It’s uncommon, maybe even rare, that a league title race comes down to the final week with three or more teams in the hunt. Often in the valley, it takes some luck for championships to not be completely decided with multiple weeks remaining.
But the Desert Valley League boys’ basketball teams decided to start March Madness a month early. Four of the seven teams sit tied atop the league at 7-2. All four teams have three games remaining, including a number of games against each other, before one or more teams are crowned next Friday.
With his Lions already officially out of the title hunt, Cathedral City coach Justin Sobczyk, who played his high school basketball with Palm Desert and was an assistant for five seasons with the Aztecs, agreed to give his take on the remaining four squads. His Lions have played the other four teams seven times, beating Palm Springs once (53-51), while losing three of the other six by 11 points or less.
Sobczyk came short of making a prediction on who might come out on top, but with five games still left to play between the four teams, it’s clearly still anyone’s title to clinch.
Strengths: “They, along with Palm Desert, play harder than anyone in the valley. Defensively, they’re really tough. When we play Palm Springs, we know it’s going to be a battle physically. They run good stuff, and they’ve got Kaelan Richter, a pretty good point guard who shoots it really well. … Out of the four teams left, they’re by far the most athletic.”
Weaknesses: “The main thing we did differently (when we beat them) is playing man-to-man defense and basically played hard and got in their face. We were the aggressors, and that was the difference. The first game, we sat in zone, and it allowed them more freedom. … They had a lot of trouble guarding the pick-and-pop. They dropped their big guy so ours, TShaun Toussaint, hit seven 3-pointers ’cause they weren’t guarding him.”
Against the Lions: 56-52 (W), 53-51 (L)
By the numbers: Average 56.36 points/game, give up 48.45 ppg
Games left: Indio, Palm Desert and La Quinta, all at home
Strengths: “It’s the first time their three best players (Phillip Thigpen, Jeremiah Brown and Christian Briceno) are seniors, and they’ve played varsity the last three years and just have great camaraderie. … They all know their roles well, and they’re just tough kids from Indio. … Their roles are etched out, and that makes them hard to guard. Next to La Quinta, they’re the second-highest scoring team in our league because they are all so disciplined and know their roles so well (Indio is actually the top-scoring team in the DVL).”
Weaknesses: “They don’t have any glaring weaknesses, to be honest with you. They do everything pretty well, but they don’t do anything great. They’re just a really, really solid team.”
Against the Lions: 66-61 (W), 83-65
By the numbers: Average 64.25 ppg, give up 61.54 ppg
Games left: Palm Springs, La Quinta and Palm Desert, all on the road
Strengths: “They have two really talented guards, one of them is one of the better players in the area in Pierce Sterling. He’s a really tough guard and left-handed. … They shoot it well and extremely well at home. … Of the four teams left, I think they’re the best offensively and the biggest juggernaut, but…”
Weaknesses: “…they’re the least defensive-minded team of the four. If you’re playing well against them offensively, you can get in a shootout with them, ’cause their mindset is to score. I don’t think they’re a bad defensive team, but they’re more offensive than defensive.”
Against the Lions: 93-58 (W), play on Feb. 3 at Cathedral City
By the numbers: Average 62.8 ppg, give up 65.08 ppg
Games left: Cathedral City (away), Indio (home), Palm Springs (away)
Strengths: “They’ve always been known for being very disciplined … and they’re the smartest defensively and offensively run the best stuff. I can’t tell you how many times our guys got frustrated because they’d blow up a cross screen or know what we were going to do. They held a team like La Quinta to 38 points, who scored 90 a couple times. … They play the best together and are the toughest and smartest. Defensively, they’re just a nightmare to play against.”
Weaknesses: “A lack of overall size for them could cause some problems down the road. They have Will (Struthers) who’s a 6-3 guard, but beyond him, they’re not that big, whereas a team like Palm Springs is much bigger and taller.”
Against the Lions: 41-30 (W), 54-39
By the numbers: Average 47.91 ppg, give up 45.39 ppg
Games left: Shadow Hills (home), Palm Springs (away), Indio (home)
PIVOTAL GAMES REMAINING
Feb. 3: Indio at Palm Springs
Feb. 8: Palm Desert at Palm Springs, Indio at La Quinta
Feb. 10: Indio at Palm Desert, La Quinta at Palm Springs