I will be at the Lakewood-Pt. Boro boys game tonight as the two square off for first place in Class B South and Lakewood seeks its first victory against a Top 10 team this season. This game is all about tempo. Lakewood wants to push it up and down the floor, Point Boro wants to slow it down and run only on obvious opportunities. Point Boro usually is a hard-nosed man-to-man team, but you could certainly see the Panthers in a zone tonight because of Lakewood’s speed, which puts a premium on Point Boro’s big men to find a body when the ball goes up because when you play zone the one thing you have to worry about is the other team pounding you on the offensive glass because no one is assigned a specific man to box out.
I like the star power here as well with Lakewood’s Jacob Grant and Point Boro’s Pat Hart. This is a good test for Hart, who will face quicker defenders and will have to prove he can still get quality shots off and/or find open teammates. Grant and sophomore Jarrod Davis have been Lakewood’s most consistent scorers all season and have the ability to take over games with their scoring ability. Lakewood has struggled against gimmick defenses like zones, match-up zones, triangle-and-two and other stuff like that in recent seasons, so we’ll see if the Piners can be patient and get good shots if Point Boro coach Kevin Hynes throws something off-kilter at the them. Lakewood has more talent than Point Boro, but Point Boro executes well and hustles from beginning to end, which Lakewood did not do the time I saw them against a good Elizabeth team. We’ll see what wins out tonight. Point Boro is 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in the All Shore Media Top 10, while Lakewood has been banging on the door to get into the Top 10. I’ll have the video highlights and everything else, so if you are not a member yet, make sure you sign up so you can check out everything.
Another game to watch tonight is Brick Memorial against visiting Toms River North for Class A South supremacy. Both teams are very athletic with a lot of combo guard/forward types, like Brick Memorial’s Matt O’Brien and Toms River North’s Steve Nyisztor. I think the Mariners have a wealth of talent, and it’s really defining who will take big shots down the stretch and playing a little more under control that will make them tough to beat. Brick Memorial is solid defensively, and a big key for them is emotional guard Jose Ramos. When he is giving them points and good energy, they are tough. When he gets a little wild or coach Ed Sarluca has to sit him down, it removes a quality scoring option and 3-point threat.
You can listen to the game live on Shore Sports Network by clicking here and clicking on the “Listen Live” link.
OK, now let’s get to a few extra ramblings from the past few days of boys and girls hoops action.
- Talking to a Neptune assistant before the game on Tuesday, he pointed out a specific Monmouth player and said, “That is a guy we are worried about.” Joe Willman, right? Nope. Neil Thompson? Next. Anthony Gibson? Wrong. Austin Whitehurst? Guess again. It was forward Brent Shelton, a physical, active inside presence. That is the type of player who has given fits to Neptune all season, and he came out like gangbusters with 12 of his 14 points in the first half and also had 8 rebounds. Players who can finish on the block and pound the offensive glass have given the Fliers trouble all season. Granted, Willman was also a monster with 23 points and 13 boards, but he’s probably going to do that to everyone this season. It’s when guys like Shelton get Monmouth 14 points that they are awfully tough to beat. Willman has added so much to his game. He can face up, step back and drain shots and even has a nice fadeaway from about 15-16 feet after catching the ball with his back to the basket. You can tell he has worked on moves that will help him at the next level at Bucknell, when he won’t just be able to overpower people inside. There’s part of me that would love to see a match-up between him and CBA’s Pat Light in the SCT.
- Anthony Gibson is a good spot-up 3-point shooter and Willman’s presence means everything to his ability to get that shot off because he rarely pulls the trigger from behind the arc off the dribble with a defender in his vicinity because he doesn’t jump very high off the ground on his 3-point attempts.
- Monmouth is arguably the most fun team to watch in the Shore when it gets rolling. Between Willman throwing down dunks, Thompson breaking ankles off the dribble, Gibson draining threes and Austin Whitehurst threading the needle with passes, this is definitely a team you should take time to go watch a few times this season. Just get there early when it’s at Monmouth, because I heard complaints all night from people at the Neptune game that they almost got locked out or that they had friends or family who didn’t get in the door.
- One thing that has stuck out about Neptune in its big games to me, besides the much-talked about problems it has had in the interior defensively and on the defensive backboards, is that it doesn’t get as many easy baskets as usual. Every shot seems to have a high degree of difficulty, whether it’s a deep 3-pointer or a shot in the lane in a thicket of defenders or some kind of off-balance attempt. That’s why Neptune’s shooting percentage has been below 40 percent in its big games. Usually when Neptune is playing well, the dunks, lay-ups and open jumpers are flowing, but that hasn’t been the case. Teams are daring the guards to penetrate and finish in the lane and are extending their perimeter defense to challenge every shot beyond the arc. That I think is a big challenge for coach Ken O’Donnell to solve. The other troubling fact is that they are allowing a fairly high shooting percentage from the field to top opponents, which most likely stems from the fact that teams are getting lay-ups inside from their big men.
- I saw Christian Brothers Academy for the first time on Tuesday and they look like a much different team than last year. I felt like most of their offensive players last year were tentative and scared to shoot at times, but everyone on the floor was aggressive on Tuesday. This is not the CBA of old that works it around the perimeter for a half hour before trying to get a backdoor lay-up. This is a team that attacks off the dribble, swarms the offensive glass and takes its shots whenever anyone gives it an opening (Brian Neller in particular). It’s fun to watch. Also, Pat Light has become a better finisher inside. As head coach Geoff Billet noted, his hands have gotten much better. Last season, he would often drop passes on the block or in traffic or go up awkwardly, but now he gathers himself, makes a clean catch and finishes. I also like sophomore big man Matt McMullen, who I think will continue to help them. He looked a little nervous against Middletown South, but he’s active on the boards and he has range out beyond 15 feet.
