Something to ponder over the holiday break…”Who’s going to stop Shadow Mountain High School in its unrelenting march to the boys’ 4A state basketball championship?”
Actually, time would probably be better spent focusing on New Year resolutions. The answer is “no one.”
The east Phoenix school has already rolled over 10 in-state programs without getting much of a challenge from any of them, scoring 100 points or more six times and averaging 97 points a game. All of those high-scoring games have relied on a pressing defense that provides plenty of points off turnovers – a system that enables the Matadors to compensate for a lack of size that would otherwise let them play more of a half-court game. Proof of its effectiveness can be found in the fact that Shadow Mountain leads the country in steals.
That speed and quickness used to press teams is sparked by a guard tandem that has gained national attention. Not only are Jovan Blacksher and Jaelen House directing the offense with sleight-of-hand passes that find open teammates for baskets under the bucket — Blacksher dishes out 6.4 assists per game and House averages 5.8 assists — but they also lead the squad in scoring. House averages 19.6 points per game and Blacksher adds 17 per outing.
And, thanks to a few key transfers into the program this season, the guards have a big front line that can take their assists and turn them into points. Immanuel Allen, a 6’5″ senior post, is averaging 16 points a game, 6’4″ Antonio Reeves follows with 14 points a game, and Shemar Morrow rounds out the double-digit scorers with 13.3 points a game.
Head coach Mike Bibby basically runs a rotation of six players that also includes 6’5″ Jalen Williams, who averages eight points. That gives Bibby a starting five that averages in double figures, an extremely difficult job for any defense.
And thanks to the many lopsided scores, Bibby is also able to get plenty of playing time for his bench since the starters seldom see much action in the fourth quarter.
Paradise Valley High School and Pinnacle High were the only two teams that came within arm’s length of a win so far this season, forcing Bibby to stay with his rotation for those games. PV lost by 13 and held Shadow Mountain to 79 points, while Pinnacle came within 15 at 73-58.
The only teams that gave the Matadors a scare were from California. Shadow Mountain beat Chino Hills, 85-81, in the Hoophall West tournament at Chaparral High School earlier this season, and then went into overtime to defeat perennial power Sierra Canyon, 80-78, in the same event.
Looking ahead to the final nine games on the regular-season schedule, there are only a couple of dates that could trip the Matadors up on the way to the playoffs, but neither will likely be little more than a small speed bump to offer a little competition.
Shadow Mountain plays Buckeye Union High School, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Southwest Conference, on Feb. 1. The Hawks are 11-0 against Arizona teams, but haven’t fared as well playing those from out-of-state. That’s not a vote of confidence against a nationally-ranked team like Shadow Mountain.
And the final game on the schedule is against Cactus Shadows High School, which is 10-1 and ranked No. 4 in the Skyline Conference. Their one loss, however, was to the Matadors. Cactus Shadows lost that one by 32 points — which gives little hope of an upset this time.
So that gets the Matadors through the regular season undefeated, and likely through the state tournament the same way. But the downside to that is a lack of quality competition that would prepare them for their late-March trip to New York, where they are expected to play again this year in the Dick’s Sporting Goods national high school tournament.
Last year they lost in the first round to Florida’s Montverde High, managing to put up just 61 points and losing by 13. Montverde went on to play for the championship.
But the team that Bibby will take to the Big Apple this season will be a lot harder to eliminate that early. Last year, the Matadors had to play without House, who was sitting out a one-game suspension, the penalty for being ejected in the state championship game against Salpointe Catholic.
In fact, they could avoid elimination altogether. A national title would be an impressive addition to the trophy case.
And a great way to shine the national spotlight on Arizona.