South Jersey Group 4 Boys’ Basketball Preview: Another Deep Field Headed by Toms River

South Jersey Group 4 Boys’ Basketball Preview: Another Deep Field Headed by Toms River
Depth is always a big part of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament and this year is no exception. There are several teams that should feel like they have a legitimate chance to win, headed up by top seeded Toms River North. Here is a look at the tournament.
 
South Jersey Group 4
First tournament game: March 3
Sectional final: March 10
State semifinal: March 12
State final: March 15
 
Defending champion: Cherokee beat Millville, 55-40 in last year’s championship game.
 
What stands out: The Olympic Conference influence. This is always a deep conference where its teams often fare well in the tournament. This year’s highest seeded Olympic Conference team is No. 2 Lenape. The others in the field are No. 4 Cherry Hill East, No. 5 Eastern, No. 6 Cherokee and No. 13 Shawnee (which has to face Cherry Hill East in the first round).
 
Outlook: Top seeded Toms River North, which plays in the Shore Conference, will be difficult to beat. The Mariners are led by 6-7 Najae Hallenback, who entered the week averaging more than 21 points per game. Fellow senior Jakari Spence is also averaging more than 21 points per game. Having two scorers of this magnitude will be difficult to defend.
 
Lenape has a mixture of youth and veterans. The Indians leading scorer is 6-1 sophomore Derek Simpson, who is averaging more than 17 points per game.
 
Following a 69-49 loss to South Jersey’s No. 1 team Camden, Lenape entered the week having won three in a row over playoff teams Cherokee, Eastern and Shawnee.
 
Cherokee was hit hard by graduation from last year’s title team, but the Chiefs shouldn’t be discounted. The Chiefs lost twice to Lenape, but the second time was by a 40-35 score. Cherokee also had a big 45-43 win on Monday over a Camden Catholic team that could make noise in South Jersey Non-Public A.
 
Gavin Gibson, a 6-4 senior, is leading the way for coach Eric Cassidy’s Cherokee team, averaging more than 18 points per game.
 
Of course, it won’t be just Toms River North and Olympic Conference teams that could contend in Group 4. Atlantic City, traditionally one of the top programs in South Jersey, is the No. 3 seed and dangerous.
 
The Vikings were just eliminated by St. Joseph in the quarterfinals of the Cape Atlantic League tournament and now will turn all their attention to Group 4, where they open against Kingsway.
 
This field is so deep that two teams from the Tri-County Conference, No. 7 Clearview and No. 9 Williamstown, could be very competitive.

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Group 4 always has several contenders and this year is no different, although Toms River North has the ability to live up to its No. 1 seed status.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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