By Joe Henricksen
We are a week into 2012. The second half of the prep basketball season is upon us. It's time to roll out a handful of dates the Hoops Report has circled over the next seven weeks of the regular season. These are games to keep an eye on as this season unfolds.
Monday, Jan. 16
• Simeon vs. Findlay Prep (Springfield, MA)
The Hoops Report typically doesn't get very excited about any out-of-state team matching up with an Illinois team, but we're talking two of the top five teams in the country on national television. Simeon's dream of a mythical national championship will be on the line as the Wolverines represent the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
Thursday, Jan. 19
• Proviso East at Downers Grove South
This is the first of two meetings -- the two meet again in the West Suburban Gold regular-season finale Feb. 17 in Maywood -- between two teams with lofty expectations and plenty of talent. Proviso East has cruised to a 13-0 start, while Jerron Wilbut, Jamall Millison and the Mustangs look for a showcase win and a leg up in the league race. We'll see how far DGS has come since its upset loss to St. Ignatius in the semifinals of the York Holiday Tournament.
Sunday, Jan. 22
• Curie at Whitney Young
This is not only a chance to see two of the top teams in the city and state, but it's an opportunity to get the first regular season head-to-head look at the top two prospects in the Class of 2014 -- Whitney Young's 6-10 Jahlil Okafor and Curie's 6-8 Cliff Alexander. This is the headliner in what should be a great two-day shootout at Whitney Young.
Wednesday, Jan. 25
• Bogan at Simeon
The Hoops Report has been fortunate to take in both regular season games these two have played over the past two years. And this one could be the most hyped, critical and best matchup of them all. This has developed into a bit of an underrated recent rivalry. Have you heard? Bogan is 14-1 and ranked in everyone's top 10. And have you heard? Simeon is the No. 1 ranked team in the country. This will be feisty battle.
Saturday, Feb. 4
• St. Ignatius vs. New Trier @ Loyola
This is a better-than-expected non-conference game as St. Ignatius, at 11-2 on the season and winners of the York Holiday Tournament, has been one of the bigger surprises this season. New Trier, meanwhile, has solidified itself as one of the top 10 teams in the Chicago area this year and has lost just twice -- to top 10 teams Warren and Proviso East.
Saturday, February 18
• Simeon vs. De La Salle
• Warren vs. Proviso East
• New Trier vs. St. Rita
Games 1 and 2 of the annual City-Suburban Showdown aren't too shabby, but the Simeon-De La Salle matchup in the finale is the main event. Jabari Parker. Steve Taylor. Kendrick Nunn. Alex Foster. Gavin Schilling. Alvin Ellis. That's not enough? How about size vs. speed in a Warren-Proviso East clash, which features two teams in the Hoops Report's top 10. And don't forget about New Trier-St. Rita in the opener.
When you combine six teams, three games, one day and all six of the teams are in the Hoops Report's top 20, including five among the top dozen, it's a pretty special day of prep hoops in Illinois for the high school basketball fan late in the season.
Wednesday, Feb. 22
• St. Viator at Niles Notre Dame
The Hoops Report has a feeling this regular-season finale will decide what will be a compelling and competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference race this season. Plus, the atmosphere with these two programs and student body fan bases will be electric and a great tuneup for March.
Friday, Feb. 24
• Upstate Eight Conference Championship
If the game everyone expects to materialize does indeed come to fruition, we could be looking at a Metea Valley team sporting a 25-0 record and an Elgin team with a 24-1 record. That certainly isn't unrealistic as both Metea and Elgin will be favored to win every game on its schedule going forward.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport