Friday night, two of the most intriguing basketball match ups in Cabarrus County are when A.L. Brown visits archrival Concord and First Assembly visits Metrolina Christian with the conference lead on the line in both contests.
Concord (7-4, 4-0 in the South Piedmont), who has won the last four league championships, is the favorite to win the first all-Cabarrus County SPC title with a solid team returning from last year's 29-2 state semifinal squad.
But archrival A.L. Brown will be one of the many challengers who look to knock the Spiders from their pedestal.
"Playing in an all Cabarrus (County) league is going to make every game a rivalry game," said Concord basketball coach Scott Brewer. "Having won so much in the past puts a target on our back and we look forward to that challenge."
Meanwhile, in the Metrolina Athletic Conference, First Assembly (8-1, 3-0) looks to repeat as champions after going 27-5 a year ago, including 13-1 in conference play.
The Eagles rolled through the David Wright Classic right after Christmas, beating Bessemer City, Hickory Ridge and Cherryville to take the title.
But a rapidly improving Metrolina Christian squad could stand in the way of the Eagles, as the Warriors are off to one of their best starts in recent history at 8-4 and 3-0 in conference play.
"Once you establish yourself as one of the best teams in any conference, others team are going to want to beat you even more," said First Assembly basketball coach Dave Murr.
The Spiders have not been challenged in the newly arranged SPC, winning easily in all four contests, but a rivalry game like the one against Brown can be tricky. Concord will try to establish its suffocating press and frenetic style of play early to get the Wonders as uncomfortable as possible. If the Spiders can do that, Jacquise Moore, C.J. Gridine, Xavier Stywall and company might be putting on a layup drill in the game.
The Wonders will have to be at their best to challenge Concord in this game. Brown will try to slow the pace to a crawl and want to play in the 40s or 50s at best. If the score gets much higher than that, it could be a bad sign.
The key to pace and protecting the ball from Concord's press will be Jacques Deese, Tevin Jones and Ian Rogers' ball-handling and playmaking ability while Desmond Gray must punish the Spiders gambling defense with easy baskets inside.
If First Assembly can play their game, few teams in their path will have a chance to beat them until the state playoffs. The Eagles average more than 84 points per game and have topped 100 twice this season. Senior point guard Kyle Grisby leads the way scoring more than 20 points per game, but he has multiple weapons to get the ball to, including shooters Seth Simmons and Brandon Murr. David Wishon, a 7-foot-1 center, averages over 16 points per game and is getting more and more comfortable every game.
The Warriors face a tall task in beating a First Assembly team that has lost just one conference game in the last two seasons. But if anyone has a chance to take down the Eagles, this is the team.
Metrolina is loaded with talent, starting in their backcourt where guards Caleb Bacon and Chad Frazier form one of the most dynamic duos in the state. Frazier, who averages 22 points per game, makes his living driving and scoring while Bacon, who scores 21 points per game, already has 34 three-pointers this season. Add in 6-foot-9 center T.J. Hallice, who is averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per contest, and the Warriors could challenge the Eagles.