Video: Preseason Top 25 girls basketball rankings
Perennial New York City powerhouse begins the season on top.
Call them the three T's — talent, tradition and a tough schedule. Together, they spell "Xcellent 25."
OK, that's a failing grade in English class, but for those schools that want to get some national recognition, putting those three T's together is best way to get there.
For most high school teams, having one future college player (at pretty much any level), is enough to lay the foundation for a pretty good season. Having a Division I player stokes dreams of a league title, and anything more than that bodes well for postseason success.
But here at Xcellent 25 World Headquarters — all right, my desk — teams up for consideration should begin with at least one Power 5-level player and build from there. Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.)
, this year's No. 1, has multiple players bound for Power 5 schools, plus a handful headed for Division I.
Then there is 6-foot-4 junior Natalija Marshall
, a Top 25 talent in the Class of 2020 with USA Basketball experience under her belt.
On the bench is head coach Bob Mackey, who has been with the program since 1991 and led the Royals to multiple national championships.
But why tradition? History suggests that it's hard for teams new to the national stage to deal with the game-in, game-out pressure of preserving that spot in the Xcellent 25. After all, every underdog can make its season by knocking someone out of the rankings, and those rivalry games once league play starts are always potential land mines.
Once again, Christ the King carries the torch as the New York City school has always borne the burden of being the team everyone wants to beat — and over the past three decades, has seldom blinked.
Finally, it's the schedule. Some teams are restricted by state associations and can't travel, or can't play in events around Christmas, or don't have enough freed-up games to get to a big tournament. And then there's the money factor — it costs five figures to take a big trip, and that's a lot of bake sales.
Still, teams with dreams of a national ranking need to make every effort they can within the limitations they face to play as many elite teams as possible. Making the trek to one of the top-shelf tournaments — the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona, the Title IX Classic in D.C., Naples Holiday Shootout in Florida, and others — is the best way to get noticed. Barring that, playing the best from neighboring states will work, too.
Of course, playing at that level is one thing; winning games is quite another — and that's where the talent and tradition come in.
Xcellent 25 Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
Sue Bird. Tina Charles. Chamique Holdsclaw. Multiple national championships. As if Christ the King didn't have enough to live up to already, now it has the preseason No. 1 target on its back. But great depth and elite talent count for a lot, even though the schedule is daunting.
Circle Dec. 8 on your calendar, because that's when the Cadets take on No. 1 Christ the King at a neutral site. The winner can't just coast the rest of the way as St. John's, like Christ the King, is playing a minefield of a schedule. The two teams could also meet in the Nike TOC in Arizona a couple weeks later.
Behind the outstanding play of senior Charisma Osborne, Windward was the surprise winner of the California Open Division title a year ago and will be favored to repeat.
Yet another East Coast team with a brutal schedule. Bishop McNamara plays in the same league as St. John's and will play in two top-shelf tournaments. There's no question about the talent but it will take more than a little luck to navigate this schedule.
The roster is always chock full of Power 5 and Division I players and this year is no exception. But a more talented roster lost at GEICO Nationals last year with a national title in its sights, so there are things to prove in Chattanooga.
Just don't mention Northwest Guilford around campus. Southeast Raleigh has lost just two games in two years, both to Northwest Guilford in state championship games, but still has enough arrows in the quiver to start the season No. 6. Southeast Raleigh is also playing in two major tournaments, so if that unbeaten season finally does come to pass, it could result in both a North Carolina and national championship.
Michigan girls basketball flies so far under the radar it barely gets above sea level, but Edison Academy's talented roster and willingness to travel (as much as the state will allow) could change that perception. With No. 8 Africentric and No. 21 Benet Academy both on the schedule, Edison will have at least two chances to prove itself on the national stage.
Africentric is making every effort to upgrade its schedule this year. The top teams in Ohio — traditionally a solid state for girls basketball — are on the schedule, as well as No. 7 Edison Academy and No. 9 Long Island Lutheran.
This is where strength of schedule really comes into play. Yes, Long Island Lutheran had seven losses last year, but only one team outside of California played a tougher schedule — and the competition might be just as strong this year. The odds of Long Island Lutheran finishing with fewer than five losses isn't great, but if this group of top-shelf players can make that happen, No. 9 is probably too low.
As in Texas, the default preseason No. 1 is always the same — and there's no reason to expect Centennial to drop off. As always, the schedule is difficult and spiced with travel, but as always, the talent is impressive and the intensity off the charts.
Eventually, Murfreesboro will run out of Hayes sisters and Riverdale may revert to being just another good high school basketball team — but that may take a while. There are three Hayes sisters on the roster this year, and not coincidentally, here's Riverdale in the preseason top 15.
Continuing a string of teams with lots of 2017-18 losses, the reasons for Miami Country Day's lofty position are twofold: Lots of returning talent, and an intersectional schedule that will test that talent early and often.
This is a first. Never before has a team that finished below .500 the year before made the preseason Xcellent 25, but New Hope brings back three Division I players from ACLs, and has added a ton of quality to the roster as well. Don't forget that schedule, which will quickly show whether New Hope really deserves this ranking.
Wisconsin makes it hard for its teams to travel, so Beaver Dam won't have many chances to prove itself against elite opposition. But the defending Division 2 state champs will get to Chicago to take on No. 21 Benet Academy, and a win there would make a major statement.
Arkansas, like Michigan, doesn't get the recognition it deserves for high-quality girls basketball, but year in and year out, the good teams rack up wins against out-of-staters and then beat each other up when they get back home. Northside looks to be the best of the usual strong group, but one injury could change everything.
Mansfield Timberview is like a Cinderalla team in the NCAA men's tournament: No superstars destined for glory at the next level but plenty of senior stars who play well together. And with an early win over No. 19 Duncanville, a perennial Texas power, the Xcellent 25 beckons.
Mater Dei is one of the traditional powers in girls basketball, not just in California but across the nation. And in a down year for the Golden State, the door is open for Kevin Kiernan and company to return to the glory days.
Last year, Southridge traveled to Hawaii and picked up its only loss (to last year's No. 9, Centennial). This year, the big trip is to the Nike TOC, where the top two teams in the nation, among others, will be in the same bracket. Southridge will be an underdog, granted, but most of the team that won the Oregon 6A title returns.
They get going quickly in Texas and Duncanville has already played eight games — and though one was a loss to No. 16 Mansfield Timberview, another was a win over young and talented DeSoto.
St. Frances lost a lot to graduation but with powerful Angel Reese roaming the paint, that difficult schedule will be a lot more manageable. And given the caliber of the opposition, another four-loss season would most likely keep St. Frances in the Xcellent 25.
Illinois is justifiably known for its strong girls basketball and Benet Academy looks to be the best of another pretty solid bunch. With preseason games against No. 7 Edison Academy and No. 18 Beaver Dam, Benet will be battle-tested by the time the always competitive postseason begins.
Incarnate Word is one of those programs that never seems to fall too far — and this year, IWA appears to be set to take a leap forward. We'll find out early, though, as Incarnate Word heads to Hawaii, where it will be joined in the bracket by two strong teams from California, Pinewood and Clovis West.
It's hard to pick against elite talent and that's why St. Francis is favored in Georgia. But it must be said that St. Francis has had lots of talent for the past several years and has never quite put it all together. Maybe this year.
St. John-Vianney has managed to win a record seven state Tournament of Champion titles (the TOC matches all the state division winners) and with four Division I players, is favored to make it eight.
Like so many Midwest states, Minnesota limits travel opportunities, so perennial power Hopkins spends most of the season beating up on neighbors. Still, the roster is loaded and it's not the school's fault that the players can't prove how good they really are.