Are there more MCT surprises in store on Saturday?

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

Does a Cinderella lurk in this year’s Morris County Tournament? It wouldn’t be at all surprising. Roxbury (18th seed), Delbarton (19th seed) and West Morris (20th seed) all pulled shockers last week although their triumphs made some sense. Delbarton and West Morris are tournament regulars with long time coaches that know how to prepare their teams. Roxbury was a finalist last year and still have a player or two left who remember the excitement last year’s squad generated. If any of these teams remain, they will become the darlings of the event which continues on Saturday.

Play commences in the afternoon with top-seeded Morristown-Beard tipping off against Morris Hills at 4 p.m. The 5 p.m. contests include Morristown at Madison, Roxbury at Morris Knolls, Hanover Park at Mount Olive and Whippany Park at Randolph. Delbarton travels to defending champion Mendham for a 6 p.m. encounter. West Morris at Chatham and Jefferson at Mountain Lakes are the 7 p.m. games. Here’s how they look.

Morris Hills at Morristown-Beard  – The 16th-seeded Scarlet Knights defeatedButler to advance to the opening round. After some struggles the first half of the seasonMorrisHills is showing signs of coming together. Evan Staikos has been a steady force on the inside for the Scarlet Knights often grabbing double-digits in points and rebounds. Ranell Bell is a solid perimeter threat and Brian Walls has also made contributions at guard. Bell and Walls will have to deal with much of the Morristown-Beard pressure. The top-seeded Crimson does not mind pressuring opposing team’s guards and may make it difficult forMorris Hills to set up in the halfcourt. The Crimson are very athletic. Chris Jenkins and Harrison Rosemond can play above the rim. They can dunk, block shots and clear the boards. Brian Bartner is a perimeter threat who is good on the drive. Tyler Terens runs the offense and hits open shots and Malik Valentine is a change of pace guard who can pick up the tempo. Mo-Beard has been inconsistent at times but has stepped up when it has needed to so far. The Crimson does not have a good history in the MCT but they are determined to legitimize their top seed.

Roxbury at Morris Knolls – The 18th-seeded Gaels look nothing like last year’s MCT finalists but give them credit for improving over the course of the season and knocking out Pequannock (who they lost to by 20 points in December) in the prelim round. Junior guard Ryan Kelley has stepped up at times and teammates Tommy Alliegro and Malcolm Chavis get better with every varsity game. The Gaels are small but play tenacious defense and cannot be discounted. Second-seeded Morris Knolls is having its best season in years. Niko Kotoulas is a 1,000 point score and dangerous inside player. The 6-foot-5 athlete has teamed up with 6-foot-7 Kevin Miller to give opponents matchup problems. Point guard Esaun Mobley is having a terrific year. He is a player who is good at distributing the ball but also can push it to the basketball. Chris Stark, Michael Signer, Aaron Arizmendi and Brian O’Neil know their roles.  These two teams played on Tuesday in a regular season game in which Morris Knolls emerged the victor in double overtime.

Delbarton at Mendham — It is the earliest MCT contest the rival teams have played each other in years. The Green Wave is having a tough season but advanced in tournament play by upending 14th-seeded Montville with the help of a Matt Hardin 3-pointer late in the contest. Delbarton has some weapons most notably Ryan Curran who has good size and can hit some shots and Hardin who is a dangerous catch-and-shoot player. Mendham defeated Delbarton 38-31 in the regular season after taking an early 17-0 lead. The Green Wave’s late rally has given them confidence that they can play better this time around. The Minutemen are going for their fifth consecutive MCT title. This year’s Minutemen don’t have as strong an inside presence now that Torey Vicarisi has graduated but they have been better along the perimeter. Drew Jacobs runs the offense. He and his younger brother Alex can score from long range. Tom Reifsnyder and T.K. Hayes are also good behind the arc. On the inside, the Minutemen count on Nick Maguire and Will Gibbs. They are rugged, physical players that are good on the box out and set the screens needed for the Mendham shooters to pop out on.

