The trees will start falling this week.
The Nike TOC and the Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational, to name just two premier events, will bring together elite teams from all over the country, and naturally, will immediately start beating each other.
The Nike TOC is especially strong, with seven of the 16 teams in the top bracket in the Top 25 High School Goys Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard. In addition, four other teams in that bracket were ranked at one point, and more to the point, five of the teams in the Top 10 will sort it out on the court Wednesday through Saturday.
Not all teams have the resources or the freedom to participate in these kinds of events, but those that do are the ones that find themselves in the national rankings. Those teams that can play at this level but choose not to will not be treated as kindly, but the real questions are the schools that cannot make such big trips.
The first obstacle, of course, is financial. It's a five-figure trip to Phoenix or South Carolina, and it's way too easy for such an adventure to ring up $20,000 in expenses — and not every team has access to that kind of money.
State rules also are an issue, as more than a few states are much more focused on what happens inside their borders than they are about interstate competition, and thus either prohibit or make it very difficult to travel.
Given this variability, trying to tease out who's really No. 1 — or who's really No. 15 — is always part subjective and part objective, but there's no better measure than head-to-head on a neutral court, which is just what the major tournaments supply.
And that's why the teams that really want to know how good they are make those trips.
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MaxPreps Top 25 national high school girls basketball rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (Last week 1) St. John's (Washington, D.C.), 8-0
St. John's traditionally plays one of the toughest schedules in the country, and even though the Nike TOC first-round opponent is a relatively unknown Oregon team, Benson Tech does return everyone from a team that played in the 6A state title game. And it gets tougher after that — a lot tougher.
Bishop McNamara beat No. 19 New Hope last week and moves on to the Crescom Bank Holiday Invitational this week, where Georgia power St. Francis, No. 7 Riverdale and No. 21 Southeast Raleigh lurk in the bracket.
After winning its first two games last week by a combined score of 160-12, Africentric needed all of its talent to get past No. 5 Edison, 65-60. Eastmoor might provide a bit of a challenge Friday.
Centennial jumps to No. 4 because of what might happen at the Nike TOC. Nevada's best starts with Northern California stalwart Salesian, and if form holds, will get No. 19 New Hope and No. 1 St. John's in the next two games. Win those, and this ranking will be too low.
Edison handled Whitney Young, which has only lost once, but couldn't get past No. 3 Africentric. And even though Detroit Country Day is off to a slow start, Saturday's matchup will not be a gimme.
Hamilton Heights slipped past Montverde by two at home, and faces 11-1 Castle in Indiana on Saturday. Still, these games are not at the level of those in the Crescom or Nike TOC.
Riverdale faces its toughest challenge of the year at the Crescom Holiday Invitational, but luckily won't have to face either of the other ranked teams (No. 2 Bishop McNamara and No. 21 Southeast Raleigh) until the finals.
The defending California Open Division champion will get tested right away at the Nike TOC, drawing No. 10 Riverdale Baptist in the first round. A win there could bring a matchup with powerhouse Canadian program Crestwood Prep.
Unbeaten Pallotti should be a reasonable challenge Friday, but the bigger one will be the Title IX Invitational after Christmas.
Riverdale Baptist vaults into the rankings by beating previous No. 3 Southeast Raleigh, and also because the Maryland team is playing in the top bracket of the Nike TOC. Strength of schedule matters …
Christ the King righted the ship after a tough opening weekend — losing to No. 1 St. John's and No. 9 National Christian — and can get back in the mix for No. 1 at the Nike TOC. But looming in the second round is No. 23 Archbishop Mitty.
The next test looks to be unbeaten Plant of Florida after Christmas, but Beaver Dam's strength of schedule is such that Wisconsin's best could win the rest of its games and still drop in the rankings.
After losing a chance to play Bishop Miege due to weather, Northside's next chance to show on the national stage will be at the Pink & White Lady Classic after Christmas — but it's a far cry from the Nike TOC.
St. Frances travels to North Carolina after Christmas and gets a shot at No. 10 Riverdale Baptist — which is also from Maryland. But No. 18 Roland Park is in the same league as St. Frances, so there are plenty of land mines ahead.
Ryle will play in the all-Kentucky Traditional Bank Holiday Classic starting Thursday, and will likely face unbeaten Male in the first of two games Saturday.
Burleson will be the opponent Friday, but Mansfield Timberview should have little trouble racking up another win. But things are never easy in Texas, as it's a long season with plenty of potential potholes.
Unlike most of the teams in the Xcellent 25, Newark is taking it relatively easy during the holidays. But there are plenty of challenges ahead come the new year.
After rolling through the She Got Game Classic this past weekend, Roland Park will take a break until the Title IX tournament in D.C. after Christmas.
New Hope lost to No. 2 Bishop McNamara by 16, but since No. 2 is supposed to beat No. 19, the ranking slot doesn't change. New Hope, however, will start with Sanford of Delaware in the first round of the Nike TOC, and a stumble there will be punished.
St. John-Vianney has finally started playing but won't get any out-of-state tests until 2019. That said, New Jersey always has plenty of quality teams, so it won't necessarily be an easy ride until the calendar turns over.
Though Southeast Raleigh has two losses, one of them is to Westridge, which reclassifies some students when they enroll — meaning a sophomore transfer might become a freshman. For that reason, Westridge is not eligible for the Xcellent 25, and though the loss goes on Southeast Raleigh's record, it doesn't affect the ranking. The loss to now No. 10 Riverdale Baptist, however, definitely does.
Sierra Canyon is playing two out-of-state tournaments, and though neither are at the elite level, both are solid. First up is the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, where Sierra Canyon will likely run into once-beaten Chicago power Whitney Young.
Archbishop Mitty jumps into the rankings after three lopsided wins in California, and will have a chance to move up with a strong showing at the Nike TOC. But that's a lot easier said than done …
Hopkins routed a couple of South Dakota teams this past weekend, but 6-1 St. Michael-Alberville shows up on the schedule Friday.
Regis Jesuit should have a quiet holiday season, but a game against No. 19 New Hope in January will be a serious test.Dropped out:
No. 7 Long Island Lutheran (Brookville, N.Y.), No. 22 Incarnate Word (St. Louis).