By Joe Henricksen
With an unbeaten, nationally-ranked Simeon, another unbeaten in Benet Academy and a surplus of talented and inspiring senior stars like Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and Rock Island's Chasson Randle among others, this 2010-2011 high school basketball season is a memorable one. And we haven't even hit March yet.
Then there is the week ahead of us, with the circle-the-date showdown featuring No. 1 and No. 2 meeting in a battle of unbeatens at UIC in the City-Suburban Showdown. That's where the Benet Academy-Simeon rematch takes place. A year ago Simeon knocked off Benet in dramatic fashion, earning a trip to Peoria with a supersectional overtime victory.
The City-Suburban Showdown has evolved into the premier night of high school basketball thus far this season, with 3A heavyweights Morgan Park and Rock Island squaring off and highly-ranked Proviso East facing Lyons Twp. in the opener of the tripleheader.
This week is the perfect storm when it comes to high school basketball scheduling in Illinois. Simeon-Benet is hardly the only must-see attraction in coming days, starting with Wednesday's Chicago Public League semifinals at DePaul.
Here is a rundown of all that will take place in the marquee events around the Chicago area this week.
SIMEON vs. BENET ACADEMY
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 8:45 p.m.
This week's issue of the City/Suburban Hoops Report broke this game down in detail, position by position. While Simeon has the advantage on paper--getting the edge in three of the five starting positions and an overwhelming advantage when it comes to bench strength--Benet will offer a challenge the top-ranked Wolverines have yet to see. This will be the most disciplined and under control team Simeon will have faced this season. Thanks in large part to the presence of point guard David Sobolewski and coach Gene Heidkamp, Benet never seems to get rattled. That goes a long way when playing a team with the talent and aura of Simeon in what should be a raucous UIC Pavilion. Fortunately, Simeon is extremely deep and that depth will be needed this week. The Wolverines will be playing a city semifinal game Wednesday night and, with a win, will be playing an intense city championship game on Friday night. Benet, meanwhile, has the week off and plenty of time to solely plan for what is the biggest regular-season game in the program's history.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 54, Benet 47
ROCK ISLAND vs. MORGAN PARK
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 7:00 p.m.
The prelude to the battle of unbeatens is a dandy, featuring two of the top Mr. Basketball candidates in the state in Rock Island's Chasson Randle and Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear. But this is more than a pair of individual stars. We're talking two legitimate Class 3A state title contenders who could very well see one another again in Peoria next month. After finishing fourth in the Red-South and an early exit from the city playoffs, Morgan Park could use a shot in the arm--and a win over Rock Island on a big stage would provide that and a boost heading into state tournament play. Rock Island, who is 21-2 with losses to the No. 1 ranked 3A team, Peoria Notre Dame, and East St. Louis, should be able to handle the pressure the Mustangs will throw at them with Randle and veteran Royce Muskeyvalley. The improved play of 6-8 Denzel McCauley has given Rock Island a different dimension. The key, however, will be whether Rock Island's transition defense can neutralize Morgan Park's up-tempo offense.
Hoops Report Pick: Morgan Park 60, Rock Island 58
LYONS TWP. vs. PROVISO EAST
Saturday, Feb. 19 at UIC, 5:15 p.m.
The opening game of the City-Suburban Showdown includes two teams that lead their respective West Suburban Conference divisions--LT on top in the Silver Division and Proviso East tied with Downers South in the Gold Division. A big element in this one will be anticipating which way the emotional pendulum will sway. Proviso East will be coming off a huge Friday night conference showdown with Downers Grove South, so the result of that game could play a part in a game with a far-from-the-norm start time of 4 p.m. This is a senior-dominated LT team, led by ISU recruit Nick Zeisloft, that has found its groove, while Proviso East boasts some of the best young talent in junior Keith Carter and sophomore Sterling Brown.
Hoops Report Pick: Proviso East 67, Lyons Twp. 63
CHICAGO PUBLIC LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
Friday, Feb. 18 at Chicago State
The Hoops Report is projecting a Simeon-Brooks battle in the city championship game, though Whitney Young and Curie both will have something to say about that Wednesday night in the semifinals.
HALES FRANCISCAN at DE LA SALLE
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
The two best teams in the tough Chicago Catholic League go at it for a second time. The earlier matchup back in December saw De La Salle's role players step up with major contributions down the stretch in a 68-65 road win. De La Salle has played solid, consistent and confident basketball, but the Meteors have hardly looked like world beaters. Nonetheless, coach Tom White's team has just two losses overall--only one loss to a team from Illinois (upset by Fenwick 49-48). Hales, which can match De La Salle's overall athleticism with the foursome of Aaric Armstead, Aaron Armstead, Dominique Walls and Eddie Alcantera, hasn't lost since falling to Crete-Monee at the McDipper in late December. An undervalued factor in De La Salle's success is the size and length the Meteors bring to the floor with 6-8 Mike Shaw, 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-6 Dre Henley.
Hoops Report Pick: De La Salle 62, Hales 58
PROVISO EAST at DOWNERS GROVE SOUTH
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
In all likelihood, this one will decide the West Suburban Gold race as both top 15 teams come in with one loss in league play. Downers Grove South went into Maywood earlier this season and won 60-48. That certainly grabbed the attention of Proviso East, whose only three losses have come to three ranked teams (Hales, H-F and Downers South). Downers Grove South has been on cruise control since a mid-December loss to Lyons Twp. The Mustangs, a well balanced team featuring a nice blend of size, athleticism and depth, have run off 14 consecutive wins.
Hoops Report Pick: Downers South 67, Proviso East 64
FREMD at CONANT
Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
While there isn't a team in the Mid-Suburban League's East or West Divisions ranked in anyone's top 25, this is a matchup that will go a long way in deciding a jumbled MSL West. Currently there are four teams--Conant, Fremd, Schaumburg and Barrington--all tied for first with a 6-3 record. Conant needs a win over Fremd and a Barrington loss. Fremd, meanwhile, needs to beat Conant and for both Barrington and Schaumburg to fall. Fremd is the defending MSL champs and boast a load of experience with a senior-dominated team. Conant has bounced back from a January swoon (consecutive losses to Palatine, Fremd and Barrington) to put itself back into the league race with three straight MSL wins. Senior London Dokubo sets the tone for a Conant team that brings its constant physical, smothering defensive-minded approach. The Cougars are allowing less than 50 points a game on the season. Obviously job No. 1 will be corralling Fremd scorer Zach Monaghan, who scored 23 points the last time these two met--a 55-46 Fremd victory in mid-January. Monaghan took over late in that one, scoring 15 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Hoops Report Pick: Fremd 44, Conant 41
CURIE vs. BROOKS
Wednesday, Feb. 17 at DePaul, 5:30 p.m.
As I watched Brooks make its furious comeback against Farragut Sunday night, I thought to myself, "That's what a team needs in order to get to Peoria." By that, I mean, senior toughness and a will to fight through some adversity. And coming back from 15 points down against Farragut shows the make-up of coach Bobby Locke's club. You have to give Brooks a lot of credit for holding its own with senior George Marshall on the shelf. With Marshall getting better and more comfortable by the day as he works himself back after a nearly two-month layoff, this team gets the edge over Curie. But with monster 6-8 freshman Cliff Alexander becoming a factor for coach Mike Oliver, the Condors have an added dimension it really didn't have the first half of the season. Curie will come in hyped up as it has not received the attention and accolades other CPS schools have despite a 26-1 record.
Hoops Report Pick: Brooks 60, Curie 55
WHITNEY YOUNG vs. SIMEON
Wednesday, Feb. 17 at DePaul, 7:15 p.m.
Here we go again. The two highest-profile programs in the state with the most individual talent square off with a lot more on the line than the last time they met in late January, which was a Simeon 60-39 whitewash. Expect a little more scratching and clawing out of Whitney Young in this one. For Whitney Young fans, the sight of point guard Derrick Randolph, who became eligible in late January, beginning to make an impact is golden. A good, early start for the Dolphins is imperative in this one. Simeon has operated like a well-oiled machine, taking care of teams in a business-like fashion all season. Aside from the Morgan Park game early in the year, Simeon has played with the lead and been able to dictate what it wants to do on both ends of the floor. There are many people who believe this is a matter of Simeon doing what it did to Whitney Young the last time, the Hoops Report isn't one of them. Young will be ready to play and give Simeon everything it can handle.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 53, Whitney Young 48
And a couple of others ....
Maine South at New Trier, Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
New Trier is hot. The Trevians, who recently welcomed back junior Austin Angel and have picked up big wins over Evanston and Waukegan in the past two weeks, are one game up on Maine South in the Central Suburban League South. Maine South, led by senior do-it-all Matt Palucki, lost to New Trier at home a month ago.
Niles North at Deerfield, Friday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Out of nowhere, Deerfield has climbed into the Central Suburban League North race, even after graduating all five starters from last year's highly-successful team that shared the league title. Deerfield has won 10 of its last 12, including six straight. Niles North, led by the now uncommitted Abdel Nader, is one game up on Deerfield in the CSL North standings.