By Phil Anastasia
Here are the final Top 20 rankings of the 2013-14 boys' basketball season in South Jersey.
A lot happened since the last rankings at the end of the regular season, with Pitman and Cherry Hill East in particularly making a rush up the charts based on their tournament success.
The preview rankings are in parentheses:
1. Paul VI (2) 24-5
The Eagles' season ended the same way the previous two seasons ended: With a loss to 7-0 Karl Towns and SJ Metuchen in the South A finals. That was the tough thing for this senior class. I mean, how many players/teams out there find themselves in the same bracket as a 7-footer going to Kentucky? Three years in a row? Seniors Jay Howard and Matt Risse were three-year starters for teams that went 76-13 and they both scored 1,000-plus points.
2. Haddonfield (1) 28-1
Haddonfield lost in the SJ 2 semifinals to Camden. That happened. Camden played great that day, and deserved to win. But that doesn't erase everything that Haddonfield did all season. The Bulldogs won their first 28 and they beat Top 15 opponents such as Rancocas Valley, Bishop Eustace, Wildwood Catholic and Holy Spirit. The WC game wasn't close; it was the only game all season when the Crusaders really didn't have a shot at winning. Haddonfield projects to return six of its top eight players, including starters Nick DePersia, Rob DePersia and Jake Robinson.
3. Pitman (15) 25-8
The Panthers went 7-6 down the stretch of the regular season. Senior Darnell Foreman said the team hit the "lowest of the lows" in back-to-back losses to Eastern and St. Augustine. But somehow, someway, this team found the magic in the post-season. Pitman's last three wins were over Schalick (which was 26-3 entering the game), Point Pleasant Beach (29-1) and Bloomfield Tech (23-5). And the Panthers pushed Group 4 state champion to the absolute limit in that T of C game with the incredible. Great late-season work by Foreman, Eric Stafford, Tim Delaney and Tyler Wisniewski, with some key contributions from a bunch of gritty role players, too.
4. Wildwood Catholic (4) 23-5
Senior guard Jordan Robertson and his team both took a huge leap forward this season. Robertson developed into one of the best players in South Jersey, and the Crusaders developed into one of the best teams. With great play from senior forward Eddie McWade, this team was at its best in the CAL tourney, beating Millville by a point, stunning Holy Spirit late as Robertson scored 6 points in the final 14.2 seconds, and blowing Atlantic City out of the water -- all in an unforgettable span of six days.
5. Cherry Hill East (18) 23-8
From 18 to 5, that's quite a jump for the Cougars. But they were 18 because they lost 6 of 7 in a bad stretch there in February. And they are 5 because they found their way out of it in a big way -- winning the first South Jersey title in the history of the program. Terrific play by junior guard Jake Silpe and contributions from seniors Austin Wetzler, Tommy Smierciak and Phil Cunha as well as sophomore Tim Perry led the way in CH East's drive to the SJ 4 crown.
6. St. Augustine (5) 23-5
The Hermits beat Pitman, Eastern, Camden Catholic and Mainland after Feb. 15. Watch out for this team next season behind sophomore point guard Sa'eed Nelson, sophomore swingman Mike Vasturia and freshman phenom Justyn Mutts.
7. Eastern (3) 24-5
Senior center Matt Klinewski is South Jersey's Player of the Year after averaging 24.6 points and 10.7 rebounds. With strong play from senior guard Alex Barr, Eastern went 13-2 against an extremely challenging schedule after Jan. 30.
8. Camden (14) 22-10
It turned out to be a great first season for new coach John Valore, thanks in large part to sophomores Brad Hawkins and Jamal Holloway as well as late-arriving senior Tavaris Headen. Camden went 11-3 after Feb. 10, with wins over Pitman, Haddonfield, Pemberton and Matawan. The Panthers let a lead get away against Newark Tech in the Group 2 state finals. How's this for a stat? Camden has lost five state title games since 2001 under five different coaches -- 2001 (Glen Jackson), 2005 (Clarence Turner), 2009 (Mike Stargell), 2013 (Cetsh Byrd), 2014 (John Valore).
9. Holy Spirit (6) 21-7
The Spartans didn't have a "bad" loss all season. They lost to Wildwood Catholic (twice), Roman Catholic, Atlantic City, Eastern, Haddonfield and The Patrick School. Senior swingman Junior Saintel put together a strong season for a team that should return most of its regulars.
10. Bishop Eustace (8) 20-9
The Crusaders were the only team in South Jersey to beat Paul VI this season -- and they did it twice. They earned a share of the title of what was the toughest division in SJ this season, the Olympic National. Senior guard Flo DaSilva led the way for a team that, like Holy Spirit, should return most of its regulars next season.
11. Schalick (9) 26-4
Senior center Rashaan Holloway finished his career with 1,622 points, second on the school's all-time list behind only Paul Gause.
12. Camden Catholic (10) 21-7
Behind senior guards Rob Brosh and Tom Organ, the Irish went 17-4 after Jan. 11 with wins over Bishop Eustace, Camden (twice), Delsea, Medford Tech and Monsignor Donovan. Watch out for this team next season if 6-8 junior Demola Onifade is healthy.
13. Atlantic City (7) 19-8
The Vikings had a good season. But since the last two AC teams had great seasons, it probably felt like a bit of a letdown. Still one of SJ's top programs.
14. Rancocas Valley (11) 20-8
Senior center Nick Davidson and senior guard Vince Anfield led the way for the Red Devils this season.
15. Delsea (NR) 21-10
The Crusaders won the SJ 3 title behind junior Keith Braxton, senior Ronnie Russell, junior Kwame Morton and his brother, sophomore Kalemb Morton.
16. Pemberton (16) 24-4
Senior Shaun Brooks and sophomore J'Ivion Ivory led the Hornets to a terrific season. They pushed Camden to the brink in the SJ 2 title game.
17. Millville (12) 19-6
The Thunderbolts beat Mainland, CH East and St. Augustine after Feb. 6.
18. Paulsboro (13) 23-5
The Red Raiders won 10 in a row from Feb. 8 until they walked into Schalick's gym for the SJ 1 semifinals on March 7.
19. Cherokee (20) 18-9
A strong senior class led by Kyle Kahriger, Kevin Wixted, Ben Handel and Jake Powell led the Chiefs to the SJ 4 title game.
20. Willingboro (17) 19-8
The Chimeras were 9-2 after Feb. 11 -- with one loss to Pemberton in three overtimes and the other by 71-69 to Rumson in the CJ 2 semifinals.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Collingswood (18-9), Mainland (18-11), Medford Tech (19-10), Penns Grove (19-7), West Deptford (22-6).
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter