Tonight's Tri-Eight game will feature two of the best teams in the state as Panther Creek and Athens Drive do battle at 7:30 p.m. The one-loss Catamounts (13-1) are ranked No. 1 in the state and the Jaguars remain undefeated at 13-0 and are No. 5.
It should be a good one, as Athens Drive already began pre-selling tickets to students on Thursday.
"There's a lot of excitement around the school," Jaguars coach Robert Clemmons said. "We're expecting a large crowd and a real electric atmosphere there."
Here are four questions that will also be the keys going into tonight's game:
1. Can Panther Creek slow down Josh Davis?:
If the Catamounts can significantly limit Josh Davis' productivity, they'd be the first team to do so this year. The senior center is averaging a whopping 26.4 points per game.
However, Panther Creek does have two 6-6 starting forwards and could challenge the 6-7 Davis more than any other opponent he's faced all year.
"[Davis] is playing well. We go to him, our kids know what's carrying us so we know to look for him and we expect him to deliver what he's been doing," Clemmons said. "Their size is going to create some problems for us, some match-up problems. But we've been that route before. I think Josh will be fine, we'll just have to make some adjustments so we can contend inside."
But the Catamounts have been downright embarrassing other teams' star players this year. They've held Enloe's Melvin Tabb (who is being recruited by ACC schools) to four points and Knightdale's Stan Okoye (averaging 19.4 ppg) to just six.
"We challenge all our guys individually to handle their assignments," Panther Creek coach L.J. Hepp said. "[Davis] can finish, he rebounds extremely well, he's quick off the floor and he's really long. What makes him really hard to guard is he's so tough right there around the basket. He's crafty, he finds ways to score it."
2. Will Athens Drive's guards match Earnest Ross?:
There's almost no way you can stop Earnest Ross, you can only hope to contain him. The senior (and future Auburn player) is averaging 20.6 points per game and is riding high after finishing the GlaxoSmithKline Tournament with a tournament-high 79 points in three games.
Ross is almost guaranteed 18-25 points, but that can be tolerated if Jaguar guards Quentin Edmundson and Keanan Mims can combine to outperform Ross' offensive production.
"I know you don't stop him. Hopefully we can just slow him down a bit. If we can keep him from scoring in the 30s I think we'll be O.K.," Clemmons said.
But all the talk isn't just about Ross, as Hepp was quick to praise Edmundson and Mims.
"[Athens] has two really good guards — Keanan and Quentin. I remember seeing them three years ago when they were playing J.V. ball thinking 'these guys are going to be pretty good players,'" Hepp said. "And they're tough."
3. Which team's defense will get the upper-hand?:
Panther Creek will throw a trapping, full-court press on their opponents while Athens Drive turns up the pressure with a half-court, man-to-man defense that takes away passing lanes.
Whichever one creates the most turnovers could be the difference in winning and losing this marquee match-up. But it could also be which one turns on the defense at the right time.
Panther Creek held Apex to nine fourth-quarter points in a close win on Tuesday, and Athens Drive blew open an earlier game against Fuquay-Varina after holding the Bengals to zero points for a five-minute stretch.
4. Which team's front line will win the rebounding battle?:
Davis is a double-double waiting to happen, but teams have struggled all year to keep Panther Creek's rebounding trio of Marques Oliver, Aaron Toney and Ross off the boards.
An X-factor here could be the Jags' Taylor Pardue, an unheralded forward with the ability to quietly grab 5-8 rebounds.
"For us, [the key is] to always to defend and rebound. I think we have the ability to defend these guys and rebound the basketball," Hepp said. "I think we're going to have some opportunities to have some size mismatches and we should take advantage of that."