Boys' basketball: Can Mater Dei run the table?
Now that Mater Dei has emerged unscathed from the prestigious City of Palms Classic, it might be time for the Monarchs to set their sights on something they have achieved only once in school history: an undefeated season.
Mater Dei (14-0), ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, has only two significant challenges remaining before the playoffs -- showcase games against Chicago Young on Jan. 19 in Springfield, Mass., and Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's Prep on Feb. 7 in the Nike Extravaganza.
"I think we're good but we have a lot of improvement to do," said Monarchs Coach Gary McKnight, whose 1985 team finished 29-0. "It's up to our guys. They're going to have to improve a lot and keep getting better because otherwise we could have some problems."
The playoffs could be a particularly big stumbling block.
McKnight said the Monarchs' slog through the Division I-AA playoffs could be especially tough because it's a stacked bracket that will likely include Riverside King, Compton Dominguez and Etiwanda -- all in the top seven in The Times' Southland rankings. In the Division I state playoffs, Mater Dei could face City Section powers Westchester and Fairfax.
"I would say at this point that with Division I, the way it is in CIF, you could have a bad night and not get through it," McKnight said. "It's going to be very difficult for any team."
The Monarchs have already defeated a pair of national powers in Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler and Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick during the City of Palms Classic before Christmas. McKnight said he was pleased with his team's ability to adjust to those teams' contrasting styles.
All five Monarchs starters are averaging in double figures scoring, with a different player seemingly stepping up every game. Guard Gary Franklin Jr. was the standout in the City of Palms Classic, scoring 25 points on nine-for-10 shooting during a 52-45 victory over St. Patrick in the championship.
The seven-point triumph was a rare close call in a season of blowouts; the Monarchs have won their games by an average of 31 points.
Mater Dei opens Trinity League play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Servite. McKnight cautioned that the Monarchs can't overlook their league rivals, especially Santa Margarita and vastly improved Orange Lutheran.
-- Ben Bolch