The annual Battle on the Boardwalk, presented by the good people at The Hoop Group, is upon us once again, and I pray to God that the heat in Convention Hall in Asbury Park is working properly given that the current temperatures have me researching the scholastic sports scene in San Diego to see what the prospects are. The heating has been better in recent years as they have sealed up the old building a little more and started the games a little later to get the place warmed up, so hopefully I’m not wearing gloves while typing and filming this weekend.
You can click here for the schedule and ticket information, and let’s take a look at the match-ups on the boys and girls sides, starting with the boys because they are up first on Saturday. I will have video highlights from plenty of games as well as stories, blogs and even some columns if I have time, so make sure to check back often over the next 2-3 days.
One quick recruiting note: Two Rutgers assistants were in the stands checking out Point Beach sophomore Jarelle Reischel against Keyport on Thursday, so the Scarlet Knights remain hot on the trail of the 6-5 swingman from Germany.
GAME ONE: RUMSON-FH VS. ASBURY PARK, 1 P.M.
The Blue Bishops are off to a strong start and this would be a nice nondivisional win over a bigger school to add to their Shore Conference Tournament seeding resume. Plus, the game is in their own backyard, so you know the crowd will be on their side. As a Group I team, they don’t get a lot of chances to make a splash in front of a good-sized crowd, so you know they’ll take it. They are tough to defend because they don’t rely heavily on one particular scorer, as William Jones, Joe Anderson and Lamar Young are their main offensive threats. Everyone is quick, everyone is seemingly the same size, and everyone can get to the rim off the dribble. Don’t surprised to see RFH sit in a zone, which means open threes for long-range bomber Ron Berardesco, who will launch it from the parking lot. Rumson just saw St. Anthony’s pressure defense, so the Bulldogs should be ready for the Blue Bishops’ trapping, full-court press, which forces a quicker tempo and usually creates a lot of their offense. They get a steal and they’re on the other end, laying it in before the defense can react. Rumson needs to force Asbury into proving it can consistently score in its halfcourt sets, and has to force the Blue Bishops to beat them by shooting jumpers because if Young, Anderson, Jones and Co. get into the lane at will off the dribble, forget about it.
Rumson, meanwhile, has had a major problem with a slightly important area – shooting. Two of Rumson’s top scorers, seniors Matt Blumel and James LeCardi, are shooting under 40 percent from the field this season. That puts more pressure on the Bulldogs’ defense because they really have to lock teams down if they are going to shoot that poorly from the field. The X-factor in this game could be Justin Hook or Dean Wise. If one of those two can pound Asbury Park on the offensive boards, that will make a world of difference. Shot selection could be key as well because if Rumson is shooting a lot of long-range jumpers and missing, those long caroms could result in runouts the other way for a lightning-fast Asbury team. The way Rumson has been all over the place thus far this season, you would have to look at Asbury Park as the favorite to win this game. I’ve seen a lot of teams over the years rejuvenate their seasons at the Boardwalk after rocky starts, and Rumson is a prime candidate, but on paper the Bishops are just better right now.
GAME TWO : LAKEWOOD VS. MONMOUTH, 2:40 P.M.
I would peg this as the second-best game of the day behind St. Pat’s-CBA, as there will be several Division I players on the floor. Monmouth center Joe Willman is already headed to Bucknell, while Lakewood senior swingman Jacob Grant has received interest from St. Peter’s and Holy Cross and 6-6 sophomore Jarrod Davis has several Big East schools and plenty of others already chasing him.
No. 1 Monmouth, the last undefeated team left in the Shore, is the more seasoned and polished team. The Falcons take good shots, push the ball at every opportunity, and run everything through Willman, who is an underrated passer who also can step back and hit the three. The trio of Anthony Gibson, Neil Thompson and Austin Whitehurst has played like the best guard group in the Shore this season thus far. While Lakewood has some quick guards, including freshman Armond Conover, Thompson in particular is very tough to stop off the dribble and once he gets in the lane, bad things happen for opponents. Willman might be the most efficient offensive player in the Shore because he gets a majority of his points on tip-ins, lay-ups and dunks and will stick the open 15-footer. Lakewood has to do its best to take it hard to the rim and try to get him into early foul trouble, while also limiting the second-chance points from forward Brent Shelton, the king of the weakside offensive rebound. Lakewood has employed a lot of zone defense this season, which is nothing Monmouth hasn’t already seen, but Lakewood’s players are quick enough that they might be able to double down on Willman and recover in time to challenge perimeter shooters like Gibson and Thompson.
Grant, Davis and senior forward Tyquan Strand all have to play well for Lakewood to win this game. The Piners are coming off their best victory, a rout of Monsignor Donovan on Thursday night, but the Griffins are a sub-.500 team that has had a tougher schedule than most but are still not nearly on Monmouth’s level. Lakewood is a team with tantalizing potential, so we’ll see if the Piners are ready to run with the big boys at this point. If Davis and Grant take good shots and avoid throwing up off-balance runners in a clogged lane, this team has the ability to push the Falcons. Strand is also a big body who might be the most consistent player on this team right now. It’s weird, this is one of those games that Lakewood could lose but still prove they are a top 10 team if it goes down to the wire. Given the level of teams Monmouth has dispatched thus far, the Falcons are the clear favorite. Depth is a wash because even though Monmouth relies heavily on its starting lineup, so does Lakewood, which really only goes about six deep.
GAME THREE: ST. PATRICK’S VS. CHRISTIAN BROTHERS ACADEMY, 4:20 P.M.
CBA’s stunning upset of St. Pat’s in 2006 was one of the most memorable games at the Boardwalk that I can remember, other than maybe Neptune’s Marques Alston hitting a buzzer-beater to beat CBA and then committing to Monmouth University on the same day.
The Colt Crazies should turn out for this one (although they have taken a page out of the Red Sox book and their T-shirts now proclaim them “Colt Nation”), and once again it looks a little like a David and Goliath situation. That’s always an interesting spot for CBA because the Colts are usually Goliath. The latest cavalcade of talent from St. Pat’s, which is ranked No. 10 in the nation by USA Today, is led by 6-2 guard Dexter Strickland, one of the top recruits in the nation, who is headed to North Carolina. He is returning from a knee injury and still rounding back into form, which could help CBA’s case. The Celtics also feature 6-6 forward Paris Bennett, who has committed to George Mason, as well as highly-regarded 6-6 sophomore Mike Gilchrist, who is ranked as the No. 3 sophomore in the nation by Rivals.com, and 6-1 junior guard Kyrie Irving, another nationally-ranked recruit. Other than that, the cupboard is bare, except for a benchful of kids who would probably start for most other teams in the state.
Talking to CBA point guard Roy Mabrey earlier this week, he said that a huge key, just like it was in CBA’s win over Freehold Township, is keeping the Celtics out of the lane, particularly Strickland, off dribble penetration. Senior center Pat Light and sophomore Matt McMullen also must do everything in their power to limit second shots. When CBA beat St. Pat’s the last time, it was because it turned the Celtics into a jump-shooting team that was one shot and done on offense, while the Colts were patient offensively until they got a good look.
CBA has been able to get away with shooting poorly from behind the arc and overall so far against the Shore Conference, but it won’t work against a team like St. Pat’s. The Colts have to knock down open looks, and if Mabrey hits a couple early, that’s a great sign. An even better sign would be senior Brian Neller burying a couple early because he has started slowly in numerous games this season. Anything Light and McMullen can get on the offensive boards is almost a bonus, and Mabrey, Neller, Adam Spengler, Matt Byrnes and Travis Farrell have to handle the backcourt pressure by St. Pat’s because the Colts can’t give the Celtics easy baskets on turnovers. Watch out for Jon Rohan as a defender and a possible 3-point threat as an X-factor.
Will CBA take down Goliath again? It certainly would highlight the day, and if the Colts are still hanging around midway through the third quarter, you will hear the buzz begin to build in the old building and the crowd will be solidly behind CBA.
GAME FOUR: MIDDLETOWN SOUTH VS. NEPTUNE, 6 P.M.
This is an important game for both of these teams because both entered with high expectations yet are still struggling to find their way. Don’t forget that these are the participants from last season’s Central Jersey Group III final, when Middletown South stunned Neptune for its first sectional title since 1979, so Neptune certainly has a little payback on its mind.
Neptune is looking for more consistent outside shooting and better defense, particularly on the interior, and better defensive rebounding. The guard group of Thomas Jones, D.J. Gutridge, Lem Walker and Jabari Joyner needs to pick it up a little more, but the real key will be the continued improvement of TJ Hicks, Dan Singleton and Jamaal Hubbard underneath. Middletown South’s best players are Kyle Cancillieri and Matt Callori, who are mainly frontcourt players, although Callori will step out and launch 3-pointers. That is a good test for Neptune’s interior players as far as keeping those two off the offensive boards.
The key to the whole game is Neptune’s full-court press against Middletown South’s guards, who I’m sure are tired of hearing about how they are inexperienced or not doing enough. The Scarlet Fliers could run away with this game if they can consistently get turnovers in the backcourt off the press, and it could do a lot for their confidence as quality opponents have shot a high percentage from the field against them this season. They need to get back to forced 20-plus turnovers and converting 10 or 15 of those into easy points. The Eagles, meanwhile, need someone to step up and really be the leader who commands the team’s attention in tough spots against good teams. They also have to pick it up on the defensive end as well, an area that has not been nearly as good as it was last season. They went to the match-up zone against Neptune in the CJ III final last year and it flummoxed the Fliers into shooting a ghastly percentage from 3-point range and in general, so we’ll see if the Eagles employ it again to exploit the iffy outside shooting of Neptune thus far this season.
If Neptune wins, it will be a nice victory but nothing earth-shattering. If Middletown South wins, that will open some eyes.
OK, now on to the girls side on Sunday, as a few New York City powerhouses invade Convention Hall for two huge games in particular.
GAME ONE: CHRIST THE KING (N.Y.) VS. COLTS NECK, 1 p.m.
After this weekend, Colts Neck is going to be like Cal from “The 40-year-old Virgin” talking to Steve Carell’s character early on a Monday morning after some crazy times in Tijuana. “Yeah, I had a weekend.” Other than maybe a TOC semifinal and final back-to-back, you’re not going to find a 1-2 punch tougher than that.
Colts Neck is playing state power Shabazz on Saturday and then coming right back and playing perennial NYC power Christ the King (8-3) a day later. No, CTK is not ranked in the nation, just eighth in the East Region by USA Today. They are considered the third-best team in the City behind two nationally-ranked squads, Murry Bergtraum and St. Michael Academy.
South Florida recruit Tahira Johnson, a 6-1 senior, leads the way, and CTK also features American University recruit Geliessa George and highly-regarded 5-10 sophomore guard Bria Smith. They have a big frontcourt that also features Taylor Bruner and Bianca Martinez, who are both 6-3, which does not bode well for Colts Neck.
The Cougars are going to need big games from Brittany Howes, Emily Laurence and Leeann Lanza on the defensive backboards to be able to take down the Royals. Second shots hurt them in their loss to University, and they have to keep those big forwards from playing volleyball under the rim because we know Colts Neck is going to score. The trio of Brooke Hampton, Lauren Clarke and Tiffany DeTulio are going to get their points, so it’s more about getting stops and limiting the Royals to one shot. Colts Neck also wants to use its speed advantage to force those big forwards to get up and down the floor in a hurry and tire them out. Also, the more damage that the guard trio can do on penetration and drawing early fouls in the paint, the better.
Considering that Colts Neck only really plays six players, this weekend will be a true test of its stamina against two excellent opponents. CTK is certainly the favorite, but with the way Colts Neck shoots threes and pushes the ball, it certainly has a chance.
