Prep basketball: Top 20 rankings

 ESPN.com Illustration

There are a few changes to the ESPNLosAngeles.com prep hoops top 20 rankings this week. The cream of the crop remains intact, with some minor shuffling among teams in the middle of the pack.

Toward the bottom half of the poll, however, quite a few programs appear poised to take the next step. Joining the ranks of Southland's premier programs is the ultimate goal, of course.

1. (1) Mater Dei (15-2): The Monarchs will find out just how well they stack up against one of the nation's premier programs. Monday night's opponent, Middle Village (N.Y.) Christ the King in Springfield, Mass., is no joke. A tough test, indeed.

2. (2) Long Beach Poly (12-1): The Jackrabbits are also on the road Monday evening and face Seattle Rainer Beach at the King Holiday Hoop Fest in the Pacific Northwest. Moore League play resumes on Wednesday against host Long Beach Wilson.

3. (4) La Verne Lutheran (14-4): Right around this time next year, Eric Cooper could be one of the top point guards that the Southland has to offer. In the meantime, the junior figures to offer a preview of what's to come against Orange Lutheran on Monday night.

4. (5) Crespi (17-1): There are no easy games in the Mission League. Nevertheless, the Celts have made things appear to be rather simple with four consecutive wins. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake loom Tuesday and Thursday.

5. (6) Loyola (14-2): With Jacob Hazzard in the midst of some hot shooting, the Cubs are a legitimate threat. The senior guard and grandson of UCLA legend Walt Hazzard is averaging 11 points per game and hitting 43 percent of his attempts from three-point range.

6. (9) Taft (14-3): Can anyone in the Los Angeles City Section stop the Toreadors? Not likely. Chances are, they run the table until a highly anticipated showdown against Loyola Los Angeles on Feb. 4 at the Nike Extravaganza. Until then, it's business as usual.

7. (10) Etiwanda (17-1): The only thing standing between the Eagles and an unblemished record is an 11-point loss to La Verne Lutheran in early December. And now, 14 impressive victories later, there does not appear to be any signs of this group slowing down.

8. (7) Windward (13-6): An upset loss to Compton last week is difficult to explain. At home, no less. The Wildcats do not have any time to think about what could have been, though. Los Angeles Pacific Hills looms as another potential stumbling block on Jan. 24.

9. (11) St. John Bosco (13-2): Brothers Isaac and Daniel Hamilton have emerged as one of the more potent one-two combinations around. Another opportunity for the siblings to make a statement comes Wednesday at home against Orange Lutheran.

10. (4) Orange Lutheran (12-4): Gabe York recently had an appendectomy, and as expected, the Lancers have been lost without their standout senior guard. Things do not figure to get better anytime soon, with York expected to be out for as many as three weeks.

11. (12) Alemany (14-3): No shame in a loss to Encino Crespi last week. Similar results in a pair of key Mission League games over the course of the next couple days, however, would be disastrous. Nevertheless, the Warriors figure to bounce back well.

12. (13) Pacific Hills (15-3): These kids are young. Still, Devin Burleson, Namon Wright and Jared Allen have played with the poise of veterans at times this season and the Bruins are on a roll as a result. It will be interesting to see if the underclassmen can keep it up.

13. (8) Bishop Montgomery (14-3): With victories in four games against teams in the top 20 poll to start the season, the Knights appeared to be in the verge of separating themselves from the others in the pack. A setback to Gardena Serra was a humbling experience.

14. (15) Price (12-5): Skylar Spencer was touted as the Southland's top center at the outset of the season and the 6-foot-9, 220-plus-pound senior has done little to disappoint. The San Diego State commit has been seemingly unstoppable.

15. (14) Gardena Serra (15-2): The Cavaliers have played well recently but can not afford to overlook Monday's night game against Santa Monica, a team that appears poised to make a debut in the rankings and is one more quality win way from finally doing so.

16. (16) Capistrano Valley (17-2): Coach Brian Mulligan and the Cougars can establish themselves as a cut above the rest with a victory at home against Mission Viejo on Wednesday. The ultimate goal is to be mentioned among the top teams in Orange County.

17. (17) Damien (15-1): As Chris Reyes goes, so do the Spartans. And he is going. The 6-foot-6 senior is a double machine, with averages approaching 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. On deck: Ventura in the marquee game of the Los Osos Shootout on Monday.

18. (18) Mission Viejo (18-1): There have been many questions about whether the Diablos are a contender. We're about to find out. They have an all-important showdown against Capistrano Valley for South Coast League bragging rights on Wednesday.

19. (20) Murrieta Valley (16-1): Most are under the impression that it is a down year in the Inland Empire. The Nighthawks, however, are doing their best to prove the naysayers wrong. The schedule is favorable until the Southern Section playoffs being in mid-February.

20. (NR) Westchester (10-4): It was just a matter of time before the Comets made a debut in the rankings. Now comes the hard part, proving that they are worthy of an extended stay. Only Los Angeles Fairfax looms as someone who can play the role of spoiler.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.