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January 5, 2013

5th Annual VaPreps Classic Preview

Welcome to a special edition of Basketball Weekly where we turn our attention to the Fifth Annual VirginiaPreps.com Basketball Classic Presented by Cox 11 Sports, set for Saturday, January 5, 2013 at Virginia Wesleyan College. It figures to be a memorable day of basketball, featuring many of the best teams and players from the Tidewater area as well as all over the state. Here we'll be breaking down the matchups in the event to fill you in on these squads

Since I'm technically the Event Organizer (at least that's what they said my title was), I won't make picks on the games. but we bring out the Magic 8 Ball again to attempt to forecast the outcomes. So far, the Magic 8 Ball is 27-10 in four years of projecting winners


PREVIEWS:

9:00 AM - - Granby (8-5; 3-3) vs. Salem (5-8; 2-0)

This is a re-match from a game in the King's Fork Holiday Tournament, won by Granby 57-43. The Comets are led by senior 6-foot-5 forward Aaron Meredith, one of the more improved players in the area who's among the top rebounders and shot blockers around. Providing support are 6-foot-6 senior big John Nixon as well as guards Willie White and Laguna Foster.

For Salem, much may hinge on if Bucky Hodges, the star quarterback for the school who's committed to play his College Football at Virginia Tech, plays. Last year in this event he yanked down 16 rebounds. Without Hodges, they will have their work cut out for them on the glass. Regardless, their top offensive weapon and maybe the most dangerous player off the bounce in this game is guard Ti Land, who twice has scored 21 points in the past five games.

The key to this game might be outside shooting. Neither team has been overly consistent, but this offers both a chance to get it going as they start the second half of their schedule. Defensively, Granby's been solid much of the year. Having two big men that they can use 10 fouls with in Meredith and Nixon gives them some flexibility, and look for their inside play to set the tone.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Granby


10:30 AM - - Great Bridge (9-1; 8-0) vs. Tallwood (7-6; 2-0)

With the Southeastern District set to face the Beach District in the opening round of regionals, these two could meet again in the playoffs. The Wildcats boast the Southeastern District's leading scorer in junior guard Marcus Evans, a D-1 prospect that is averaging 19.4 points per game. On Friday night in their 74-68 comeback win over Western Branch, the Wildcats caught fire in the fourth quarter led by Evans' 25 and Byron Williams' 21 points.

For Tallwood, they are coming off a football-like score in a 38-24 triumph over Cox on Friday night. At 2-0 in the Beach with an upset of Green Run not too long ago on a night where they made 25-of-27 free-throws, the Lions are looking like a contender in a league they were projected to finish fourth in this year. Tallwood has a top-notch scorer in guard Tommie Flournoy (20.2PPG), plus several capable role players around him with Tyler Peterson, Will Howard, Darius Horton and Langston Petteway.

Great Bridge has time and time again gotten step up performances to go with their star Evans, whether it's been from Williams, center Steve Bienlien blocking shots and rebounding inside, Mark Madison or Andre Banks knocking down outside shots, and Aaron Ferguson driving to the rack. The Cats control tempo so well that it will take a team jumping out on them and remaining patient, taking good shots and avoiding a really bad spell of shooting to defeat them.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Great Bridge


Noon - - Phoebus (5-2; 5-2) vs. Christchurch (8-4; 2-0)

This could be a high-scoring, fast-paced battle. The Phantoms have three players averaging 19 points per game or more in Howard signee James Daniel III, Heritage transfer Josh Davis and senior guard Khaaliq Fletcher. Christchurch has a mega talent in Devin Robinson, rated one of the nation's Top 100 recruits from the Class of 2014 with offers on the table from the likes of Auburn and UCONN. Robinson is putting up 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for a Seahorses team that has three others scoring in double-figures.

Others to watch for Christchurch include guards Nick Douglas and Julian Reed, two-sport athlete Brendan Cole and 6-foot-4 junior wing Justin Peebles. Phoebus is coming off an 87-70 loss to Woodside on Friday night. The Phantoms have scored 69 or more in every game that they've played with the exception of a loss to Kecoughtan where they had 59. Also, Phoebus has won a couple of close ones, beating both Denbigh and Bethel in overtime.

Robinson is the matchup problem for most any team Christchurch plays, but the question to me is can the Seahorses defensively contain Daniel, Fletcher and Davis? One if not all three are good enough to get off, and coming off a loss, this will be a real test of their mettle to see how they respond because they've got some challenging PD games ahead. For Christchurch, it's an opportunity to show they can play with one of the better teams in Tidewater, and they'll be making noise for years to come with a host of underclassmen.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Phoebus


1:30 PM - - Kellam (9-2; 2-0) vs. Battlefield (10-4; 3-1)

The Bobcats from Battlefield are fresh off beating defending Northern Region Champion Westfield in the Bulldog Bast Tournament up in Northern Virginia, and they've won nine of ten following a 0-3 start. Four players are averaging in double-figures for Battlefield, led by Trevor Blondin's 19PPG and Roman Hall's 17PPG. Six-foot-4 senior Terrell Walker can turn heads, and 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Kameron Hedgepeth is a name from the Class of 2015 people are starting to find out about. They're very balanced and putting up 70-plus seven times over the past ten.

Kellam brings in one of the top scorers and players in the Eastern Region in Ramone Snowden (22.4PPG, 20RPG), who'll play his College Basketball at Old Dominion. Snowden, who went off for 36 points against Landstown earlier this season, has really raised his play this season to where he's in the Player of the Year discussion in both the Beach District and the region, recording a double-double in each of the Knights' first ten games. He makes his teammates around him better, too, and Kellam will need contributions from sophomore point guard Janair Raynor-Powell, shooter Tyler Vinsand, and forwards Chris Smith and Kobe Copeland, a couple of board crashers.

How Battlefield executes in the half-court against the Knights' 1-3-1 zone defense will determine a lot that happens in this game. Furthermore, Kellam wants to keep the Bobcats out of transition as much as possible. This could be the tightest game of the day potentially as the two teams seem extremely evenly matched. The Bobcats come in just a bit hotter as of late with their only loss coming by one point against Stonewall Jackson in a contest where a buzzer-beater was waved off, so their confidence is sky high even as the visitor in this spot.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Battlefield (OT)


3:00 PM - - Landstown (7-3; 1-0) vs. Stonewall Jackson (8-5; 4-0)

What's neat about Landstown is they beat opponents in multiple ways. They can hurt opponents with their intense, high-pressure defense that's been a staple of theirs for years. They're able to win games that are up-tempo or half-court. They also get it done with a giant 6-foot-8 sophomore center in Darius Bolstad and a little guy running the shot at the point in 5-foot-5 senior Jordan Roberson. Nobody on this Eagles team averages more than 12 points per game and that's the way they normally operate, spreading their scoring out.

For Stonewall Jackson, they've got a guy averaging more than six a contest and that's 6-foot-3 senior swingman J.R. Washington, who put up 61 points in a game earlier this season against Freedom-Woodbridge. He made 10-of-19 from three-point distance in that one. Washington is the top scorer at the AAA level in Virginia, currently averaging 25.9 points per game. Landstown is likely to use several different defenders on him, such as seniors Sebastian Sandifer and Cameron Alston, and maybe even sophomore Roderick Nicholson.

One thing about the Eagles is they have long, lean and athletic defenders. But Washington is mighty good and talented enough to put his team on his back, even against one of the better defensive teams in Tidewater in Landstown. For Stonewall Jackson to prevail in this battle Washington's complementary options have to come through. That means 6-foot-2 senior Mustafa Ali and 6-foot-4 junior Diandre Stubbs. The Raiders are a seasoned bunch with 11 seniors, while Landstown has seven players ranging from 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-5 to match-up versus Stonewall. Bench play may be pivotal here as well.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Landstown


4:30 PM - - Cape Henry (9-1) vs. Miller School (7-3)

What's not to like about this matchup? There will be 10 potential Division I players on the floor with Cape Henry's featuring talent up and down its roster with UVA signee Devon Hall, Jimmy Paige, Chris Clarke, Ayron Hutton and Woodside transfer Malik Gray. The Dolphins have been tested all year long against quality out-of-conference competition, beating the likes of Riverdale Baptist with a lethal scorer in Nigel Johnson in a showcase and rallying on the road in the fourth quarter to top a Kecoughtan a team with multiple D-1 talents.

While Cape Henry brings in some gifted perimeter and wing pieces, Miller School has three giants all 6-foot-8 or bigger on the front-line in Isaac Copeland, Tony Washington and Aram Martin. Copeland is rated in the Top 100 from the Class of 2014, and is getting recruited by North Carolina out of the ACC. They also have next-level prospects in the backcourt with Cameron Smith, a transfer from Osbourn Park, and Travis Hester, one of the best shooters in the state.

Miller's size poses problems for most anyone they play and those guys up front will probably be difficult for Cape Henry to handle as well. That being said, Cape Henry's mix of athleticism, size, shooting and ball-handling on the perimeter and will challenge Miller and the Mavericks' depth. Foul trouble would really send Miller for a loop in this one because Cape has two guys that can create their own shot at the end of a close game in Hall and Clarke.

Don't be surprised to see Clarke have a coming out party in this game and for hustle guy Terry Morris to be an x-factor. It also won't be stunning at all if Miller establishes the inside game and Copeland puts up monster numbers to lead his team. Fans are really getting a treat in this one.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Cape Henry

 

6:00 PM - - Maury (10-1; 5-1) vs. T.C. Williams (5-4; 2-2)

It has been a difficult week for Maury Head Basketball Coach Jack Baker, a man with over 650 career wins in his career, one of the best in VHSL history, even with that elusive state title missing from his résumé. Baker's mom passed away and that caused him to miss their game earlier this week in a win over Lake Taylor, where assistant Cornell Parker, a former Maury player, coached the team. Whether Baker is one the sidelines or not for the Commodores, they go as far as the Ferguson's, juniors Jaleel Ferguson (12.5PPG, 10RPG) and Avontae Ferguson, can take them. Jaleel is a MEAC-level player on the baseline, while Avontae brings energy, emotion and slashing to the table from the wing position.

T.C. Williams, which won a state title back in 2008, has lost a couple of close calls, but played some stiff competition to this point and always do in their out-of-league games. This a team that got off to a slow start a year ago and picked it up to win the Patriot District Tournament. They have the bodies in the front-court to contend with Maury in 6-foot-3 wing Javon Wilson (12.3PPG) as well as 6-foot-8 center Grant Dickinson and 6-foot-3 versatile forward Landon Moss. To me, the key in how far the Titans go is Moss; since football season ended he hasn't quite produced to the level some expect, although he can turn that around in a hurry and posted a double-double in this event last year.

With both teams well-equipped for battle in the front-court, guards will go a long way towards how the game turns out. Maury's guards are starting to round into form with shooter Mike Basnight (18PPG), Jalon Williams and Blake Gibson. T.C. always plays hard defensively and they'll need their backcourt play to be pesky on defense yet efficient on offense to take care of business against a Maury team that won't blink getting down as shown in rallying from 10 down earlier this week versus Lake Taylor.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Maury


7:30 PM - - Kecoughtan (8-2; 7-0) vs. L.C. Bird (9-1; 5-1)

Quite possibly this is the best and most intriguing game on the docket when you consider that both Kecoughtan and L.C. Bird are ranked in the latest VirginiaPreps.com AAA State Top 25 with the Warriors are #5 and Skyhawks at #6. L.C. Bird under the direction of Troy Manns had an exciting comeback victory over Nansemond River in last year's event, while Ivan Thomas' Kecoughtan team is 0-2 in the Classic, losing narrowly to Richmond area schools Benedictine and John Marshall.

The Warriors have a pair of Division I signees in 6-foot-7 forward Rajay Bullock (Providence and 6-foot-4 sharp shooting swingman Greg Alexander (East Carolina). Bullock entered Friday's night action leading the Peninsula District in scoring at 21.4 points per game, and one would be hard pressed to find a better three-point shooter in the Commonwealth than Alexander. To go with those guys, 6-foot-6 senior Kaelin Poe and sophomore point guard Marcell Haskett are supporting cast guys that have the abilities to be difference makers in any quarter with each player's strength coming on defense.

Having those strengths on defense is a plus because L.C. Bird brings firepower offensively to the show. The Skyhawks are sophomore heavy, anchored by Kenny Williams (19PPG, 5.6RPG, 2.3SPG). Senior guard JaVonte Reddick (14.1PPG) steadies them and has experience from playing in big game settings as he was a key member of their Central Region title team that fell to Norcom two years ago in the State Championship. Sophomore big man Thomas Taylor gives them someone that may be adequate to check Bullock in the paint even though few can really stop him from scoring.

These two teams are playing very good basketball and it wouldn't be surprising at all if they meet up again in the State Tournament since the East plays the Central in the quarterfinals. Given that both teams like to shoot the three-point shot, whichever team can turn the other over the best and get easy baskets to fall so that they don't need a ton of 3's has the upper hand. Kecoughtan's experience with a host of seniors probably gives them a slight edge, but don't rule out Williams putting his team in position to pull it out late.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Kecoughtan

9:00 PM - - Green Run (9-2; 1-1) vs. Petersburg (8-3; 5-1)

In the nightcap, it'll be the Stallions of Green Run, a threat in the Eastern Region this year and the preseason favorite from the Beach District, taking on a perennial power in Petersburg, which made the Group AAA State Championship game last season. Although the Crimson Wave no longer have Frank Mason (who's at Kansas), they are coming off winning their seventh consecutive Fort Lee Holiday Tournament, where Gevon Arrington scored 18 points in their victory over Varina. The Wave enters on a five-game winning streak, notching key Central District wins over Meadowbrook and Hopewell this week as well.

Green Run brings in one of the best perimeter trios in the Eastern Region with junior guard Tyler Blount (19.9PPG), speedy senior point guard Lequan Thomas (5.5SPG) and athletic junior wing Keon Buchanan. Blount brings the shooting, Thomas causes havoc defensively with his active hands and quickness, and Buchanan when he's on is a near impossible one-on-one cover. Petersburg is hoping they get good offensive play from their #2 and #3 scoring options. So far senior guard Frankie Barksdale is starting to assert himself as their next best threat after Arrington. To offset Petersburg's hustle and scrappiness, Green Run needs solid efforts from junior Shaun James and freshman Sterling Carrington around the basket along with Jamaal Matin and Marquise Williams shooting from the perimeter.

Manufacturing points for Petersburg down the stretch could be a tall task against a Green Run team that does play very well defensively in spurts. However, Petersburg has been able to grind out those hard to get points better in recent weeks, and if Green Run has a quarter lapse like they did against Tallwood, a game that some believe is the Stallions' for the taking might end up going to Petersburg. One thing I do know is the winner here is not a team people want to see in weeks to come.

For Green Run after this game, they have Kellam and Landstown in consecutive Tuesdays, a couple of huge district tilts that will be big barometers and games they need to win to capture their first Beach title since 1988-89. Petersburg is tied atop the Central District standings with Thomas Dale, a team they face on Tuesday, and a game that if they win should make them the front-runner in a district that is one of the state's toughest year in and year out with this season being no exception. Don't leave early or else you'll miss an entertaining match with these two bunches.

Magic 8 Ball Says: Petersburg

 

 

Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related info and updates. To contact Matthew, please e-mail hatfieldsports2k4@yahoo.com, and don't forget to listen to High School Sports Talk every Saturday from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 and watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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