By Joe Henricksen
With February right around the corner there are many teams throughout the city and suburbs still searching, still figuring out just who and what they are. This Saturday at the Whitney Young Shootout, a few of these teams will have a chance to answer some questions prior to the stretch run of the season.
Von Steuben vs. Brooks at 11:30 a.m.
Question: Is Brooks ready to turn the corner?
While Brooks did get off to a slow start, people forget this team--while experienced--is still young with the nucleus being juniors. The Eagles appear to be putting things together at the right time, but a win over a ranked Von Steuben team would be just another stepping stone and confidence builder for Chris Head's club. Head has yet to turn this team into his typical defensive machine, but you just get the sense it's almost there.
Question: Can Von Steuben lock up a No. 1 seed in the sectional?
No one ever seems to take this particular Von Steuben team seriously, but coach Vince Carter's club is still in position to possibly secure a top seed in the Niles West Sectional. Von Steuben, which still feels the sting from a close loss to Foreman that decided the Red-North, owns a win over Glenbrook North. Von and GBN figure to be the 1-2 seeds at Niles West. Nonetheless, a win over Brooks would be a sectional resumé builder for Von Steuben at the right time of the season.
Lincoln Park vs. Niles Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m.
Question: Can Notre Dame get over the hump?
Niles Notre Dame has played a very tough schedule and been competitive, yet the Dons are looking for a signature win that can instill the confidence needed to be a factor in March. Notre Dame has some difference-making talent in senior Shawn Wallace and rising 6-4 junior Quinton Chievous that can surely make things interesting in the postseason, but getting on a role between now and the regional opener is imperative. That could start this weekend.
Question: Can Lincoln Park play the role of spoiler?
No one will pick Lincoln Park to win a regional in the loaded Proviso East Sectional a month from now, but the Lions have shown enough resolve and competitiveness to possibly pull off a surprise. But much like Notre Dame, Lincoln Park could use a marquee win and put together a string of wins. Big man Mike Gabriel and guards Dimarco Nash and Greg Tucker give the Lions the potential to put a scare into a higher-seeded team.
Seton Academy vs. Curie at 3:30 p.m.
Question: Is Seton a Class 2A threat despite a rough regular season?
Seton coach Ken Stevenson has preached to his team, even with the losses this season, that they will be primed and ready for a tournament run in March. After all, the defending 2A state champs have played a Class 3A and 4A schedule in preparation for the Class 2A tournament. This will be yet another good measuring stick for Seton as it gets out of the Catholic League for a day.
Question: Will Curie be able to lock up a top four sectional seed?
In no particular order, Whitney Young, Foreman and De La Salle presumably have the top three seeds locked up in the Proviso East Sectional. It will be big to secure the No. 4 seed to avoid having to play any of the top three in a regional final. Curie has played well since dropping two at Pontiac in late December and has played the type of schedule that could vault them into the No. 4 seed. The Condors handed talented Glenbard East its only loss of the season and has also beaten Bogan, Hyde Park and East Aurora.
St. Ignatius vs. North Lawndale at 5:30 p.m.
Question: Is Lawndale good enough to return to Peoria?
After Jon Mills, John Taylor, Terry Johnson, Zilijan Jones, Donte Dangerfield and Miles Mayfield, who combined to average 59 points last season in leading the Phoenix to a third-place finish in Class 3A, all graduated, most thought a return to Peoria this season was slim. Not so fast. Coach Lewis Thorpe's team has been more than a surprise; they've evolved into a 3A contender.
Question: Does Ignatius have the guard play to be better than a .500 team?
For the last several years no one has wanted to play St. Ignatius in March due to its combination of talent, coaching and style of play. That hasn't changed, but the guard play has not been consistent enough. At some point the Wolfpack, led by the junior tandem of 6-10 Nnanna Egwu and 6-4 Tyrone Staggers, will need to get solid play from its backcourt and take a big step forward if it plans to be a legit threat come state tournament time. Maybe this date with North Lawndale is the perfect remedy.
Whitney Young vs. St. Joseph at 7:30 p.m.
Question: Is St. Joe's good or REALLY good?
Little does anyone realize St. Joseph has lost just once since Thanksgiving -- to Whitney Young. The Chargers are in the midst of a rugged road swing, which included wins in Milwaukee and at St. Patrick last week, with four straight road dates--at Notre Dame, Whitney Young, St. Viator and Batavia--on the horizon. If Gene Pingatore's team still has just one loss since Thanksgiving 10 days from now, we'll have our answer to the question.
Question: What do we make of the Whitney Young loss to Crane?
Whitney Young showed us last year it's not about the regular season. Coach Tyrone Slaughter is not afraid to beef up the schedule, make his team better and be as prepared as possible for March. So don't look too much into the loss to Crane. This is still the most talented team on paper in the state of Illinois, but some of the key parts are inexperienced and maturing as players. This will be a rematch from the Proviso West Holiday Tournament quarterfinals, where Young won 58-51.
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