Taking It to the Rack–January 4, 2017

Let the Craziness Begin in the GMC!

East Brunswick and Sayreville battling it out in a late season game last year. The Bears and Bombers are right in the thick of things in what could be a wild wide open race until the end in the GMC.

We are still less than three weeks into the 2016-17 Greater Middlesex Conference Boys Basketball Season, and already, we have seen quite a bit of madness. The GMC Hoops Pre-Season Top Ten has taken some casualties early on as a result.

However, expect more of the same the rest of the way since the GMC is perhaps the most wide open it has been since 2008-09 perhaps. The season two years ago might be an exception, but it wasn’t as wide open as I thought it could be.

True, the 2014-15 season had its share of parity, and honestly, I thought it would be more wide open than it was during the regular season. However, St. Joseph’s easily dispatched the Red Division by going undefeated past the likes of East Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Perth Amboy.

Colonia did defeat the Falcons though in the 2015 GMCT Championship to end St. Joseph’s run of five straight titles. You would think that St. Joseph’s would be down and out this year with the departure of 10 different players from varsity, junior varsity, and freshmen squads last year, but the Falcons haven’t missed a beat early on.

Not only are the Falcons undefeated right now, but they have also beaten three teams in the GMC Hoops Pre-Season Top Ten, and knocked off the likes of state powers Ewing, Lakewood, and Seton Hall Prep in the Neptune Holiday Jubilee during the Christmas break last week.

South Brunswick appeared poised to challenge St. Joseph’s once again for supremacy in the GMC this season. Despite losing Eric Savage and several other key players from a season ago, the Vikings had Mike Ugarte and Ryan Moran back as well as a ton of other seniors such as Tavian Alford, Chris James, Kunal Thakral, Vic Huetz, and Anthony Blakey coming up from a JV team that had been in the East Brunswick/GMC JV Finals in each of the past two seasons.

However, on Tuesday night, South Brunswick, ranked number one in the latest GMC Hoops Top Ten, fell at home to a Piscataway team that may be a dark horse this season. The Chiefs, led by D’Ondre Dent with 19 points, knocked off the top ranked Vikings, 58-50. In addition, East Brunswick knocked off fourth ranked Old Bridge at EBHS. Both the Bears and Chiefs will be heard from again this season.

Prior to their big wins on Tuesday night, East Brunswick and Piscataway suffered some heartache early on this season. The Bears and Chiefs came into play on Tuesday with 2-3 records. EB lost all three of its games by a combined total of three points including a 49-43 loss to St. Joseph’s on opening night, a three point loss to Perth Amboy on December 22nd at home, and a 47-44 last second loss to North Brunswick in the Brunswick Classic over the holidays.

Meanwhile, P-Way just edged Amboy on opening night, 81-80, lost to Old Bridge by two on the road, 54-52 on December 22nd, and a loss to a 4-1 Ramsey team from the Big North Conference. So, the Chiefs and Bears have been battle tested, and needed a big win to start the new year with some confidence, and they both got that. North Brunswick is a team to be wary of. The Raiders have had moments where they haven’t played well, but they’ve pulled off two upset wins over Sayreville and EB.

Woodbridge like St. Joseph’s has been unscathed by all the chaos surrounding it in its division. The Barrons have started the season strong as expected with six straight wins out of the gate including three solid wins over J.F. Kennedy, Franklin, and Colonia in the LeGrand-Haley Holiday Jubilee at Colonia High School over the Christmas break. Woodbridge also defeated North Brunswick on December 20th. The Barrons are likely to move up to number one in the next poll.

Sayreville has taken some hits early on. The success of the football season along with a couple new additions could cause things to take a little time to gel in Bomber Country. However, since losing opening night to North Brunswick, Sayreville is undefeated in the GMC White and also got a win over Bishop Ahr within 24 hours of losing to the Raiders. The only blemishes have been non-conference losses to Non-Public B South powers Mater Dei and Gill St. Bernards.

Perth Amboy has started the season with some ups and downs, but have come up with a big win on the road at East Brunswick while giving Piscataway a bit of a scare on opening night. The Panthers had to fight off a pesky Monroe team that is still looking for its first win, but has lost 5 of its 6 games by 8 points or less. The Falcons were hurt prior to the season by the loss of Hassan Reid, who moved to North Carolina.

J.P. Stevens is only 2-4 so far this season, but they have played quite competitively in most of their games. The Hawks, who have played without the services of Javon Scott, still managed to pull off a shocker by defeating then 9th ranked Monroe on a Rishav Ghosh last second score in Monroe on opening night. Stevens also defeated North Plainfield in the opening round of the Cotoia Tourney in South Plainfield over the holidays.

Moving over to the Blue Division, Carteret is off to a solid start with a 6-1 record through seven games while going undefeated in a Blue Division where every one else is knocking each other off. Bishop Ahr, the pre-season favorite to win the division, is 1-2 after losing to Spotswood on the road (78-58) on December 21st and a heartbreaker at Carteret (53-49) on December 23rd. Ahr is 1-5 overall with losses to Sayreville, Hillsborough, and Hightstown as well.

Also emerging from the early season Blue Division chaos is Metuchen, which is one of the big surprises so far this season. The Bulldogs are off to their best start in 10 years, and are 5-1 including a 2-1 mark in the Blue with wins at home over South River and Spotswood prior to the Christmas break. The Dawgs may be there to stay as well with veterans like Danny Flaherty and Thomas Christine back along with newcomer Devin Miller to bolster an already solid front line.

Spotswood and South River have had some ups and downs, but have displayed some moments of brilliance that reveal the potential they have to be good. The Chargers put up 78 points in a win over Bishop Ahr and another 93 in a victory over Piscataway Tech in the opening round of the Crusader Classic. South River rolled past Spotswood for the first time in many years, and also soundly beat South Plainfield. If both the Rams and Chargers can play more consistently, they can both be factors.

Middlesex is off to a decent start at 3-2 with the only two losses coming at the hands of Carteret (72-41) and South Plainfield (69-60 in OT). The Jays handed Metuchen its only loss of the season at home (55-50) on December 19th, and recently won the Shello-Santy Tournament once again by defeating Highland Park in the opening round (38-35) and Dunellen in the Championship (56-30).

The Gold Division looks like a two way horse race between Perth Amboy Tech and Timothy Christian with the Patriots having the early advantage thanks to a 61-53 win over the Tigers in Perth Amboy on December 19th. TCS also has an impressive 84-60 victory over South River in a crossover, and recently won the Eastern Christian holiday tourney, which gives it a lot of confidence and momentum going into the New Year.

There have been some surprises in the GMC so far this season, but expect more as the season progresses. Many of the teams in the conference have returned a good deal of talent from the year before, and the transfers of a number of St. Joseph’s players to schools within the conference has helped even the playing field a little bit. The moral of the story here is the conference is wide open, and expect a wild ride all the way to the finish line come the end of February.