St. Mary's-Duncanville or Duncanville-St. Mary's? The schools are 1,685 miles apart on a map. On a basketball court, it's more like a hair. If that.
The teams have sat on top of the espnW 25 Power Rankings for most of the season. But as we close in on the season's finish line, the question seems more puzzling than ever: Who's No. 1 and who's No. 2?
First things first. Both teams are undefeated. Duncanville finished its 39-0 season with a Texas state title last weekend. St. Mary's continues its bid for a California state title Friday night against Carondelet. Since the only place they'll play each other is in our dreams, both could very easily wind up with zeroes in the loss column.
So who would win if they actually played? Who is the No. 1 team in the country? Let's break it down. Starting with the similarities.
St. Mary's is led by Aquira DeCosta, the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Terrific 25. She a 6-foot-2, explosive, left-handed jumping jack. Not to mention a double-double machine. She's an active rebounder and the point on St. Mary's vaunted full court zone press. She has superb lateral quickness, can defend the passing lanes and disrupt opponents' ability to break pressure. On offense, she can out-quick opponents to the rim or drop a jumper. In short: She's a nightmare.
Duncanville counters with Zarielle Green, the No. 14 prospect in the 2018 class. Green, an athletic, 6-foot shooting guard with a scoring punch, had 25 points, six rebounds, five assists and was named MVP of the state championship game against Dekaney. She hit driving layups, completed three-point plays at the free throw line and even mixed in a few jumpers to the arc. If it sounds like she did a little bit of everything, it's because she did.
Sure the sophomores are impressive. But they've got nothing on the seniors. St. Mary's features Nebraska signee Mi'Cole Cayton, a spirited and somewhat flamboyant prospect who can penetrate or hit the jumper; Oregon State signee Kat Tudor, who might be the best long-distance shooter in the country; Angel Johnson, the do-everything player who is a superb rebounder and has a knack for finding loose balls; and Sydney Fadal, a 6-1 center/forward who gives St. Mary's a presence in the paint.
For Duncanville, the leadership comes from McDonald's All American Ciera Johnson, a Louisville signee and one of the best centers in the country; and Madison Townley, a 6-foot forward bound for North Texas who is a versatile defender, a superb rebounder and plays with a high motor that college coaches covet.
To say these two know how to win is an understatement. Tom Gonsalves at St. Mary's has won seven state titles and was the Naismith national coach of the year in 2015. He's knocking on the door of the 500-win club. Cathy Self-Morgan has amassed more than 1,000 wins and also has seven state titles. She's going to be inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame in a couple months.
Gonsalves is energetic and emotional. Self-Morgan is the calm and collected. Both get their message across. Time and time and time again.
Neither team has had a paved road to perfection. St. Mary's has traveled to find tough competition while Duncanville found it within its state borders. St. Mary's has wins over No. 5 Riverdale Baptist, No. 6 Archbishop Mitty and No. 8 Forestville. Duncanville has wins over No. 18 Dekeney and No. 24 Blackman. It also has turned back challenges from Flower Mound, featuring No. 1 prospect Lauren Cox, and Cedar Hill, featuring No. 2 prospect Joyner Holmes. St. Mary's was pushed to overtime on its home court vs. unranked Salesian, and Duncanville's closest margin of victory was nine points against Cox's Flower Mound. Both teams have played the best and beat the best.
So how about the differences between the two powerhouses? We submit these two.
With DeCosta on the top of the press, St. Mary's uses extreme pressure on defense. When the opposition panics, St. Mary's guards are ready to pounce and score in streaks, bunches and bundles. St. Mary's also relies on long-range shooting and depth. Tudor, perhaps the best long-range shooter in the country, also can find the rim, which keeps defenders honest. Ditto for Cayton. Junior guard Naje Murray can score 3-pointers in abundance. Sophomore Ariel Johnson adds yet another deep threat. Junior point guard Sierra Smith is a cerebral game manager.
Duncanville, meanwhile, has one of the best post players in the country in the Louisville-bound Johnson. The 6-4 center consistently finishes on the block. You can see for yourself later this month when she plays in the McDonald's All American Games in Chicago. Add to that Green's uncanny ability to get to the rim, and Duncanville does most of its damage from close range. The Duncanville guards -- Aniya Thomas, Chreneisha Davis, Tae Davis, Rosie Davis, Aakilah Caldwell and Nina Alvarez -- have stepped up all season long. But they know their roles and they know how to get the ball into the hands of their stars.
St. Mary's is still in the thick of things; Duncanville has stated its case in the most clear way possible. St. Mary's potentially still has extreme challenges against the likes of Bishop O'Dowd, Miramonte and Chaminade. So what if St. Mary's continues to ride its high-pressure, high-scoring system to perfection? And matches Duncanville with a state title and undefeated season?
To quote the immortal Dr. Seuss: Ask me tomorrow but not today.