Who: No. 4 Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) vs. No. 5 Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.)
When: 2 p.m. ET, Thursday
Where: Christ The King, Middle Village, N.Y.
About Wheeler: Though this is the first DICK’S Nationals for the fifth-ranked Wildcats (30-2), they already have one big national tournament win this season. They defeated Montverde (Fla.) Academy in the championship of the City of Palms Classic in December, Montverde’s only loss in two years. Led by ALL-USA first-team forward Jaylen Brown, who averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, the Wildcats won the state AAAAAA title. Senior guard Shembari Phillips, who has signed with Tennessee, is another key player.
About Huntington Prep: This is Huntington Prep’s fourth appearance in the national tournament. The Fighting Irish lost 56-51 in last year’s semifinals to Montverde, the eventual winner. In 2009 and 2010, when the program started by Rob Fulford was known as Mountain State Academy, it lost twice to eventual winner Findlay Prep, first in a quarterfinal in 2009 then in a semifinal in 2010. The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish (30-2) are led by by a center Thomas Bryant (17.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 2.5 steals) and two elite juniors in guard Curtis Jones (15.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) and forward Miles Bridges (15.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg).
What to expect: The Wildcats love to run, the better to use Brown’s and Phillips’ ability to finish in the open court. To do this, they will need to pressure Huntington Prep’s guards and create fast breaks through turnovers. Meanwhile, Huntington Prep has a lot of size and will try to wear down Wheeler with its cast of rotating bigs.