Video: 13-year old girl dunksCardinal Newman's (SC) Ashlyn Watkins is only 13-years old but that doesn't stop her from dunking a basketball.
There's nothing like major intersectional tournaments to separate the deserving from the overrated, and the biggest of all those tournaments is next week in Arizona.
The Nike TOC, played in Gilbert (just south of Phoenix), remains the standard-bearer for those elite events, with six of the Top 10 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard set to play, and a total of 10 in these rankings ready to enjoy the balmy winter weather in the Valley of the Sun. The tournament starts Dec. 19 and runs through four grueling days before a champion is crowned — and some very good teams will go 1-3 and even 0-4.
Of course, one reason teams are ranked at this point in the season is the fact that they're playing in the TOC. Strength of schedule is a key component of the Xcellent 25 system, and obviously any team that wins the Nike TOC will have marched through a gauntlet of elite talent to claim the trophy.
One thing to remember, though: Teams that are familiar with the TOC, and the high level of competition in Arizona, do have an advantage. They know just how prepared they must be every game, and how a two-minute lapse in concentration can be enough to lose a game, while newcomers — such as North Little Rock — have to absorb that harsh reality on the fly.
So if you're in the Phoenix area next week, take a few hours and check out one of the games in Joe Smith Division — the odds are pretty high you'll get to see one, if not two, of the best teams in the nation sort out on the court exactly who should be ranked where.
(Note: Teams that wish to be recognized either locally or nationally should make sure their information – schedule, results, roster, coach, etc. – is up to date on MaxPreps. If you have any issues, please contact email@example.com.)
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (Last week 1) Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 8-0
Even though Stewarts Creek is unbeaten, its schedule hasn't been that tough — but Friday's road game for Riverdale might bring back memories of last year, when the favorites barely survived in a 57-50 win. Tennessee is full of land mines, and Stewarts Creek is one of them.2. (2) St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.), 5-0
St. Mary's is slowly ramping up the degree of difficulty in its schedule, getting ready for the Nike TOC, which starts Dec. 19. Central of Fresno is next, and the two losses (against six wins) are to quality teams.3. (3) St. John's (Washington, D.C.), 3-0
St. John's took care of No. 18 Baldwin 63-41, but has league rival Good Counsel (4-1 with the only loss coming to Pennsylvania power Archbishop Wood) up next. And then, the top bracket of the Nike TOC.4. (4) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 4-0
McClatchy is another one of NorCal's best — which have been the staple in Mitty's schedule so far — and that's next up. But like the three teams ahead of Mitty in the rankings, it's off to the Nike TOC after that.5. (5) Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), 3-0
Christ the King owns this spot thanks to a win over No. 6 Paul VI, but when No. 15 Long Island Lutheran comes to New York City Saturday, it will be another serious test.6. (6) Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), 5-1
After unceremoniously dumping previously ranked Incarnate Word of Missouri, 65-47, and slipping past No. 15 Long Island Lutheran 58-54, Paul VI now probably won't be tested until 2018.7. (7) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.), 8-1
Hamilton Heights stays local until after Christmas, when the Title IX Holiday Classic — another one of those elite tournaments — shows up on the schedule.8. (8) Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.), 5-1
Like five other residents in the Xcellent 25 Top 10, Riverdale Baptist will head for Arizona for the Nike TOC. The weather will be good, and the basketball even better. 9. (11) North Little Rock (Ark.), 6-0
North Little Rock was concerned about host Fayetteville in the Bulldog Classic, but Central upset Fayetteville in the semis and North Little Rock won the title game by 28. And, you guessed it, the Nike TOC looms.10. (13) DeSoto (Texas), 14-0
Though Texas has only one representative in the Xcellent 25 at this point, don't let that fool you: There are many good players, and many good teams. DeSoto gets Cedar Hill, one of those good teams, later this week, and then will play in Duncanville's Sandra Meadows Classic after Christmas.11. (12) Mercer County (Harrodsburg, Ky.), 2-1
This ranking was looking precarious until Mercer came storming back at home to edge No. 21 Sacred Heart 65-63 – and in fact, move up a spot. Mercer County will go to the Naples Holiday Shootout after Christmas.12. (17) Winter Haven (Fla.), 7-0
Winter Haven jumps five spots thanks to three impressive wins — over North Augusta, St. Frances and New Hope Academy — and will return to Florida to take on some of that state's best teams.13. (16) Carmel (Ind.), 13-0
Carmel gets another test Friday when it travels to 11-0 North Central for a game that should have Indiana hoops' fans in a frenzy. If you like comparative scores, though, go with Carmel: No. 13 has 37-point win over Noblesville, and North Central only won by 21.14. (15) Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.), 6-0
Hopkins doesn't get much of an opportunity to face out-of-state teams due to Minnesota's restrictive travel policy, but managed to schedule and beat one of Iowa's best, Iowa City West.15. (NR) Long Island Lutheran (Brookville, N.Y.), 2-1
There's no shame in losing to No. 6 Paul VI, especially after beating No. 20 Princess Anne. But it doesn't get any easier — the first-round opponent in the Title IX Holiday Classic will be No. 2 St. Mary's.16. (20) Southeast Raleigh (Raleigh, N.C.), 8-0
The four-spot jump resulted from two impressive wins at the She Got Game Classic — the first over New Hope and the second over New York City power St. Francis Prep. The strong John Wall Invitational is on tap after Christmas.17. (22) Hoover (Ala.), 10-0
Hoover isn't backing down, though it doesn't travel far. This week's menu: Wenonah (7-2 and traditionally strong) and St. Francis of Georgia (5-1 and very talented) in Atlanta.18. (14) Baldwin (N.Y.), 0-1
Baldwin opened the season with a major challenge — No. 3 St. John's — and got waxed. But schedule limitations are one reason Baldwin got a late start, and it's hard to penalize a team too much for losing to a more highly ranked opponent.19. (19) Franklin (Somerset, N.J.), 0-0
Speaking of opening the season, Franklin hasn't done so yet. Move along, please — nothing to see here.20. (9) Princess Anne (Virginia Beach, Va.), 6-1
After losing to No. 15 Long Island Lutheran by three, 47-44, Princess Anne tumbles to No. 20 — but with a strong showing at the upcoming Ronald Curry/Boo Williams Christmas Classic, a bounce back up is certainly possible. 21. (21) Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.), 4-1
Sacred Heart let a lead slip away in a two-point loss to No. 11 Mercer County, but SHA can make up for that stumble with three wins at the Nike TOC.23. (24) Centennial (Las Vegas), 5-0
Centennial can now stake a serious claim to the Oregon state title after beating two of that state's best — Oregon City and previous No. 25 Southridge — at the 'Iolani Classic. The Nike TOC is the next challenge.23. (23) Mesquite (Gilbert, Ariz.), 10-0
Some may question Mesquite's strength of schedule, but after playing in the top bracket of the Nike TOC, that complaint will be put aside. However, being in the prestigious Joe Smith Division and winning games there are two entirely different species of cactus.24. (NR) Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.), 4-0
Yet another DMV school is heard from, as Bishop McNamara beat St. Frances Academy and Miami Country Day at the She Got Game Classic to push its way into the Xcellent 25. Unbeaten Bishop Ireton, however, could make the stay brief with an upset win on Friday.25. (NR) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 4-0
Even though Mater Dei will play in the second best division of the Nike TOC, the perennial power has emerged as SoCal's best – so far. There's a long way to go, and a lot of good teams, between now and the final rankings.Dropped Out:
No. 10 Incarnate Word, No. 18 Rock Creek, No. 25 Southridge