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Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) will be one nationally ranked squad coming to Arizona, giving local teams a glimpse of the nation's best.

The showcase for great talent that is the Nike Tournament of Champions is about exposure for some, as it might be the mostly highly attended girls basketball event by college coaches in the country. The number is expected to be about 53 this year.

For some, however, it is also about being exposed.

Some of the nation's best teams descend annually to Chandler and take on some of the best teams Arizona can offer up.
While all coaches are out to win there is some freedom while playing in tournament games compared to regular season action.

"I think a good performance gives teams confidence, but I also think that the bracket teams are placed in really affects their second-half success," Dobson (Mesa) coach Tyler Dumas said. "A few losses in a tough bracket can help focus a team on their weaknesses while wins in a lesser bracket could give a false sense of how good they are, but winning is the goal."

The Arizona teams will have their hands full as six of the 83 teams in the field are ranked among the MaxPreps Xcellent 25: No. 2 Mater Dei; No. 6 Regis Jesuit; No. 7 Riverdale Baptist; No. 12 Christ the King; No. 15 St. Mary's; No. 16 St. Anthony's. See more about the national field

"As usual I don't think there is a better tournament in the country," Dumas said. "Looking at the teams there are a number of outstanding brackets with great teams and programs. I think locally we graduated a lot of talented kids, but there are a number of players stepping up into the roles of being Arizona stars."

The Joe Smith Division will take center stage as four of the ranked teams are part of the eight-team bracket.

Riverdale Baptist and St. Mary's play in Thursday's first-round action of the eight-team Joe Smith bracket with the winner most likely facing Regis in the second round. Mater Dei and Christ the King are on the other side of the bracket and would meet in the second round should they both advance.

While those games will draw big crowds, most of the Arizona teams will attempt to find out a little more about themselves in the three-day, four-game event before returning to power ranking games after the Christmas break.

"We play to win but we use it as an opportunity to fine-tune some things and get us ready for the stretch run," said Mountain Pointe (Phoenix) coach Trevor Neider, whose program has won at least 20 games for four straight years. "We will play some different lineups and experiment with a few things. It is a 50/50 balance between winning and doing what we need to do to get better."

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at jskoda1024@aol.com or 480-272-2449.

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