GAME TWO: MURRY BERGTRAUM (N.Y.) VS. ST. JOHN VIANNEY, 2:40 P.M.
If you can only stop by for one game all day, this should be the one. The undefeated Lancers, who are ranked No. 38 in the nation by ESPN, take on the Lady Blazers of Murry Bergtraum, who are ranked No. 8 in the nation by USA Today (No. 7 by ESPN) and have won 68 straight games heading into a Friday night game against Lehman (N.Y.). So most likely, the Blazers will be looking for their 70th straight win when they face the Lancers. How is that for a little extra juice to the game?
Murry Bergtraum’s latest array of talent includes junior Doris Ortega, senior guard Shanee Williams, and forward Shukurah Washington, who are the core of the team. Luckily, the Lancers got to see them in person when the Blazers played in the Champions Challenge this past Saturday at Monmouth University, so they saw their speed up close rather than on film, which sometimes can be two different things. This team is much like SJV in that it presses full-court and thrives off turnovers and easy baskets, so which team can handle the other team’s full-court press the best will go a long way toward deciding the game.
St. John Vianney knows it has a clutch scorer it can rely on in Fairfield-bound senior Katelyn Linney, and everyone is comfortable with taking a huge shot, as sophomore Arron Zimmerman showed with her game-winning jumper in the final seconds against Rumson-Fair Haven earlier this week. The Lancers have to shoot better from the field than they did against RFH because they need made baskets to be able to execute their full-court press. Keeping Washington off the boards is another huge factor for SJV. Bergtraum thrives off second-chance points and turnovers, so if the Lancers can win that battle or get a stalemate, you may be looking at one of the new Top 25 teams in the nation and the end of a looooong winning streak. This is a winnable game for St. John Vianney, and the Lancers seem to fare better against nonconference opponents who don’t know them as well as regular foes like RBC and RFH. How about a Missy Repoli baseline jumper with 12 seconds left to win it?
GAME THREE: POINT BORO VS. PEDDIE, 4:20 P.M.
This match-up changed at the last minute when Francis Lewis (N.Y.) dropped out and Point Boro came in because Peddie uses fifth-year players, and there is a New York state rule that teams can’t play opponents using post-grads. So the Panthers now get their chance to be part of a big-time event and face a top opponent.
Peddie is clearly the heavy favorite behind Virginia recruit Lexie Gerson, a 5-11 senior, who has an interesting backstory, and junior Haley Peters. The Panthers are led by double-double machine Becky Metzger, a senior swing, as well as senior Kelly Collins and sophomore Kelsey Haycook. The best-case scenario for the Panthers is to learn from playing a very difficult opponent and use that the next time they face Manchester in Class B South and in the postseason while enjoying the big stage at Convention Hall. If they can get a high percentage of threes to fall, they could make it interesting.
GAME FOUR: RED BANK CATHOLIC VS. FREEHOLD, 6 P.M.
Capping the day are two teams looking to potentially use this game as a spark to drive them to bigger heights this season. Red Bank Catholic is the main candidate for that, as the young Caseys have struggled against the likes of St. John Vianney and Rumson and need to get a confidence-building win over a solid team under their belt. The battle in the post should be a good one between RBC sophomore Chyna Golden and Freehold senior Shannon Mayrose, the new and the old in talented pivot players in the Shore.
Freehold has been up and down thus far this season and a win over RBC would certainly point the ship in the right direction and give the Colonials a big resume boost come SCT seeding time. RBC’s young guards like freshmen Morgan Arnott and Jackie Cajigal and sophomore Mary Kate Byrnes also look to use this game to continue to gain more confidence in their roles and against any backcourt pressure by Freehold senior guards Alex Eagle and Ashley Lewis. RBC also has 6-footer Sam Guastella to pair with Golden underneath, which is more size than Freehold may be equipped to handle.
RBC is the clear favorite in this game but Freehold always has upset potential with Mayrose on the floor.