With good reason, everyone has made a huge deal out of the 2014 football class in Arizona. The depth, athleticism and the destinations for their players going to play at the next level has been as great as we’ve seen ever in this state.
The same can also be said about the 2014 boys basketball class as well, and many of these players and their teams are still alive in the Division I tournament creating some cant miss matchups’ starting in the quarterfinals which begin on Thursday.
It all starts with the 4-5 matchup between Sunnyslope and Perry. The leaders of these great teams, whom have had some of the best regular season’s in school history, are part of the 2014 class. For the Vikings its Stanford signee Michael Humphrey whose combination of great size and athleticism has him one of the top big men in the state. For Perry, the 2014 star is point guard Jordan Howard who was the state’s leading scorer as a junior and has been almost even more valuable for his team as a senior.
The supporting cast for both teams is what makes this matchup even more intriguing. Junior transfer to Sunnyslope Sammy Barnes-Thompkins has cemented himself as one of the state’s top guards. Match him up with freshman star Markus Howard, Jordan’s younger brother, who has taken Arizona high school basketball by storm this season. I am already hearing comparisons to Jerryd Bayless with Howard from people who have followed high school hoops for a number of years.
The winner of this game takes on the winner of the 1-9 matchup of Mesa Mountain View and the two-time defending champion and undefeated Corona del Sol. The 2014 matchup, Corona point guard and Oregon signee Casey Benson against Mountain View center and BYU signee, Payton Dastrup. I feel like I have been watching both of these guys since they were kids. Now they are men leading both their teams on remarkable runs.
Corona’s resume speaks for itself. As mentioned, undefeated and as athletic as they have ever been from top-to-bottom in this incredible three year run. What I have seen from this team during this fantastic season, isn’t the big names on it, not the dunks or the deep three’s. It’s the rebounding, defense and unselfish play that has made them unstoppable in just about every statistical category. I’ve seen them quite a few times this season and each time, a new player has stepped in and played a big role along side Benson and Dane “Alaskan Air” Kuiper. Whether it’s Russ Davis, Cassius Peat or freshman Alex Barcello just to name a few, this is good a TEAM as we’ve seen in Arizona because they fit the definition of team in every facet.
But they absolutely cannot sleep on Mountain View who is on an absolute tear of late. In their first two tournament games, they have won by an average margin of 23 points including an 18 point win over a very good Highland team. The last time they played Corona, they gave them all they could handle in the VisitMesa.com tournament falling by just eight points in the end.
Both teams have great senior duos. For Pinnacle, their duo of Stanford signee Dorian Pickens and Saint Martin signee Trey Ingram have been incredible this season. The Pioneers have lived and died by the great play of those two and are completed with role players who run the floor, give their bodies up for rebounds and charges and knock down big shots. One role player in particular, junior Jeff Kenney, has really emerged this season and will be one of this teams’ go to guy next season.
While Pinnacle looks to run the floor, fire off shots early in their offensive possession and attack off turnovers, Gilbert is completely different. Behind the great senior duo of point guard Anthony Bryant and Spencer Nichols, who are the teams’ leading scorers, Gilbert will take advantage of what they do best which is slowing the game down and executing their offense. They are so good at taking teams out of their games and their strong pressure defense really forces teams to take a lot of tough shots. I watched Gilbert do just that earlier this season to a good Chaparral team that just couldn’t get anything going to save their lives. Oh by the way, Chaparral beat Pinnacle both times they faced off. Gilbert can force the same problems for Pinnacle but conversely, Pinnacle attacks in ways where you don’t know what hit you. Then you look up and your down double digits. I am very intrigued by who will come out the victor in this one.
The winner takes on the winner of the 2-7 matchup of Dobson and Hamilton. I have seen the Dobson Mustangs in person three times this season and it is unbelievable what they have accomplished. I cant remember the last time I watched a team score like this at this level. The 2014 leaders on this squad, ASU signee Kodi Justice and Weber State signee, Ryan Richardson. Led by the elite play of these two, the Mustangs have score more than 80 points in 11 of their 30 games this season. That is not normal.
One team that has been able to weather the storm of Dobson’s relentless offensive attack, was the Hamilton Huskies. They knocked off Dobson at Dobson back in early December in an exciting game that was decided by one point. Sticking with the theme, all things run through their senior point guard, Zachary Evans who is second on the team in scoring and their leader in assists and steals. Hamilton has had a chip on their shoulders all year. It’s almost been like a ‘well lets just wait and see’ type of demeanor from those who follow high school hoops but they have answered the call all season. Impressive wins on their resume include Red Mountain twice, at Highland, home against Perry and as mentioned, at Dobson. I like the mental toughness of this team and whom ever knocks them out if they don’t win it all, is in for a huge battle. I think that will be the case when that take on Dobson.
Thanks for reading as my nerd-ism of basketball really comes out in full force in February and March!