If there was ever a team that needed a lift, a midseason mojo win, it was Curie. And the Condors got it Tuesday night with a big victory at St. Rita.
Fresh off a last-second upset loss to York on Sunday, Curie came back two days later, behind its star Cliff Alexander, and secured an important road win over a talented St. Rita team that had not lost to an in-state team since November.
"This was a big confidence-builder for us," Curie coach Mike Oliver said after the game. "It's huge for us. We haven't played up to our capabilities in a couple of our high-profile games, and I know some people have been down on us. But this shows we can play with the best teams in the state, because that's a very talented St. Rita team we beat."
Curie has a force in Alexander, who went for 21 points and 20 rebounds in the win over St. Rita. The 6-9 junior is, after all, the best darn prospect in the state this side of Simeon's Jabari Parker and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.
However, if the Condors want to be included in that talented trio of Simeon, Young and Morgan Park when the city playoffs roll around -- and be in contention this March in a loaded Argo Sectional -- quality guard play will be imperative. That's where seniors DeMarcus Richardson and Marcellus Davis come into play.
No one realized just how important and how big of a season Devin Foster had for Curie last year when, as a senior, he led the Condors to a 25-3 record. Thus, no one realized earlier this year how much he would be missed. As a result, Curie stumbled early, falling to both Homewood-Flossmoor and Benet Academy in early December.
Despite playing Simeon tough at Pontiac in December, Curie fell 62-57. Then the loss to York on Sunday left the Curie doubters howling.
Oliver, though, is quick to point out that the only player who registered significant minutes a year ago was Alexander. He knew that despite the high preseason ranking his team received, it was going to take time.
"People don't realize how many new players we have," says Oliver. "We're playing a freshman [Devin Gage] and a sophomore [Joshua Stamps]. And even though Demarcus [Richardson] is a senior, he's a first-year guy who took some time learning our system and how we do things. I'm 100 percent comfortable with our guard play now in comparison to the beginning of the season."
The guard play, led by Richardson, who has settled in nicely after transferring in from De La Salle, is much-improved. And young players like freshman Devin Gage and sophomore Joshua Stamps, who are bonafide college prospects with high-level talent, now have some experience under their belt. Gage came up big in the win over St. Rita, scoring 13 points.
"I do think we're only going to get better," says Oliver.
There is no reason to start looking ahead to next year if you're Curie -- there is plenty of meaningful basketball to be played this season -- but Oliver could have the best team he's ever had at Curie in 2013-2014. Alexander, one of the top 10 prospects in the country, will be a senior and four-year varsity player, while the two young, promising players in Gage and Stamps will be a year older.
And how are those Argo Sectional seeds looking?
Regional and sectional basketball is still a little over a month away. But the sectional seeds will be coming out soon. And no sectional will be more loaded than at Argo, where it now appears Simeon is locked in as the No. 1 seed and Whitney Young at No. 2.
But the Hoops Report looks at that Argo Sectional and sees three other highly-ranked, quality teams fighting for the 3-5 seeds. One wouldn't think it would matter where you fall in that 3-5 mix when you have the two behemoths on the top two lines. After all, one regional winner will get Simeon and the other Whitney Young. Pick your poison, right? But here's why securing the No. 3 seed is important for either Curie, St. Rita or Brother Rice.
While there are still other solid teams in this sectional beyond those top five, including Marist, Bogan, Hyde Park and De La Salle, avoiding one of those top five teams in a regional final should be welcomed. And the only team that will be able to do that will be the team that gets that No. 3 seed.
Lets say Curie, which beat St. Rita Tuesday night, gets that No. 3 seed. Brother Rice would then likely have to go to the St. Rita Regional as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and play the Mustangs on their home floor. And that's BEFORE getting a shot at Simeon and/or Whitney Young in the sectional.
Now if Brother Rice, which is 17-3 on the season, can move up to that No. 3 line, the Crusaders would avoid both Curie and St. Rita in a regional final. But this Curie win over St. Rita will go a long way in the No. 3 seed conversation.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport