There likely will be a new No. 1 ranked team in the country in the next set of FAB 50 National Team Rankings, as No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) falls to No. 5 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) in a showcase game played at New Castle, Ind. Junior and Mr. Basketball USA candidate Marvin Bagley III is a big difference on his new team. What does this game mean for Sierra Canyon and what will the result do for the national rankings picture? Read on for analysis.
Last season, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) had a championship worthy unit, but Chino Hills (Calif.) proved to be the best team in the country on its way to a 35-0 record and FAB 50 No. 1 finish. There is still plenty of basketball to be played this year, but there is a distinct possibility the country’s best team resides in Southern California for the second consecutive season.
Sierra Canyon has four returning off a team that went 26-5, but the difference-maker could be new starter Marvin Bagley III, a legitimate Mr. Basketball USA candidate despite being only a junior. On Thursday night Bagley was a difference-maker in the Trailblazers’ 83-79 victory over FAB 50 No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), as he scored 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds to help his team snap Oak Hill’s 56-game winning streak dating back to the beginning of last season.
Oak Hill (13-1) finished No. 2 in last year’s rankings and was a solid preseason No. 1, but it had no answer for Bagley. Last year Sierra Canyon led Oak Hill the entire game before losing at the buzzer, but it was in control for a majority of this game and held on despite a game effort by the Warriors. UCLA-bound forward Cody Riley made some key plays on the glass and just enough free throws down the stretch, including two with 21.1 seconds remaining, to give coach Ty Nichols a bit of breathing room in a hectic finish. Riley finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“In the fourth quarter, Cody showed his inner-will to say, ‘we’re not losing this game’ and that was hard to say based on how he played first three quarters,” Nichols said.
Nichols also got a big game from Arizona-bound point guard Remy Martin. After Oak Hill took a 19-13 led at the end of the first period, Martin gave his team a spark with 16 points in the second quarter, including a steal and running bank shot right at the halftime buzzer. Sierra Canyon (6-0) led 42-38 at halftime and 63-61 heading into the final period. Martin finished with 22 points, seven assists and two turnovers.
Oak Hill had five players score in double-fugues, led by Iowa St.-bound Lindell Wigginton. His powerful drives to the basket and play-making kept the Warriors alive in the fourth period. He finished with 21 points.
“We wanted to go inside to Marvin and Cody, inside, that was our plan,” Nichols said. “Then I thought Remy was outstanding, too. Each kid had to perform at a really high level for us to win that game. Marvin was consistent, in quarter number one through four.”
With the experience surrounding Bagley, Sierra Canyon has special talent and the potential to be a special team, but it’s still too early to say if the program is in the driver’s seat to deliver Southern California its second consecutive mythical FAB 50 national title. It’s schedule is just too difficult and there are currently three teams ranked ahead of them with legitimate claims to be the best in the nation, too. At this point in the season, some of the top teams (such as No. 3 Patrick School of Elizabeth, N.J.) haven’t even played while others such as Oak Hill have been going since early in November.
Even with this loss, Oak Hill won’t be dropping too far in the FAB 50 in the next set of rankings on January 2. As far as Sierra Canyon is concerned, it will have to capture the title at the Les Schawb Invitational in Portland, Ore., after Christmas before No. 1 consideration is realistic. Not to mention the Trailblazers will leave New Castle, Ind., tomorrow on a flight to Las Vegas to participate in a showcase game at the Tarkanian Classic versus Centennial (Las Vegas) on Saturday. After the New Year, Sierra Canyon will look to bury demons at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo. (where it lost that buzzer-beater to Oak Hill) against the likes of No. 4 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) and No. 19 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), both of which still are unbeaten. If it survives all that, Sierra Canyon will take on current and preseason No. 2 La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., on January 16.
La Lumiere has a legitimate claim to call itself the top-ranked team in the country, as it remained unbeaten with a 85-63 win over No. 48 New Albany (New Albany, Ind.) at the same showcase event Sierra Canyon played in. Before the potential showdown with Sierra Canyon, the Lakers will have to win the Chick-Fil-A Classic against a strong field and can’t have any letdown at the Mike Miller Classic after Christmas.
“Our schedule is way to difficult to talk about that (a potential No. 1 ranking and championship)” Nichols said. “Rankings, comparisons, and the like, we don’t ever bring it up because of that. That’s for other people to do. It’s fun for the game, I get it, but it’s not fun for us.”
Since Nichols has been on the other side of the coin when it comes to living up to expectations, he’s glad to see his veteran group seems to be enjoying the unique opportunity it has in front of them. After all the showcase games are done, Sierra Canyon would still have to bag CIF Southern Section Open and state crowns to finish unbeaten. When it’s all said and done, it would be hard to deny Sierra Canyon a mythical national title with those two crowns in tow combined with a resume that includes wins over the preseason FAB 50 No. 1 (Oak Hill Academy) and No. 2 (La Lumiere) ranked teams.
That scenario is realistic, but not quite on the horizon just yet.
Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores