The Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament, held since 1961 in Frostburg, Md., has been labeled the one of the best Catholic basketball tournaments in the land by media members over the years.
This year's eight-team field opening Thursday adds credence to that statement.
No less than four of the top 30 ranked teams in the FAB 50 are entered, including two in the top 10: No. 9 Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), in its first Alhambra post-season event, and No. 10 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), in only its third ACIT showcase in mid-March.
The other ranked teams are No. 25. DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) and No. 30 Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.).
DeMatha is the defending champion and the most successful team in the previous 51 years with 20 titles -- 18 under National Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. DeMatha, Gonzaga and Paul VI are all members of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
The first round pairings on Thursday pit St. Benedict's vs. John Carroll (Bel Air, Md.); Gonzaga vs. Mt. St. Joseph (Baltimore); DeMatha vs. Benedictine (Richmond, Va.); and Paul VI vs. host Bishop Walsh (Cumberland, Md.).
The results could impact the FAB 50 rankings, especially in regards to St. Benedict's, which is also entered in the National High School Invitational starting March 29 in Bethesda, Md. If the Gray Bees win both events, they could make a major move up the rankings ladder.
The 31-1 record Gray Bees have only lost by one point to unbeaten FAB 50 No. 3-ranked St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.).
St. Anthony & State Titles Go Together
Rankings are fun, but winning state championships is the ultimate goal of just about every high school boys’ basketball team.
In New Jersey, that goal has been reached 27 times by St. Anthony of Jersey City, the same team that also happens to have the longest current win streak in the nation at 63 games.
The Friars claimed a state record 27th Non-Public B state championship last week and will play in the upcoming Tournament of Champions. The four-decade St. Anthony coach and National Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Hurley has been at the helm for 25 of the titles while winning 1,047 games and counting.
The 27 state titles for the Friars is third-most for any school in the land.
According to the ESPNHS national basketball records, Benedictine College Prep of Richmond, Va., claims 36 state titles -- 32 in the state Catholic Tournament and four in the recent Independent Schools League.
Wheeling Central Catholic (Wheeling, W.Va.) also has captured 31 state titles -- 21 in the old statewide Catholic Tournament and 10 in the current Secondary School Activities Commission tournament. The SSAC event is in its 99th year this weekend.
FAB 50 Spotlight Player of the Week
Jordon Granger, McCluer North (Florissant, Mo.)
This Auburn-bound standout finished his high school career with back-to-back state titles and was the leading player for a team that lost just once all season.
In the Class 5 state championship game, Granger scored 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 69-60 win over a Nixa (Mo.) squad that had won 30 games in a row. The 6-foot-7 power forward also had 25 points and 11 rebounds when the Stars won their district final 58-54 over McCluer (Florissant, Mo.).
The final two wins plus being a repeat state champion should move up the Stars as the final FAB 50 rankings come into focus. They went up to No. 35 this week.
FAB 50 Teams in States with no teams in the NCAA Tournament
Georgia may have no teams in this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, but the state is ensured of being strongly represented in the final FAB 50 of the season after both No. 7 Milton and No. 19 Columbia won state championships last weekend.
There are several other large states that have no teams in the NCAA tourney but who have multiple teams in the FAB 50. That list perhaps most surprisingly includes Illinois, which has No. 6 Simeon (Chicago) and No. 15 Proviso East (Maywood) in the FAB 50. Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Jersey are other states with two FAB 50 teams and zero in the NCAA tourney.
On the flip side of those states with no NCAA teams there is North Carolina. The Tar Heel State leads the nation with five in the NCAA tourney (North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, UNC-Asheville and Davidson) but has no teams in this week’s FAB 50.
Highest Ranked Newcomer:
No. 40 Jesuit (Portland, Ore.)
For the fourth year in a row, the Class 6A state championship belonged to the Crusaders as they defeated Lake Oswego 52-42 in the state finals last week.
Khyan Rayner scored a team-high 19 points while Jack Hackman and Xavier Coleman each scored 11 points in the history-making win. No other team in Oregon history had ever won four straight state titles before.
Jesuit, which ended the season with a 15-game winning streak and had an overall record of 26-2, lost its first game of the season to FAB 50 No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 52-46 in the title game of the Les Schwab tourney in Portland. The team’s only other loss was to arch-rival Central Catholic, a team the Crusaders also beat.
Jesuit winning a state title and climbing into the FAB 50 also helps the strength of schedule factor for Oak Hill if the Warriors are involved in a tough choice for the final No. 1 ranking with No. 2 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).