FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The strongest field of teams in the 38th annual City of Palms Classic has only two teams remaining -- No. 24 Milton (Ga.) and No. 2 Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick and the two will battle in the championship on ESPNU at 9:30 p.m. ET.
This is the 10th time St. Patrick has been to the City of Palms Classic and the Celtics are looking to capture their first championship, despite coming in second five times before, which is a remarkable feat in itself. They advanced to this game by beating a scrappy Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei (No. 41) squad loaded with high-level underclassmen in the semifinals.
St. Patrick relies on the 1-2 scoring punch of Kentucky signee Michael Gilchrist, the No. 1 SF in the country, and Western Kentucky signee Derrick Gordon, as well as its size advantage inside. Gilchrist and Gordon are averaging 50 points per game combined throughout the tournament, while Gilchrist (6-foot-7), Terrific 25 PF Austin Colbert (6-9) and freshman C Dakari Johnson (6-10) are forces underneath the basket.
The primary way the Celtics score their points is in transition, particularly after a missed bucket, but they can also beat their opponent in the half-court set. They love to go inside to Gilchrist, Colbert or Johnson, but the Celtics also have an X factor in SG Chris Martin. He can break open a game with his 3-point shooting and because he is not as big of a prospect as the rest of his teammates, he is often overlooked. If Milton does so, he will make it pay.
Milton pulled off a major upset against No. 15 Winter Park (Fla.) and Austin Rivers, the No. 1 player in the country, in order to make it to the championship game. This team has three high-major recruits that have played together in more than 100 games throughout AAU (Southern Kings) and high school. Georgia Tech signee Julian Royal led the way with 20 points versus Winter Park, but it was Vanderbilt signee Dai-Jon Parker's defense on Rivers and Ohio State signee Shannon Scott's timely buckets and assists that put Winter Park away.
Milton's balance and team chemistry is a dangerous combination that St. Patrick must prepare for. Rounding out the starting five are Furman signee Jordan Loyd and Super 60 SF Evan Nolte, who also played on the Southern Kings. Nolte is considered to be the No. 50 player overall in the 2012 class. Any player could step, like Scott did versus Winter Park, because the team is so balanced, but it's important someone does.
To stop St. Patrick, Milton must get back in defensive transition, not allow the Celtics to dominate the boards and work to get good looks on offense.
The toughest task for Milton will be defending the post, while St. Patrick must figure out who is going to cover Scott.
Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting. He is also one the voters for the McDonald's All-American Game and Gatorade Player of the Year. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.