It has been a bad year, relatively speaking, for Mater Dei High. The Monarchs, who won the Southern Section 5-A Division title and the state Division I championship last season, are 17-7 after finishing second in the Angelus League at 8-2.
If ever a team figured to suffer by comparison, this is it.
"I don't know what you're expecting to see, but this isn't the same team by any means," Mater Dei assistant Phil Bellomo said.
Last year, Mater Dei was stocked with players such as 6-foot, 11-inch center LeRon Ellis, who graduated and now starts at Kentucky as a freshman.
Mater Dei visits Notre Dame at 7:30 tonight in the first round of the 5-A playoffs, and the Knights hope there is truth to what Bellomo says.
Notre Dame Coach Mick Cady doubts it, however.
"They may say they're down, but the Angelus League has four teams that are ranked," Cady said. "Winning at that school is practically taken for granted."
Mater Dei's only league losses were to Bishop Amat, the eighth-ranked team in the state and the No. 1-seeded team in the 5-A. Notre Dame (13-9, 9-3), is having one of its best seasons since winning the Del Rey League title in 1981.
Mater Dei is led by returning forward Kevin Rembert (6-5), a senior averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds a game.
Notre Dame will need a solid effort from a pair of 6-4 juniors: Kenny Hicks, who is averaging 16.5 points a game, and Brian Jones, who averages 15 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.
Senior guard Dave Fonseca (6-2), who is averaging six assists a game, will be asked to help pick up the slack created when senior guard Bruce Heicke severely injured his left ankle three weeks ago.
Heicke, an all-league selection as a junior, was averaging 19.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4 assists a game.