We’re less than two weeks away from the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament seeding meeting, and a little more than two weeks away from the Somerset County Tournament gathering. The future for some teams is fairly certain, while others still have a lot up in the air with a lot of moving parts.
Here’s a look at the teams in our Central Jersey Sports Radio coverage area:
GREATER MIDDLESEX CONFERENCE:
Red Division: With a pilot program in place for this year that only requires teams to play each other once, the division title in the GMC Red was determined back on Tuesday night, when St. Thomas Aquinas outlasted St. Joseph in Metuchen, 66-62, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio. That left the Trojans undefeated in league play (8-0). Nicely and neatly, they’ve essentially locked up the No. 1 seed in the county tournament.
Some teams are playing each other twice, including Aquinas, Colonia and St. Joe’s. In fact, the Falcons avenged a triple-ovetime 83-78 loss to Colonia back on December 20th with a 47-45 win Thursday night. But that win doesn’t matter. After the first pass through the regular season, Aquinas finished first in the division, with Colonia (7-1) second and St. Joe’s third (6-2). So, when it’s time for seeding Aquinas will come first, Colonia second and Joe’s third, even if the Falcons come back and beat Aquinas in North Edison next Tuesday.
White Division: Since all the other divisions are “normal” this year, there’s a lot of basketball yet to be played for many teams. South Plainfield and North Brunswick are both 12-2, but the Tigers are 8-1 in divisional play and the Raiders’ 7-2. They split with each other, but North’s extra loss is to Perth Amboy. They best the Raiders’ can do to get a shot at the division title is to run the table, and hope the Tigers trip up somewhere. That would force at least a co-championship, with the tie to be broken at the seeding meeting.
South Plainfield only played “up” once, losing to St. Joseph in Metuchen by 14 on January 3rd. North Brunswick beat two Red Division teams in their own holiday tournament: East Brunswick (5-10) and South Brunswick (9-5). If it got that far, you’d have to think, advantage: Raiders.
The Tigers have four more divisional games left, with three against the bottom half of the White, and another next Thursday against Woodbridge (8-6), which should be their toughest test of the bunch. Central Jersey Sports Radio will be there to bring you all the live play-by-play.
Blue Division: Even though Piscataway was the first team to beat South River this season, it’s looking like no one in the division will beat the Rams, who pulled away from Spotswood Friday night in the second half of their rematch game, en route to a 73-51 win. They’re 9-0 in division play, but even with five games left, who else is going to beat them? Spotswood and Middlesex – both 11-4 overall – are the only .500-or-better teams in the division. The Rams have already taken the Chargers twice, and Middlesex is coming up at home next Friday.
Gold Division: Calvary Christian leads the pack at 7-0 with the second half of their divisional schedule left to play, a half-game ahead of 7-1 Highland Park. The problem for the Owls is this: their rematch game with Calvary is scheduled for 5:30 on February 3rd, about ten hours after the GMC seeding will take place, so it won’t be considered. Unless that game gets moved earlier, Highland Park may need to rely on them to trip up somewhere.
GMC Tourmanent Projection: It’s still way too early for a lot of teams, but it’s pretty clear the top two seeds will be St. Thomas Aquinas, followed by Colonia. That would leave most likely St. Joseph, North Brunswick/South Plainfield, South River, and Calvary Christian/Highland Park on the board. Which means the three-seed will come down to St. Joseph or South River. We think it’s a no-brainer: despite the Rams’ loss to then-5-8 (now 5-11) Piscataway, they beat St. Joe’s head-to-head, making the Rams an easy choice for the No. 3 seed.
Why does it matter? You’d potentially avoid St. Thomas Aquinas until the final, even though you’d still have to get through Colonia or St. Joe’s (again) in the semifinals to get there. It may be a pick-your-poison scenario, but hey, everyone has to play the games.
So we think South River at three, then Joe’s at No. 4. Five is likely the White Division winner. Then the question is whether the six-seed will go to the second-place team from the White, or the fourth-place team from the Red. That’s a choice between South Brunswick or South Plainfield/North Brunswick.
Should the Tigers win the division, that should go to North Brunswick, which beat South Brunswick head-to-head, as well as East Brunswick from the Red. So if South Plainfield takes the White, it should go: Tigers at five, Raiders at six, Vikings at seven.
