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Preview: It's Holmes Vs. Cov Cath at Bank of Kentucky Center

For the second week in a row, both third-ranked Holmes and top-ranked Covington Catholic will play at The Bank of Kentucky Center, this time against each other.

Last week Cov Cath took out then No.1 Newport Central Catholic, 58-48, in front of a sizable crowd at the Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Classic and earned the top spot in this week's RCN/NKYSports.com Top-5 poll. Holmes also earned a victory there over Cooper, 66-55. Now the two schools bring similar styles of play to face one another in what should be a telling outcome in terms of the landscape of the Ninth Region.

Holmes head coach Mike Listerman says that because the teams are alike, the game will come down to the defensive end.

“The bottom line in the end, the difference in the game is who is going to play the better defense,” Listerman said. “Like you say, we're very similar, our styles are going to be similar. A few little things here and there could determine the final outcome.”

One big decision the Bulldogs' coaching staff face is how to contain Cov Cath big man Bo Schuh. At first glance, one may suspect that Holmes would put their tallest player Rod Avery up against Schuh as the two have similar body types and other physical characteristics. Listerman, though, said his team may have other ideas.

“I'm toying with the idea of playing Andrew Arnold against Schuh,” Listerman said. “Andrew does a heck of a job for us and we might be better off having Rod on somebody else and let Andrew take him. He's got a little size on Andrew, but Andrew will battle.”

Andrew Arnold is a thicker forward who excels at the little things like offensive rebounding and passing in the post. He puts in a tremendous amount of effort on both ends and typically helps his team on a nightly basis. The knock on Arnold is that he often misses shots in close and sometimes appears frustrated with himself for not scoring on easy opportunities, but it's hard to question his heart. Senior forward Jason Covington also provides Holmes with gritty minutes and helps take care of some of the dirty work down low.

If they do match up with Schuh, they will face the challenge of his ability to do damage on the outside with his long-range shooting and quality passing on the parameter. Schuh is kind of a stretch-four, meaning that he is a larger forward with the athleticism, ball-handling and outside shooting skill to draw out opposing big men. In the event Arnold and Covington are forced to come out of the paint, Schuh could drive past them on the dribble or find cutters to the rim.

Conversely, Rod Avery is also athletic and springy but he is not asked to dribble-drive on defenders. While not necessarily a post-player despite his 6'4'' frame, Avery hangs on the block and either waits on passes from driving guards or is there for offensive put backs, often made possible by his quick leaping ability. If Schuh is guarding one of the other Holmes forwards, checking Avery may fall to Cov Cath senior forward Grant Romes who is less athletic, but beefier than Avery.

The backcourt battle is also an intriguing one. Holmes features three guards who can regularly score, led by McDonald's All-American nominee James Bolden. He is flanked by junior guards Markel McClendon and Marcus Mullins. All three have improved over the course of the season and while Avery can put up healthy point totals himself, the meat of the Bulldogs offense comes from their guards, especially in transition. Often, Holmes will employ various forms of full-court defense to pressure the opposition's guards and force turnovers which most times lead to fast-break points. The problem they face on Friday, though, is that Cov Cath also prefers an up-tempo game and revels in the transition game.

“We've got to get out of the gate and play for 32 minutes hard, get on the floor, and keep them from getting a whole bunch of transition baskets,” Listerman said of Cov Cath, which many coaches say about his own team.

The key to that success for the Colonels is the ability of Bo Schuh to find streaking guards down court with quick and accurate outlet passes. Every time he gets a rebound, he first looks all the way down the floor to see if he can get the fast break going before settling on a shorter pass to a player who walks the ball to the other end. Because of this, it is imperative that the Bulldogs get back on defense as soon as possession changes.

While the Holmes back court is looked at to score points, so is the set of Colonel guards. Sophomore Cole VonHandorf is a natural scorer with a sweet left hand that can sink threes and take the ball to the rim. Senior point guard Cooper Theobald is a fearless competitor who often sacrifices his body as he drives to hoop and initiates a lot of contact in the air. The tandem has played well this season for coach Scott Ruthsatz and have helped cement the identity their coach seeks from his team.

Holmes had won 11 in a row before losing big on the road to Mason County earlier in the week, 70-46. Coach Listerman chalked his team's poor shooting performance up to fatigue after playing 14 games in 31 days.

They have rested since Wednesday and hope to have their legs back against the Colonels on Friday. They will certainly need them.

Holmes and Covington Catholic tip off at 8 p.m. following the Cooper-Conner game.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor