MCT Quarterfinal Preview

By Mark Kitchin


All four Morris County Tournament quarterfinal games possess some form of intrigue but the opening game of the day may be the most interesting of all. That’s when it will be determined if a system can dethrone a champion.

Sixth-seeded Mount Olive faces third-seeded and defending champion Mendham in the 2 p.m. opener of the four games that will be played at Randolph High School. That game will be followed by seventh-seeded Mountain Lakes at second-seeded Morris Knolls in a game that will start at approximately 3:30. The 5:30 game pits fifth-seeded Madison against fourth-seeded Chatham. In the night cap eighth-seeded Randolph will play in their road uniforms against top-seeded Morristown-Beard at approximately 7 p.m.

In the opening game, Mendham will look to continue its run for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Morris County Tournament title but they not only have to face a different team but a different strategy in order to advance. Mount Olive employs the Grinnell System which emphasizes pressure defense, three-point shooting and an attacking offensive style that encourages teams to shoot in 12 seconds or less. The Marauders also platoon teams of four or five in a hockey style manner to keep the tempo going.

Mount Olive has embraced the system but coach Kevin Moore has been pressured to tone it down in recent weeks for the sake of sportsmanship. In some games the Marauders have gotten off to big early leads only to give way in the second half to just half-court trapping and settling the ball in an effort not to embarrass their opponents.

In many ways Saturday’s game may vindicate this new style of play since Mendham is certainly a game opponent and there will be no holding back. The contest will also be a challenge to the Marauders because Randolph’s court is slightly wider than most and the walls of the gym are set far behind the backboards which may affect the depth perception for some of the shooters.

Mount Olive does have shooters. Kevin Miller, Frank Pastena and Justin Palanchi are among the players that really love to launch it. Rashaan Spencer can too, but he seems to have more success on drives to the hoop since defenses are paying close attention to the perimeter. Mount Olive also has an inside game with 6-foot-7 Zach Heeman, an agile sophomore center that is even more effective because the Marauders style of play stretches a team’s defense and opens up plenty of room in the paint.

Mendham defeated Mount Olive 81-71 when they played in December. That contest was held in the confines of Mendham High where the mass of championship banners and packed crowds make it one of the most imposing gyms to play in the county. A neutral site might make a difference. The Minutemen have good perimeter shooters and play at their best come tournament time. Drew Jacobs runs the offense and is a prime scorer while his sophomore brother Alex and teammates Tom Reifsnyder and David Yee like to launch shots. The Minutemen have some effective inside players, too. Frank Maguire and Will Gibbs love banging the boards and driving to the hoop. Mendham will be looking to rebound from a close regular-season loss to Randolph on Thursday and also have the advantage of playing in the Randolph gym twice in three days. The Minutemen always play good defense but in a game like this it will be the ability of the Mendham players to take care of the ball and break down Mount Olive’s defensive pressure that will make the difference between continuing another title quest and ending an impressive MCT run.

Mendham’s Drew Jacobs (21) and Morris Knolls’ Esaun Mobley (1) will both be busy on Saturday helping their teams advance in Morris County Tournament quarterfinal round games being played at Randolph High.


Morris Knolls vs. Mountain Lakes

These are the only two quarterfinal round teams that have not played each other this season. The Golden Eagles are having their best season since the mid 80s and a quarterfinal loss would put a serious damper on it. The Morris Knolls got off to a great start but its momentum has slowed down a bit, most recently in a regular season loss to Randolph. The Golden Eagles have their weapons. Senior Niko Kotoulas is a 1,000-point score and a dangerous player inside and out. He works well with 6-foot-7 Kevin Miller who also provides a post presence. He also rebounds and can block shots in his role as help defender in the Golden Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Point guard Esaun Mobley continues to impress. He is good at distributing the ball and isn’t hesitant at putting up a shot himself. Chris Stark, Michael Signer, Aaron Arizmendi and Brian O’Neil have also made vital contributions.

