By Mark Kitchin
Now that everyone has shoveled out their driveways and cleaned the sidewalks, it’s time for some basketball. After a day’s hiatus the Morris County Tournament continues with four consecutive basketball games at Randolph High School starting at noon. All four quarterfinal round games are compelling in their own way. Here is a preview of the contests.
Morristown vs. Delbarton, noon
These cross-town and division rivals played against each other on January 16. Morristown prevailed 56-52 in a game that was played at the Delbarton School. Sean Hoehn scored 12 points in a balanced offensive effort. The Colonials’ point guard will be of great importance in this game, too. He not only sets the tempo and handles the ball well for the Colonials, but he is a primary scorer and creates his own offense. He has good range and can drive to the basket. He must stay out of foul trouble to be effective. Ryan Brunnock can also shoot from the perimeter and drive to the basket for his points. Naeem Pierce grabs rebounds and does a lot of work in the paint. His play will be crucial considering the size of the Green Wave. Trey Davis and Zach Certner also add points and make contributions. A. J. Tracey is an athletic and active player and James Mongey has emerged as another solid perimeter threat. Although they have a proud history of MCT success, it’s been a decade since the Colonials have been a tournament force. This year’s Colonials are not as over-the-top athletically as the teams of Mychael Lattimore and Jahmar Thorpe a decade ago, but they run a more consistent offense and they are less prone to mistakes and turnovers. Third-seeded Morristown topped division rival No. 14 Roxbury 50-41 in opening round play.
Delbarton, a tournament mainstay, returns to the quarterfinals after a year’s hiatus. They do have a win in Randolph gym this season, so they should be comfortable on the neutral court. The sixth-seeded Green Wave has a one-two combination that tough to stop. Ryan Curran, has good size, great range, and is a handful on both ends of the court. Rob Thoma is strong in the paint and often cleans up on the boards. Asad Braswell runs the offense and handles the ball well and the Green Wave has a strong complimentary crew (V.J. Johnson, Adam Schreck, David Murphy, Giuseppe Bevacqua) that fill rolls and usually play great team defense. Delbarton vaulted into the quarters with a commanding 69-43 win over 11th-seeded West Morris.
Mendham vs. Mount Olive, 1:30
Is this the case of the irresistible force versus the immovable object or are the teams going to make adjustments and find a similar style? Something has to give when Mendham plays Mount Olive. The Minutemen have struggled offensive and have been winning games with a slow and deliberate tempo. The Marauders want to play the game at a much quicker pace. When they played last year in the quarterfinals, Mendham was able to limit Mount Olive’s wild runs and played well despite a 61-51 Marauders victory. Obviously there is a difference of personnel this time around for both teams. After years of being the favorite, the seventh-seeded Minutemen are underdogs. Kevin Schmid is their coach now. Mendham suffered a terrible blow when Alex Jacobs and T. K. Hayes suffered injuries against a regular-season game in Randolph. They are not expected back this year. Will Gibbs and Kal Roemer are good defensive players and rebounders but provide limited offense. Bobby Stolz runs the point and Joe Lamberto and Nick D’Elia have been pressed into service for the Minutemen. Mendham topped 10th-seeded Pequannock 38-25 to advance to the quarterfinals. The Minutemen have a tradition of excellence in the tournament and relish a challenge.
Mount Olive will give it to them. The Marauders was rolling right along and had great wins against Sparta and Morris Knolls recently before losing to Randolph. Maybe it’s just a speed bump but Kevin Moore and his players don’t want to make losing a habit. The Marauders play an up-tempo game and tailor the Grinnell System to suit their matchups. Their 6-foot-8 center Zack Heeman averages nearly 20 points and double-digit rebounds a game. Marauders’ point guard Rashaan Spencer is the leading scorer in Morris County. He can get on a roll, like he demonstrated against Morris Knolls when he ended the game by scoring the final seven points. He has good range, is fearless on the drive and cannot be left open for shots. Ryan Traub is a tall scorer and rebounder who is developing a perimeter game. Steve Leonardo, Bruce Stenson, Anthony Verrone, Chris Grillo and freshman Jason Drury have all knocked down threes and make their contributions on defense. Mount Olive often uses full and half-court pressures to create turnovers and push the pace of the game. The Marauders punished 15th-seeded Morristown-Beard 79-49 to reach the quarterfinals.
