MCT Opening Round Preview

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountyvarsityboysbasketball

The Morris County Tournament preliminaries went as seeded except for surprising 24th-seeded Parsippany Hills which lifted its game to upend ninth-seeded Whippany Park. Can the Vikings keep the magic going? Will other underdogs step up and alter the tournament? Check it out on Friday and Saturday when most of the Morris County Tournament opening round games will be played. Always check with the individual schools because of possible late scheduling changes.

Friday

Randolph at Jefferson, 7

The 12th-seeded Rams are capable of traveling far in the tournament. Many of the players were on last year’s squad that advanced to the semifinals behind the state’s leading scorer Julian Aiken. Aiken has graduated but the Harris’ are back. Ryan has picked up the scoring slack and has had some really good shooting nights. Aaron is athletic and physical. Patrick Archer returns as a presence under the rim and newcomers Barry Lynch and Michael Talbert contribute in various ways.  The Rams have had their share of obstacles. Bill Kilduff resigned because of health issues, so two assistants have stepped up to share coaching duties. The Rams opened the tournament by pounding Morris Catholic 64-41 in prelims.

Fifth-seeded Jefferson doesn’t have a go-to player, but the lack of one hasn’t hurt it yet. Senior guard J. R. Reese is more recognizable as the schools’ football quarterback. He played jayvee last year.  Bryan Langan, Chris Telman, Kevin Silverstein and others have had good games offensively on occasion but are not consistent scorers. Perhaps the Falcons’ most athletic player is Tyler Jones, a swingman that seems to be as capable on the inside as he is on the arc. Jefferson is also unselfish and has bench depth.

Saturday

West Morris at Delbarton, 2

The Green Wave defeated the Highlanders 62-57 on January 18. Now West Morris goes back for a second chance in the Delbarton gym. The 11th-seeded Highlanders have gotten better as the season has progressed. Sophomore point guard Sean McElwain plays like a veteran and another sophomore Conor Barron competes like he’s been on varsity all along. His senior cousin Pat Barron provides a lot of the scoring and 6-foot-6 forward Sam McClellan is a battler under the boards. West Morris had a 62-38 triumph over Parsippany in the preliminary round.

Sixth-seeded Delbarton is tough at home. Ryan Curran and Rob Thoma both move well for big guys. Curran has great range. Asad Braswell handles the ball well and the Green Wave has been well tested in and out of conference play.

Morris Knolls at Hanover Park, 3

The 13th-seeded Golden Eagles are also capable of making a move in this year’s tourney. They have a number of players returning that saw time in last year’s semifinal round contest. Brian O’Neill runs the offense and can hit from the perimeter. Carroll Rich is another capable guard and Mike Signer has been solid as a rebounder and inside scorer. Hugo Jimenez has stepped up in recent weeks and played well on the inside. His constant improvement bodes well for a solid tournament run. Morris Knolls handled Dover 65-49 in prelims.

Hanover Park, the fourth seed, has adjusted nicely from the loss of their leader and top scorer Jimmy Sivolella in the offseason. Matt Williams can score and block shots. Matt Geisser is a perimeter threat. Brendan Rudolph runs the offense and also finds ways to score within it. The Hornets also have some depth and seems to find a hero off their bench every game.

Roxbury at Morristown, 3

These teams have played twice already with Morristown emerging as victor both times. In the season opener for both teams the Colonials’ Sean Hoehn scored 24 points in a 51-39 Morristown victory in Roxbury. He also had 20 points and Naaem Pierce had 15 in a 66-55 win on January 22 in Morristown. The third-seeded Colonials have developed into serious MCT contenders. Hoehn is a talented point guard, Pierce is a tireless worker inside and Ryan Brunnock and James Mongey knock down shots on the wings.

Roxbury, the 14th-seed, has had its moments this year. Ryan Kelley runs the show for the Gaels. The experienced senior point guard is good on the drive and the pull up. He dishes to Malcolm Chavis and Doug Alexander who also do some of the heavy lifting. Roxbury topped Madison 41-25 in the prelims.

