By Joe Henricksen
Quietly, it's a big weekend.
While there aren't any must-win games in December, there are certainly some important ones. And this weekend offers up several matchups that will definitely help shape many conference races going forward. The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look at the top games in the Chicago area this weekend and ranks them in order of importance and impact.
1. Marist at St. Viator. This is a big one. While Marist was the No. 14 ranked team in the Hoops Report's preseason rankings, St. Viator was labeled a "sleeper" in the preseason issue. Both are right on pace. St. Viator has quietly put together a 7-0 start. Both will contend for an East Suburban Catholic Conference title, but Marist does not want to start 0-2 in league action after falling to Niles Notre Dame last week. And in ESCC play, this is the only time these two hook up this season.
2. Libertyville at Stevenson. Quick, who out there new Libertyville was undefeated? Liar! So who cares if you don't know names like Griffin Pils and Anthony Mack, a pair of seniors who have pushed Libertyville to 7-0. Stevenson has a new perspective after knocking off Warren to kickstart the North Suburban Lake action last week. Both these teams are 2-0 in league play. There won't be a lot of scoring Friday night, but the winner will be sitting pretty with a win.
3. St. Joseph at St. Rita. A lot of individual talent on the floor, including young promising prospects like St. Joe's sophomore Paul Turner and St. Rita freshman Charles Matthews. St. Joseph is young and improving, while St. Rita is banged up and trying to survive while A.J. Avery and Dominique Matthews are out with injuries. But St. Rita's high-scoring Tony Hicks will do all he can to keep the Mustangs afloat, while St. Joe's hopes to steal one while the Mustangs are dinged up.
4. St. Charles East at Elgin. The league favorite, Elgin, was upset by Geneva in the UEC River opener, so this home date with a better-than-you-think St. Charles East becomes a big one if the Maroons want to repeat as conference champs. First-year coach Pat Woods has St. Charles East off to a 3-0 start in league play. Elgin will need to find a way to clamp down on St. Charles East junior star Kendall Stephens.
5. New Trier at Waukegan. These were the two teams the Hoops Report expected to be battling for the top spot in the Central Suburban League South when the season started. And they are both 2-0 heading into this early-season showdown. A road win here for the Trevians would be a big step in the right direction in a season with such high expectations.
6. Plainfield East at Minooka. Hey, how did this one get in here? Plainfield East? Minooka? Plainfield East, now in just its third year of varsity action in the young school history, has been one of the best early-season stories. Senior point guard Dee Brown is a Hoops Report favorite. But a Minooka program that has had its troubles over the years (31-79 the past four seasons), is a veteran team, off to a 6-1 start and tied with Plainfield East at 2-0 in the Southwest Suburban. And 6-4 senior Ben Heide has gone from a terrific shooter to an all-around player.
7. St. Ignatius vs. Loyola (at Loyola University). Although Loyola is young, the Ramblers are finally at full strength and getting better. Peter Pujals, a 6-1 junior, is playing well. St. Ignatius is off to a 6-1 start behind the backcourt play of Brian Howard and Jack Crepeau.
8. Barrington at Schaumburg. Barrington had hopes of challenging for a Mid-Suburban League West title when the season started. Now the Broncos, who are 1-1 in league play, must find a way to avoid dropping two games behind Schaumburg. That won't be easy with Western Illinois recruit John Schneider, a 6-7 senior, out with a broken hand. Junior guard Brad Zaumseil is a good one and will have to carry a bigger load. The favored Saxons have the edge with their experience.
9. Highland Park at Glenbrook North. Highland Park (5-2 overall and 2-0 in the CSL North) has the opportunity to take a big step towards making a legitimate run at a Central Suburban League North title as it faces a Glenbrook North team playing without star junior Andrew McAuliffe. GBN, which has been so dominant over the past decade in league play, could fall two games behind with a loss.
10. Morgan Park at Ridgewood. This little 2 p.m. Sunday matinée is an intriguing non-conference game between a pair of Class 3A teams. Ridgewood, which returns the nucleus from last year's 20-win, regional title team, has a trio on the perimeter -- Andy Mazurczak, Pete Mroz and sophomore Anthony Mroz -- to lean on as coach Chris Mroz uses this game as a measuring stick to see how far his team has come. Young and talented Morgan Park, led by junior star Billy Garrett, has received a lift from sophomore guard Torry Johnson.
11. East Aurora vs. West Aurora at NIU. Arguably the greatest rivalry in Illinois prep basketball--two teams, one community, two great traditions--plays on the Northern Illinois University campus Saturday night. Unfortunately, this one doesn't come close to what the majority of the previous 214 matchups between these two have provided fans. West Aurora is off to a quick start, but Ryan Boatright-less East Aurora is still looking for its first win of the season.
Chicago Winter Jamboree at Oakton, Saturday, Dec. 17
Schurz vs. Dunbar @ 1:30 p.m.
Lane Tech vs. Wisconsin Brookfield @ 3:00 p.m.
Taft vs. Marist @ 4:30 p.m.
Von Steuben vs. Providence St. Mel @ 6:00 p.m.
Foreman vs. Libertyville @ 7:30 p.m.