Union County Tournament’s boys basketball to be seeded

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Will this year’s boys basketball Union County Tournament be, shall we say, up for grabs in the same manner as a key rebound off a missed shot with the game on the line?

In roughly two weeks of competition, we’ll find out if schools such as Linden, Elizabeth, Union Catholic or Plainfield pose the biggest threat to state-ranked and two-time defending champion Roselle Catholic, as far as preventing the Lions from winning the tournament a team-record third straight year.

The 87th annual boys basketball UCT, the oldest county tournament in the state, was scheduled to be seeded on Wednesday, Jan. 31. After the only year there was no tournament since it began in 1937, that year being 2021 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Roselle Catholic High School captured its third and fourth crowns the past two seasons.

Despite a 7-9 record at the start of the week, Roselle Catholic is still among the top teams in New Jersey, under first-year head coach Todd Decker. Many of Roselle Catholic’s defeats have come against highly challenging out-of-state competition.

Roselle Catholic defeated Linden High School in last year’s UCT final at Kean University and, two years ago, topped Elizabeth in the title contest at Kean.

As far as the Union County Conference’s largest-school league goes, the Watchung Division, Elizabeth High School, Frank J. Cicarell Academy began the week in first place at 6-1 and had an overall record of 12-3. Elizabeth’s only division loss came at Plainfield High School, 58-48, on Thursday, Jan. 25. Elizabeth beat Plainfield at home on Thursday, Dec. 21, by the score of 63-52.

Union Catholic High School, at 6-2, was in second place and owners of an 11-5 record. The Vikings split with Linden and lost at Elizabeth, 58-47, on Thursday, Jan. 11, for their two division setbacks.

Linden was in third place at 5-2 and took an overall record of 13-5 into the scheduled division game at home against Elizabeth on Tuesday night, Jan. 30. In the division, Linden split with Union Catholic and lost at Elizabeth, 56-51, on Thursday, Jan. 4, for its two division losses.

Plainfield was fourth at 4-3 and began the week with an overall record of 11-6. The Cardinals also began the week as the only team in the six-schools division with a win against Elizabeth. Plainfield was swept by Union Catholic and split with Elizabeth for its three division defeats.

Oratory Preparatory School of Summit began the week 12-6 overall and leading the UCC’s Mountain Division standings with a 9-2 mark.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School was second at 8-2 and 11-7 overall and Cranford High School third at 6-3 and was 12-5 overall.
The other four teams in the division, Summit, Rahway, Hillside and Roselle, were all less than .500 in the division, although Summit High School stood at 10-8 overall.

New Providence High School led the UCC’s Valley Division standings at 6-1, while Governor Livingston High School was second at 5-2, Arthur L. Johnson High School was third at 4-2 and David Brearley High School was fourth at 4-3. New Providence was 11-4 overall, Governor Livingston was 9-6, Arthur L. Johnson was 9-5 and David Brearley was 8-4.

The game at Linden’s gym on Tuesday night, Jan. 30, between arch rivals Elizabeth and Linden was sure to have an impact on the UCT seeding on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

When the Tigers and host Minutemen clashed at the Elizabeth Dunn Sport Center four weeks ago, it was Elizabeth producing a prolific second half to come back and win the game by five. After trailing 28-21 at the break, Elizabeth outscored Linden 11-9 in the third quarter to cut the deficit to five and then won the all-important fourth quarter 24-14.

Senior guard-forward London Carson led all scorers with 23 points for the Minutemen, who also received 17 from junior guard Cameron McRae. Senior forward Christopher Clark paced Elizabeth in rebounds with 11.

Linden had three players score in double-digits, including senior forward Elijah Butler with 19, senior guard Hashim Nadir with 13 and fellow senior guard Naz Robinson with 12.

Dates for upcoming state tournament games

We’re so used to the final Saturday in February being the day all or most of the county championship games are played and then, two days later, on that final Monday in February, state tournament play would tip off.

Now, everything is moved up, where most county championship games are played the third weekend in February and now, this year, state tournament play commences on a Wednesday, Feb. 21, to be exact.

The final day of the basketball season is Sunday, March 10.

From the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, here are the dates for upcoming state tournament play.

Public tournament

• Wednesday, Feb. 21: Round 1 for Groups 2 and 4 at higher seed
• Thursday, Feb. 22: Round 1 for Groups 1 and 3 at higher seed
• Monday, Feb. 26: Round 2 for Groups 2 and 4 at higher seed
• Tuesday, Feb. 27: Round 2 for Groups 1 and 3 at higher seed
• Wednesday, Feb 28: Round 3 for Groups 2 and 4 at higher seed
• Thursday, Feb. 29: Round 3 for Groups 1 and 3 at higher seed
• Friday, March 1: Sectional Finals for Groups 2 and 4 at higher seed
• Saturday, March 2: Sectional Finals for Groups 1 and 3 at higher seed
• Tuesday, March 5: State semis for Groups 2 and 4 at predetermined site
• Wednesday, March 6: State semis – Groups 1 and 3 at predetermined site.
• Saturday, March 9: State finals for Groups 2 and 4 at Rutgers
• Sunday, March 10: State finals for Groups 1 and 3 at Toms River North

Non-public tournament

• Friday, Feb. 23: Round 1 at higher seed
• Monday, Feb. 26: Round 2 at higher seed
• Thursday, Feb. 29: Round 3 at higher seed
• Monday, March 4: Sectional Finals at predetermined site
• Friday, March 8: State Finals at Rutgers

For the first time the state championship games are spread out over a three-day period. There are quadruple headers scheduled for Friday, March 8; Saturday, March 9; and Sunday, March 10.

Here’s the state championship games schedule.

State finals

• Friday, March 8, at Rutgers: Non-Public A boys and girls and Non-Public B boys and girls
• Saturday, March 9, at Rutgers: Groups 2 and 4 boys and girls
• Sunday, March 10, at Toms River North: Groups 1 and 3 boys and girls