Prep hoops: Moir boys preview

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — You could make a pretty good case that former Salisbury Hornet Darien Rankin is the greatest player in the history of the Sam Moir Christmas Classic.
No one in Moir history had ever won back-to-back MVP awards, but then Rankin not only went back-to-back, he three-peated, averaging 16.5 points per game while leading the Hornets to titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Counting the 18 he scored for Salisbury’s 2007 tourney winners when he was a freshman, Rankin produced 167 of his 1,358 career points in the Moir and went 12-0 in the event.
Rankin is now in his redshirt year as a UNC football player, so presumably the tournament is back to being wide open again.
Davie, 9-1, top-seeded, tall and loaded, is the favorite this time, and only has to win twice while everyone else has to win three — and yet there’s a lot that could happen.
It should be noted that Salisbury achieved its current run of four straight titles without ever enjoying the benefit of being the top seed. Davie was the No. 1 seed and the pre-tournament favorite last season, but that didn’t stop the Hornets from ripping the War Eagles 77-62 in the title game.
The last time the top-seeded team won the tournament was when East won the title in 2006.
Salisbury comes in this year seeded fifth and has lost to fourth-seeded West Rowan twice. It’s a whole new bunch of Hornets. Rankin is not the only one missing. So are John Knox, Alex Weant, Jarrett Rivens, Corey Murphy, Romar Morris and Forrest Wilkins.
Coach Jason Causby isn’t exactly new — he guided the Hornets to three Moir titles before spending last season at North Hills — but his team is. The there have been some understandable growing pains.
The Hornets have talent — starting with 6-foot-8 junior Tony Nunn — but they’ve been playing against themselves as much as the opposition so far. Nunn has sat out the first half in two games.
“Basketball’s just like life, and we’ve gone through peaks and valleys, but we’ll get it sorted out,” Causby said. “And if the guys will just stay on the ship, we’ve got the potential to be a really good team.”
The Hornets’ roller-coaster was just part of a wild, pre-Christmas schedule.
No. 2 seed North was the preseason pick as the county’s best, but the deep Cavaliers, the defending 1A champs, limp into the tournament with question marks after back-to-back setbacks against Salisbury and West.
“Maybe nobody will be looking for us to do anything now,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “But maybe we’ll put it together and slip in the back door.”
Salisbury split a pair of games played at Catawba with North and also won on the road at No. 3 seed East.
West, which hasn’t won the Moir since 2005, beat North, but lost to East.
Davie, which has won four Moir championships, two under coach Mike Absher, will seek redemption for last year’s disappointment. On paper, the War Eagles are the class of the field. They boast four legit college prospects.
Explosive guard Nate Jones is the area’s top scorer, high-flying post man Shannon Dillard is a 1,000-point guy, and the 6-foot-6 sophomore Martin twins, Cody and Caleb, will be ACC-level recruits.
Jones’ status is the only question. He sat out Davie’s last pre-Christmas game (a rout of Forbush), the second time he’s missed a game via coach’s decision. Davie’s lone loss came with Jones sitting out against Greensboro Smith.
Assuming Jones is good to go, Davie’s going to be a handful, but it still doesn’t figure to have a cakewalk against the Salisbury-West winner in one of Wednesday’s semifinals.
Davie hasn’t played Salisbury yet, and Nunn could present some problems.
Davie already has whipped West twice, but Jarvis Morgan missed one of those games and Maurice Warren missed the other. Together, they’re a tough combination, and the Falcons have improved a lot since those early games.
North hasn’t won the Moir since 2000, so it’s due. The Cavaliers have the guards to beat anyone if they can rekindle the chemistry they had last season.
East has been the surprise of the early season, reeling off six straight wins. Most came against struggling opposition, but the Mustangs’ impressive victory over West proved they’ve turned a corner.
Carson, which has never won the Moir, and South, which hasn’t won it since 1995, aren’t realistic threats for the title, but both could build momentum by pulling off a tournament upset.
Today’s matchups:
1:30 p.m. — West-Salisbury. West has beaten the Hornets twice this season, including a 49-48 verdict. Salisbury holds a 10-8 all-time edge in Moir meetings.
4:30 p.m.– East-Carson. East topped Carson 57-51 in a meeting earlier this month. Carson won the only previous Moir matchup in 2008.
7:30 p.m. — North-South. The teams have not met this season. North holds a 9-5 all-time edge in Moir meetings. Believe it or not, the programs have not squared off in a Moir matchup since 2004.