The almost mystical formula for putting together an elite high school girls basketball program relies on some tangibles — talent, coaching, experience — and the intangibles that make it so hard, in any sport, to have the postseason and preseason rankings align.
The intangibles for winning lots of games include luck (of all varieties, but most important, injury luck) and that elusive chemistry that can come and go in a heartbeat.
The formula for national rankings, however, has another crucial variable: strength of schedule.
Duncanville (Texas), for example, was 42-0 last season yet wasn't No.1, because the Pantherettes didn't play the same level of opposition as Riverdale of Tennessee, which wound up in the top spot.
That same issue has Duncanville starting the 2013-14 rankings at No. 6, and the reason there are five teams ahead of them is that all five not only have great talent, outstanding coaching and plenty of experience — they also all play tougher schedules and will travel out of state to face some very challenging opponents.
Shabazz of New Jersey, for example, will fly all the way across the country to play in the West Coast Jamboree's top bracket, which will include No. 2 Mater Dei and No. 21 St. Mary's of Stockton. If the Bulldogs can win that tournament, there's no doubt they'll be one of the best teams in the country.
Two other elite tournaments — the Nike TOC in Phoenix and the Naples Holiday Classic in Florida — will also have high-quality fields, and the winners of those events will definitely be in position to challenge for the national title. But then again, it's hard to be a national champion with more than one loss, and if a team like Duncanville or Bedford North Lawrence of Indiana runs through a lesser schedule unbeaten, then the final rankings become harder to sort out.
But for now, this is what we have. But the odds of the final Xcellent 25 bearing much resemblance to this are, we must confess, not that good.
MaxPreps 2013-14 Preseason Top 25 Girls Basketball Rankings Presented by the Army National Guard
1. Incarnate Word Academy (St. Louis) 32-0
The Red Knights return four starters from a state championship team, and add a 6-4 freshman center to a roster that already includes commits to Kansas State (6-3 Mckenna Treece
) and Iowa State (5-5 point guard Nakiah Bell
). And that doesn't even account for 6-1 junior wing Napheesa Collier
, who's looking at schools like UConn and Notre Dame. The schedule is loaded, but then again so is Incarnate Word.2. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 30-2
Usually a team that loses a player to Stanford will take a step back, but the perennially powerful Monarchs have four other starters back, including 6-3 junior Katie Lou Samuelson
, who might just be the next Elena Delle Donne. The schedule? Not only the Nike TOC but also the West Coast Jamboree with No. 4 Shabazz.3. Blackman (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) 26-5
The Blaze lost five times last season, four to national champion Riverdale, but return four starters and add a big-time piece in junior guard MeMe Jackson
. Sophomores Crystal Dangerfield
and Jazz Bond
are elite players as well, and after Blackman plays No. 1 Incarnate Word and travels to the Naples Holiday Classic, the Blaze should be ready for at least two (and maybe as many as five) games against No. 11 Riverdale.4. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) 33-1
Shabazz will travel to California, hoping to get a shot at No. 2 Mater Dei, and will also play a fair number of quality East Coast teams — and with four starters back the Bulldogs can compete with anyone. Six-one senior Zaire O'Neil
and 6-0 senior Daniyah Cliney
lead the way for what could be one of veteran coach Vanessa Watson's best teams.5. Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 29-4
The DMV has been flat loaded for the past few years, but this season, there's a bit of a dropoff — except at Paul VI. Four starters are back, including the powerhouse trio of Ariana Freeman
, Jonquanae Cole
and Jasmine Whitney
, so the Panthers should be able to survive the still-brutal Washington Catholic Athletic Conference as well as a trip to the Naples Holiday Classic.