Breaking down the first stage of the New Jersey boys' basketball tournaments:
South Jersey Group 4
Field: 1. Shawnee 2. Toms River North 3. Atlantic City 4. Eastern 5. Rancocas Valley 6. Millville 7. Cherokee 8. Williamstown 9. Kingsway 10. Howell 11. Lenape 12. Brick Memorial 13. Cherry Hill East 14. Clearview 15. Vineland 16. Southern
Defending champion: Shawnee.
Favorite: Shawnee, with Atlantic City right there.
Darkhorse: Eastern is battle-tested from a challenging schedule, has a top playmaker in senior guard Matt Cotton and has a win over Atlantic City.
Darkhorse 2: Cherokee. With junior guard Anthony DiCaro, who set a school record Friday night with nine three-pointers, recovered from thigh injury, the Chiefs can compete with anybody in the field.
First-round game to watch: Kingsway at Williamstown. The Dragons swept the season series in Tri-County Royal play but the Braves earned the higher seed and host the third meeting of the season between these fierce rivals. Kingsway's Tyler Hardy is coming off a 30-point game in a win over Highland.
Another: Cherry Hill East at Eastern. Another battle of division foes and old rivals. Eastern swept the season series but both games were competitive and the most recent, on Jan. 25, went to the Vikings by a 59-55 score.
Second-round treat: If form holds, Rancocas Valley at Eastern in the quarterfinals could be an intriguing matchup of top programs.
Player to watch: Shawnee senior guard Dean Noll has put together a Player of the Year-caliber season. But those awards always hinge on performances in the state tournament.
Another: Atlantic City senior swingman Ray Bethea Jr. also has put together a POY-caliber season. He's a versatile player who can impact the game at both ends and is capable of carrying the Vikings a long way.
Projected semifinals: Eastern at Shawnee, Cherokee at Atlantic City.
South Jersey Group 3
Field: 1. Timber Creek 2. Seneca 3.Ocean City 4. Delsea 5. Pinelands 6. Hammonton 7. Cumberland 8. Toms River East 9. Mainland 10. Highland 11. Winslow Twp. 12. GCIT 13. Cherry Hill West 14. Camden County Tech 15. Triton 16. Lacey
Defending champion: Winslow Twp.
Favorite: Timber Creek.
Darkhorse I: Winslow Twp. The three-time champion Eagles have a history of playing their best basketball in late February and early March. Seniors Tysheim Perkins and Ivan Mosley are a tough 1-2 inside punch.
Darhkorse II: Delsea. The Crusaders lack size but are balanced, play sturdy defense and have a top all-around player in junior guard Javon Gordon.
First-round game to watch: Triton at Seneca. The visiting Mustangs are a dangerous No. 15 seed, especially if senior swingman Jalen Collins continues his red-hot play.
Player to watch: Timber Creek senior Maurice Murray is announced during introductions as a guy who plays "center, forward and guard." Murray is the leader of a senior class determined to end Winslow Twp.'s reign and bring a sectional title to the other side of Cross Keys Road.
Projected semifinals: Winslow Twp. at Seneca, Delsea at Timber Creek.
South Jersey Group 2
Field: 1. Cinnaminson 2. Haddonfield 3. Camden 4. Pt. Pleasant Boro 5. Lower Cape May 6. Sterling 7. Haddon Heights 8. Middle Twp. 9. Barnegat 10. Pleasantville 11. Willingboro 12. Pennsauken Tech 13. Medford Tech 14. Overbrook 15. Cape May Tech 16. Collingswood
Defending champion: Camden.
Darkhorse: Haddon Heights. The Garnet have a recent win over Haddonfield, and the one thing that matters most in the state tournament: a dynamic senior guard in high-scoring Jared Latane.
First-round game to watch: Pleasantville at Haddon Heights. The visiting Greyhounds feature creative senior guard Divine Anderson and will look to run with the Garnets. This one could be 80-75.
Another: Willingboro at Sterling. Watch the Chimeras, who have rallied late in the season. They're battle-tested, too. Sterling has been a different team since the mid-January addition of 6-7 junior Noah Syer. Both of these squads could get on a run.
Second-round treat: If form holds, Haddon Heights vs. Haddonfield will be the third game of the season between old and fierce rivals. They split the first two.
Lonely No. 1: Cinnaminson earned the top seed but the Pirates are a bit overlooked behind Camden and Haddonfield. Still, that seed means a lot, and the Pirates have a top senior guard in Craig Turner.
Player to watch: Camden senior guard Corey Greer and his teammates, especially fellow senior leader Myles Thompson, are on a mission to capture the program's elusive 12th state title. But first they have to win the Panthers' seventh straight and 48th overall South Jersey crown.
Another: Haddonfield junior Mike DePersia can control the game with his ball-handling, passing and scoring. He made a 60-footer against Camden in last year's sectional final.
Projected semifinals: Camden at Haddonfield, Pt. Pleasant Boro at Cinnaminson.
South Jersey Group 1
Field: 1. Glassboro 2. Penns Grove 3. Woodbury 4. Wildwood 5. Paulsboro 6. Haddon Twp. 7. Palmyra 8. Gloucester 9. Pitman 10. Clayton 11. Woodstown 12. Lindenwold 13. Schalick 14. Audubon 15. Salem 16. Buena
Defending champion: Woodbury.