The Lakers rallied to defeat Jefferson in opening round play. Ethan Lubowitz had a huge game, connecting for 40 points to help Mountain Lakes advance. He is an inside scorer who can also fire from the perimeter. He recently joined the 1,000-point club and he is also the Lakers’ major rebounder especially on the offensive end. His success is vital if Mountain Lakes has any hopes of advancing. A matchup between him and Kotoulas might prove interesting. Point guard Chris Robertson is relied upon to make good decisions with the ball and is also a serious offensive weapon on the drive and on the perimeter. Max Boerstoel, who is coming back from an injury, and Chris Herring are good athletes and serious 3-point threats. Herring can fire it from anywhere and often does.

Chatham vs. Madison

ChathamdefeatedMadison54-49 in overtime in early January and they did it without starters Jonathan Berntsen and Sam Carson who suffered potential season ending injuries. Berntsen is back and Scott Baker, Luke Conrad, Robert Raiola and others who got their first exposure to varsity play that day have continued to play well for the Cougars and made them a much deeper team. When he is healthy Berntsen is a talented passer and scorer and even having him at 50 percent is a help. Berntsen was not in Wednesday’s box score whenChathamdefeatedNewarkAcademyin overtime. Timmes, a 6-foot-4 forward, has blossomed in recent games. He does some serious work on the boards and is the team’s main inside threat. Drew Ballard, who can shoot from long range, and Colin Brown have been steady and continue to help the Cougars and the team’s all-around success. The Cougars are known for their tough man-to-man defense and don’t shy from taking an open perimeter shot.

When the Dodgers are good, they can be very good.Madisonloves to shoot and when Matt Gilbert, Sean Haughey and Cameron Dias are stroking it they are tough to stop. The Dodgers are long and lean and can gain position inside and block shots. They don’t always show strong post play and aren’t always great at driving to the basket. However, the Dodgers are rarely rattled have played in a lot of close games and wouldn’t mind a little revenge on the neighboring Cougars.

Morristown-Beard vs.Randolph

The Crimson would like to go somewhere they’ve never been – the MCT semifinals. To get there they have to upend the quarterfinal hosts who pretty much have a home game and will be a dangerous out. The Crimson know what they are up against. Morristown-Beard defeated Randolph 63-61 last month in a game that was pretty much decided when Harrison Rosemond slipped inside an opponent on a missed Crimson free throw, got fouled and knocked in a pair himself to give Morristown-Beard the lead in the final seconds. That non-conference game was played at Randolph High. The Crimson have had limited success in the MCT over the years and feel that if any Mo-Beard team can finally break through, this is the year. The Crimson are very athletic. Chris Jenkins and Harrison Rosemond feast on basketballs above the rim. They can dunk, block shots and clear the boards, do everything necessary. Brian Bartner has a varied offensive game and can knock down shots in the clutch. Tyler Terens runs the offense and hits open shots when he gets the opportunity. Matt Rosenberg plays tough defense. Malik Valentine is a valuable sixth man momentum changer. Ben O’Connor and Tyler Braslaw have also made serious contributions off the bench. They will need to be physical in order to get by the Rams.

Randolph received a huge boost in confidence when they upset Morris Knolls by 15 points in the Golden Eagles gym last month. Their confidence should only grow since the Rams toppled defending champion Mendham in a regular-season game on Thursday on a last second layup by Julian Aiken. Aiken is among state leaders with a 27 points per game average. His offensive game is varied. He can hit threes, he drives to the basket and usually knocks down his free throws. He’s also extremely unselfish, so when he is double or triple-teamed, he finds Aaron Harris or Connor McMahon for easy buckets. McMahon, Matt Bonner and Patrick Archer are among the Rams who have stepped it up, especially on the defensive end. Randolph loves to apply ball pressure and they are physical. It had little trouble dispatching a good Whippany Park team in last week’s opening round.


About mcvbb

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

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