Who: No. 3 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) vs. No. 6 Shadow Mountain (Phoenix, Ariz.)
When: 12 p.m. ET Thursday
Where: Christ The King (Middle Village, N.Y.)
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About Montverde Academy: The Eagles, ranked No. 8 in the Super 25, are perennial contenders both for the DICK’S/National High School Invitational title and the overall Super 25 national crown, most notably capturing three-straight when led by Ben Simmons in 2013, 2014 and 2015. They almost certainly won’t land the latter this year, but a run to the DICK’S title shouldn’t be out of the question.
Montverde is 24-4, with all four of its losses coming against fellow national powers Memphis East, Tenn. (twice, and both times by a single possession), St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J. (by a point) and Philadelphia power Imhotep Charter in the season’s only ugly loss, by a score of 57-48.
Like a past Montverde champion, this squad is led by a sophomore. Young RJ Barrett is widely considered the nation’s top sophomore prospect, and is the team’s most versatile and athletic scorer. When Barrett is slowed, junior Rechon “Leaky” Black, a North Carolina commit, often picks up the slack on the wings. Inside, Georgia (the country, not the state) native Sandro Mamukelashvili is a force and power forward Sean Mobley, a VCU signee, is a versatile threat who can do damage from three or inside.
The Eagles have plenty of impending and future DI help on the bench, too, so foul trouble is rarely as critical an issue with the Kevin Boyle-coached team as it may be with opponents at the tournament.
About Shadow Mountain: The Arizona 4A state champion Matadors enter ranked No. 10 in the Super 25, but could make a huge charge up the rankings with multiple victories at the national event. This is the school’s first appearance at the tournament, and they feel they have a legitimate chance to make noise before all is done.
The Matadors are coached by former Arizona and NBA legend Mike Bibby, and feature a pair of Division I recruits in the backcourt. Marcus Shaver averaged 22 points and nearly 3 steals per game and signed with UC Santa Barbara before recently asking for his release. Jovan House, son of former NBA guard Eddie House, is among the faster-rising sophomore prospects in the nation after scoring 22 points and nearly 6 assists and steals per game. Beyond those two, Bibby’s team has reliable depth if a general lack of flashy parts to lift the team when it might be scuffling, and to provide additional legs to reinforce the team’s frenetic, trapping defense.
What to expect: The Matadors will attack the game with the kind of fierce, aggressive defense that somehow racked up 37 steals in a single game in January. Montverde will counter with seasoned (if still young) guards who have weathered the storm of a full Kevin Boyle gauntlet, which should have the Eagles playing their most efficient and effective basketball now, when it counts.
Both teams have shown that they can score in bunches, but both have also captured tight, low-scoring battles as well. In the end, it’s hard not to look at the high-profile, televised match ups that Montverde’s contributors have already competed in and not feel as if they’ll have an edge on a talented Shadow Mountain squad that will travel outside Arizona for the first time.