Semifinal Matchups

On Tuesday night, GMC Hoops will travel down to South Brunswick again to see the two games from the 2016 Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Final Four. Top seeded seeded St. Joseph's is making its 17th appearance in the semifinal round in the past 20 years while sixth seeded East Brunswick has reached the semifinals for the fifth straight year. Second seeded South Brunswick will be making first Final Four appearance since losing to Cardinal McCarrick in 2007 while fifth seeded Woodbridge will be its first semifinal appearance since 2013. This is the second straight year that the GMCT Semis have the top seed, 2nd seed, 5th seed, and 6th seed playing.

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. East Brunswick has made it to the GMCT Final four for the second straight year as the 6th seed. The seventh seed has reached the semis only in 2007. In spite of the upheaval in the Play-In and Preliminary rounds, the tournament has been a bit more to form heading into this semifinal. All top eight seeds reached the quarterfinals at MCC on Sunday, and the two top seeds have made it to South Brunswick this year while fifth seeded Amboy managed to get past fourth seeded South Brunswick and EB got past 3rd seeded Sayreville in the Elite Eight.

Of the teams to have reached the Final Four since 2001, the top seed has won the GMC Tournament championship seven times: Cardinal McCarrick (2003), South Plainfield (2004), Cardinal McCarrick (2008), Piscataway (2009), and St. Joseph's (2010), (2012), and (2014). 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 17, 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 37 times winning 22 titles. The second seed has reached the championship game 28 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 only reached the tourney championship once, and that was in 1993 when they 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. The Vikings have reached the semifinals in 2002 (lost to Colonia), 2005 (lost to St. Joseph's), and 2007 (lost to Cardinal McCarrick). Since '07, SBHS has not gotten farther than the quarterfinals. This will be the first time the Vikes will be playing in a semifinal on their home court at SBHS.

East Brunswick has become a dominant fixture in the GMCT Final Four in recent years. After knocking on the door in the GMCT Elite Eight in 2006 (lost to Metuchen), 2007 (lost to Cardinal McCarrick), 2010 (lost to Spotswood) and 2011 (lost to McCarrick again), the Bears have reached the semifinals in each of the last five years with wins over Woodbridge in 2013 and Sayreville in 2014. Although a perennial favorite in the GMC, EB has not won a GMCT Championship since 1996 when current JV and assistant coach, Rich Whalen, was the point guard at the school. East Brunswick has won championships in 1987 and 1996.

After being knocked out in the quarterfinal round in each of the past two seasons, Woodbridge returns to the GMCT Final Four for the first time since 2013 when it lost to East Brunswick. The Barrons have made four consecutive GMCT Elite Eight appearances and two Final Four berths under head coach, Matt Gigliello, who is only in his fourth year at the helm. The Barrons started the season at 2-3, but have since won 17 of 18 games including its second win over Sayreville in three tries this season. Woodbridge has only played in one MCT/GMCT Final, and that was in 1975 when the Barrons lost to Perth Amboy. WHS did go on to win the Group IV State Championship that year.

St. Joseph's is making its 22nd trip to the semifinals since 1986. All time, the Falcons have played in 21 MCT/GMCT Championships, and have won 8 titles. Since Dave Turco has taken over at the school, the Falcons have reached the semifinals 10 times in the last 11 years. Since 1993, the Falcons have reached the GMCT Championship Game 16 times, and have won all 8 of their titles. St. Joe's is looking to reclaim the GMCT title after losing to Colonia in last year's final. 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 72 wins, or an average of 18 per team. Two have 19 wins: South Brunswick and Woodbridge, one has 18 (St. Joseph's), and East Brunswick has 6. The four teams have a combined record of 72-19, or an average of about 18-5.

Before we get started though, let's take a look at what has happened in the tournament already by viewing the following:

2016 GMCT Boys Play-In Round bracket at:

2016 GMCT Boys Championship bracket at:

Take a peek at the following 2016 GMCT Outlooks by GMC Hoops

2016 GMCT Mock Seeding-Final Draft

GMCT Play-In Round:

GMCT Preliminary Round:

GMCT First Round or Round of 16:

GMCT Quarterfinals:

Now, let's take a look at the 2016 GMCT Semifinal Match-Ups:

Semifinal Game #1

#6 East Brunswick (16-7) vs. #2 South Brunswick (19-3)
Where: South Brunswick High School
When: Tuesday at 5:30 PM

Outlook: For the third time this year, and the fifth time in the past two years, these two neighborhood and GMC Red rivals will be going at it, but this time, it will be for bigger stakes in the form of a GMCT Finals berth.

