After weeks of regional play, the field of 10 for the AND 1 High School Basketball Championship (HBC) is set. And what a field it is.
The tourney's 2005 edition must be exactly what the organizers had in mind, as some of the nation's top teams from all across the country will meet in Philadelphia this weekend to crown a champion.
There are some new faces and plenty of old ones, but everywhere you look, there seems to be an overflow of talent.
This past weekend, the defending champion, Dunwoody (Ga.) secured its free trip to Philly with a 68-63 win over Chapel Hill. An'Juan Wilderness scored a game-high 29 points to keep Dunwoody's hopes for a repeat alive.
In the East I regional, St. Benedict's (N.J.) and star senior Lance Thomas (13 points) just squeaked by St. Patrick's (N.J.), 43-42.
For the third straight year, Canton McKinley (Ohio) won its regional, defeating Taft, 78-67. McKinley, which won the Ohio state title this year, was led by Raymar Morgan who had 17 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Parker also added 17 points in the winning effort.
Marshall (Ill.) took advantage of Custer, 90-58, to win the Midwest II Regional. This will be the second straight year that Marshall has been one of the elite 10 to make it to Philadelphia for the HBC. Senior guard Patrick Beverly scored 29 points, including 11-of-12 from the free throw line.
So now the field is set: Dunwoody, St. Benedict's, Canton McKinley, Marshall, Charlestown, Dallas Carter, Laurinburg, Artesia, Rainier Beach and Paul VI.
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And there will be several intriguing subplots in the City of Brotherly Love.
For example, will Canton McKinley and Dunwoody meet again, as they did last year? And if so, can McKinley extract revenge on its way to an elusive tournament championship?
Also, Massachusetts is one of the few states that doesn't allow its coaches any coaching time in the summer. So while most other coaches can be on the bench during these games, Charlestown's Jack O'Brien cannot. He can be in the building, but won't be allowed to diagram plays, call subs or anything like that. In the Northeast regional, nearly every team was in the same situation, so there were no competitive disadvantages, but at the national level, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Regardless, O'Brien and his troops seemed pretty happy to be going and weren't really worrying about late-game strategy.