For most of the top teams in the country, the Christmas break is hardly a break at all. In fact, the only time there's more pressure is during the run for a state title, and usually then there are several days between games.
During the holidays, though, the tournaments run before Christmas and after Christmas, and at elite events like the Nike TOC, each one of the four games is a war. So not only must teams play well, they have to play well day after day after day, with the slightest lapse in attention an invitation to disaster.
Windward (Los Angeles), for example, had a 13-point third quarter lead over Miami Country Day (Miami) in the championship game of the Clare Droesch bracket (the top of the Nike TOC) — but lost focus and eventually lost the game by one.
St. John's (Washington, D.C.), last week's No. 1 in the MaxPreps Top 25 high school girls basketball rankings, also faded late against Miami Country Day and dropped down to No. 5, while league rival Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.) laying waste to the Crescom Holiday Invitational to claim the top spot.
But this week's action is just as pivotal, and there are major tournaments all over the map — which means that next week's rankings will undergo another shakeup as most of the top teams decide who's better on the court, rather than sitting by the fire watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas."
Rising to the challenge, though, is what athletics — and life, for that matter — is all about, and the holidays are certainly a challenge. But a fun one, nonetheless, for fans, coaches and players.
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MaxPreps Top 25 national high school girls basketball rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (Last week 2) Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.), 9-0
After dominating the Crescom Holiday Invitational — winning by an average margin of 36.5 points, including a 41-point win over previous No. 7 Riverdale — McNamara moves on to the Title IX Classic in D.C. This could be a serious challenge, with No. 9 National Christian and No. 14 Roland Park, plus regional powers Neumann Goretti, Pickerington Central and National Christian (which beat No. 15 Christ the King), so McNamara's reign could be brief.
Africentric doesn't have as many options as other top teams, but the schedule is difficult enough that if Ohio's best runs the table, it will be in the conversation for the No. 1 spot.
It should be "Miracle" Country Day as Maria Alvarez's
falling-down three-pointer — plus the foul — moved MCD into the Nike TOC finals, where it overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to take the lead over Windward with three seconds left. The loss to Tampa Bay Tech, though, could come back to haunt MCD.
The margin between No. 3 Windward and No. 4 St. John's is paper-thin, as both are very good teams with a great player running the show. But Windward had tougher opposition at the Nike TOC and has a marginally more difficult schedule ahead.
Oddly, St. John's is playing just one game at the Title IX Classic, and not even against a national-level opponent, but St. John's did go 3-1 at the Nike TOC (losing to No. 3 Miami Country Day). And there are plenty of tests to come when the calendar flips to 2019.
Wayne Memorial could be a challenge Saturday, and two quality Illinois teams — Bolingbrook and once-ranked Benet — will show up on the schedule shortly after.
Hamilton Heights' only loss was by three to No. 1 Bishop McNamara but the schedule the rest of the way — except for the unknown opponents in the Classic in the Country — is soft enough to drop the Tennessee power a spot even without a loss.
Oh, what might have been. New Hope had a three-point lead over No. 3 Miami Country Day with five seconds left, but lost on one of the most improbable shots you'll ever see (check it out on YouTube). But New Hope rebounded to knock off No. 15 Christ the King and jump into the Top 10.
We'll find out just how good National Christian is this week at the Title IX Classic, as No. 1 Bishop McNamara and No. 14 Roland Park are just two of the several quality teams in the same bracket. But the 10-point loss to Southeast Raleigh already counts as a black mark.
Beaver Dam is making the trip to the Naples Holiday Shootout, and draws No. 25 Plant in the first round. And lurking on the other side of the bracket is No. 3 Miami Country Day, so much will be revealed in Florida.
A depressing first-round loss to unranked Salesian dropped Centennial into the loser's bracket at the Nike TOC, and out of the top five. But redemption is available on Jan. 5, when No. 4 Windward appears on the schedule.
After a slow start, St. Frances kicks it into gear at the John Wall Invitational. No. 18 Riverdale Baptist will be there, as will North Carolina unbeatens E.E. Smith, Heritage and Leesville Road. Something has to give …
The Pink and White Classic in Missouri could have put small-school power Strafford and Northside in the same bracket, but chose not to — depriving both teams of a chance to show just how good they really are.
Roland Park's path at the Title IX Classic is the most difficult of the three ranked teams that are playing. First up is unbeaten Pickerington Central, and with a win, No. 9 National Christian is the likely opponent. Get past NCA, and No. 1 Bishop McNamara should await in the finals.
Not many four-loss teams make the Xcellent 25, especially in December, but Christ the King's four losses are to No. 4 Windward, No. 5 St. John's, No. 8 New Hope and No. 9 National Christian. Any team that wants to brag about its tough schedule should consider Christ the King's carefully before saying a word.
Mansfield Timberview will play in the 32-team Mansfield Spring Creek Barbecue Invitational, and before No. 16 can even get to the quarterfinals, its kryptonite, Canyon, will likely appear on the other side of the scorer's table.
Glen Oak is 7-2, and might put up a fight on Friday, but Newark's biggest challenge won't be until Jan. 30, when No. 2 Africentric comes to town.
The loss to Grandview tumbled Riverdale Baptist to No. 18, and retaining a spot in next week's Xcellent 25 will require a good showing at the John Wall Invitational.
After a 41-point smackdown at the hands of No. 1 Bishop McNamara, Riverdale draws unbeaten Webster County of Kentucky on Friday and 12-4 Arlington County on Saturday. Given the relatively weak schedule the rest of the way, there's no margin for error.
Red Bank Regional is always a quality team, and usually pulls off at least one upset — and St. John-Vianney is hoping it isn't this Saturday. No. 5 St. John's shows up on the schedule Jan. 6.
Sierra Canyon just keeps winning, and though the Tarkanian Classic didn't have the heft of the Nike TOC or the Crescom, wins over Whitney Young (Chicago) and Valor Christian (Highland Ranch, Colo.) were impressive enough to jump Southern California's second-best team one spot in the rankings.
After Grandview's solid showing at the Nike TOC, Regis Jesuit's 26-point win over its in-state rival looks even better — though the game against No. 8 New Hope on Jan. 18 will really tell the tale.
Mother McAuley jumps into the rankings on the basis of an unbeaten record, a win over Benet, and a spot in the always tough Montini Classic.
Yes, Hopkins is Minnesota's best. Sadly, we don't know just how good that actually is, as Hopkins isn't playing any elite out-of-state competition.
Though there are doubters in Florida, Plant has wins over Seffner Christian and Tampa Bay Tech (the only team to beat No. 3 Miami Country Day). The game against No. 10 Beaver Dam on Thursday will determine Plant's future in the national rankings.Dropped out:
No. 15 Ryle (Union, Ky.), No. 21 Southeast Raleigh (Raleigh, N.C.), No. 23 Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)