On Wednesday night, GMC Hoops will travel down to South Brunswick again to see the two games from the 2017 Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Final Four. Top seeded seeded St. Joseph’s is making its 18th appearance in the semifinal round in the past 21 years while both South Brunswick and Woodbridge are making their second straight GMCT Final Four appearance, and Sayreville is in the semifinals for the 3rd time in the past 8 years.
For the first time since 2006, the Top Four seeds in the GMCT have reached the semifinal round. Back in 2006, the Final Four consisted of Colonia, Metuchen, Monroe, and St. Joseph’s. Back then, current St. Joe’s head coach, Dave Turco was in his first year. Colonia Principal, Ken Pace was in his last year at the helm at CHS. Bob Turco, the current head coach at Notre Dame was in his first year at Monroe, and Rich Stoner was in his second year at Metuchen. In that year’s final, Colonia led by current Patriots head coach, Brandon Hall, defeated Metuchen, led by Marqus Blakely and Dejuan Miller.
Since 2002, the GMCT Final Four has mainly consisted of the top seeds with all top four seeds making it to the semifinals in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. However, the fifth seed has been able to join the party in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. The sixth seed has crashed the party in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2015.
Despite the talk of parity in the GMC this year, the top four seeds have reached the Final Four, and six of the top eight seeds reached the quarterfinals. Then, in the quarterfinals, only one game (Woodbridge vs. Old Bridge) was decided by single digits, and even that game had a team leading by 20 points at one time.
Only six of the top eight seeds reached the GMCT Elite Eight on Super Sunday. Nine seeded Piscataway downed 8th seeded Amboy Tech, winner of the Gold Division in the Round of 16 while 10th seeded J.F. Kennedy earned a trip to New Brunswick by avenging a loss from earlier in the season with a victory at 7th seeded Bishop Ahr.
Of the teams to have reached the Final Four since 2001, the top seed has won the GMC Tournament championship eight times: Cardinal McCarrick (2003), South Plainfield (2004), Cardinal McCarrick (2008), Piscataway (2009), and St. Joseph’s (2010), (2012), (2014), and (2016).
Meanwhile, the second seed has won it four times: Colonia (2001), Colonia (2006), St. Joseph’s (2011), St. Joseph’s again in 2013, and Colonia in 2015. The third seed has also won it twice: Carteret (2002) and South Plainfield (2005). The only other seed to win the tourney since 2001 was the sixth: Piscataway (2007). Since the inaugural GMCT in 1986, the GMC Red has won 18, the GMC White has won 8, and the GMC Blue has won 5.
Since the very first Middlesex County Tournament back in the 1964-65 season, the top seed has reached the finals 38 times winning 23 titles. The second seed has reached the championship game 29 times previously, and won 14 titles. The fifth seeded team has reached the finals seven times, and won the gold twice while the sixth seeded team has made it to the title game on eight occasions and won it four times. Cardinal McCarrick had somewhat of an underdog run in 2007 when it defeated fourth seeded East Brunswick, and top seeded South Brunswick, but fell to Piscataway in the Championship.
South Brunswick has yet to win an MCT/GMCT Boys Championship. The Vikings have reached the tourney championship twice including last year and 1993. Both times SBHS lost to St. Joseph’s. In 1993, the Vikings scored a monumental upset over top seeded Perth Amboy in the semifinals at the RAC, and then lost to St. Joseph’s in the final in overtime. Last year, South Brunswick played East Brunswick in what was the third of four monumental battles between the two schools with the Vikings pulling it out in the end in the second of three close games between the GMC Red rivals played at South Brunswick High School. The Vikings have reached the semifinals in 2002 (lost to Colonia), 2005 (lost to St. Joseph’s), 2007 (lost to Cardinal McCarrick), and last year (defeated East Brunswick). Before last year, South Brunswick had not been to the semifinals since 2007. This will be the second straight year that the Vikes will be playing in a semifinal on their home court at SBHS.
