A month ago, it didn't seem as if the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championship would be much of a game.
It seemed inevitable that Dunbar would play either Southern or Lake Clifton for the title, and the Poets already had disposed of both rather handily.
But a funny thing happened on the way to today's 7 p.m. championship game in the Metro Classic at the Baltimore Arena -- the Poets found some competition.
Last Sunday, Southern, which lost to the Poets by 40 in January, led Dunbar for three quarters before the Poets rallied to win, 59-55, in the championship game of the Baltimore City Public Schools Tournament.
Then, in Tuesday's A Conference semifinals at Morgan State, after Southern earned a trip to the title game by defeating Mount St. Joseph, 64-49, Dunbar struggled to put away Lake Clifton, finally pulling away to win, 81-69.
Are the Poets bored, or are their opponents getting better?
It could be a combination of both.
"We're still the same team we were in December. Everybody else is getting better," Poets junior center Donta Bright said.
"I think the problem is we've been playing the same teams over and over again," senior guard Terrance Alexander said. "You play a team like St. Anthony's [the New Jersey team that handed the Poets their only loss],and you get hyped, but when you play a team over and over again, you get kind of tired."
The top-ranked Poets (26-1) have beaten Lake Clifton and Dunbar of Washington three times each, and also defeated all five A Conference Division I opponents two times each.
However, Dunbar, ranked No. 3 nationally by The Associated Press, does not anticipate any problems in getting motivated for Southern. The Poets have the memory of last Sunday's game. And if that isn't enough, last year's 60-57 loss to Southern in the Metro Classic championship game is still fresh in their minds.
"They beat us last year, so we are out for revenge," said Bright. "If we win the Metro Classic, we can say our season has been successful."
No. 3 Southern (17-5) also can use last Sunday's game as motivation.
"We came in with a whole lot of confidence [Sunday]," said Southern senior point guard David Cason. "They knew we were coming after them. I thought we played a good game as far as their defense and their pressure."
Dunbar's first-half performance Sunday was its worst all season. The Poets trailed, 29-26 (their lowest first-half output this season), turned the ball over nine times and made nine of 26 field-goal attempts and five of 14 free throws. Southern's aggressive, collapsing, 1-2-2 zone defense was very effective.
"What we have to do is play better," said Dunbar coach Pete Pompey. "We faced a lot of man-to-man early in the year, and then we started facing zones packed in real tight. We have to get the ball inside and hit the outside shots to loosen Southern. Southern has great size and presents problems."
Two other MSA titles are on the line in today's Metro Classic, which benefits the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland.