Previewing the South section of the state basketball tournament

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

By this weekend, all of the showcase events will have been completed and all of the division, conference and league championships will have been decided in high school basketball throughout the state. All that’s left is the state tournament. The quest for sectional and state championships begins Monday for some and Tuesday for the rest, and tips off what many people believe is the most exciting two weeks of the scholastic sports season.

The following is a look at each group in the South Jersey section of the boys and girls state basketball tournament (with first-round dates and times for area teams):

BOYS

GROUP IV

Favorite: (1) Atlantic City

Contenders: (2) Lenape, (3) Shawnee

Darkhorse: (5) Eastern

Other area teams in section: (10) EHT, (13) Absegami

Atlantic City has size and athleticism, is one of the best defensive teams in the state and has one of the most underrated coaches in the region in Gene Allen. If the defending state champions have a flaw, it’s their shooting ability. AC isn’t the lock to win the section that everyone thinks they are but this group is still the defending state champs’ to lose, especially since all of their games will be played on their home court. Lenape, Shawnee and Eastern are tough, battle-tested Olympic Conference schools that are always tough outs. Any one of them could give the Vikings problems.

1st-round games - Monday, Feb. 25

(16) Toms River South at (1) Atlantic City, 7 p.m.

(13) Absegami at (4) Toms River North, 6 p.m.

(10) Egg Harbor Twp. at (7) Triton, 7 p.m.

GROUP III

Favorite: (2) Camden

Contenders: (1) Hammonton

Darkhorse: None

Other area teams in section: (11) Ocean City, (12) Oakcrest

Camden got off to its typical slow start but has been on fire of late, posting signature victories over St. Augustine and Camden Catholic in recent weeks. The Panthers start two freshmen and a sophomore who are coming of age quickly. They’re also extremely athletic but at the same time play with much more poise than some recent Camden clubs. Hammonton is the top seed and has the best scorer in the bracket in Christian Mortellite but the Devils would have a hard time matching up with Camden in a sectional final. A healthy Cedric Elleby could have made Delsea a tough out but it appears that he won’t be returning from a foot injury suffered in January. Group III is rather weak field, especially compared to Groups IV and II. How weak? Well, the No. 4 seed, Timber Creek, entered this week at only 8-13.

1s-round games - Tuesday, Feb. 26

(16) Westampton Tech at (1) Hammonton, 7 p.m.

(12) Oakcrest at (5) Delsea, 7

(11) Ocean City at (6) Moorestown, 5:30 p.m.

GROUP II

Favorite: (2) Middle Township

Contenders: (1) Haddonfield, (3) Medford Tech

Darkhorse: (8) Willingboro

Other area teams in section: (10) Cedar Creek, (15) Pleasantville

Middle went through a rather sluggish period in early to mid February partly due to some injuries and illnesses but the Panthers should be ready to go by next week. Their combination of lethal outside shooting, experience and smarts should aid their quest for a sectional title. Haddonfield, always well coached, had just two losses entering this week but the Bulldogs haven’t played nearly the schedule that Middle has, especially since the Colonial Conference was on the weak side this season. Athletic Medford Tech is formidable but Middle would get them at home in a potential sectional semifinal. Eighth-seeded Willingboro is very dangerous. The Chimeras got off to a slow start but have been on fire over the last five weeks after two talented transfers became eligible. They could give Haddonfield fits in a potential second-round matchup. It would be no surprise to see Willingboro land in the final.

1st-round games - Feb. 25

(10) Cedar Creek at (7) Cinnaminson, 7 p.m.

(15) Pleasantville at (2) Middle Twp., 8 p.m.

GROUP I

Favorite: (1) Paulsboro

Contenders: (2) Pitman, (3) Penns Grove

Darkhorses: (8) Woodbury, (9) Wildwood

Defending sectional champion Paulsboro features arguably the best player in South Jersey in Xavier Lundy and has the most size of any Group I team. They’re a prohibitive favorite here. Pitman features 6-9 sophomore Tim Delaney, but the young Panthers probably aren’t athletic enough to match Paulsboro. Penns Grove is relentlessly athletic but doesn’t have tremendous size and struggles to score outside the paint. Woodbury is not as talented as it’s been in the past but does have depth and could make Paulsboro work in a potential second-round game. But that’s if they get by a surging Wildwood team first. The Warriors’ Francis Christian is the best player most of South Jersey doesn’t know about.

1st-round games - Feb. 26

(9) Wildwood at (8) Woodbury, 7

NON-PUBLIC A

Favorite: (2) St. Joseph, Metuchen

Contenders: (1) Notre Dame, (3) St. Augustine Prep

Darkhorses: (5) Camden Catholic, (7) Bishop Eustace, (8) Holy Spirit

Non-Public A is usually one of the most loaded sections and this year is no different. St. Joe (Metuchen) is led by Kentucky recruit Karl Towns, one of the best players in the nation who is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds and 5.5 blocked shots per game. Notre Dame and St. Augustine are both ranked among the state’s top 20 and figure to be the top challengers. Camden Catholic is always a factor under Jim Crawford’s coaching and Bishop Eustace has a couple quality wins on its resume. Holy Spirit could make a run because the Spartans appear to be on the “weaker” side of the bracket, although that’s certainly a relative term when it comes to this section.

1st-round games - Feb. 26

(9) Red Bank Catholic at (8) Holy Spirit, 6 p.m.

(14) St. John Vianney at (3) St. Augustine Prep, 6

NON-PUBLIC B

Favorite: (2) Roselle Catholic

Contenders: (1) Patrick School, (5) Gill St. Bernard’s

Darkhorse: (3) Wildwood Catholic

Other area teams in section: (9) Sacred Heart, (12) St. Joseph, Hammonton

Roselle Catholic and the Patrick School were ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the state going into last weekend. Gill St. Bernard’s has six losses but most of those have come against national-level competition. They recently beat a 17-1 Lakewood team by 20 and hammered what was a 20-0 Bound Brook club by 25 on Saturday. But the Patrick School beat Gill St. Bernard’s by 20 early in the season. Roselle Catholic, the Patrick School and Gill St. Bernard’s are each loaded with multiple Division I college-level players. Wildwood Catholic could do well for a couple of rounds but would be a huge underdog in a potential sectional semifinal game at Roselle Catholic.

1st-round games - Feb. 27

(9) Sacred Heart (Vineland) at (8) Trenton Catholic, 7 p.m.

(12) St. Joseph (Hammonton) at (5) Gill St. Bernard's, 7

(14) Mater Dei at (3) Wildwood Catholic, 7

GIRLS

GROUP IV

Favorite: (2) Washington Township

Contenders: (1) Lenape, (3) Shawnee

Darkhorse: (10) Millville

Other area teams in section: (11) Mainland, (12) Atlantic City, (15) EHT

Experienced Washington Township rates a slight edge here as the defending sectional champion, but this group is loaded with talent. Lenape is the only South Jersey team to beat Washington Township when the Indians nipped the Minutemaids on their home floor after Washington Township won the first meeting by 20 early this season. Shawnee is very solid and can play with anyone. Millville is a team to watch because the ‘Bolts have been on fire after dynamic point guard Lexi Bruno became eligible after sitting out the season’s first 30 days due to the NJSIAA transfer rules.

1st-round games - Monday, Feb. 25

(12) Atlantic City at (5) Clearview, 7 p.m.

(11) Mainland at (6) Eastern, 4 p.m.

(10) Millville at (7) Toms River South, 6:30

(15) Egg Harbor Twp. at (2) Washington Twp., 7

GROUP III

Favorite: (1) Ocean City

Contender: (2) Woodrow Wilson

Darkhorse: (7) Seneca

Other area team in section: (16) Hammonton

Without putting too much pressure on the Raiders, this is really Ocean City’s section to lose. They are clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field in terms of talent and experience, as long as everyone remains healthy. It would be a major shock if the Julia Duggan-led Raiders didn’t at least reach the final. And assuming they do, they’d be a prohibitive favorite in that game no matter which team comes out of the other side of the bracket. Woodrow Wilson is good, but clearly not as strong as the Woodrow Wilson teams from the late 2000s. Seneca’s overall record is not impressive but the defending sectional champions have played some very good teams to close losses over the last month and pulled off an upset victory over highly regarded Sacred Heart over the weekend. The Golden Eagles could make a run if they get hot. This is not a strong field. Only six of the 16 teams in the section were at .500 or better at the playoff cutoff date.

1st-round games - Tuesday, Feb. 26

(16) Hammonton at (1) Ocean City, 6:30 p.m.

GROUP II

Favorite: (1) Willingboro

Contenders: (2) Middle Township, (4) Sterling, (5) Cedar Creek

Darkhorse: (8) Lower Cape May

Other area teams in section: (11) Buena, (14) Bridgeton

This is a very strong section, with Willingboro leading the way. The Chimeras were ranked 10th in the state going into last weekend and are the only team to beat Rancocas Valley, the consensus No. 1 team in South Jersey and the fifth-ranked team in the state. Middle, the only South Jersey team to beat Willingboro this season, is the defending champion and enjoys the luxury of playing on what is probably the weaker side of the bracket. Sterling has a win over Ocean City on its resume. And, of course, Kristine Miller and Cedar Creek are the defending state Group I champs and are looking to repeat after moving up a group.

1st-round games - Feb. 25

(12) Pemberton at (5) Cedar Creek, 6 p.m.

(9) Deptford at (8) Lower Cape May

(14) Bridgeton at (3) Cinnaminson, 5

(11) Buena at (6) Collingswood, 6

(15) West Deptford at (2) Middle Twp., 5 p.m.

GROUP I

Favorite: (1) Haddon Township

Contenders: (2) Gloucester, (3) Glassboro

Darkhorse: (4) Pitman

Area team in section: (8) Wildwood

Haddon Township is a clear favorite here. The team entered this week on an 18-game winning streak, having not lost since December, and has some victories over much larger schools, such as Cherry Hill West, Moorestown and Lower Cape May. Gloucester, Glassboro and Pitman are all solid Group I teams but certainly a rung below Haddon Township. Improved Wildwood could have made a run here if not for an unfortunate seeding at No. 8, which leads them smack into Haddon Township in the second round if they win their opener over No. 9 Salem.

1st-round games - Feb. 26

(9) Wildwood at (8) Salem, 5 p.m.

NON-PUBLIC A

Favorite: (1) Red Bank Catholic

Contender: (2) Gloucester Catholic

Darkhorses: (4) Holy Spirit, (5) St. John Vianney

Red Bank Catholic entered last weekend at 19-1 and ranked No. 2 in the state, so they are a clear-cut favorite here. There are quite a few good teams in this section, but none with the pedigree of RBC. Gloucester Catholic was one of the last unbeaten teams in the state before losing to Rancocas Valley over the weekend. But they’re very young and on the smallish side, and would be a pretty big underdog in a final matchup against RBC. Holy Spirit has played extremely well of late - beating Millville, Cedar Creek and Sacred Heart in succession to win the CAL championship - and could make RBC sweat in a potential sectional semifinal. And, despite its rather pedestrian 15-9 record entering this week, you certainly can’t count out St. John Vianney. SJV dominated a previously unbeaten Pt. Pleasant Beach team over the weekend, 76-54. And two of its losses came by a combined six points to RBC.

1st-round games - Feb. 26

(13) Pingry at (4) Holy Spirit, 4 p.m.

NON-PUBLIC B

Favorite: (2) Gill St. Bernard’s

Contenders: (1) Roselle Catholic, (3) Sacred Heart, (4) Trenton Catholic

Darkhorse: (5) St. Joseph

Other area teams in section: (11) OLMA, (14) Wildwood Catholic

Gill St. Bernard’s, an efficient offensive machine, has been ranked among the top 10 teams in the state for the entire season and is a clear favorite here. Its top player, Taylor Rooks, is averaging 26 points and nine rebounds per game. Two other players are also averaging in double figures in points. Roselle Catholic has played in a lot of close, low-scoring games. Led by 6-2 center Kennedy Johnson, Sacred Heart is dangerous but doesn’t have much depth. Trenton Catholic has a victory over Washington Township on its resume.

1st-round games - Feb. 27

(12) Holy Family at (5) St. Joseph (Hammonton), 6 p.m.

(14) Wildwood Catholic at (3) Sacred Heart (Vineland), 7 p.m.

(6) Timothy Christian at (11) Our Lady of Mercy Academy, 6


blog comments powered by Disqus