When all the holiday tournament brackets across the state started churning out endless potential matchups earlier this month, one in particular stood out -- if it materialized.
With hundreds of games having been played and dozens of titles awarded this past week, the best potential holiday matchup has come to fruition at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
While everyone looks forward to a one vs. two matchup a month from now when Whitney Young and Simeon go at it, the Morgan Park-Proviso East title tussle on Monday at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament has the makings of a midseason classic.
When the City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings come out this week, Morgan Park and Proviso East will be No. 3 and No. 4, depending on the result of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament finale. There may not be a matchup anywhere in the state at anytime this season that will showcase more basketball speed and quickness from two teams than this one.
Morgan Park, which is the most talented team in the state in Class 3A, has yet to lose to a team from Illinois. Aside from a hard-fought win over a very good and highly-ranked Niles Notre Dame, Morgan Park has crushed every in-state opponent it's faced.
Proviso East, meanwhile, seems to have grown up and come together since a turbulent start to the season. Despite an abundance of talent in place, there were different pieces to place and new roles to be established for the Pirates. Coach Donnie Boyce realized it could take some time, but Proviso East has made positive strides.
There is no better example of that improvement than it's semifinal win over Oswego. Talk about a measuring stick. After being stunned by the upstart Panthers the week of Thanksgiving, Proviso East turned the tables and showed why the Pirates were so highly thought of when the season began, cruising to a 79-55 win over a red-hot Oswego team Saturday night.
SMU recruit Sterling Brown is the star, but the bundle of energy known as Paris Lee is the catalyst. With the big names like Brown, Lee, Brandon Jenkins and Jevon Carter on the same page, this remains a team that is every bit as dangerous as last year's state runner-up. But another big difference between the late November Proviso East and the late December Proviso East is some added depth.
Boyce has more size in 6-5 Paris McCullum, who recently became eligible after transferring from St. Patrick. He scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action in the win over Oswego. Sophomore Kalin Fisher is making his presence felt as well, scoring 10 points in the win over Benet and 12 against Oswego.
Morgan Park has so many different weapons and serious depth it's almost dizzying, particularly on the perimeter with a steady stream of guards. Although the senior duo of Kyle Davis (Dayton recruit) and Billy Garrett, Jr. (DePaul recruit) are the headliners, the list of quality guards extends to senior Markee Williams, juniors Lamont Walker and Torry Johnson, sophomore Kain Harris and freshman Charlie Moore.
"I don't only think we have the best backcourt in Illinois, I think we have the best backcourt in the country," says Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin of his duo of Davis and Garrett. "We also have a whole lot of weapons behind them."
What's been the most impressive thing about Morgan Park's start, is that it's made a habit this year of making things extremely difficult for opposing guards, sending a wave of backcourt weapons and depth at any talented guard in its path.
Bogan's Luwane Pipkins, an exciting and talented sophomore guard, was fresh off scoring 26 and 32 points in the first two games of the Proviso West Tournament. Morgan Park's harassed Pipkins throughout its quarterfinal win and held Pipkins to 0 for 5 from the field and zero points.
While super sophomore Jalen Brunson of Stevenson did manage to score 17 points in the semifinal loss to Morgan Park, the Mustangs made it difficult on the young guard. He shot 4 of 11 from the field and had seven turnovers against Morgan Park's pressure.
Now Morgan Park's piranhas will try to sink their teeth into Paris Lee of Proviso East. While Pipkins and Brunson were just sophomores, Lee is a senior, a seasoned vet headed to Illinois State who has taken on his share of battles over the past two-plus seasons. Lee is fresh off a big-time performance against Oswego, where he had 23 points (5 of 6 from beyond the arc) and added two steals and three assists.
Just another battle to watch within the big one Monday afternoon at Proviso West, featuring two of the elite teams in the state.
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