West Morris at Chatham– The young Highlanders are just beginning to play well together. The 20th-seeded squad did play good enough to thrash Kinnelon in prelim play, providing the biggest surprise of the tournament so far. West Morris needs to play good defense and transition into good offensive play. Pat Barron can put the ball in the net and Charlie Savite is among the players that have distinguished themselves on the defensive end. Fourth-seeded Chatham was one of the favorites this year before Jonathan Berntsen and Joe Carson went down with injuries. The Cougars continued to win by adding jayvee players Scott Baker and Luke Conrad to the mix. Berntsen has recently returned and they have rallied around their starters, Drew Ballard, Joe Timmes and Colin Brown.

Randolph’s Julian Aiken, left, the leading scorer in Morris County and one of the top scorers in the state, will be active on Saturday when the Morris County Tournament continues.

Morristown at Madison– First year coach Bill Connolly seems to be getting the most that he can from his new crew of Colonials. This year’s Morristown team seems a little more disciplined and focused than past squads. Dylan Black is their most experienced returnee. Sophomore Sean Hoehn is having a good year at the point. Ryan Brunnock and Dom Pisciotto have also had their moments as 12th-seeded Morristown works at carving a new image for itself. Lately fifth-seeded Madison seems happy to live and die with the jump shot. Matt Gilbert, Sean Haughey and Cameron Dias love to shoot it and more often than not their attempts hit net. It’s when they don’t that the problems start. The Dodgers are a versatile team and don’t get rattled easily. They also seem comfortable in playing close games and have received quite a bit of tournament experience over the years.  

Hanover Park at Mount Olive– Can the Hornets run with the Marauders? That’s the big question. The Marauders shoot first and ask questions later. They also bump up the pressure to force an opponent out of its offense. However, the 11th-seeded Hornets might be comfortable or even welcome an opponent that likes to push the tempo. Hanover Park’s Matt Williams loves to slash to the basket. Jimmy Sivolella can shoot it or drive the lane. Brendan Rudolph can also drive and dish and Max Reynolds is active on the boards and can grab long rebounds. A recent regular-season win againstMadison gives the Hornets some confidence going into this contest. If they have the energy, they may be able to stay with the Marauders. Sixth-seeded Mount Olive tries to outlast opponents and have won a couple of games late because they are in better shape. They also are coming off a good win against Sparta. One player Hanover Park will have trouble matching up with is 6-foot-7, Zach Heeman. The tall sophomore is surprisingly agile for his size and will even put up a 3-point shot on occasion. Kevin Miller, Tyler McEvoy, Justin Palanchi and Rashaan Spencer are also players to watch. If they can improve their 3-point shooting prowess (they had 11 against the Spartans), then the Marauders can make some noise in the tournament.

Jefferson at Mountain Lakes– The Falcons seem to have found their go-to guy. Jon Kristoffersen knocks down the shots when the 10th-seeded team needs them. Drew Hall runs the offense which usually has contributions from Evan Rapp, Jeff Oster, Steve Cuccio and Ken Ginefra. Defensively, Jefferson will have to get a body on the Lakers’ Ethan Lubowitz. The Mountain Lakes standout has a nice touch in the paint and also grabs his share of the boards. The seventh-seeded Lakers also have some prowess around the perimeter. Chris Robertson can knock down some shots as well as driving and dishing to teammates Max Boerstoel and Chris Herring. Herring in particular is fun to watch because of the amount of arc he gets on his shots. He also doesn’t mind launching them (and sometimes hitting) from NBA range.

Whippany Park at Randolph– The eighth-seeded Rams have the leading scorer in Morris Countywith Julian Aiken. The Randolph athlete averages 27 points a game and is proficient from beyond the arc and around the hoop. He also knocks down his free throws which makes him a very dangerous player late in games. Aaron Harris is a solid secondary scorer for the Rams. Matt Bonner, Connor McMahon and Patrick Archer are strong contributors on a team that is beginning to find its stride on the defensive end. The Wildcats stumbled in the first half of last week’s prelims against Dover, but took control with a strong second half effort. Ninth-seeded WhippanyPark is not very deep but it does have a competitive starting cast that matches up favorably with most area teams. Tyler Raff can distribute the ball but can also get his points. Andrew Holleran and Jake Wadden are important players that contribute both scoring and rebounding and Kenny Jones has good size and a take charge attitude on the boards.

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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