By Joe Henricksen
Simeon and Curie.
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
The two teams with identical 24-1 records have already met in one huge game, going at it in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament championship back in December. The two Public League powers will decide another title Friday night, with the winner being crowned city champs.
And the two could very well meet with the season on the line in a few weeks in the championship game of the Argo Sectional.
But first, the first of a potential two rematches between these two city powers.
Simeon took care of Curie pretty easily at Pontiac, with the Wolverines claiming a 44-27 win over the Condors. Simeon out-rebounded Curie 32-23 and harassed the Condors into a brutal night of shooting (11 of 48 from the field).
The bad news for Curie is Simeon superstar Jabari Parker was extremely quiet in the first matchup, with Parker scoring just six points on only five shot attempts and four rebounds. Have you SEEN what Parker has done in the last two city playoff games? Curie didn't see that Jabari Parker back in December, and that has to be worrisome. With Parker, you have to fear the ability, when all things fail, that he just goes and makes plays when needed.
But nearly two months later, both teams are clearly better. In the first half of both a big Red-South showdown with Bogan last month and in a city semifinal win over Orr Wednesday, Simeon turned up the defensive pressure and looked pretty darn unbeatable in those first halves of play. And Curie hasn't lost a game since falling to Simeon, gaining a bigger impact from star sophomore Cliff Alexander by the week and continuing to thrive with depth and the don't-you-worry, I-got-you-big-play ability from senior Devin Foster.
Curie is deeper, especially with the addition of Maurice Fleming and the spark sophomore scorer Joseph Stamps is capable of providing in spurts. Neither Fleming or Stamps played in the first Simeon matchup. Fleming, a physical, tough guard who is a star football player heading to Iowa, provides a very valuable lift for coach Mike Oliver. He was a big factor in the semifinal win over Bogan Wednesday night and is a veteran senior the Condors can lean on.
Plus, simply put, Alexander is growing up quickly and becoming a force. He is playing at a higher level in the middle of February than he was in late December. Alexander scored just two points and had only six rebounds in that Simeon loss. In the last three playoff wins over Crane, Morgan Park and Bogan, the 6-8 sophomore has put up 41 points and 40 rebounds while become more assertive and effective offensively.
But at the end of the day, Simeon is playing on the stage it is so used to playing on and is motivated to win a city title after a brief post-Derrick Rose hiatus.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 58, Curie 50
Big weekend of hoops ahead
The City/Suburban Hoops Report's snapshot of the big games on tap for this weekend around the Chicago area.
West Aurora at Naperville North
The DuPage Valley Conference title is on the line, with Naperville North holding a one-game lead and already owning a win over West Aurora in DVC play. Barring an upset, the two will meet again for the Oswego Regional championship in a couple of weeks. Can the surprising Huskies claim their first conference championship since 1998?
St. Rita at St. Joseph
Coach Gene Pingatore's club could very well play the role of spoiler in this one. The Chargers, already with three Catholic League losses, will host the league-leading Mustangs and star guard Tony Hicks. There will be plenty of young talent on display in this one, including St. Joe's sophomores Paul Turner and Karriem Simmons, along with St. Rita freshman Charles Matthews and sophomores Dominique Matthews and Vic Law.
Bloom at Crete-Monee
A pair of talented south suburban point guards go at it one more time as Bloom's Donald Moore and Crete-Monee's Michael Orris square off in what could decide the Southland Conference title. Bloom holds a one game lead over both Crete-Monee and Rich South. But Bloom will have to find a way to beat Crete-Monee a third time, having already knocked off the Warriors 52-45 in the title game of the McDipper and winning 43-38 back in January.
Downers Grove South at Proviso East
The last big test for a Proviso East team that is hoping to cap off its first unbeaten regular season since the 1992 team, which went on to claim a Class AA state championship. Proviso East went into Downers Grove in January and beat the Mustangs 78-70 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. Will DGS be able to handle the Proviso East defensive speed and quickness better than it did in the first meeting? Proviso East holds a one game lead over Downers Grove South in the West Suburban Gold.
City-Suburban Showdown at Proviso West • Saturday, Feb. 18
• St. Rita vs. New Trier @ 4:30 p.m.
• Warren vs. Proviso East @ 6:30 p.m.
• De La Salle vs. Simeon @ 8:30 p.m.
A trio of appetizing games as all six teams and fans gear up for state tournament play in March. All six teams are currently ranked in the Hoops Report's Top 25, with the Warren-Proviso East matchup a battle featuring the No. 4 and No. 2 teams, respectively.
Will the state's top two teams, Simeon and Proviso East, be susceptible to upsets following Friday night's monster matchups -- Proviso East vs. Downers Grove South to decide the West Suburban Gold and Simeon vs. Curie in the city championship? Warren, led by 6-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul, hopes to utilize its size against a small but ultra-quick Proviso East team.
St. Rita, New Trier and De La Salle all come in with something to prove. St. Rita is looking to strut its stuff on the local scene after playing a heavy out-of-state schedule. New Trier hopes to show it resembles the team that went 18-2 in its first 20 games rather than the one that has lost its last three. And talented but enigmatic De La Salle, led by a big-named junior group, hopes to simply show it can play with the state's elite in preparation for a rugged Argo Sectional. The Meteors, who have lost to Hillcrest, St. Rita twice and St. Ignatius, have not beaten a ranked team yet this season.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport