A closer look at the New Jersey boys’ basketball state tournaments, which start Monday:
Field: 1. Eastern. 2. Cherokee. 3. Toms River North. 4. Millville. 5. Lenape. 6. Kingsway. 7. Cherry Hill East. 8. Egg Harbor. 9. Atlantic City. 10. Vineland 11. Rancocas Valley. 12. Washington Twp. 13. Clearview. 14. Central. 15. Shawnee. 16. Southern.
Defending champion: Shawnee.
Dark horse: Shawnee.
Best opener: Shawnee at Cherokee. This is not a typical No. 15 at No. 2 match-up. These teams are school-district rivals, for one thing. For another, Shawnee is red-hot, having gone 9-1 down the stretch after a 4-11 start. The defending champs will be a tough out. This might be Cherokee’s trickiest game on the road to the final, although Toms River North would be a challenge as well if the chalk holds.
Another game to watch in first round: Vineland at Cherry Hill East will feature two of South Jersey’s top senior guards in the Clan’s D.J. Campbell and the Cougars’ Carl Gibson. Both are averaging 20-plus.
Watch Lenape: The Indians have been on a “roller-coaster” ride all season, per coach Matt Wolf. But they’ve played a tough schedule and feature a highly productive senior swingman Steve Matlack and a dynamic young player in freshman point guard Derek Simpson.
About the top seed: Eastern has lost twice to Cherokee and stumbled a bit down the stretch. But the Vikings have experienced guards, a legitimate post presence in senior Ryan Ems and the home-court advantage.
Players to watch: Cherokee senior guards Anthony DiCaro and Gavin Gibson are clever playmakers who can shoot from distance and drain their free throws. That’s often the formula for success in the tournament.
Projected final four: Toms River North at Cherokee, Lenape at Eastern.
Field: 1. Moorestown. 2. Ocean City. 3. Mainland. 4. Pinelands. 5. Timber Creek. 6. Westampton Tech. 7. Highland. 8. Lacey. 9. Delsea. 10. Seneca. 11. Toms River East. 12. Winslow Twp. 13. Woodrow Wilson. 14. Camden Tech. 15. Cherry Hill West. 16. Deptford.
Defending champion: Delsea.
Dark horse: Delsea.
Best opener: Winslow Twp. at Timber Creek. Another battle of Cross Keys Road. These teams are fierce rivals with a lot of recent history, including some classics in this tournament.
Watch Delsea: The defending champions, like Shawnee in South Jersey Group 4, started slowly this season but have caught fire in the last month. Senior guard Javon Gordon is a warrior who will rage against the end of his career.
Third meeting: If forms holds on the bottom half of the bracket, old rivals Ocean City and Mainland will meet for the third time this season in the sectional semifinals. The teams split in the regular season, with the Mustangs handing the Red Raiders a 71-51 loss on Jan. 25.
About the top seed: Moorestown lost a heart-breaker in overtime to Nottingham in last year’s Central Jersey Group 3 final. The Quakers are the clear favorite in this group, with a seasoned senior group led by guard Jagger Zrada and swingman Nick Cartwright-Atkins, among several other accomplished veterans.
Player to watch: Westampton Tech junior Tyrese Myrick is a burly presence in the paint with a surprisingly soft touch.
Projected final four: Mainland at Ocean City, Timber Creek at Moorestown.
Field: 1. Haddonfield. 2. Camden. 3. Pleasantville. 4. Haddon Heights. 5. West Deptford. 6. Cinnaminson. 7. Lower Cape May. 8. Pennsauken Tech. 9. Middle Twp. 10. Audubon. 11. Sterling. 12. Delran. 13. Cedar Creek. 14. Pt. Pleasant Boro. 15. Manchester Twp. 16. Barnegat.
Defending champion: Haddonfield.
Dark horse: West Deptford.
Second-round matchup: If form holds, West Deptford at Haddon Heights will be a quarterfinal to watch. The Garnets beat the Eagles 56-41 in the season opener Dec. 14 but the team in green has come a long way since then. West Deptford won the rematch 63-56 on Jan. 31. Haddon Heights has momentum and confidence after an OT win over Willingboro, courtesy of Patrick Campell’s buzzer-beater.
Not bad for a football school: West Deptford enters the tournament with 18 wins in its last 19 games. The lone loss was 65-61 to Haddonfield in a game in which the Eagles built a 23-point lead. Junior guards M.J. Iraldi and Brandon Ratcliffe have blossomed over the course of the season.
You got the High: Camden has been a bit of an enigma but the Panthers are more than capable of capturing their South Jersey-record 48th sectional title. If the chalk holds, Camden’s semifinal vs. Pleasantville could be a classic and a tell on whether the Panthers are primed to turn the tables on their new nemesis, Haddonfield.
About the top seed: Haddonfield’s lone loss was to Paul VI in a game in which senior guard Mike DePersia sat out with a wrist injury, The Bulldawgs are that close to 26-0. This is an experienced, accomplished, senior-heavy team with its sights set on a second straight state title and a chance to make a case as the best team in program history.
Player to watch: Senior guard Ethan Tarte is a top defender and rebounder whose ball-handling, decision-making and leadership will go a long way toward defining this post-season for the Panthers.
Projected final four: Pleasantville at Camden, West Deptford at Haddonfield.
Field: 1. Penns Grove. 2. Glassboro. 3. Salem. 4. Haddon Twp. 5. Overbrook. 6. Woodstown. 7. Woodbury. 8. Clayton. 9. Cape May Tech. 10. Paulsboro. 11. Pitman. 12. Gloucester. 13. Schalick. 14. Wildwood. 15. Gateway. 16. Lindenwold.
Defending champion: Woodbury.
Dark horse: Haddon Twp.
First-round matchup to watch: Paulsboro at Woodbury will be a renewal of a great rivalry between teams that have battled for years in Colonial Conference and S.J. 1 play.
Another early game to watch: The over-under on Cape May Tech at Clayton? Maybe 200. The Clippers love to play their tornado style, and don’t mind if the other teams scores 100 as long as they get 101. Cape May Tech’s Josh Wright is a 2,000-point scorer who has a chance to seriously add to his career total in this game.
Watch Haddon Twp.: Led by senior all-purpose Brian Burns, the Hawks earned a share of a Colonial Conference division title for the first time in program history. If form holds, their second-round battle with Overbrook, another darkhorse in this field, should be a good one.
About the top seed: Penns Grove is a small but highly athletic and tenacious team that relies on pressure defense and perimeter shooting. The Red Devils should benefit big-time from home court advantage.
About Glassboro: The Bulldogs, who have won 12 in a a row, might as well as be seeded 1B with Penns Grove as the 1A. The teams split in the regular season, with Glassboro capturing the most recent meeting by 55-39 on Feb. 5. The return to eligibility of junior Kwandel Tokley has made a big difference for Glassboro, which features a freshman to watch in Keon Sabb.
Player to watch: Penns Grove junior Kavon Lewis averages 18.9 points and has made 70 three-pointers.
Projected final four: Salem at Glassboro, Haddon Twp. at Penns Grove.
Field: 1. St. Augustine. 2. Paul VI. 3. Red Bank Catholic. 4. Camden Catholic. 5 Christian Brothers. 6. Bishop Ahr. 7. Notre Dame. 8. St. Joseph Metuchen. 9. St. John Vianney. 10. Bishop Eustace. 11. Donovan Catholic.
Defending champion: Camden Catholic.
Favorite: Flip a coin.
Dark horse: Bishop Eustace.
Go figure the Crusaders: Bishop Eustace has some great wins and some head-scratching losses. Any team capable of beating Paul VI, Camden and Eastern has the potential to make some serious noise in this tournament. Senior swingman Mattia Morini and junior guard David Cross are players to watch for the Crusaders.
Second-round matchup to watch: If Bishop Eustace can get past Notre Dame, no small task, the Crusaders would visit Paul VI for the third meeting of the season between the long-time division and sectional rivals. The teams split in the regular season, with Paul VI winning the most recent game by a 73-65 on Jan. 31.