South Brunswick has won the last four including a season sweep a year ago, and a stunning come from behind victory back on January 26th (57-56) at SBHS. East Brunswick won the most recent meeting (81-68) at EB on February 11th. In the first meeting this season, the Vikings trailed 54-45 when senior point guard, Jaier Garrett stepped up to the line with 1:26 to play. The Vikes then scored 12 of the last 14 points including a three pointer by junior guard Ryan Moran with five seconds left for the one point, 57-56 victory.

Fast forward seventeen days, and the scenario is much different. In the second meeting, South Brunswick jumped out to a 29-19 lead midway through the second period when EB went on an 18-3 tear to end the first half capped by a three from Matt Ross, and then scored 22 of the first 26 points of the second half to take a 59-36 lead after a Mike Vick dunk, and a three from Ezra Levitt. East Brunswick had a 37-7 surge over a 12 minute span. The Bears cruised from there to win by a baker's dozen, the largest margin of victory between these two schools over the last two years.

At one point in the season, East Brunswick was 9-6 after a 67-50 loss to top ranked and top seeded St. Joseph's on February 2nd. Since then, the Bears have reeled off 7 wins in their last 8 games including victories over ranked opponents as 7th ranked Old Bridge, 10th ranked Piscataway, 2nd ranked South Brunswick, 9th ranked Spotswood, and 3rd ranked Colonia. EB also defeated a Monroe squad that had won 7 of their last 9 entering their Round of 16 meeting this past Thursday night. On the other hand, South Brunswick has been quite consistent all year.

With a 19-3 record, the Vikings have only lost to St. Joseph's twice and EB. The Vikes have yet to play any GMC team outside of the GMC Red including in this year's GMCT with a Round of 16 win over 15th seeded Perth Amboy (63-58) and a dominating performance in the GMCT Elite Eight with a 69-36 victory over 7th seeded Old Bridge. South Brunswick has also recently defeated Ridge of the Skyland Conference's Delaware Division, which has beat up on GMC teams quite well this year. This may not be the last time EB and SBHS face each other this year. Both are on the same side of the bracket in Central Jersey Group 4, and could meet in the quarterfinals.

Returning to South Brunswick's win over Old Bridge in the quarterfinals on Sunday. The Vikings couldn't have played any more of a complete game. The Vikes came out blazing as they jumped to a 20-4 lead. Mike Ugarte, who finished with a game high 25 points, netted three treys in the first half while Danesh Thirukmaran scored all 9 of his points in the first half on threes. SBHS eventually led 41-17 at the half, and then cruised from there as its defense drew charges on OB's standout player, Connor Romano, and took him and the Knights completely out of their game offensively. Eric Savage played a nice all around game including 14 points.

East Brunswick reached the semifinals for the fifth straight year by avenging last year's semifinal loss with a 81-71 victory over 3rd seeded Colonia. Utilizing a 1-3-1 half court trap, the Bears were eventually able to pull away from a back and forth end to the first half by taking a 35-32 lead, and led by as many as 17 in the second half before winning by 10. The big three of Mike Vick (27 points), Addis Ralph (20 points), and Matt Ross (16 points) combined to score 63 of EB's 81 points in the win. Joe Sampson managed to add several threes as well including two in the second period to help the Bears eventually take the lead before halftime.

Both teams have plenty of perimeter punch and a good deal of depth. EB may have a bit more, but it is still very close. The key will be which team dictates tempo. These East Brunswick Bears aren't the Bo Henning Bears of a few years ago. They have been playing a much more wide open style, and scoring a lot of points. Meanwhile, South Brunswick won its first match-up with EB by keeping the score in the mid-50s. East Brunswick won the second time around by scoring in the low 80s. So, whichever team dictates the tempo, will have the edge in this game. The Vikings have a huge advantage in playing this game on their home court. Just having the familiarity of their own gym for this big game is a big plus.

Both teams have their big guns. Matt Ross has averaged 31.5 points per game in the two meetings this year while Eric Savage has averaged 24 in both contests. The team that is able to contain the other's big gun the best has a good chance in winning. Another key will be EB's Mike Vick, and how he plays will determine a great deal of the Bears fate. If he plays like he did on Sunday in terms of scoring, the Bears have a good chance, but if he can share the ball more with not only Ross and Addis Ralph, but others such as Justin Sewnarine, Mike Brizuela, Joe Sampson, and Ezra Levitt, East Brunswick has even a much better chance.