Sayreville returns to the GMCT Semifinals for the first time since the 2013-14 season when they lost to East Brunswick. This is the second time under current head coach, John Wojcik that the Bombers have reached the GMCT Final Four. It also marks the third time since 2010 that Sayreville has made it to the semis. Despite some hiccups along the way starting on opening night, the Bombers have managed to earn a share of the GMC White and defeat rival and fourth seeded Woodbridge twice. Sayreville last won the GMCT in 2000 when they defeated a Dave Turco coached Carteret team. The Bombers have made three MCT/GMCT appearances.
For the second straight year, the Woodbridge Barrons have reached the GMCT Final. It is also the third time since 2013 that the Barrons have reached the semifinals, which is a testament to fifth year head coach, Matt Gigliello. Woodbridge managed to tie for a share of the GMC White crown despite losing both head to head match-ups with third seeded Sayreville. The Barrons also managed to perform very well despite not having standout senior, Quassim Glover in the line-up for much of the year. Woodbridge has never won the MCT/GMCT, and only made one finals appearance.
St. Joseph’s is making its 23rd trip to the semifinals since 1986. All time, the Falcons have played in 22 MCT/GMCT Championships, and have won 9 titles. Since Dave Turco has taken over at the school, the Falcons have reached the semifinals 11 times in the last 12 years. Since 1993, the Falcons have reached the GMCT Championship Game 17 times, and have won all 9 of their titles. St. Joe’s is looking to repeat as GMCT Champion, and claim their 6th conference crown in the past 7 years.
Prior to that, the Falcons set a new record for consecutive titles by winning it five straight years from 2010 to 2014. The previous mark was set by Perth Amboy of four straight years from 1972 to 1975. All four teams combine to have 81 wins, or an average of 20 per team. Two have 20 wins or more: St. Joseph’s and South Brunswick, one has 19 (Sayreville), and Woodbridge has 18. The four teams have a combined record of 81-14, or an average of about 20-4.
Before we get started though, let’s take a look at what has happened in the tournament already by viewing the following:
2017 GMCT Boys Play-In Round bracket at:
2017 GMCT Boys Championship bracket at:
Take a peek at the following 2017 GMCT Outlooks by GMC Hoops
2017 GMCT Mock Seeding-Final Draft
GMCT Play-In Round:
GMCT Preliminary Round:
GMCT First Round or Round of 16:
Now, let’s take a look at the 2017 GMCT Semifinal Match-Ups:
GMCT Final Four Doubleheader–Game #1
#3 Sayreville (19-6) vs. #2 South Brunswick (21-3)
South Brunswick High School
Wednesday at 5:30 PM
GMCT Final Four Doubleheader–Game #2
#4 Woodbridge (18-4) at #1 St. Joseph’s (23-1)
South Brunswick High School
Wednesday at 7:00 PM
#3 Sayreville (19-6) vs. #2 South Brunswick (21-3)–For the second straight year, South Brunswick is essentially having a home game in the GMCT Semifinals, which has to be a significant advantage for the Vikings. To have all the comforts of home as well as an energized fan base should be a huge boost to the Vikings.
Last year, the trappings of home served South Brunswick well as they got a huge performance from then junior Mike Ugarte along with a typical steady effort from Eric Savage to defeat sixth seeded East Brunswick to advance to the GMCT Championship for the first time since 1993.
South Brunswick will need a similar effort from Ugarte, who scored 19 points in the victory over 10th seeded J.F. Kennedy in the quarterfinals on Sunday. The Vikes will also need a huge game from the perimeter as well as a stout defensive performance against Ryan O’Leary, who will be motivated to play well after only scoring two points and fouling out against sixth seeded Carteret in the another quarterfinal.
A balanced scoring attack led by not only Ugarte, but also guided by fellow senior Tavian Alford will also do the Vikings well. In an 80-70 victory over Piscataway, South Brunswick not only had 16 three pointers, but had threes from seven different players. With that kind of balance and proficiency from long distance, the Vikes will be tough to beat despite a lack of size.
Sayreville will have to close out on those threes, and Jahsim Floyd will have to produce both on the boards and on offensive. Returning from a concussion suffered in the last regular season match-up against rival Woodbridge on February 3rd, Floyd registered a double-double of 14 points and 15 rebounds in the win over Carteret. Floyd is the key. Sayreville will go only as far as he can take them.
