In an ideal world, White Plains (N.Y.) Archbishop Stepinac would be at full strength for Sunday's showdown with Roselle (N.J.) Catholic, which is ranked No. 11 nationally by USA Today.
After all, their meeting at the Empire Invitational at Mount Saint Michael Academy in The Bronx will feature the reigning New York State Federation champion in Stepinac (2-9) against the reigning New Jersey Tournament of Champions winner in Roselle Catholic (10-0).
But A.J. Griffin, the 6-foot-6 sophomore wing for Stepinac who is the son of Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, is doubtful with a high ankle injury. Griffin has only played four games this season.
"It's definitely a challenge, we'll be asking guys to step up because we're dealing with injuries throughout the year," said Stepinac junior point guard R.J. Davis.
The two-day event will feature several high-profile teams and players, including committed seniors James Bouknight (UConn) of MacDuffie (MA), Bryan Antoine (Villanova) and Scottie Lewis (Florida) of Ranney (N.J.), Kahlil Whitney (Kentucky) and Josh Pierre-Louis (UNLV) of Roselle Catholic and Jalen Lecque (N.C. State), Josh Brown (Cal), Alonzo Gaffney (Ohio State) and Anthony Walker (Miami) of Brewster (N.H.) Academy. Ranney is ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today.
From a local perspective, the Stepinac-Roselle Catholic game is a great matchup because it pits New York's best against New Jersey's best, even though Stepinac has struggled early this season because of injuries.
"These big in-season events are always great tests and measuring sticks for us as we go through a season, so to have the chance to go to New York City and play the defending state champions is another great opportunity for us," said Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff, whose team has won three New Jersey TOC titles since 2013.
The narrative in recent years has been that New Jersey has surpassed New York in terms of talent, and it's hard to argue against that. Recent NBA Drafts have featured several New Jersey players chosen with the No. 1 or 2 overall picks, including No. 1 picks Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics), and No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats).
New York has produced several pros in Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, and Tobias Harris, among others, but none were drafted as high as the Garden State guys.
Still, the 6-foot, 155-pound Davis is looking forward to the challenge against New Jersey's reigning champs.
"Definitely, New York basketball will always be in discussions for best basketball around the country," Davis said. "Going into Sunday, I feel like with our quickness, aggressiveness and mental toughness, we should be alright."
Coaches from Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Seton Hall are among those expected Sunday for Davis, who is being recruited hard by St. John's, Penn State, Pitt, Maryland, Manhattan, and George Washington, among others.
Even though Ranney is ranked above Roselle Catholic in the national and state rankings, Stepinac coach Pat Massaroni believes he will be facing the Garden State's No. 1 team on Sunday. (Ranney and Roselle Catholic will face off Jan. 30 at Brookdale Community College.)
"In my opinion, they're the best team in Jersey," he said. "I know there are some really talented teams there, but what I've seen early on this season they're beyond talented. They're very well-coached, they're big, they're long, they're athletic. And they play really hard.
"Any time you can match up New York-New Jersey, it brings excitement to the fans, to the kids, both states. So we're excited for the challenge. Obviously we would've liked to have been at full strength but we're going to go out and we're going to compete and we'll be prepared for Sunday."
RANNEY'S WHEELER TO MAKE DEBUT
Ranney will get a boost when 6-8 junior wing Phillip Wheeler makes his season debut against MacDuffie. Wheeler, who had to sit out the state-mandated 30 days after changing schools (from Roselle) but not moving, should bring a nice complement to a Ranney team that relies heavily on Antoine, Lewis and fellow senior Alex Klatsky.
Seton Hall is here at Ranney watching 6-foot-8 Philip Wheeler, a junior wing pic.twitter.com/7CabAFPJrc— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) September 18, 2018
"He'll bring an added bonus in that he's another body, but more importantly he allows us to put other guys back in their natural positions when he's on the floor," Ranney coach Tahj Holden said. "He also adds versatility with the way he's able to play inside/out as well."
Looking ahead, Wheeler may draw the primary assignment of guarding 6-11 Jaden McDaniels, a projected top-3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, when Ranney meets Federal Way (WA) on Jan. 21 at the Hoophall Classic.
FloHoops.com will stream several games from the Hoophall, with ESPN showing a number of games as well.