- CBA senior swingman Brian Neller is receiving heavy interest from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), a Division I school in the America East conference. UMBC head coach Randy Monroe and assistant Nate Stewart were both at the Middletown South game and expressed heavy interest to Billet about Neller after the game. Billet’s old colleague, Monmouth University coach Dave Calloway, whom Billet served under as an assistant, was also in the house looking at CBA junior point guard Roy Mabrey and others, according to Billet. I’ve liked Mabrey since last season, when they threw him in the fire against Boys and Girls (N.Y.) in the Battle on the Boardwalk as a sophomore and he held his own. He already had guts, and now he has a game to go with it as he hit five threes against Middletown South on his way to 19 points.
- I also said hello to former CBA baseball star Kyle Slate, who is now in the Phillies organization and was at the game on Tuesday because he is home before heading to spring training. There is a good chance Slate will be pitching for the low Class A Lakewood BlueClaws this season, making him the first homegrown product playing for the ‘Claws since Casey Martinez (Holmdel) back in the earlier part of the decade, if I’m not mistaken. Slate’s younger brother has also now transferred from CBA to Red Bank Catholic and is a lefty who throws in the mid-80s and should see time with the Caseys.
- Middletown South looks like a two-man team right now. If Kyle Cancillieri and Matt Callori don’t both have big games, they can’t beat a quality opponent right now. However, another issue that head coach Kevin Cullen noted before the game against CBA is that they are working on getting better on defense. Last season, if you looked at most Middletown South games, they held teams in the 40s or low 50s. This season, they are routinely up in the 60s and 70s against most quality opponents, so that’s an area they are trying to improve in.
- My alma mater, Red Bank Catholic, is starting to make some noise in Class A Central with a nice win over Rumson-FH, which is coached by James Young, who is a former player for RBC coach Joe Nappo. A sleeper player that I noted in the preseason, guard Dan Calandrillo, has really become a consistent scorer and one of the better long-range shooters in the Shore. RBC has had spurts of success before in the past few seasons where they win three or four in a row and then come back to earth on their way to a .500 season, so now we’ll see if they can keep it going for a long stretch.
- A team that has been playing well that I feel hasn’t gotten much credit yet is Holmdel. They are quietly tied atop the standings in Class A Central with Manasquan and are unbeaten in the division. Mike Kelly, Erik Shirvanian and Mike Perillo, who are all juniors, have been very solid for this team under coach Sean Devaney. This team is built for success this season and next and should battle a good junior class at Manasquan much of the way. Like RBC, Holmdel has shown flashes of being able to take down quality teams the past few seasons and is searching for consistency, and so far they have looked good with only two close losses to nonconference teams in their holiday tournament.
- Great win by Mater Dei over Keyport early in the week. I gave Keyport a shot at No. 10 in the All Shore Media Top 10, but Mater Dei promptly handed the Red Raiders their first loss of the season. The Seraphs pushed the pace relentlessly and Keyport could not quite keep up despite hitting a ton of 3-pointers. The last few times these teams have played have been great games, as I can remember Keyport’s Mark Ziobro hitting a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Mater Dei last season. The win put Point Beach in sole control of Class B Central. The Garnet Gulls have a good win over St. Rose but have played an easy nonconference schedule, so we’ll see how they do in the thick of their divisional schedule.
- I couldn’t help but be impressed with St. John Vianney when I saw them take apart Red Bank Catholic on Saturday. They are just relentlessly deep, everyone can score and no one is afraid to take the big shot. It will take a team with some experienced, quick guards to navigate that press for four quarters, and Colts Neck and Neptune have those. The only tiny spot of weakness I could see with the Lancers is that if you can get them into halfcourt defense, they are vulnerable to the lob inside and teams can get decent looks out of their offense. Brittany Howes and Marley Mauvais could be huge for Colts Neck and Neptune, respectively, if they cross paths with SJV, although the Lancers have talented pivot players Arron Zimmerman and Katie O’Reilly. However, getting it across halfcourt has been a problem for most opponents because of that swarming press. RBC was able to get some easy baskets for Chyna Golden off the lob and by beating the rotations on the press early in the game. However, that’s another scary fact with St. John Vianney in that Dawn Karpell will make adjustments to the rotation and those easy baskets early in the game suddenly disappear. Offensively, senior Katelyn Linney is still their go-to player, but no one is afraid to take a big shot and they all can seemingly hit from behind the arc and mid-range (Missy Repoli will destroy teams with 13-footers). The seniors also know that when it is time to step up, as guard Kate Wilverding showed against RBC. Freshman Michaela Mabrey also stood out defensively with long arms and good anticipation of the passing lanes on defense. SJV went on to rout Freehold, another Top 10 team, on Wednesday, so anyone short of Rumson, Colts Neck and Neptune looks like they will get their doors blown off by the Lancers right now.
- RBC is taking some lumps early, but it’s probably better to have these problems now than in tournament time. At least they still have time to get things corrected before the elimination games start coming. Rumson beat them soundly on Tuesday and the Bulldogs look like they are starting to round into their usual stellar form with Kate Miller leading the way. I’m interested to see how they do in their first Class A Central meeting with SJV.
- Quietly an important win by Manchester on Wednesday night over Jackson Liberty. The Lions were undefeated and looked like a prime contender to Manchester’s supremacy in Class B South, but the Hawks knocked them off convincingly, 64-47, behind Camille Valmon’s 20 points and 17 from forward Ariele Parrish.
- Keansburg is quietly off to a strong start and that was a good win against Point Beach in Class B Central earlier this week. Head coach Mike Scarano has helped this program continue to come back from the abyss to be a competitive squad that has the goods to qualify for the postseason.