By Joe Henricksen
As long as the winter weather doesn't knock out a few games, the next three days of high school basketball action in the Chicago area should be awfully entertaining, important and telling.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the matchups and the significance of each.
The Big One
When the season tipped off back in November the North Lawndale-Whitney Young matchup scheduled for this Friday night was tabbed as the Game of the Year, with both programs ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in most preseason rankings. The game still carries a lot of significance, both in the Red-West and in the overall landscape of high school basketball. The game will be carried on television and will feature more talent on the floor than any other game this season.
This game matters. First, it will go a long way in deciding the Red-West as both teams come in unbeaten in league play. Second, North Lawndale, with its strong showing in Florida over the holidays and its thrashing of Crane, is in the midst of reclaiming its bid as the state's best team. And third, Whitney Young simply needs a big win. Yes, the schedule has been brutally tough for the Dolphins, but a roster loaded with this much individual talent needs to break through.
And how about those matchups on the perimeter? Young's Chris Colvin (Iowa State), Ahmad Starks (Oregon State), Anthony Johnson (Purdue) and Marcus Jordan going up against Terry Johnson (Illinois State), John Taylor and Zilijan Jones will be fun to watch. North Lawndale, though, just seems to have a little more physical and mental toughness. The big, physical combination of North Lawndale's Jonathan Mills and junior Jermaine Winfield could be the difference.
The East Aurora-West Aurora rivalry is the best in Illinois. The rivalry features a long history, one community, two tradition-rich programs and, this year, one of the top venues in prep basketball -- East Aurora's gym. East Aurora is hot and comes into this drama-filled rivalry with the most to gain. West Aurora has had its way in this rivalry over the past decade and it may be East's time. With 6-3 Will Brown, an electric scorer on the wing, and an improving Ryan Boatright, the Tomcats have the potential to keep the momentum they've gained over the past month and ride it right into sectional seeding time.
The Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Saturday night features a tripleheader, which includes a pair of intriguing matchups. Barrington and Conant tip off at 4:30, followed by two good ones: Jacobs vs. Schaumburg at 6:30 p.m. and St. Joseph vs. North Lawndale at 8:30 p.m. Both Schaumburg and North Lawndale will be coming off huge conference battles on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Schaumburg's Cully Payne has played himself into the Mr. Basketball conversation. Jacobs, led by underappreciated Conrad Krutwig, is a solid 11-3. St. Joe's is on top of the East Suburban Catholic Conference and recently welcomed back junior star DeAndre McCamey.
The Conference Battles
Schaumburg vs. Hoffman Estates
Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates were expected to contend in the Mid-Suburban League West, but they weren't supposed to be this big of a factor overall on the high school scene. Both were unranked in the preseason and now both are ranked in the Top 25 with combined records of 27-3. Hoffman Estates, led by guard Luke Mead, can put itself in the MSL West driver's seat with a win.
Rich East at Bloom
Bloom has overcome great obstacles, has played itself into the rankings and, with a win over Rich East, will even things up in the SICA South. And it's time to quit calling Rich East a surprise. This quick, athletic group is the real deal and has emerged as the favorite over the likes of Bloom and Crete-Monee.
Seton Academy at Mount Carmel
In addition to a pair of teams that are unbeaten in the rugged Catholic South, this matchup features a dandy battle in the backcourt as Seton's D.J. Cooper goes up against Mount Carmel's Tracy Abrams. The young Caravan are still trying to find their way, while Seton has a few more proven commodities at this point in the season.
Lincoln Park at Foreman
While Foreman has climbed into everyone's rankings, Lincoln Park has fallen out of them. Nevertheless, the two teams are the unbeaten favorites in the Red-North. Foreman's backcourt of Lavonte Dority and Mike McCall is about as good as it gets at the high school level. A win here for Lincoln Park would be a huge lift.
Loyola Academy at Leo
The Catholic League North has two teams sitting at the top unbeaten: Leo and Loyola. While there certainly is a long way to go, with both St. Ignatius and Fenwick figuring into things, the winner will put themselves in a great position. But how far -- or how much longer -- can Matt Sullivan carry this Loyola team? Loyola managed to handle North Chicago's quickness and athleticism. Will they be able to contain Leo's and, in particular, high-scoring guard James Pointer?