I would like to extend my get-well wishes for Neptune boys basketball coach Ken O’Donnell, who underwent heart surgery on Monday and came out of intensive care on Monday and is home recovering, according to his good friend and Neptune graduate Bill King. The good news is that the surgery was planned, so O’Donnell should make a full recovery. I’ve know Ken for a decade, and you’re not going to find a better person or a better ambassador of Shore Conference basketball, and his team enters the season as the defending Group III champion. O’Donnell was a standout point guard in the 1960s for the Scarlet Fliers and also was a tremendous baseball player who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1968. He also is the only coach in state history to lead a girls basketball team and a boys basketball team to an NJSIAA Group title.
Hopefully he might be recovered enough to make an appearance at Saturday at homecoming when the inaugural members of the newly created Neptune Athletic Hall of Fame, who include O’Donnell, are honored before a 1 p.m. showdown at Memorial Field with Middletown South for the Federal Division title. (Click here for Neptune Hall of Fame information). However, the weather looks like it’s going to be rainy and nasty on Saturday, so we’ll see if that game ends up being postponed or not.
In other news, congrats to Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Shane Fallon, who was named the High School Coach of the Week by the New York Jets after Rumson’s big 24-21, double-overtime win over Keyport on Saturday that improved Rumson to 6-0 . Fallon joins Red Bank’s Nick Giglio, who was honored by the Jets after the Bucs ended a 16-game losing streak by beating Dunellen earlier this month. Their reward is that they get to coach the team for the rest of the season if the Jets lose to the Raiders this week (OK, I made that part up. Hopefully the Jets will turn it around this week.)
Also, while it’s a little early to get into this considering football is only half over, here is the schedule for one of the annual rites of winter for basketball fans, the Battle on the Boardwalk, which has been moved to the new facility at Monmouth University this year, which means I won’t have to worry about the loss of any toes or fingers in frigid Convention Hall. The event is on Jan. 16-17 (boys on Saturday, girls on Sunday), and you can click here to check out the full schedule. On the boys side, this is the first time that Point Beach has ever participated, and you can thank the presence of Division I prospect Jarelle Reischel, a junior swingman, for that. The Garnet Gulls are playing Manasquan, which should be one of the top five teams in the Shore and returns nearly everyone, in a match-up that looks like it would be a great surfing contest but should be a fun game. Plus, there’s the usual Christian Brothers Academy-St. Patrick’s game, which has been a thriller the past few years. As for the girls, it’s all the usual suspects, with the marquee game being Neptune against perennial powerhouse Murry Bergtraum from New York City. With Red Bank Catholic transfer Chyna Golden, a junior center, now at Neptune and eligible, the Scarlet Fliers have a good argument to potentially be the No. 1 team in the state to start the season. Jackson Memorial, behind star junior center and Division I prospect Christa Evans, has also gotten its first invite to the prestigious eventand will take on Gill St. Bernard’s.
Finally, back to football. Let’s take a quick look at the latest power points as far as the upcoming games are concerned. You can view them by clicking here.
In Central Jersey Group IV, the Howell at Sayreville game on Oct. 30 looks like it will be for the No. 1 seed and could be a preview of the final. Hunterdon Central looks to be on pace for the No. 2 seed there. If Brick Memorial loses to Howell this week, that might just about do it for the Mustangs’ state playoff hopes one season after they won the CJ IV title. To get in at 4-4, they would need a lot of things to break their way. The Mustangs could potentially be battling Middletown North for one of the final seeds because the Lions have Toms River East, Lacey and South Brunswick left. If they can win one of those games, they’re in.
In Central Jersey Group III, Middletown South should lock down the No. 1 seed if it takes out Neptune this weekend. At the end of the day, here are the key factors for the prime contenders in this bracket (Middletown South, Ocean, Neptune, Freehold). You want to get a couple CVC teams (like Princeton, Lawrence, West Windsor North) on your side of the bracket, roll over them, and if you’re lucky, play a CVC team in the final while hoping that other Shore teams beat the daylights out of one another on the other side of the bracket. The prime example is the 2005 Ocean team, which beat Lawrence 28-25 in the first round, defeated a Wall team that had been battered by Long Branch in the first round, and then rolled over Hamilton North 41-20 in the final. However, this is usually the Federal Division tournament + Ocean, and I don’t think that will be any different this year, although Monroe is a legit team and one that Shore teams should worry about. Another huge game that I think people have kind of forgot about is Freehold at Lacey on Nov. 7, the state cut-off date, which both teams will need in a major way to swing their fortunes. The final should be some combination of Middletown South, Neptune, Freehold or Ocean playing one another unless they all somehow ended up on the same side of the bracket.
Central Jersey Group II – I love this bracket. Rumson is currently the No. 1 seed, but the Bulldogs probably won’t end that way. The two huge games for the No. 1 seed look to be Raritan at Manasquan on Halloween and then Manasquan at Long Branch on Nov. 6. Squan, the defending champion, would easily be the No. 1 seed if it wins those two games even if Rumson is also 8-0 because Rumson’s next two games are against Mater Dei and Point Beach, which won’t net the Bulldogs very many points. If Raritan beats Squan and then Middlesex and can get by Barnegat this week, the Rockets have a good shot at No. 1, especially with Bishop Ahr earning it some nice residual points by winning every week. The biggest wildcard by far is Matawan. The Huskies are currently fourth in power points, but have huge games against Ocean this week, followed by Long Branch, and then Bishop Ahr on the night of the state cut-off. The Huskies could blast their way all the way to No. 1 or very close to it, or they could be possibly be out of the playoffs entirely if they don’t win any of those games. A win this week over Ocean (5-0) would be a huge haul of points because Ocean is a Group III team, so this week could change Matawan’s whole season if it wins.
Central Jersey Group I – Asbury Park is currently fifth in power points, so the two huge games for the Blue Bishops are Highland Park on Halloween and against Group II Keyport on Nov. 7, the day of the cutoff. If they win those two, they almost certainly should get the No. 1 seed. The Highland Park-Asbury game also could be a preview of the final, depending on how the seedings shake out, not to mention that Nate Smith vs. George Stephens is a great match-up any day of the week. Asbury Park is the two-time defending champion, and if they beat Highland Park in the regular season, I think that makes them the favorite to make it three in a row. Keansburg currently sits at sixth and has a big game this week against Shore Regional that would go a long way toward locking up a playoff berth.
South Jersey Group IV – Toms River East is second in power points and has a great shot at being 8-0 at the cutoff, while Egg Harbor has a game left against currently unbeaten Hammonton that could effect its chance to get the No. 1 seed. A win over Group IV Middletown North (4-1) this week by TRE would certainly help. Either way, the Raiders are guaranteed or home game or two. Toms River North is currently seventh, but has a big one against Group IV Piscataway looming on Oct. 30 that looks to be crucial to the Mariners’ chances.
South Jersey Group III – Lacey is currently ninth, so the huge game for the Lions and for their opponent is on the state cut-off date, Nov. 7, when they host Freehold in a game that will swing each team’s fortune in a big way.
Non-Public Group IV – Red Bank Catholic is currently sitting eighth but has a big game looming against Ocean on Oct. 30 that could move the Caseys up a few spots. This is the Don Bosco Prep bracket, so there is no hope of winning it. It’s really more just qualifying and then trying to get their first state playoff win since 1998. If they’re lucky, maybe they’ll get a team like Notre Dame instead of a Bergen Catholic or a Don Bosco in the first round.