Randolph vs. Morris Knolls, 3:30
Despite their record, the 12th-seeded Rams are capable of great things. Randolph started slow and was 4-9 at one point but has won six of its last nine games including the 69-64 overtime victory against Jefferson last week. The Rams have also proven that they can compete and play well against the areas best teams. They have beaten the top two seeds Chatham and Mount Olive this season. They also have losses against Delbarton, Mendham and Morristown among others. They have a good group with some returning players hoping to atone for last year’s loss in the semifinal and newcomers hoping to make their mark. They also have the added advantage of a good home crowd the rest of the way. All the quarterfinals are scheduled for Randolph High while the semifinals and finals are being held at County College of Morris in Randolph.
Ryan Harris provides much of the Rams scoring but other Rams can put the ball in the net, too. Michael Talbert and Barry Lynch are second and third options and can do more depending on matchups. Randolph has some size inside. Patrick Archer, Chris Woodbury and Chris Moserowitz can rebound, score and defend near the hoop. Aaron Harris is athletic and can shut down anybody and Ryan Mahoney can make a big steal or knock down a shot.
Randolph has played Morris Knolls this year. On December 20 the Rams were victorious in a 66-56 contest in Denville. The13th-seeded Golden Eagles are also a team capable of great wins and have suffered tough losses. Morris Knolls’ victory over fourth-seeded Hanover Park 69-66 in overtime has proven that they can be a resilient group. Brian O’Neill is a tough, aggressive point guard who challenges opponents. Carroll Rich knocks down shots and defends important guards. Mike Signer does a lot. He rebounds, blocks shots with has long arms, defends the better big men and has terrific range on offense. Hugo Jimenez plays big for his 6-foot-1 size. He can score on the inside and scramble for boards. Connor Flaherty, Mike Chapman and Aaron Arizmendi also make contributions and do a lot of the little things that make a big difference.
Chatham vs. Mountain Lakes, 5
The defending-champion Cougars looked great and were lucky enough to play Randolph on Thursday. The tune-up doesn’t hurt their confidence in the Randolph High gym with its deep perspective tweaking backgrounds behind the backboards and its wide court. The Cougars are good marksmen and usually have little trouble knocking down shots wherever they play. The loss of junior guard Luke Conrad for another week or two because of a concussion will hurt. As a sophomore last year, he was brought up to the varsity because of the injuries of others and was battle tested. He’s a gamer and he will be missed. Sam Carson, who was one of the injured players last year, will pick up a lot of that slack. He handles the ball well and knocks down free throws at the end of games. Chatham overall just plays very well as a group and are strong man-to-man and help defenders. Six-foot-four Joe Timmes is one to watch. He knocks down threes, takes it to the basket strong, finishes shots and in general just gives teams fits with his versatility and perseverence. All the Cougars score in some manner and most handle the ball well. Brian Oliver blocks shots. Rob Raiola is known for tough defense and drawing charges. Scott Baker and Dan Winschuh do a little bit of everything. As a team they are very versatile. They are deep enough to run all game but can also set up a half-court style or play a delay game. Most of them were involved in last year’s title run. They were challenged in opening round play but eventually vanquished No. 16 Morris Hills, 56-51.
Mountain Lakes, the eighth seed, used to be Chatham’s rival in the old Colonial Hills Conference days. The Lakers are eager to renew that rivalry. Paul Tarnawski has a way of squeezing his way to the basket for easy layups and putbacks. He’s dangerous near the net. Point guard Chris Cuccinello has good court vision and handles the ball well. Chris Herring’s perimeter prowess often opens up the middle. Pierce Langlois has become more offensive-minded lately but always does the little things that make a difference. Sam Walsh is a hard worker that always seems to be in the middle of the action. The Lakers defeated Parsippany Hills, the 23rd-seed to advance to quarterfinal round play.