Favorite: Glassboro, with Penns Grove and Woodbury right there.
Darkhorse: Wildwood. With a 2,000-point scorer in Kyion Flanders and a sharpshooter like Tyler Tomlin, who made 11 three-pointers the other night against Gloucester, the Warriors are a team to watch.
First-round game to watch: Clayton at Palmyra. Behind senior guard Mahir Yilmaz and playing their "Tornado" system, the Clippers will score and score. The Panthers might need to hit triple figures to win this game.
Player to watch: Glassboro senior guard Anthony Mitchell has been a steady, productive presence for a steady productive team.
Another: Woodbury junior Aaron Estrada was the sidekick to then-senior Ja'Zere Noel on last year's sectional championship team. This season, Estrada has the task of leading the way for the Thundering Herd.
Projected semifinals: Woodbury at Penns Grove, Wildwood at Glassboro.
Central Jersey Group 1
Field (Local teams) 1. Burlington City 4. Florence 5. Riverside
Defending champion: Burlington City.
Favorite: Burlington City.
Player to watch: This tournament is a chance for Burlington City sophomore Deonte Woodbury to step into the spotlight as one of the state's top young guards.
Another: Florence senior Jabrill Edmonds has fashioned a fine career for the Flashes and will try to finish with a flourish.
Projected semifinals: Florence at Burlington City, Pt. Pleasant Beach at New Egypt.
Central Jersey Group 2
Field (locals): 4. Bordentown
Defending champion: Rumson-Fair Haven.
Favorite: Rumson Fair-Haven.
Player to watch: Bordentown senior Jacquey Mendez is a versatile player capable of a 20-point, 10-rebound 6-assist, 4-steal performance in a big game.
Projected semifinals: Bordentown at Rumson-Fair Haven, Carteret at Manasquan.
Central Jersey Group 3
Field (locals): 1. Moorestown 6. Northern Burlington 11. Burlington Twp. 13. Westampton Tech
Defending champion: Ewing.
Favorite: Moorestown, with No. 2 seed Nottingham right there.
First-round game to watch: Burlington Twp. at Northern Burlington. These rivals split in the regular season, with both games going to the wire.
Player to watch: Moorestown junior Nick Cartwright-Atkins is a dynamic athlete who can get to the rim and excels on the offensive glass. He's the inside presence the Quakers need to open up their perimeter game.
Projected semifinals: Neptune at Moorestown, Hopewell Valley at Nottingham.
Non-Public South A
Field: 1. St. Augustine 2. Christian Brothers 3. St. Joseph Metuchen 4. Camden Catholic 5. Bishop Ahr 6. Bishop Eustace 7. Red Bank Catholic 8. Paul VI 9. Notre Dame 10. St. John Vianney 11. Donovan Catholic
Defending champion: St. Augustine.
Favorite: St. Augustine.
Darkhorse I: Camden Catholic. The Irish have played a tough schedule, have a seasoned senior in sharpshooting Dominic Dunn, who scored his 1,000th career point Saturday, and a pair of dynamic juniors in Baba Ajike and Uche Okafor.
Darkhorse II: Bishop Eustace is battle-tested, has a top senior leader in Peyton Vostenak and shoots well enough to challenge any team in the bottom of the bracket.
Darkhorse III: Paul VI has beaten a lot of good teams in a grinding schedule. The Eagles might be a year away, with top players such as juniors Tyshon Judge and Hartnel Haye and freshman Wisler Sanon, but sometimes that's an advantage in the postseason because of the absence of do-or-die pressure.
Player to watch: St. Augustine senior swingman Marlon Hargis has been complement player for the last two sectional champions. Now he's the go-to guy for a team seeking its third straight crown.
Projected semifinals: Camden Catholic at St. Augustine, Bishop Eustace at CBA.
Non-Public South B
Field: 1. Wildwood Catholic 2. Ranney 3. Mater Dei 4. St. Joseph Hammonton 5. Trenton Catholic 6. Timothy Christian 7. Rutgers Prep 8. Holy Spirit 9. Immaculata 10. Calvary Christian 11. Gloucester Catholic 12. St. Rose 13. Doane Academy 14. Holy Cross 15. Wardlaw-Hartridge 16. Moorestown Friends
Defending champion: Patrick School (now in Non-Public North B).
They're No. 1: Led by Bowling Green-bound senior Caleb Fields, a Player of the Year candidate, Wildwood Catholic earned the top seed and won't have to leave its cozy gym on Central Avenue in North Wildwood until the sectional finals. The Crusaders are three points away from being 26-0 and are coming off a huge CAL tourney with wins over St. Augustine and Atlantic City. They will be a very tough out.
Second-round chance: If form holds, St. Joseph of Hammonton will have a chance to take a major step into prominence by hosting perennial power Trenton Catholic in its little gym in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats have a player to watch in dynamic junior guard Marcellus Ross.
Another second-round game to watch: Holy Spirit at Wildwood Catholic would match fierce shore rivals. WWC sophomore Jacob Hopping played at Holy Spirit last season before moving south.
Players to watch: Ranney juniors Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis are high-flying, five-star recruits who are regarded as perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the state. Watch this team.