GMC Hoops Pick: East Brunswick wins, 65-63

Semifinal Game #2

#5 Woodbridge (19-4) vs. #1 St. Joseph's (18-5)
Where: South Brunswick High School
When: Tuesday at 7:00 PM

Outlook: For the second straight year, Woodbridge head coach, Matt Gigliello faces off against his former mentor, St. Joseph's head coach, Dave Turco. Last year, the two squared off in the GMCT Quarterfinals and then top seeded Falcons defeated the 9th seeded Barrons. Last year, Woodbridge was a more senior dominated team. This year, the Barrons are all juniors. So, regardless of what happens today, watch out for them next year. St. Joseph's made several additions to this year's squad with the arrivals of Tyus and Khalif Battle as well as Alanzo Frink, and are looking to reclaim the GMCT crown after losing in the final a year ago.

After starting the season at 2-3 with two of those defeats coming at the hands of crosstown rival, Colonia and the other to J.P. Stevens, Woodbridge has won 17 of its last 18 games with the only loss coming at the hands of Sayreville on February 9th at WHS (48-43). The Barrons avenged that loss in the GMCT Quarterfinals with a 69-60 win that included a 21-5 third quarter surge that was reminiscent of the second quarter 20-4 outburst in the win at the Bomb Shelter back on January 14th (58-45). Keshaun Henry led the way for the Barrons in the win with 21 points, but the real key was Woodbridge's smart play on defense.

Like they had done in the first meeting in mid-January, the Barrons got Sayreville's big man, Jahsim Floyd, in foul trouble, and that set the stage for the lightning quick barrage in the third that consisted of numerous fast breaks and transition scores created off of steals and mistakes by the Bombers. Besides Henry, three other players scored in double figures including Quassim Glover with 16 points to increase his career total to date to 689, Quran Robinson with 12, and Kemari Persol with 10. Woodbridge will be giving up a lot of size, but if they can manage to get either Battle, Frink, or Bree Tyree into foul trouble, they may have a shot. The Barrons will need to draw charges like they did in the Sayreville game to accomplish that.

St. Joseph's comes into this contest, yet to lose a game in GMC play this season. The Falcons went undefeated in the GMC Red once again this season at 12-0, and then defeated Bishop Ahr (72-17) in the first round last Thursday, and rolled past Spotswood in the GMCT Elite Eight on Sunday (69-37). The big three of Tyus Battle (1,422 points), Bree Tyree (1,136 points), and Jerome Frink led the way as all three scored in double figures against the Chargers. Tyree had a triple-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists while Battle and Frink recorded double-doubles. Frink led all scorers with 18 points along with 12 boards while Battle collected 15 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Freshman, Khalif Battle also chipped in with 10 points while Xavier Townes added 6 and Branislav Vujadinovic chipped in with 5.

While the Falcons have cruised through its GMC schedule to this point, there have been times where they have been more pedestrian than dominant. Case in point was the January 28th game against Old Bridge, where the Knights netted 10 three pointers including six by standout, Connor Romano (941 points), who finished with a game high 34 points in a 70-63 loss. Old Bridge also only lost by five to the Falcons back on January 5th at Maglio Gymnasium. Two days later, Joes turned in perhaps its most dominant performance in all the games covered by GMC Hoops this season until Sunday in a 75-53 win over then 2nd ranked East Brunswick. There were even moments on Sunday where Spotswood battled back, and made things interesting. After trailing 36-12 at the half, the Chargers scratched and clawed their way to within 14 at 48-34 early in the fourth before Joes put the game away.

In both dominant wins covered by GMC Hoops, St. Joseph's took out one of their opposing team's top scorers. In the January 7th win over East Brunswick in Metuchen, the Falcons limited EB's 1,000 point scorer, Matt Ross (1,018 points), to just 12 points. On Sunday, St. Joseph's held Spotswood's 1,100 point scorer, Eric Dadika (1,108 points) to just 2 points. Woodbridge can ill afford to have one of its big scorers shut down. The Barrons will need to share the ball, and make sure that someone like Robinson, Glover, Henry, Persol, or Curtis Nesbit has the hot hand from three. GMC Hoops has seen St. Joseph's eight times since October, and with the exception of two games, the Falcons have struggled putting teams away. If Woodbridge can hang around, and come out firing, especially from the perimeter, it could make a game of it. The Barrons will also need to make sure that, regardless of what happens on offense, get back on defense to make St. Joseph's work on the offensive end, and make the contest a more half court game.

GMC Hoops Pick: St. Joseph's wins 59-44.

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