About the top seed: The only reason St. Augustine isn’t the clear favorite as the No. 1 seed is that Paul VI and Camden Catholic have looked just as formidable. But the Hermits have the home-court advantage and have improved a lot since a lopsided loss to Wildwood Catholic on Jan. 8. Seniors Charles Solomon and Andrew Delaney are top swingmen for St. Augustine.
About the defending champion: Camden Catholic is 20-1 since Dec. 20, with the lone loss to Paul VI. The Irish were part of one of those odd rivalry triangles in the Olympic National this season – they swept Camden, Camden swept Paul VI and Paul VI swept them. This is a veteran, accomplished team with an imposing pair of 6-6 seniors in Uche Okafor and Baba Ajike. If they visit St. Augustine in the semifinals, there’s going to be big-time battle in the paint.
Players to watch: Paul VI seniors Tyshon Judge and Hartnel Haye have carried the Eagles back to prominence and would like nothing better than to secure the program’s first sectional title since 1988.
Projected final four: Red Bank Catholic at Paul VI, Camden Catholic at St. Augustine.
Field: 1. Wildwood Catholic. 2. Ranney. 3. Rutgers Prep. 4. Immaculata. 5. St. Joseph. 6. Doane Academy. 7. Trenton Catholic. 8. Gloucester Catholic. 9. Holy Spirit. 10. Holy Cross. 11. Mater Dei. 12. St. Rose. 13. Calvary Christian. 14. Moorestown Friends. 15. Timothy Christian.
Defending champion: Ranney.
Dark horse: Trenton Catholic.
First-round matchup to watch: Holy Spirit at Gloucester Catholic offers both teams a chance to notch a post-season win before visiting Wildwood Catholic’s tiny gym for a difficult second-round game.
About the top seed: Wildwood Catholic has put together a fabulous season. The Crusaders’ lone loss was to Camden in a Boardwalk Classic showcase game Dec. 27. Juniors Taj Thweatt and Jahlil White power Wildwood Catholic, and junior Jacob Hopping is a viable third threat as well. Unlike in the public sectionals, the No. 1 seed in non-public tournament carries less weight, since the championship game will be a neutral site. That mitigates any advantage that Wildwood Catholic would have had over Ranney if those teams met in the Crusaders’ gym on Central Avenue in North Wildwood.
About Ranney: This team has hovered around the No. 1 spot in the state rankings all season. This marks the final chance for seniors Bryan Antoine, a Villanova recruit, and Scottie Lewis, a Florida recruit, to capture a state title.
Player to watch: St. Joseph senior Marcellus Ross is a 2,000-point scorer. He’s determined to lead his team to wins over St. Rose and Immaculata, no small task, and earn a third shot at Wildwood Catholic in the sectional semifinals. St. Joe’s has battled Wildwood Catholic, losing at home in overtime and by 10 at the Crusaders’ gym in Cape-Atlantic League play.
Projected final four: Rutgers Prep at Ranney, St. Joseph at Wildwood Catholic.
Seeds to watch: 1. Willingboro. 2. Burlington City. 6. Palmyra. 12. Riverside.
Defending champion: Point Pleasant Beach.
About the top seed: As they did in football, the Chimeras have played more of a Group 2 or Group 3 schedule and that has prepared them for a post-season run in Group 1. Sophomore Marcus Randolph is a top all-around player for Willingboro.
Watch Burlington City: The Blue Devils, under veteran coach Paul Collins, has a dynamic junior guard in Deonte Woodbury and a presence in the post in senior Michael Green.
Player to watch: Palmyra senior Steen McKoy averages a double-double with 14.8 points and 11.4 rebounds.
Projected final four: Bound Brook at Burlington City, Perth Amboy Tech at Willingboro.
Seed to watch: 7. Bordentown is led by junior all-purpose Jordan Martin, who averaged 16.9 points and has made 56 three-pointers.
Seeds to watch: 6. Burlington Twp. 16. Northern Burlington.