Obviously, the Bombers will also benefit from the continued stellar play of Xavier Townes, whose size and length at the point will give him a slight advantage against South Brunswick’s Greg Lee. Townes can shoot the three, handle the rock, push the pace, and rebound well. O’Leary will have to get into a rhythm early, and stay out of foul trouble.
An X-factor here for the Bombers could be Ope Olaloko. After not playing on Sunday due to a college visit, Olaloko will be one to watch for a big game off the bench when in for Floyd. While there is a drop off in size and length, Olaloko, who is also a good soccer player, has tremendous strength, agility, and athleticism. Elijah Clark, Henny Mautes and Jayson DeMild, who had 15 points in the win over Carteret, are also players to watch.
Prediction: Sayreville wins, 58-56. Bombers were my pre-season number one, and I’m sticking with them here in a thriller.
#4 Woodbridge (18-4) vs. #1 St. Joseph’s (23-1)–In St. Joseph’s first two tournament games, senior guard, Letrell West has scored more points (77) than he did all of last season (56). In a microcosm, you can see how dramatically West has improved as a player and in his role for the Falcons.
West, who enters Wednesday’s semifinal game against Woodbridge with 939 career points, could possibly crack 1,000 for his career by the time the tourney is over if the Falcons are able to win here and play in the finals, and West continues to score at the torrid pace he has been scoring at.
Over the past four games since losing to Old Bridge in double overtime on February 7th, West has taken his game to stratospheric levels by averaging 36 points per contest including 33 versus Bayonne, 34 versus Christ the King, 36 against Edison in the GMCT Round of 16, and a whopping 41 against Piscataway in the Quarterfinals.
Woodbridge, which lost to St. Joseph’s in the semifinals by a wide margin last year, will have its work cut out for itself. However, the Barrons are a year older, and a year wiser. They are also one of the more balanced teams scoring wise in the GMC, and they present a similar problem for Joes that South Brunswick did in that they have a plethora of shooters that can all get hot at the same time.
In addition, the Barrons possess one of the more underrated players in big man, Harry Rutkowski, who has great footwork at both ends of the floor, is a tremendous passer, and can quietly turn the game on a dime like he did late in the third quarter against Old Bridge with his two blocks and three assists that helped break the game open for the Barrons.
This is also a match-up of teacher vs. pupil. Matt Gigliello served as an assistant under Dave Turco at St. Joseph’s prior to taking the Woodbridge job five seasons ago. Gigliello also coached with Turco’s brother Bob when he took the head coaching position at Monroe over a decade ago. Gigliello knows a lot about how these two prepare, and you know that he worked overtime to get ready for this contest.
Defenses on both sides will be intriguing. St. Joseph’s doesn’t always go man-to-man this year, and will go zone and even trap and press. Meanwhile, Woodbridge has thrived off of its zone presses with explosive scoring outbursts against J.F. Kennedy on January 5th and Immaculata on January 14th. Whichever team is able to dictate tempo defensively will have an advantage.
X-Factors in this game will be Quran Robinson for Woodbridge and both freshmen Richard Greaves and Tyree Taganeca-Ford for St. Joseph’s. Robinson didn’t play in the game against Old Bridge on Sunday so it will be interesting to see how he starts out against St. Joe’s tonight. He can be very explosive from three point range like the six threes versus Kennedy on January 5th or the four first quarter treys against Immaculata on January 14th.
Meanwhile, Greaves and Taganeca-Ford have added importance to this game. It is very likely that Woodbridge is going to make a serious effort to try and curtail the Letrell West Express. So, Greaves and Taganeca-Ford will have to step up and make big plays like Greaves did in the first win over South Brunswick on January 12th, and Taganeca-Ford did in the come from behind overtime victory over Neptune on January 28th.
Prediction: St. Joseph’s wins, 61-57. The Falcons will get pushed to the limit by a more veteran Woodbridge team, but Letrell West, Malachi Walker, and Mike Granda will find a way to win.