By Joe Henricksen
And some random midseason thoughts from the Hoops Report on this mid-January day ...
• SIMEON'S LOSS TO FINDLAY PREP means little in the grand scheme of things when it comes to Illinois prep basketball and the balance of power. Rob Smith's team played more one-on-one basketball against Findlay than it ever does, but that will be corrected quickly.
• NATIONAL RANKINGS ARE STUPID, especially when you include prep school basketball factories with players from around a region or country. Prep schools really have nothing to do with high school basketball. Plus, very few of the top teams from around the country play one another, while even fewer people -- including those that rank these teams -- actually see all the teams play. Again, national rankings are really nothing more than a media creation and forced basketball dialogue. Simeon's focus now going forward can be on winning another state championship.
• I LOVE PROVISO EAST, but anyone who comes out with rankings next week with Proviso East No. 1 over Simeon is silly. That's like Syracuse losing to a collection of college all-stars who get to practice together for five months and then dropping the Orange out of the top spot.
• MARSHALL CAME INTO SEASON UNDER THE RADAR. But after knocking off Crane, Farragut and St. Joseph last week -- and then the overtime thriller over Whitney Young on Wednesday -- the 17-4 Commandos are certainly on the radar now. And in a big way! Coach Henry Cotton's club is unbeaten in the state's toughest league, the Public League's Red-West, and looks as if Marshall is putting the league race away. Wow. Wow. Wow.
And how about Milton Doyle? The 6-4 active, athletic wing and top dozen prospect in the Class of 2012 has been absolutely terrific this season for Marshall.
• NORTH CHICAGO IS BETTER THAN LAST YEAR, which was a team that finished just over .500 at 17-15 but fourth in the state in Class 3A. But the Warhawks, led by high-scoring Aaron Simpson, need to find a way to close out games against quality teams.
• HAVE FUN SEEDING THE CLASS 3A SECTIONAL at Glenbard South in a few weeks. Marshall, Orr, Crane, Farragut, St. Joseph, Riverside-Brookfield and North Lawndale all have played quality schedules and will be fighting for sectional seeds. This much we know: Marshall has done its job up to this point in earning the top seed.
• DID HOPE ACADEMY REALLY BEAT Marshall without Jalen James in early January???? Yowza! Good for you, you little 1A school without its high-major point guard who left the scene! Impressive!
• PLAINFIELD EAST IS ENTERTAINING. They run, jump, create steals defensively, get out in transition and play a free and easy style. This is the No. 1 seed in the East Aurora Sectional barring a big upset between now and the seeding week.
• CAN'T SAY ENOUGH ABOUT BIG MAN BRIAN BENNETT of Plainfield East. The 6-9 senior has redefined his body and reformed his game. He dropped 45-50 pounds of weight since last season and is just so much lighter on his feet, gets up and down the floor better and, with that, competes a little harder. Congrats, Cal Poly! You came in and stole a coveted big man who has a lot to work with.
• WANT SOME FUN? Bogan vs. Simeon on Jan. 25.
• WAS THINKING ABOUT CRANDALL HEAD earlier this week. The former Crane/Rich South/Illinois player is likely to go down as a player the Hoops Report certainly missed on when projecting high school talent. He was the Hoops Report's No. 4 prospect in that class, behind Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard and Lenzelle Smith. A change of schools and fresh start is all good and dandy -- and there is still time to salvage his college career -- but the skill level and the want to haven't taken any steps forward since electrifying us all with his high school sophomore year talents and upside. So where does he end up? UNLV is out, so thinking either DePaul, the rumored destination since he left Illinois, or a junior college at this point.
And with that being said .... It's going to be interesting to continue monitoring the whole early commitment trend that took the recruiting game by storm about five or six years ago. There was surely to be some fallout and there will continue to be.
• WARREN BIG FELLA NATHAN BOOTHE is quietly putting together a solid, productive season for the Blue Devils and has raised his stock as a prospect in the eyes of the Hoops Report. Toledo signed the 6-9 Boothe last fall and is getting a player with size and workable skills.