If North Brunswick winds up winning the division, they would go at five, then it’s down to South Plainfield and South Brunswick for six and seven, and that would make a good debate. Against teams already seeded, the Vikings would have lost to St. Joe’s and Aquinas once each, as well as Colonia, and they play the Patriots today at 1:00 on the road. They also would have split with North Brunswick, making them 2-4 against teams “on the board,” with one more game to play against Colonia. South Plainfield would have split with North Brunswick and lost to St. Joe’s, going 1-1.
The eighth seed would automatically go to the Gold winner, whoever it is, Calvary Christian or Highland Park, as the seeding rules call for all four division winners to be seeded among the top eight.
While the coveted seeds with double-byes are the top eight in the GMCs, the Somerset County Tournament only has the top four teams getting the double byes. And it’s a little more difficult because those teams play in the Skyland Conference, with divisions combining Warren and Hunterdon County teams, which have their own tournament with Sussex County squads.
Nonetheless, the top seed will come down to Tuesday night’s game – which can be heard at 7 pm on Central Jersey Sports Radio – between Gill St. Bernard’s and Rutgers Prep. In their only meeting last year, the top-seeded Knights beat the Argonauts 84-63 in the Somerset County Tournament Final. But this year, Gill beat Prep 67-65 on a buzzer-beating three by Nick Losada up in Peapack-Gladstone on January 5th.
That was without Cameron Piggee, who got banged up against Neumann Goretti on December 30th and missed two weeks, returning to play against Seton Hall Prep a week ago. But he sat out wins against Hunterdon Central and Saddle River Day this week. It remains to be seen whether he’ll suit up – or be at full strength – against the Knights on Tuesday.
That being said, Tuesday night’s game essentially is for the top seed. A Gill win would make it easy, sweeping the two-game season series. A Prep win would spark an interesting debate, since neither team has come close.
Rutgers Prep has played only three games against Somerset County competition so far, and won all three, beating Franklin twice and Bridgewater-Raritan once, by an average 17 points. The wins over the Warriors were by eight on opening night, and by seven last week. After gill, they only play Bridgewater-Raritan the rest of the way.
Gill has done the reverse, beating Bridgewater twice and Franklin once, with just Franklin coming up – besides, of course, the game at Prep Tuesday. The margin in those three games has been just under 16 points.
So, if Rutgers Prep forces a split in the season series with Gill, it may come down more to how they beat them.
For the Somerset County Tournament, the coaches fill out their seeds, top to bottom, and each team is scored. The one that gets the most points is awarded the top seed. An Argonauts win would make it real interesting.
As for the third and fourth seeds, there really are three teams in play, and the one that gets in could face the one that get left out in the 5-vs.-4 game in the quarterfinals. Under consideration would be Immaculata (11-2 overall), Ridge (10-3) and Bound Brook (12-1).
At this point – remember, there’s still much basketball to be played – Immaculata is likely the third-seed. The Spartans are 7-1 against Somerset County foes this year, their lone loss to Hillsborough (8-4), which moved down from the Delaware Division to the Spartans’ Raritan this season. That was a 60-55 defeat, on the road, on January 10th, and their first loss of the season. (Their other came to Ranney out of Monmouth County.)
Here’s where it gets interesting: Ridge is 5-2 against Somerset County competition, with a pair of wins over Hillsborough, and wins over Montgomery, Watchung Hills and Pingry. Their two losses came to Immaculata. They still have Montgomery, Watchung Hills and Somerville before the seeding.
Bound Brook is 4-0 against Somerset County competition, with two wins over Pingry – both by a single point – and single victories over Bernards and Somerville. They still have Somerville, Franklin and Immaculata before the meeting.
If it ended today, we might give a super slight edge to Bound Brook. But it’s the game against the Spartans that likely will be the difference. A win over Immaculata would seal the deal. That game is Friday, February 4th at 7 pm in The Brook, a tough place to play. The last time they met on that side of Route 287 was in the 2021 Skyland Conference one-off Gold Pod Final, which the Crusaders won, capping a 14-0 season for Bound Brook.