By Joe Henricksen
If you look up and down the rankings -- from the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Top 25 to the Chicago Sun-Times
Top 25 -- you will find plenty of new teams that weren't there three or four weeks ago. The most recent issue of
the Hoops Report, which came out early this week, has six teams among the Top 25 that weren't there at
Thanksgiving time. Are these teams fit to stay?
There are plenty of unbeatens in the Chicago area as we head to holiday tournament time. The majority of those
unbeaten teams aren't much of a surprise, as the likes of Marshall, Farragut, H-F, Zion-Benton and Richards were
all highly thought of and ranked when the season began. But then there are the lesser-known unbeatens. Here is a
look at those teams. Will it be an official coming out party for these upstarts? Or will they settle back with the rest of
the pack and filter out of the Top 25 by January?
Lyons Twp., Lockport, Highland Park, Leo and West Aurora are all unbeaten on the season, with Leo and West
Aurora being the biggest surprises of the five. All are ranked among the Top 25, with the exception of Leo, and all
five have plenty to prove and their share of doubters out there.
Lockport (preseason rank: #38)
The senior tandem of 6-3 Brian Bradley and 6-6 Justin Jarosz have matured and are playing with more
consistency. Plain and simple, the two are playing the best basketball of their three-year varsity careers. The
Porters have impressive wins over both Bloom and Bolingbrook, which helped them earn a No. 2 seed at Pontiac.
They are playing extremely well together and are accepting their roles. Lockport will likely have to get by a solid
Schaumburg team and star Cully Payne in the quarterfinals at Pontiac--no easy task--before playing either West
Aurora or Chicago Curie in the semis. This is a golden opportunity to reach the final at Pontiac, which they haven't
done since 2001. But Lockport is poised to take the next step and win the Pontiac Tournament for the first time
since 1977 and open eyes on a big stage at Pontiac.
West Aurora (preseason rank: #45)
Aside from a win over Peoria Richwoods over Thanksgiving, the unbeaten Blackhawks' schedule has been
somewhat suspect. That changes in a hurry with rival East Aurora coming to the West Side Saturday night,
followed by the annual trip to Pontiac. How good is this West Aurora team? On paper it's not nearly as talented as
past West High teams. But coach Gordie Kerkman really likes the way his team has played defensively and how
they are playing together. West's top player, Tyler Thompson, returned to practice this week after suffering a
broken finger. That should be a lift for a team that will has difficulty scoring at times. There is no doubt the Pontiac
Tournament will be a measuring stick for a team no one really knows how good it is. The Hoops Report believes
anything better than a 2-2 record at Pontiac would show West is better than people think. But a 2-2 record is
probably more realistic.
Highland Park (preseason rank: #39)
It's not as if the Hoops Report is completely surprised by Highland Park's early-season success. The Hoops Report
did pick Highland Park to end Glenbrook North's reign in the Central Suburban North this year. However, this team
can really make a statement at Elgin next week, a tournament the Hoops Report believes is the second strongest in
Illinois this year. Highland Park could get a CSL South team, Waukegan and Jereme Richmond, in the second round,
followed by a matchup with either Wheaton North or Hoffman Estates. Senior guard Chris Wroblewski might just be
the best player no one talks about. The kid can flat-out shoot the basketball and score in bunches. Any team that
comes out of Elgin with four wins will be applauded as the field is loaded with quality teams. Highland Park will be in
the mix at Elgin, will win the CSL North and open eyes throughout the winter.
Lyons Twp. (preseason rank:#49)
There are coaches out there that felt LT was the team to beat -- not Oak Park -- in the West Suburban Silver this
year. No one in the media paid attention, ranking Oak Park in the Top 25 and leaving LT on the outside looking in.
Coach Conte Stamas' team, which checks in at No. 16 in the most recent Hoops Report poll, could very well head
into January unbeaten. While the York Holiday Tournament should be competitive, it's certainly not loaded -- and
very winnable for Lyons Twp. An underrated Willowbrook team, Brother Rice, St. Ignatius, Conant and York are the
teams likely standing in LT's way over the four days at York. Don't be surprised if this team is still without a loss
when 2008 rolls around.
Leo (preseason rank: unranked)
Perhaps the feel-good story of the five unbeaten teams listed. You just can't help but feel good for coach Noah
Cannon, who the Hoops Report has always felt does things the right way. This is a program that lost most of its
firepower due to graduation. Then it lost the twin towers, 6-9 Stan Simpson and 6-9 Steve Goins, over the summer.
Simpson, the Illinois recruit, transferred to Simeon, while Goins, who is getting Division I interest, moved on to Curie.
But behind rising junior point guard James Pointer, the Lions are thriving in the early going. But big tests await,
including a battle with Fenwick on Friday night, followed by the Big Dipper at Rich South. Leo will have its hands full
with Crete-Monee in the opening round, while a true measuring stick awaits in the quarterfinals against Lincoln
Park. While it's definitely nice to see Leo survive the graduations and transfers of star players, don't expect the
Lions to compete for Big Dipper of Catholic League titles just yet.