players in the Shore, and this team has the chance to be in the mix in Class B North. As for Jackson, sophomore center Christa Evans continues to draw raves, even in defeat, and could be a dominant post player before long. Wall plays Shore in the WOBM quarterfinals, and after surviving a meeting with Evans, the Knights now have to deal with Shore center Liz West, one of the better pure pivot players in the conference.
- Now, as for regular-season stuff, from everything I’ve heard, Red Bank Catholic has the ingredients to once again be a factor in the postseason despite playing several freshmen and sophomores. Chyna Golden, a sophomore center, looks to be the key because if she forces teams to commit extra defensive help to stop her on the block, it’s bombs away from 3-point land from RBC’s array of guards. Six-footer Sam Guastella is also another one to watch, as she had 10 points against the Rockets. With Golden and Guastella in the middle, and a ton of young guards, this team should be in contention for the No. 1 spot again before long.
- Sehmonyeh Allen looks like she has integrated nicely into Neptune‘s up-tempo system as the Freehold transfer scored 23 in a season-opening win against Brick in the Mustang Invitational. We’ll see what Neptune’s potential is if it runs into Cherokee in the final of that tournament, and the Scarlet Fliers also have a big Class B North game against Allen’s old crew at Freehold on Tuesday.
- Brick Memorial continues to rise under coach Rayna Post, as the Mustangs upended a Hunterdon Central program that is always solid to advance in their own Mustang Invitational. After reaching the SCT for the first time ever last season, this group is not resting on its laurels and is off to a 2-0 start.
- Marlboro pushed Freehold Township pretty good in the Patriots’ 7-point, season-opening win, which may bode well for the Mustangs’ chances of reaching the postseason.