Keith Idec and Greg Mattura
The road to the Tournament of Champions begins today with the first round of the North Jersey sectional tournament. Here are 10 things to look for:
1. Bergen blitz: Bergen County has owned North 1, Group 1 the past several years and 12 of the 16 teams in this bracket call it home. Will it continue? Top-seeded Cedar Grove likely has to knock off four Bergen teams in a row to give Essex County the crown. No. 4 Wood-Ridge is a likely semifinal foe. The other semifinal should be defending champ/No. 3 Cresskill at No. 2 Waldwick.
2. Blue Devils’ drive: How far can North Jersey’s all-time scoring duo, seniors Mike Gibney and Gary Whritenour, take No. 4 Wood-Ridge in North 1, Group 1? Gibney is 10th all time in Bergen County in scoring with 2,141 points, and Whritenour has 1,930. The fast-paced Blue Devils, 2011 sectional champs, open Tuesday at home against No. 13 Saddle Brook, which they soundly defeated twice this season.
3. Cowboy encore: Pascack Hills was the lone local last season to reach a state final. Can the Cowboys make another run in Group 2? They’re seeded No. 2 in North 1, Group 2. The health of senior G Brian Horn, who is recovering from a sprained ankle, is pivotal to Pascack Valley advancing deep in its bracket.
4. Eastside’s recovery: The Ghosts don’t have time to get over their stunning, overtime loss to DePaul in the Passaic final Saturday. Coach Juan Griles has reminded them that two years ago, the Ghosts responded to a loss to crosstown rival Kennedy in the county final by winning Group 4 and reaching the Tournament of Champions for the first time in school history.
5. Hackensack’s quest: The Comets couldn’t conquer Teaneck in the Bergen Jamboree final, but junior G Rashard Figures and senior G Chris Myers lead a team that is more than talented and deep enough to win the North 1, Group 4 title. Top-seeded Hackensack could meet second-seeded Eastside in what would be the most intriguing sectional final among teams from North Jersey.
6. Pair’s pursuit: Hackensack’s Reggie Cameron and Paterson’s Kavon Stewart want nothing more than to take another crack at national power St. Anthony before they leave Hudson Catholic for Georgetown and Robert Morris, respectively. St. Anthony easily beat Hudson Catholic in the North Non-Public B final last year.
7. Perilous Non-Public: Can a local parochial school reach the North Non-Public A semifinals? None of the five locals earned a top-four seed, so each must win a quarterfinal on the road. The local with the best chance could be No. 5 Don Bosco (versus No. 4 Pope John).
8. Round 3: If No. 4 Passaic tops No. 13 North Bergen and No. 5 Kennedy defeats No. 12 Ridgewood tonight, the Passaic County rivals will meet for the third time this season in the North 1, Group 4 quarterfinals Wednesday. The Indians and Knights split a pair of regular-season meetings.
9. Spartans’ spark: DePaul’s players couldn’t enter the state tournament with more confidence in the aftermath of freshman guard Jordan Thomas’ half-court buzzer-beater to cap the upset of Eastside in the Passaic final Saturday. They’ll need to win two tough games to reach the North Non-Public A final, but the Spartans would love another shot at top-seeded Seton Hall Prep, which defeated DePaul in the final last year.
10. Teaneck triple play: Can Teaneck, the three-time reigning Bergen County champion, also three-peat in North 1, Group 3? The top-seeded Highwaymen feature North Jersey’s best 1-2 combination in senior guards Joel Hernandez (1,512 points) and Shaakir Lindsey (1,074). Coach Jerome Smart’s team has lost in the state semifinals the previous two seasons and wants to break through to the final.