• FORGET ABOUT ORR'S BIG THREE of Marquise Pryor, Jamal McDowell and sophomore Tyquane Greer for a moment. With guard Devante Jones now eligible, along with a very dangerous scorer in Deshawn King, coach Lew Adams has an arsenal of talent that is better than last year's more ballyhooed team.
• COACH OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES are plenty with so many surprises this season. But the Hoops Report's first-half coach of the year candidate list may start with Rich Kehoe of St. Ignatius.
• FORGET THE NUMBERS in some cases. Having talked a little with the University of Illinois coaching staff, the numbers former Mt. Carmel star Tracy Abrams has put up as a freshman -- very modest, to say the least -- along with his overall ability, say very little in regard to the impact the guard has had and what he's brought to the team in practice, in huddles and away from the court. The coaching staff continues to rave about his budding leadership and the competitive spirit he brings to the program.
• AT WHAT POINT DO WE QUIT calling overachieving St. Ignatius a surprise? A 54-37 dismantling of Farragut shows once again how dangerous the Wolfpack will be as a Class 3A team this March.
• YORK HAS IT GOING. Coach Tom Kleinschmidt's club went 5-0 in the Galesburg Tournament and has won seven consecutive games to improve to 12-7 after a 5-7 start to the season. Hoops Report favorite David Cohn, a talented 6-2 junior guard, has led the way, but 6-7 sophomore Frank Toohey is starting to come into his own. Toohey was a Galesburg all-tournament selection, along with Cohn. Have you heard? Hoops Report high on Kid Cohn.
• HAS ANYONE NOTICED HILLCREST is 13-3 with three losses to teams with a combined record of 44-4?
• IT MIGHT NOT ALWAYS BE PRETTY but Naperville North just needs to continue riding that senior experience and mojo they have going. The surprising Huskies remained unbeaten in the DuPage Valley with an emotional triple overtime win over rival Naperville Central last Friday. Then coach Jeff Powers' club followed it up with a 54-52 win on a Mike Keane game-winning layup with two seconds remaining. A win over Glenbard North Friday night would mean a clean 7-0 sweep of first-round DVC games for the Huskies.
• STAYING IN NAPERVILLE, Central will be the team to beat in the DuPage Valley going into next season. Coach Pete Kramer has a nice nucleus of combined young talent in the sophomore and junior classes.
• THERE IS NO BAD SHOT at North Chicago.
• GLENBROOK NORTH'S BIG JUNIOR, impressive 6-8 Andrew McAuliffe, sports several Division I offers already and is close to returning to action after suffering a knee injury in December that has kept him out over a month.
• ADD CURIE'S LIL JUBRIL JACKSON to the list of overlooked players who have made big impacts for highly-ranked teams. This has been Devin Foster's team and season, and big Cliff Alexander is the coveted prospect, but Jackson has given coach Mike Oliver valuable minutes in the backcourt and made some key plays this season. The jet-quick 5-8 point guard has been huge for the Condors and, right along with Foster, made big plays in key moments this season.
• WHITNEY YOUNG-CURIE is one of those games that gets you excited. This Sunday's game features the top two prospects in the Class of 2014 in Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, but the game also represents litmus test of sorts for Tyrone Slaughter's Dolphins. The national schedule has been rugged and will prepare Young well for what's ahead, including the city playoffs and state tournament time in March, but a win over a quality in-state opponent is needed.
• THE HOOPS REPORT HAS RAVED about the arrival of Riverside-Brookfield big man Miki Ljuboja this season, the 6-7 junior who is a legitimate Division I prospect. But fellow junior Damonta Henry is putting up numbers for the Bulldogs as well. The 6-0 guard is averaging 17.8 points, 5 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game.
• AND NOW THERE ARE THREE -- a trio of unbeaten teams remaining in the Chicago area in Proviso East, Plainfield East and Andrew. If Andrew gets by Thornwood this Friday in a big road test in the Southwest Suburban Red, look for the Thunderbolts to run the table with the schedule they have ahead of them.
• THERE'S A LOT OF BASKETBALL TO BE PLAYED between now and the middle of March, but here's hoping for the brackets to at least allow for the possibility of a Simeon-Proviso East Class 4A state championship.
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