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No. 1 at stake: The FTH Game of the Week

The Holiday Classic Tip-Off night has delivered intrigue and intensity over its eight-year run. Tonight, the stakes are raised even higher when No. 1 Carlsbad and No. 2 Montgomery square off in the final game of the three-game showcase.

Carlsbad enters the game with one loss, to Harvard Westlake, widely held as the top team in the state (No. 3 in Maxpreps rankings). Montgomery enters the game undefeated at 10-0, though they had to conjure up a small miracle in their last game against South Granville (NC), rattling off a 12-0 run over the game's final two minutes to escape with a 5-point victory.

And on Maxpreps, the teams are 13th and 15th statewide, respectively.

For these reasons, Carlsbad vs Montgomery is your Full-Time Hoops Game of the Week.

What's at Stake?

Besides bragging rights and a likely No. 1 ranking from pollsters after the holiday break, there's definitely a tangible benefit for the victor.

The winner of this game, barring the teams seeing each other in the Holiday Classic bracket that begins Dec. 27, will hold the coveted tiebreaker for playoff seeding purposes. And while if the teams stay at 1-2 over the course of the year it might not matter as much (the No. 1 and 2 seeds host home games until the neutral Open Division championship), if they slip to, say, No. 2 and No. 3, then the "flip" is huge, because it will guarantee the winner homecourt advantage in a potential semifinals matchup.

Who are the standouts?

Carlsbad prides itself on its depth, but they've got one of the best trios in California at the top of the lineup, starting with 6-4 2025 G Jake Hall (21 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.3 apg), who is a two-time All Section 1st team selection and on pace to finish in the Top 5 on San Diego's all-time scoring list. Alongside him, 6-4 senior guard Tony Duckett (15.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1 spg) has rapidly become one of San Diego's top players and has established himself as one of the best two-way guards in the state. He had a breakout performance at this week's Tarkanian Classic, where he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Spalding Division (third division). And finally, 6-8 senior Jael Martin (11.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.4 apg, 3.7 bpg), who has committed to Pepperdine, has shone as one of the state's elite two-way threats.

Montgomery has arguably the best starting five in San Diego, and is the most connected team in the region for sure. They're led by 6-5 2025 F JJ Sanchez (20.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.5 apg) who is among the state's most confounding matchups, capable of carving teams up with his scoring prowess and footwork in the paint, perimeter shooting or elite court vision. Fellow juniors 6-5 Devin Hamilton, 6-2 Xair Mendez and JJ's twin brother 6-4 Alek Sanchez all score in double figures at 15.8 ppg, 13.6 ppg and 12.6 ppg, respectively. Hamilton, a formidable slasher, is the team's best individual defender. Mendez is a potent scorer from midrange and off the bounce. Alek is a stat stuffer combo guard with a point guard's vision who plays at a methodical pace that keeps defenders off balance.

Who are the X-factors?

For Carlsbad, 5-8 junior point guard Jordan Garner has emerged as the team's fourth leading scorer at 7.4 points per game and rebounds the ball at a solid clip (3.7 rpg) for a guard his stature. His ability to get paint touches and set up teammates while also taking advantage of the attention paid to Hall and Duckett by knocking down open shots gives the Lancers a nice lift. Additionally, 6-4 senior Will Cianfrini (a San Diego State football commit), 6-2 Jett Kenady (a Cal baseball commit) and 5-10 senior Tristan Guzman all give the Lancers good minutes. They will need the foursome to be at top form all night.

For Montgomery, fifth starter David Soto averages near double figures at 8.3 points per game, and the 6-3 wing gives the team toughness and athleticism on the wing. But nearly as important as his contributions statistically will be tonight, Soto must keep his composure in order to stay on the floor, which has been an issue at times through his career. If he does, the quintet is hard to stop.

Who wins?

When these teams matched up over the summer at the SDSU Team Camp, the Lancers won a tight one that was stopped early due to a mini brawl. While I don't expect that to happen tonight, I expect it to be a charged atmosphere and chippy at times. But, in a game like that, depth matters, and the Lancers have it in spades.

The Aztecs should be able to keep it close by grinding the pace down and forcing Carlsbad to beat them in the halfcourt. That's where Hall's uncanny ability to score in the paint will enable the Lancers to be effective in a slow-down game.

Prediction: Carlsbad 56, Montgomery 51

Other games to watch


Santa Fe Christian (5-4) vs El Camino (6-5), 5 p.m. at Torrey Pines

The opening game of the Holiday Classic Tip-Off pits Northwest Nazarene commit Brycen Mackenzie against the Wildcats, which have one of the region's top unsigned seniors in 6-5 Isaiah Pomare. The Eagles sophomore guard Dax Hall is one of the breakout players in the region and senior guard Greyson Mundis is a two-way standout who deserves attention from college recruiters. The Wildcats senior group is underrated with 5-10 sharpshooter Brandon Boone and 6-3 three-and-d standout Terrion Woodard, while junior guards Logan Ardent and Devin McGee have steadily improved through the year. 6-5 freshman wing Justin Johnson is the future.

No. 5 Mission Bay (8-3) vs No. 4 Torrey Pines (9-2), 6:30 p.m. at Torrey Pines

The middle game of the three-game Holiday Classic Tip-Off features a deep Buccaneers team led by 6-7 senior Charlie Hutchison, 6-3 sophomore transfer Caleb Newton, 6-7 junior forward Pablo Balderas, and 6-7 sophomore Clay Grebing senior guards Marcos Korch, Gavin Girouard and Isaah Whitehurst, and junior guard Atreju De La Cruz, against a deep Falcons squad led by seniors Zach Jackson, Matin Madadkar, Max Zylicz and Dylan Kail, as well as junior guard Cody Shen, 6-7 senior Marcos Delgado and 6-3 rapidly rising sophomore Tevaris Green.

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Grossmont (3-8) at Morse (4-9)

Wednesday, Dec. 27-Satuday, Dec. 30

The Torrey Pines Holiday Classic powered by SB Live

Holiday Hoops at the Mount

2023 Boca Rio Spartan Classic

2023 Surf 'N Slam Classic

Gold Crown Holiday Tip-Off Classic

I'll have a tournament breakdown in an upcoming post!


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