Dunbar High has pretty much proved it has the best team in the country by beating nine nationally ranked opponents in USA Today's Super 25 to maintain its No. 1 ranking.
Tonight, the Poets will try to prove that they still are the best team in the area when they put their No. 1 national and local ranking on the line against the area's No. 2 team, Southern, at 8 o'clock at Morgan State.
Although Southern is not ranked by USA Today, the Bulldogs (11-3) won't be sneaking up on the Poets (18-0) in this battle of Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference division leaders.
"They've got a really good team," said Dunbar junior forward Keith Booth. "It's too bad they didn't win their games at the Charm City Classic, but we respect them a lot because they will give us a dogfight. They will come out ready to play hard, but we will too."
While Dunbar was knocking off St. Raymond's (N.Y.) and St. Anthony (N.J.) last weekend, Southern dropped decisions to those teams after falling behind early and rallying late in both games.
The losses give Southern an 0-3 mark against nationally ranked opponents this season (the Bulldogs also lost to Christ the King, N.Y.).
Southern likely will need to play a near-perfect game to upset the Poets, who won their 40th straight with a 100-73 victory over Southwestern on Tuesday in their first home game of the season. Southern is coming off Monday's 82-77 come-from-behind victory over No. 3 Lake Clifton.
"It will be a tough game," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "We will try to execute and do everything well. We are going to have to do everything well and put together four good quarters to be successful."
Last season, the Poets won all three times the teams met. Two of the games weren't close, with Dunbar winning by 37 and 19 points. The Poets edged the Bulldogs, 59-55, in the final meeting for the MSA A Conference championship at the Metro Classic.
The key to Southern's not suffering a repeat of last season could be inside, where the Bulldogs have been getting inconsistent play, especially from 6-foot-8 junior center Abdul Brown.
Brown scored only two points last weekend. He did come off the bench Monday to score eight and spark the Bulldogs' comeback.
The Poets, who mostly use a lineup that features three guards and two forwards, have been getting their most consistent play from 6-6 senior All-American Donta Bright. He had 52 points last weekend.
The bad news for Southern is that Booth, who previously had a four-game offensive slump, got 29 points on Tuesday.
"We must definitely get the ball inside to Donta and Keith and get their big men into foul trouble, and then we can take control of the game," said Michael Lloyd, Dunbar senior guard.
"The key will be our defense," said Booth. "Our defense brings out the offense, like Michael Lloyd getting a couple of steals by pressuring the guards and getting the ball inside to me and Donta."
The Bulldogs are hoping they have a psychological advantage over the Poets because they matched the Poets basket for basket in a scrimmage at Lake Clifton in December.
"It has been a big rivalry because they've believed they can beat us ever since the preseason scrimmage," said Lloyd. "Even after our success in the tournaments, they were still saying that they could beat us. They finally got their shot to get nationally ranked, but came up short. Now it's us and them [tonight] at 8 o'clock, and it's something everybody is looking forward to."