Each year the Spalding Hoophall Classic (ESPNU, Monday, 10 a.m. ET), which begins Friday in Springfield, Mass., affords observers the chance to see some of the top-ranked teams in the nation in this prestigious prep basketball event. And having some of the top teams in the country also allows for some of the nation's top high school basketball players to match wits. This year's installment of the Hoophall Classic delivers the goods in each department, with the five teams ranked in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 competing in the event, including the top three teams in the country: No. 1 Mater Dei, No. 2 Oak Hill and No. 3 St. Benedict's.
This year's event will also have five of the top 10 players in the ESPNU 100, with Xavier Henry, the nation's No. 1 player, joined by No. 2 Derrick Favors, No. 4 DeMarcus Cousins, No. 8 Lance Stephenson and No. 10 Kenny Boynton. When the dust settles after the event, these games could go a long way toward altering the FAB 50 and individual player rankings in the ESPNU 100. Here are five matchups to watch:
Xavier Henry vs. Dominic Cheek
After a lengthy absence with a fractured cheekbone, the nation's top player, Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), made a strong move toward maintaining his lofty status by returning to action with a significant impact, scoring 25 points during his season debut last week. He will have a rather difficult test in top 15 prospect Dominic Cheek (Jersey City/St. Anthony), who is heading for Villanova. Henry has very good defensive abilities and loves to use his strength on the perimeter. Cheek, with his outstanding athleticism and high basketball IQ, will put Henry to the test.
Derrick Favors vs. Keith "Tiny" Gallon
A new Georgia Tech commit and the No. 2 player in the country, Derrick Favors (Atlanta/South), will need every once of his ability and talent to take on Keith Gallon (Mouth of Wilson, Va./Oak Hill), a big body in the post. However, Gallon has more than just girth on his side; the Oklahoma-bound big man has very nimble feet and soft hands, which makes him a terror in the paint. Gallon also has very good passing skills and a high basketball IQ, which has allowed him to ascend in the ESPNU 100 rankings as his numbers on the scale have descended. Favors will have to rely heavily on his quickness and athleticism to outduel the rapidly improving Gallon.
Ari Stewart (Marietta, Ga./Wheeler), a high-riser on the court bound for Wake Forest, has risen emphatically in the ESPNU 100 rankings. His electrifying athleticism and improved outside shooting touch are very impressive. In this event, he will pair with another player who possesses unbelievable athletic gifts in Texas commit Tristan Thompson (Newark, N.J./St. Benedict's), a top-three player in the Class of 2010. Both players have a tremendous amount of upside, and spectators should expect a number of above-the-rim, highlight-reel worthy plays in this contest.
Fans will get a treat when ESPNU Super 60 prospect Tennessee-bound Josh Selby (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) locks horns with Tony Chenault (Philadelphia/Neumann-Goretti) who will play at Wake Forest. In this classic matchup of contrasting styles, Selby will look to rely on his quickness; he creates scoring opportunities for himself and others. Chenault loves to use his impressive strength to overpower defenders on his way to the paint. Both point guards will have their hands full as they attempt to steer each other away from their respective comfort zones on the court.
Jordan, Whitney Young look to rise against Mater Dei
As the No. 1 team in the nation, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) takes its opponents' best shots on a nightly basis. With a team that features five players who have already committed to play at high majors -- led by the North Carolina-bound duo Travis and David Wear -- the Monarchs have passed every test they have faced thus far this season. Mater Dei will have to continue to play great basketball to leave Springfield with a win; it will face a very talented Whitney Young (Chicago) squad, which features a number of Division I prospects, including Marcus Jordan. With a strong performance, Jordan could ascend in the player rankings and help Whitney Young garner national praise as a team.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.