By Phil Anastasia
Here's a closer look at the boys' basketball brackets that were officially announced Friday:
1 AC vs. 16 TRS; 8 Southern vs. 9 Williamstown; 5 Eastern vs. 12 Cherokee; 4 TRN vs. 13 Absegami
3 Shawnee vs. 14 CH West; 6 CH East vs. 11 Clearview; 7 Triton vs. 10 EHT; 2 Lenape vs. 15 Washington Twp.
Best first-round game could be Cherokee at Eastern, as the Chiefs have recent wins over Paul VI and Lenape and probably are playing with a lot of confidence. Eastern is playing well, and hammered Malvern Prep by 69-39 Saturday at BE.
Shawnee-CHE could be a good second-round game if form holds and Lenape-Shawnee in the semifinals could be a war, if the Renegades can get past the Cougars. That's no sure thing the way CHE has been playing.
AC is the defending state champion and will be tough to beat on their home floor. Eastern has a puncher's chance as the Vikings have three top players in Devon Bell, Avery Walker and Matt Klinewski. The Klinewski vs. Jah-leem Montague would be an interesting matchup of big men. Klinewski seems to be getting better every week.
1 Hammonton vs. 16 West Tech; 8 Kingsway vs. 9 Lacey (football rematch); 5 Delsea vs. 12 Oakcrest; 4 Timber Creek vs. 13 Highland
3 Burlington Twp. vs. 14 Seneca; 6 Moorestown vs. 11 Ocean City; 7 Central vs. 10 Winslow; 2 Camden vs. 15 Camco Tech
Just three teams in this field have a winning record, which is kind of hard to believe.
Camden is the defending champion and the Panthers appear to have a pretty clear road to the final, although Winslow has won five in a row and is playing its best basketball of the season. Plus, Camden is a pretty mercurial team.
The other side of the bracket is filled with wild cards. Hammonton is the top seed and the Blue Devils have a top scorer in Christian Mortellite. Delsea has been wildly inconsistent but the Crusaders have talent and could be extremely dangerous if Cedric Elleby is back from injury. That's no sure thing.
Timber Creek might be the biggest wild card. The Chargers have a talented lead guard in George Sapp and added a seasoned swingman in mid-January in Sameen Swint. They've been struggling lately but the big key is whether 6-7 forward Dominique Reid is cleared to return from knee injury for the playoffs. If he's back and healthy -- a longshot but possible -- TC could be factor.
Burlington Twp. could be in the mix as well. Like almost everybody else in this group, Falcons have been inconsistent. But they have talent.
1 Haddonfield vs. 16 Collingswood; 8 Willingboro vs. 9 Pemberton; 5 Woodstown vs. 12 Penn Tech; 4 Sterling vs. 13 Deptford
3 Medford Tech vs. 14 Manchester Twp; 6 West Deptford vs. 11 Overbrook; 7 Cinnaminson vs. 10 Cedar Creek; 2 Middle Twp. vs. 15 Pleasantville
If form holds, Willingboro at Haddonfield in the second round could have title-game excitement. The Chimeras have been a different team since the addition of Shaun Russell -- who went for 31 in a big win over Camden Friday night at BE -- and are supposed to add 6-6 Awwal Reid on Tuesday. Reid averaged 19 in 8 games for West Tech earlier this season.
Sterling has won six in a row and could make the semifinals. The Silver Knights might be rooting for Willingboro to knock off Haddonfield as they've lost twice to the Bulldogs by a total of 46 points.
Middle Twp. will be tough to beat on the bottom of the bracket as the Panthers have experience, know-how and it's difficult to go into Cape May Courthouse and come out with a win. Tom Feraco, son of the coach, has been scoring a lot in recent games.
Med Tech has a chance because of talented guards Elijah Cain and Myles Powell. The 6-5 Cain is drawing major recruiting interest from St. Joe's.
Middle at Hadonfield would be quite the final, with not nearly enough seats in the Bulldogs' old gym. Haddonfield can really shoot at home and the Bulldogs probably would need to make some 3s to win that game.
1 Paulsboro vs. 16 Maple Shade; 8 Woodbury vs. 9 Wildwood; 5 Haddon Heights vs. 12 Glassboro; 4 Haddon Twp. vs. 13 Clayton
3 Penns Grove vs. 14 Camden Charter; 6 Schalick vs. 11 Salem; 7 Gloucester vs. 10 Lindenwold; 2 Pitman vs. 15 Palmyra
It's hard to see any final but Pitman at Paulsboro -- another game that would need a bigger gym. Paulsboro might get a challenge from Woodbury, which pushed the Red Raiders in the regular season, but the Thundering Herd is going to need to make 10 threes to stay in the game. Maybe they will.
Pitman will be tough to stop in the bottom of the bracket. The Panthers have won 16 of 17 and avenged an early-season loss to No. 3 Penns Grove with a 54-42 win on Jan. 29. PG would have a chance in that game thanks to Ge'Shawn Davis and Dominique Ware although they likely would have no answer for 6-8 soph Tim Delaney.
Burlington City is the No. 2 seed. The Blue Devils have been getting great work from senior Josh Young and can see their way to the finals, where they likely would have No. 1 seed Point Plesant Beach.
NBC got the No. 3 seed. The Greyhounds will face Jackson Liberty in the first round and likely would have No. 2 Woodbridge in the semis.
Rancocas Valley got the No. 3 seed. The Red Devils get Sayerville in the first round. Their likely road would include games at No. 2 Hillsborough in the semis and No. 1 East Brunswick, one of the best teams in the state, in the finals.
That's tough duty. But don't sleep on this squad. They have won 1 in a row in 2013 after beating Williamstown Saturday at BE. And in a sense, they are playing with house money, since they are likely to be one of SJ's best teams next season.
1 Notre Dame bye; 8 Holy Spirit vs. 9 RBC; 5 Camden Catholic vs. 12 Mon Don; 4 Paul VI vs. 13 Gloucester Cath
3 St. Augustine vs. 14 St. John Vianney; 6 CBA vs. 11 Bishop Ahr; 7 Bishop Eustace vs. 10 Holy Cross; 2 St. Joe Metuchen vs. 15 Immaculata.
Camden Catholic at Paul VI could be a great second-round clash, a rubber match between old rivals that split two games during the regular season. The winner would have a shot to win at Notre Dame in the semis, too -- assuming red-hot Holy Spirit, which has won eight in a row, doesn't take down ND in the quarters.
St. Joe Metuchen is the favorite in the bottom of the bracket especially since they'll be home and that's a long ride for teams such as BE and SAP. The Prep has a knack for finding a way to win in the tourney but the Hermits have a tricky game with CBA in the quarters and a long trip to Metuchen to face 6-11 Karl Towns and Ko. in the semis.
1 Patrick School bye; 8 Trenton Catholic vs. 9 Sacred Heart; 5 Gill St. Bernard's vs. 12 St. Joe Hammonton; 4 Marist vs. 13 St. Mary
3 Wildwood Catholic vs. 14 Mater Dei; 6 Doane vs. 11 Timothy Christian; 7 St. Rose vs. 10 Rutgers Prep; 15 Ranney vs. 2 Roselle Catholic.
Doane has a chance to win a playoff game and might have a chance against WWC, although the Crusaders have a top 1-2 punch in juniors Eddie McWade and Jordan Robertson and their tiny gym off Central Avenue in North Wildwood is a long way from Burlington -- and a tough place to play.
The Patrick School-Gill St. Bernard's second-round winner likely will meet state power Roselle Catholic (how did they get in South B? Union County is South Jersey now?) in the sectional finals.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter