M.T.E Madness: A Look Ahead to the Weekend of Georgia Hoops
One of the best parts about the holiday season is the amount of multi-team events going on in the basketball landscape. If you’ve followed my writing or Twitter, you’ve probably seen me opine about how much I love Feast Week and the celebration around Thanksgiving. That’s because of all of the MTEs. There’s wall-to-wall hoops all week long, and it’s amazing. December is the same way when it comes to high school hoops, and it really shows this weekend here in Georgia. There are several multi-team events going on in the area this weekend, and I’m going to break down the ones that I’ll be at.
Santa Jam, Lambert HS, Friday, Dec. 17
As a vocal, staunch supporter of all things that embody the holiday spirit, I’m fully in favor of the Santa Jam at Lambert. It’s not the holiday-themed name that’s got me eager to get out to Santa Jam on Friday, however. There are three interesting, quality games going down, so while I’d appreciate diving headfirst into the gimmick and adorning the gym in holiday decorations, the action on the court is more than enough to get me excited. Here’s what’s on tap for Friday at Santa Jam:
5 p.m. - Mill Creek vs Calhoun.
In what may have been the first regular season game of the season, I saw Mill Creek take on Archer, and in that game, Jonathan Taylor led the Hawks with an impressive 25 points. In their last two games, Trajen Greco has finished with 25 points in a win over Jefferson and 19 points in a loss to North Gwinnett.
Calhoun is looking to rebound from a tough, close loss to Paulding County. Junior forward Dylan Faulkner has put up some monster numbers for the Yellow Jackets this season. In the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Paulding County, Faulkner recorded a triple-double with 28 points, 14 boards, and here’s the kicker, 12 blocks. In the game before, he had 32 points and 23 rebounds. In their four games, Faulkner is averaging 30 points and 13 rebounds per game.
6:30 p.m. - Lambert vs Allatoona.
Lambert’s Niko Wilson is a player who’s certainly made some noise thus far. In the game of theirs that I saw at the Jared Cook Tip-Off Classic, Wilson put up 23 points. That’s the kind of performance that he’s put on regularly for the Longhorns this season. He’s been one of the season’s breakout players to date. Keenan Gagen and James Tyre are both stat-stuffers. They regularly flirt with triple-doubles.
Allatoona is a team that’s going to try to muddy the game up and turn it into a rock fight. They’re tough, physical and defensive-minded. Cayden Charles has been tremendous for the Bucs so far. He’s averaging over 25 points per game for Allatoona and continues to perform on the defensive side of the ball as well.
8 p.m. - Providence Christian vs Cherokee.
As expected, Providence Christian looks to be one of the powers in A Private. The Storm are 7-3 on the season, and have had consistently great outings from SoCon commits—and Atlanta Allstars teammates—Chance Thacker and Tony Carpio. Carpio is averaging nearly 20 points per game and Thacker is averaging north of 15 per game. Sam Witt has been another bright spot for the Storm. He’s been another source of consistency for them.
After opening the season with back-to-back losses, Cherokee rattled off a five-game winning streak and now sits at 8-3. Tayden Owens, Cam Pope and Braylin Giddens have formed something of a three-headed monster for the Warriors. Each is capable of leading the team on a given night. This Cherokee team can catch fire from the 3-point line. If the shots are falling, look out.
Playing For Change, Pace Academy, Saturday, Dec. 18
I’m going to be splitting some time between this event and the Lemon Street Classic, so I won’t be in to cover every game. These are the ones that I’ll be in for:
2 p.m. - McEachern vs Grayson.
I’d say that McEachern is one of the most positive surprises of the season thus far. Not that anyone thought they’d be a bad team or anything like that. There were just question marks because of the staff and roster changes as well as the youth that makes up most of the roster. Well, they’ve turned those question marks into exclamation points because the Indians are playing some really good basketball right now. Braden Sparks and Mike Jacobs make up the veteran backcourt, and they each have made cases as the seniors who have seen their stocks rise the most during this early portion of the season.
The Indians’ 4-4 record isn’t quite indicative of how they’ve actually been playing. Their four losses have come to Greenforest, Pace, Shiloh and Newton, all of which are among the toughest teams in their respective classifications. In their last three games, however, McEachern has picked up double-digit wins over Wheeler, Hillgrove and North Gwinnett. There’s no doubt that the Indians haven’t run from any challenging games this season, and Grayson will be near the top of tough opponents for McEachern.
Grayson, on the other hand, is a team who most people had more of a feel for going into the season. Chauncey Wiggins and Tyrese Elliott are two seniors who are signed to play D1 basketball. Caleb Blackwell is another senior guard who transferred in from Buford, and he adds experience, scoring, defense and depth to this roster. Then, there’s a stable of young, highly-regarded underclassmen headlined by sophomore Gicarri Harris and freshman Amir Taylor.
One more note about this game is that these teams last met in the Elite Eight last season. McEachern won that matchup in overtime.
4 p.m. - Pebblebrook vs Eagle’s Landing.
EDIT: Pebblebrook is in Las Vegas for the Tark Classic, so I'm not sure who is taking their spot as of now. Maybe they'll be back in time for this game, but I would assume that this will feature a different team in place of the Falcons.
6 p.m. - Sandy Creek vs Pace.
When I think of these teams, I think of the talented young prospects on either side. Both teams are pretty heavily composed of freshmen, sophomores and juniors with high upsides. Because of that, I’m really excited to see how this one plays out. It feels like a great apples-to-apples kind of matchup. It feels like we’re perpetually still learning about these teams too. They’re both really good, but that youth has reared its head at times for both teams.
Of course, Pace’s Josh Reed is a senior to note. He’s been outstanding all season. At this point, I just have an expectation that he’ll finish with around 20 points and 8 rebounds. That feels like the typical Josh Reed stat sheet this season.
Lemon Street Classic, Marietta HS, Saturday, Dec. 18
I’m going to start and end my Saturday at Marietta for the Lemon Street Classic. There are so many great games going on in town on Saturday. I wish I could clone myself to see them all, but I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can. Sandwiching my day with some Lemon Street action is a perfect way for me to accomplish that. Here’s what I’ll see:
11 a.m. - Grovetown vs Langston Hughes.
Honestly, I can’t wait to see Grovetown. This is the first time that I’ll get to see the Warriors’ deep, talented group of sophomores and juniors. Grovetown has a host of players capable of taking control of a game. Malik Ferguson, Derrion Reid, Markel Freeman and Frankquon Sherman headline this roster and all have helped Grovetown to its 9-1 start to the season.
When I think of this Langston Hughes team, I think of balance. That’s probably because when I saw them earlier in the season, they had eight different players score five or more points. I still don’t quite have a feel for them overall though. Playing Grovetown will be a great litmus test for the Panthers.
8 p.m. - Cedar Shoals vs North Gwinnett.
I haven’t gotten a chance to see Cedar Shoals yet this season. The Jaguars are 2-4 on the season with their wins coming over Valdosta and East Hall. This will be a great opportunity for me to learn more about this Cedar Shoals squad.
However, I have seen North Gwinnett. While I still haven’t seen how they look with RJ Godfrey back in the line up, I can only assume that it’s helped to have him back. The Bulldogs are 7-3 on the season with their only in-state losses coming to Pebblebrook and McEachern.
Both Playing for Change and Lemon Street Classic will resume play on Monday and Tuesday. Due to Holiday obligations, I’ll be going home to Louisville on Tuesday, so I’ll miss that day’s action. I will preview Monday’s games in the Shot Clock, my weekly column.