Prep basketball: Top 20 rankings

 ESPN.com Illustration

The action has been fast-paced over the past week, with many of the Southland's premier programs in league play. This is the time when teams begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

The top half of the ESPNLosAngeles.com rankings remains intact, for the most part. There is, however, some shuffling in the middle of the poll. And low and behold, we have a pair of worthy newcomers in the all-important mix toward the bottom half of things.

1. (1) Mater Dei (17-2): Can anyone stop the Monarchs? Doesn't appear to be likely. Starting to think these kids are capable of going wire-to-wire atop the poll. At least during regular season play.

2. (2) Long Beach Poly (14-1): One of the toughest stretches of the season looms particularly large this week for the Jackrabbits. They have three games, including a difficult test Friday at Compton.

3. (3) La Verne Lutheran (15-4): Business as usual for Grant Jerrett & Co. The senior forward and one of the Southland's top players is averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game.

4. (5) Loyola (15-2): Had a funny feeling it would be a mere matter of time before the Cubs found a way to climb into the thick of things. Can't imagine them falling on hard times anymore this year.

5. (7) Etiwanda (19-1): Jordan McLaughlin receives most of the headlines. He has had help along the way though, from Sheldon Blackwell, Dominique Walker, Brandon Townes and Sam Fleming.

6. (4) Crespi (18-2): The Celts suffered a surprising setback to North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake last week. Things don't get any easier with a Mission League showdown at Loyola on Monday night.

7. (8) Windward (13-6): The Wildcats have not played a game in 10 days. The time for rest and relaxation is a thing of the past. They will be back in the saddle on Tuesday against visiting Pacific Hills.

8. (6) Taft (17-3): Any questions about whether the Toreadors were the cream of the crop in the Los Angeles City Section were answered in a road victory over Los Angeles Fairfax this past weekend.

9. (13) Bishop Montgomery (16-3): With a rematch against Serra on Feb. 1, the Knights cannot afford to look too far ahead. Staying focused on the task at hand is paramount at this point.

10. (15) Gardena Serra (19-2): Having faced six teams in the rankings thus far, all signs point to the Cavaliers being a more than ready, battle-tested bunch once postseason play begins in mid-February.

11. (11) Alemany (16-3): Marqueze Coleman doesn't receive nearly enough credit. The Nevada-bound senior is averaging 21 points, eight points, three steals and two assists.

12. (9) St. John Bosco (15-4): The Braves struggled in the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic last week in New Orleans. On the bright side, they got to take a cool trip.

13. (12) Pacific Hills (19-3): The Bruins were busy last week, winning four games. Will they have enough left in the tank Tuesday night on the road against Windward? Only time will tell, apparently.

14. (14) Price (13-5): Chance Murray is one of the more versatile guards around. Keep this in mind: He's still a junior, with more than enough time to develop. Sky's the limit for the underclassman.

15. (10) Orange Lutheran (12-6): Trinity League play is no joke. Ask the Lancers; they have lost three straight games. Bouncing back against Anaheim Servite and Santa Margarita this week is possible.

16. (16) Capistrano Valley (19-2): The Cougars staked claim to South Coast League supremacy after a 46-43 victory over Mission Viejo last week. They will be in the driver's seat the rest of the way.

17. (17) Damien (18-1): For those wondering about how good the Spartans potentially are, you're not alone. Everyone will find out if they're the real deal Saturday against Etiwanda.

18. (20) Westchester (12-4): Year in and year out, the Comets' game against Fairfax is circled on the calender. And on Wednesday, the two will meet again in what figures to be an entertaining affair.

19. (NR) Mayfair (15-5): In terms of the rankings, the Monsoons have been on the outside looking in for a while now. But they appear poised to take the poll by storm. No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.

20. (NR) Canyon Country Canyon (18-1): The Cowboys' strength of schedule leaves something to be desired. The only thing separating them from an unblemished record, however, is a loss to Crespi.

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