The Charlotte Christian boys' basketball team started the season with high expectations as the No. 1 team in the Observer Sweet 16 and one of the top teams in the state (NCISAA 3A).
So far, the Knights have lived up to their billing, going 13-2 against a brutal non-conference slate that has included games against teams from seven different states and trips to the Chick-fil-A Classic in Columbia, S.C., and the Gonzaga Prep Tournament in Washington, D.C.
This Friday and Saturday night, Christian resumes play at one of the top four-team events in the country in the Burger King Classic at Gannon University in Erie, Pa., against a tough field with teams from Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Knights open with host Cathedral Prep of Erie at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The Ramblers are 4-6 but will be a tough out, playing for the 28th straight time in the Classic in their hometown.
On the other side of the bracket are defending champion Penn Wood Patriots (Landsdowne, Pa.) and St. Edward High School Eagles (Lakewood, Ohio), who will meet in the 7 p.m. opener.
Both the Patriots and Eagles possess talented teams with several Division I prospects, which will make for an interesting matchup whether Christian meets either team in the championship, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, or consolation game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Knights drew the easiest first-round matchup in Cathedral Prep but still have a lot to prove as the only first-time team in the field against the host squad.
Christian will look inside to seniors Anthony Gill (South Carolina), Worth Smith (Naval Academy) and junior Ryan Potocnik, all over 6-feet-6, to take advantage of superior size and skill inside.
But the Knights' backcourt, including Trent Walker, Patrick Rooks and Andrew Frownie, will be tested by Prep's backcourt, which boasts its best all-around player in point guard Adam Blazek and top scoring option in sophomore shooter, Sheldon Zablotny (12 ppg).
Christian might have to overcome some early on-the-road jitters but should be the superior team.
PF Anthony Gill: South Carolina commit living up to his billing (18 ppg).
F Worth Smith: Forms dynamic duo inside with Gill (9 ppg, 6 rpg).
The Ramblers have gotten off to a slow start this season but have the talent to make some noise in this tournament.
Prep's strength is in its backcourt, where Blazek and Zablotny can control tempo and scoring, but the Ramblers will need their experienced frontcourt to hold its own against Gill, Smith and company. That means seniors like Mike Knoll, Dominic Sansone (8 ppg, 5 rpg) and Dominic DiRaimo will have to step up if they have any chance to win this game.
PG Adam Blazek: Combo guard does a bit of everything for Ramblers (12 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg).
St. Edward High
Like the rest of the field, Saint Edward High (5-3) has challenged itself in the early going, including a trip to an ESPN tournament in California.
The Eagles are led by their backcourt, which includes Division I target 6-foot-3 guard Myles Hamilton and former Cleveland Cavaliers' coach Mike Brown's son, Elijah, already one of the top sophomores in the country.
SG Elijah Brown: Son of former Cleveland Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown, making his own name.
The Patriots enter the Burger King Classic as the defending champions and with a talented team, but at 2-5 Penn Wood is still looking for answers.
The Patriots strength is inside, where 6-foot-5 forward Aaron Brown, who has committed to West Virginia, is capable of big-time games (22 ppg). Meanwhile, Penn Wood also has strength in the form of 6-foot-9 250-pound Shawn Oakman, who averaged a double-double last year.
SF Aaron Brown: West Virginia commit is averaging 22 points per game.
**Stats/records as of Jan. 6 when this story went to print.