The South Jersey boys' basketball state tournament begins on Monday and at least four of the six groups appear up for grabs. Woodbury (Group 1) and Trenton Catholic (Non-Public B) are probably the only heavy favorites.

Here is a preview of the group races:

Group 1

Defending SJ champion:


Favorite: No. 1 Woodbury

Main contenders: No. 2 Salem, No. 3 Pitman, No. 4 Palmyra and No. 5 Glassboro.

Dark horse: No. 6 Burlington City has played well in the second half of the season and had a 28-point win over Palmyra a few weeks ago. No. 9 Paulsboro has lost twice to Woodbury, but a recent 22-point win over Group 2 Collingswood did open some eyes.

Outlook: Only Trenton Catholic is a bigger favorite than Woodbury. The Herd have beaten Group 3 contender Timber Creek and Group 4 dark horse Eastern and the closest game over a Group 1 team has been a 13-point win over Lindenwold. The Thundering Herd also beat No. 2 Salem by 26 points so they are clearly the team to beat.

Group 2

Defending SJ champion:


Favorite: No. 1 Camden. Led by senior Aaron Walton-Moss, (26.7 ppg.) the Panthers have the best offense, although there are some defensive concerns.

Main contenders: No. 2 Collingswood, No. 3 Middle Township, No. 4 Haddonfield, No. 5 Bridgeton and No. 6 Willingboro.

Dark horse: None. Aren't there enough contenders?

Outlook: Collingswood is a young team that appears a year away, but can't be taken for granted. The same could be said for a young but improving Middle Township team. Haddonfield, if shooting well, could hang with anybody. Bridgeton has already beaten The Inquirer's No. 1 team Holy Spirit, which shows how dangerous the Bulldogs could be. Willingboro recently beat Winslow Township, a high profile win entering the tournament. That said, the Group 2 tournament will go through Camden. Walton-Moss can put the team on his back and Vinny Walls is a streak shooter who can carry a team for stretches. Unless the defense breaks down, Camden should emerge as champion.

Group 3

Defending SJ champion:

Timber Creek.

Favorite: None.

Main contenders: No. 1 Kingsway, No. 2 Deptford, No. 3 Shawnee, No. 5 Pemberton, No. 6 Timber Creek

Dark horse: No. 11 Winslow Township. The Eagles have split with Timber Creek, their first-round opponent.

Outlook: Two weeks ago Shawnee might have been the favorite, but the Renegades have lost five in a row. Pemberton opened some eyes with Tuesday's double-overtime win over Lenape, but the Hornets lost, 64-33, on Thursday to Winslow Township, tempering some enthusiasm. Trico Royal teams Kingsway and Deptford likely won't get much respect, but neither can be discounted. Deptford has hung in there, losing close games with Eastern and Washington Township. The Spartans have beaten Woodbury and split with Kingsway. The team everybody should fear is Timber Creek, which is finally healthy and receiving fine play from point guard Jamere Briggs. Again, the Chargers could lose in the first round to Winslow Township or win it all. We'll go with the latter on this one.

Group 4

Defending SJ champion:

Atlantic City.

Favorite: No. 6 Cherokee. The Chiefs have won 12 in a row, including nine straight since point guard Willis Nicholson, a transfer from Philadelphia's Prep Charter, became eligible.

Main contenders: No. 1 Rancocas Valley, No. 2 Lenape, No. 4 Atlantic City.

Dark horse: No. 11 Eastern. Even though the Vikings have to open with Cherokee, they split with the Chiefs and won the Olympic Conference American Division over Cherokee, Lenape and Washington Township, another dark horse at No. 8.

Outlook: Rancocas Valley is the defending state champ after competing in Central Jersey last season. The Red Devils could still make a serious run, but losing 6-6 senior Mike Bersch with a broken hand will be difficult to overcome. Watch out for Atlantic City. The Vikings usually turn it on at this time of the year and last week's 65-51 win over Camden opened some eyes. Lenape plays the best defense, but will the Indians have enough offense? This is a fascinating group, but Cherokee is the favorite and the Chiefs will be difficult, but not impossible to beat.

Non-Public A

Defending SJ champion:

Camden Catholic.

Favorite: No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy. Any team that can beat St. Anthony has to be considered a favorite.

Main contenders: No. 1 Holy Spirit, No. 2 St. Joseph Metuchen, No. 4 St. Augustine, No. 5 Camden Catholic.

Dark horse: None. If one of the first five seeds don't win, it would be the biggest upset in recent history.

Outlook: Camden Catholic is the wild-card here. The Irish could lose in the first round to St. Augustine, or win it all. The winner of the Camden Catholic-St. Augustine game probably will meet Holy Spirit. And that's just to reach the final. From this vantage point, a Camden Catholic-CBA final is possible, but it will be tough to oust our appointed favorite.

Non-Public B

Defending SJ champion:

Trenton Catholic.

Favorite: No. 1 Trenton Catholic.

Main contenders: None.

Dark horse: None.

Outlook: Of all the Groups, Trenton Catholic is the heaviest favorite. What's scary is that this is a junior-laden team. Led by guard Dondre Whitmore, the Iron Mikes should cruise to the title.

Central Jersey

No. 3 New Egypt should be a contender in Central Jersey Group 1, but top-seeded Asbury Park is a fairly heavy favorite.

In Central Jersey Group 2, No. 13 seed Bordentown is the longest of shots in a Group in which Spotswood is the top seed.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225