Morris Hills at Chatham, 7

The Scarlet Knights seem to have been energized by the return of perimeter shooter Matt Szkola from an injury that made him miss the first eight games. He knocks down at least three long distance bombs a game for the 16th-seeded team. His perimeter prowess opens up lanes for others. Morris Hills advanced in preliminary play with a dominating 52-20 win over Kinnelon. Brian Walls is a tough and determined scorer at the two-guard and Dillon Washington is active on the inside. Do they have the depth to match up with the defending champs on Chatham’s home court?

The Cougars have won seven in a row.  They are deep and play hard. Joe Timmes, at 6-foot-4, has good range for a big guy. Luke Conrad, Robert Raiola, Brian Oliver, Sam Carson and Drew Ballard often seem interchangeable. They step up when they have to step up. The top-seeded Cougars have adapted to a more up-tempo style to accommodate their deep and versatile bench. If there is a concern, it is that they haven’t needed to close out many tight games.

Pequannock at Mendham, 7

This has the makings of an ugly, low scoring game. Most of Mendham’s games this year have been tight and in the 30s. Shots just aren’t falling for the seventh-seeded Minutemen. They run their patterns deliberately and bang the boards with Will Gibbs and Kal Roemer. Mendham does play better when Alex Jacobs is knocking down shots but many of its games are grinders.

Pequannock will have to be at its best on defense to deliver a road upset. They have the size to bang inside with Mendham. Ian Campbell, Kevin Glynn and Kurt Weinmann are big enough but can they be physical enough? The 10th-seeded Golden Panthers do have an advantage of experience at the point. Nick LaPorta is a two-year starter, who can also sink a few shots from deep. Pequannock topped Boonton 55-35 in the prelims.

Parsippany Hills at Mountain Lakes, 7

It’s a rare event when a 23rd-seeded team captures a Morris County Tournament win, so the Vikings have something to be proud about. It would be even rarer to advance to the quarterfinal round. Parsippany Hills does the advantage of playing in a division with big schools, Morristown, Roxbury, Randolph etc. There is nothing the Vikings haven’t seen. Manny Dance has quickness and is good on the drive. Point guard Kire Milevski has shown improvement and Mike DiEdwardo can score and rebound in traffic.

The Vikings will have to put a body on the Lakers top scorer Paul Tarnawski. The Mountain Lakes center has good touch on short jumpers and putbacks in the paint. Point guard Chris Cuccinello often finds Tarnawski or Chris Herring on the perimeter. Pierce Langlois and Sam Walsh are also making a difference. Mountain Lakes, the 8th-seed, advanced past prelims by crushing Butler 67-35.

Morristown-Beard at Mount Olive, 7 – The Crimson lineup changes as quickly as its attitudes. Morristown-Beard is filled with juniors and sophomores that grow or flounder with each game. The 15th-seeded team advance past the prelims with a 52-45 win over Montville. Guard Malik Valentine is the only player that had consistent court time last year. The Crimson can make a great play in one moment, and then a pivotal mistake the next. Ben O’Connell runs the offense. Mark Abouyoun is capable of some nifty moves inside. Stephen Sangree can score inside and out and he’s not afraid of the big moment.

The second-seeded Marauders love to run and push the tempo and shoot, and shoot, and shoot. Mount Olive rode the Grinnell System to the title game last year. This season they put the shackles on some of it to take advantage of 6-foot-8 Zack Heeman, a tough matchup for every team in the county. After a regular-season loss to Chatham, Coach Kevin Moore revisited it and after seeing an improvement in some of his shooters, he’s bringing more elements back. Heeman leads Morris County in scoring and is also a double-digit rebounder. The development of Ryan Traub (6-foot-6) from the perimeter is another plus. Rashaan Spencer has been playing the point this year. He averages around 20 points a game and can do it on the drive and from behind the arc. Mount Olive came back from a 26-point deficit to defeat Morris Knolls in a game on Wednesday.

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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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