It's that time of year again.
The calendar has turned over, and the big holiday events are complete, so teams ranked in the MaxPreps Top 25 girls basketball rankings — with their cadre of FBS and Power 5 athletes — go back home to play overmatched opponents to fulfill their obligations to their leagues and conferences.
But inevitably, one (or more) of those "overmatched" teams jumps up and stuns a nationally ranked, and much more talented, opponent, setting off a wild celebration in one half of the gym, and creating a cone of silence in the other. So how does that happen? Why are these upsets more likely in league play than at weekend showcases?
There's an old adage about "familiarity" and what it breeds, but in these cases, it's not "contempt," but rather "belief." After all, these girls have likely been playing with and against each other since elementary school, and though obviously the D-I signees have proven themselves better, the less heralded athletes can remember that game back in middle school when their team caught the star on a bad night and got a surprising win, or the summer game when all their shots were falling and it was close the whole way.
So at some point or another, the ranked teams starts out pretty slowly, missing shots or lacking focus or both, and the local rival hangs in there. Then it's the third quarter and it's an eight-point game when there's a particularly horrible call benefitting the underdog. The national power gets upset, somebody banks in a three, and now it's a two-point game with three minutes left.
And the game shifts dramatically, because all the pressure is now on the stars. They can't lose, after all, because they're supposed to be so good, while the girls on the other team believe middle school history will repeat itself – and you know, sometimes it does.
The big tournaments are fun, and postseason playoffs are a challenge, but often there's no bigger test for a team than a Tuesday night game against a crosstown rival that suddenly can't miss a three. And those are the moments that make high school sports special.
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MaxPreps Top 25 national high school girls basketball rankings presented by the Army National Guard
The No. 1 ranking didn't faze Bishop McNamara at all, as the team ran through Title IX Invitational and knocked off No. 11 Roland Park by 11 in the final. There's another challenge waiting Sunday, though, as unbeaten Manchester Township shows up on the schedule.
By winning its second major national tournament — the first was the Nike TOC in Arizona and last week it was the Naples Holiday Shootout in Florida — Miami Country Day jumps past Africentric into the No. 2 spot, despite that one-point loss to Tampa Bay Tech.
Africentric keeps winning, and has a solid regional schedule, but drops back one spot not because the Ohio school stumbled, but rather because Miami Country Day did so well. And the next big challenge isn't until later in the month.
Windward took a Christmas break after losing in the finals of the Nike TOC, but will get right back into it against No. 9 Centennial on Saturday at Mater Dei in Santa Ana. And No. 16 Sierra Canyon awaits Jan. 15.
Though Georgetown Visitation has only lost once, it's not the toughest game for St. John's this week — No. 18 St. John-Vianney is Sunday's opponent at the Blue Star Showcase.
Edison actually fields two varsity teams, rather than a varsity and a junior varsity, so sorting out which one is playing where is always a challenge. Research reveals, however, that the No. 6 in the nation team will play Illinois stalwarts Bolingbrook and Benet this weekend.
As it turns out, Hamilton Heights is not playing in the Classic in the Country, so its strength of schedule will not be as strong as expected. Still, 13-1 Houston is Saturday's opponent, and that should be a test.
New Hope took care of business at the Boo Williams event in Virginia last week, and will get struggling, but still talented, Long Island Lutheran on Sunday in New York. New Hope is relatively new to the national scene, but one way to get recognition is to keep playing good teams — and that's exactly what the Maryland school does.
Centennial romped in a Las Vegas tournament, and though the margins of victory may not indicate it, the competition wasn't that bad. No. 4 Windward, Saturday's opponent in Southern California, is definitely a step up, however.
Beaver Dam slipped past previous No. 25 Plant in the Naples Holiday Shootout, but then lost to No. 2 Miami Country Day by nine in the championship game. Now it's back to Wisconsin, where the sailing should be very smooth.
Usually teams don't jump in the rankings after a loss, but Roland Park beat previous No. 9 National Christian Academy by six, which offsets the expected loss to No. 1 Bishop McNamara.
The best in Texas just keeps winning, and will settle into league play rest of the way. That means the next serious challenge — barring an upset — will come in postseason.
Northside remains the best in Arkansas, but its chances to prove itself on the national scene didn't play out as expected (weather and odd bracketing intervened). Bryant, at 10-2, is Thursday's opponent, and it's on the road.
National Christian drops five spots after losing to No. 11 Roland Park, but avoided a more precipitous decline by knocking off the team many consider to be Pennsylvania's best, Neumann-Goretti.
Christ the King, like Windward, didn't play after Christmas, but draws two 8-2 teams — Ossining and Monsignor Scanlan — this weekend.
Sierra Canyon, inexplicably, was not in the same bracket as Oregon power Southridge in last week's Holiday Classic in Portland, meaning the next big test will be against No. 4 Windward on Jan. 15.
Mount Notre Dame jumps into the rankings thanks to an impressive win over one of Indiana's best, Bedford North Lawrence – and the only loss was to No. 3 Africentric, by five, in the season opener.
St. John-Vianney has not been tested yet, but Sunday in Philadelphia, New Jersey's top team will find out how good it really is when No. 5 St. John's shows up on the other side of the scorer's table.
There was a time when Riverdale and local rivals Oakland and Blackman were all nationally ranked, but in 2019, Riverdale has pulled away from the local pack. Still, neither Oakland nor Blackman will be intimidated when the teams play this week.
Regis Jesuit, which has played ambitious schedules in the past, hasn't done as much this year — except win all its games, of course. No. 9 New Hope, though, is the Jan. 18 opponent, so that will reveal quite a bit.
Maine West debuts in the rankings after 18 straight wins — one of them the only blemish on Milwaukee King's record. But Montini Catholic is Saturday's opponent in the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase, and the perennial Illinois power is 13-2.
Thanks to a one-point win over previous No. 12 St. Frances Academy in the championship game of the John Wall Invitational, Heritage claims a spot in the Top 25. Only in-state competition remains, though, so it may be hard for Heritage to rise much higher.
Pinewood knocked off Missouri's best, Incarnate Word, in Hawaii in early December, and rolled through the top bracket in the 148-team West Coast Jamboree against the best in Northern California last week — and that's a good enough resume for a No. 23 ranking.
Eventually, local powers Wayzata and Eden Prairie will show up on the league schedule, but until then, the biggest question for Hopkins will be whether the games go to running clock.
Germantown claims the No. 25 spot thanks to that unbeaten record and this week's trip to Louisiana for the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic. And then No. 2 Miami Country Day will be the Jan. 18 opponent, so there's work to do to retain this ranking.Dropped out:
No. 12 St. Frances Academy (Baltimore), No. 17 Newark (Ohio), No. 18 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.), No. 23 Mother McAuley (Chicago), No. 25 Plant (Tampa, Fla.)