Who: No. 3 University School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) vs. No. 6 Shadow Mountain (Phoenix, Ariz.)
When: 12 p.m. ET Thursday
Where: Christ The King (Middle Village, N.Y.)
About University School: The South Florida squad, which is located near Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, captured its first-ever state title thanks to a quartet of elite recruits. Currently ranked No. 2 in the USA TODAY Super 25, the Sharks rolled through the FHSAA Class 5A state tournament, eventually topping Trinity Catholic 80-40 in the state final. The team lost just once during the regular season — to fellow GEICO competitor Oak Hill in the Spalding Hoophall Classic — and won the prestigious City of Palms Classic in December. The Sharks have won 16 straight, including signature victories against the likes of Memphis East, McEachern (Ga.), Mater Dei (Calif.) and Wesleyan Christian (N.C.).
Junior Vernon Carey Jr. is the biggest Sharks threat, was the MVP of the U16 USA Team that won a gold medal at FIBA Americas in Argentina. His father, former Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey Sr., lends to the center’s 6-foot-9, 259-pound frame and athleticism. Carey Jr. is surrounded by strong shooting from senior New Mexico recruit Drue Drinnon, West Virginia-signee Trey Doomes and sophomore Scottie Barnes, who is considered the team’s floor leader. Both 6-2 Joshua Sanguinetti and 5-10 Xavien Flowers are Division I football recruits off the bench, which is sometimes needed extensively because of the Sharks’ up-tempo attack.
About Shadow Mountain: The Arizona 4A state champion Matadors enter ranked No. 5 in the Super 25, but could make stake a legitimate claim to a national title with wins over University School, either No. 11 Garfield (Wash.) or traditional power Oak Hill Academy (Va.) in the second round, and potentially current No. 1 Montverde Academy in the final. This is the school’s second-straight appearance at the tournament and a number of the team’s stars were right in the same place in 2017.
The Matadors are coached by former Arizona and NBA legend Mike Bibby, and feature Jaelen House, son of former NBA guard Eddie House, anchors the backcourt alongside Jalen Williams — a Division I linebacker prospect — and Jovan Blacksher. Beyond that three-guard rotation, Bibby’s team has experience in the front court from 6-foot-5 senior Immanuel Allen and a pair of 6-foot-4 juniors, Shemar Morrow and Antonio Reeves.
What to expect: The Matadors will attack the game with the kind of fierce, frenetic defense in an attempt to force errors and stealas from a tested University School backcourt. The Sharks have a huge size advantage with Carey inside, and Shadow Mountain is ill equipped to keep him off the boards or the scoresheet, but errors or missed shots combined with an efficient day from the Arizona school could swing the game in Team Bibby’s favor.
Both teams have shown that they can score in bunches and rack up blowouts, but both have also captured tight matchups. Recency bias might point an advantage toward Shadow Mountain, which was forced to mount a furious rally in the final minutes of the state title game to earn a berth at the GEICO tournament. Conversely, University School hasn’t played in a game decided by fewer than 15 points since January 6.