Newman's boys basketball team is facing a tall task, both literally and figuratively, on Saturday night.
The Comets (17-0) will venture out of conference play to tangle with Rockridge (16-0) in the marquee game of the Manny's Pizza Shootout. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., and is the last of seven games to be played that day at Mount Carroll Middle School.
The Rockets are the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest Associated Press Class 2A poll, while the Comets check in at No. 4.
"This will be a great measuring stick for us," Newman coach Ray Sharp said. "Sometimes we tend to get a little stagnant in practice, and having a game like this coming up is great motivation to keep improving. We have some lofty goals we want to accomplish, and if we are to do that, we'll see a team like Rockridge in the supersectional."
Sharp has scouted Rockridge three times this season, including Jan. 4 at the Galesburg Shootout. The Rockets knocked off Rockford East 63-60 that night.
"Their five starters are all really, really good," Sharp said. "They can all hurt you in a lot of ways."
Leading the way for the Rockets is 6-foot-8 senior center Ethan Happ, a Wisconsin recruit. He averages 31 points and 13 rebounds per game.
"He has the ball skills of a guard, but he can score down low," Sharp said. "When they feed the ball into him, we'll have to double down, and that's going to put a lot of pressure on our other players. We need to play great team defense."
Rockridge's second option is Brian Heath, a 6-4 junior wing who averages 23 points and eight boards a game.
"He's just so athletic," Sharp said. "He can dunk the ball any way you want it, but there's more to his game than that."
Rounding out the lineup are 6-2 junior point guard Luke Johnson, 6-3 junior power forward Nolan Stevens and 6-4 wing T.J. Martens.
"They're definitely the biggest team we'll face this season," Sharp said, "and we're really going to have to box out and rebound to have a chance to compete with them."
Newman has faced some stiff challenges this season, primarily beating Winnebago in the finals of the Forreston tournament, two wins against perennially tough Freeport Aquin and a road win over a strong league foe, Fulton. This, however, will be as tough a game as the Comets face before the postseason.
Both teams were in action Friday night, with Rockridge going to Orion and Newman going to Amboy. Neither were upset, and both remain undefeated.
"This is definitely one we've been looking forward to," Sharp said.
(G) Girls; (B) Boys
10 a.m. – West Carroll vs. Forreston (G)
11:30 a.m. – Oregon vs. Milledgeville (G)
1 p.m. – West Carrll vs. Aquin (B)
2:30 p.m. – North Scott vs. Sycamore (G)
4 p.m. – Forreston vs. Easton Valley (B)
5:30 p.m. – Peoria vs. Gary West Side (B)
7 p.m. – Rockridge vs. Newman (B)