We're about to hit the stretch run of the regular-season, with some pivotal conference games to be played, a few intriguing non-conference matchups remaining and the Chicago Public League playoffs right around the corner. That will get us to March.
Here is a Hoops Report look-ahead to some of the better games on the schedule this weekend.
FRIDAY, FEB. 1
# 8 Orr (17-2) at #2 Whitney Young (18-2)
OK, Orr. It's your turn. Several teams have made various statements. This is Orr's chance. It will be a tall order for the Spartans to go into Young and pick up a win, especially when the host Dolphins have last year's loss to Orr fresh on their mind still. Orr thumped Young in December of 2011. But aside from Simeon, this will be Young's toughest in-state test prior to the city and state playoffs. Individually, there is a whole lot of junior talent on the floor in this one. Young's trio of Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and L.J. Peak all have high-major offers. But this is a very talented Orr team, led by 6-6 junior Tyquone Greer, 6-8 junior Marlon Jones, senior Jamal McDowell and 6-3 sophomore Louis Adams, Jr. Whitney Young has hammered every Red-West opponent out. This one won't be as easy.
Hoops Report Pick: Young 68, Orr 59
#23 St. Viator (14-5) at #6 Benet Academy(19-3)
Benet has taken control of the rugged East Suburban Catholic. Now the defending conference champs come in with enough talent to push Benet. While the guard play of junior Ore Arogundade and sophomore Mark Falotico is a good one for St. Viator, how will it match up and handle Benet big man Sean O'Mara? Even with the great record, high ranking and killer schedule that Benet has played, coach Gene Heidkamp's team does a wonderful job of understanding how small their margin for error is against quality teams. That's a big reason behind their success.
Hoops Report Pick: Benet 51, St. Viator 45
#21 Bogan (14-7) at #3 Morgan Park (19-2)
Bogan is an improved and better team since the Bengals met Morgan Park in December at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Morgan Park easily handled Bogan then. Is Bogan ready to bust out? Too much talent, too much depth from Morgan Park in this one.
Hoops Report Pick: Morgan Park 70, Bogan 55
#11 Bloom (17-3) at Rich East (11-5)
There probably aren't many people who realize Rich East is smack dab in the thick of things in the Southland Conference. Both Bloom and Rich East have one loss apiece in conference play. The athletic Ronald Lawton (16 ppg) is quietly putting together a stellar season for the Rockets. Bloom won the first matchup in mid-December, 46-37, and the Blazing Trojans should pull this one out as well -- but it won't be easy.
Hoops Report Pick: Bloom 48, Rich East 43
#24 New Trier (20-4) at Waukegan (12-8)
On paper, with the 20 wins, the No. 24 ranking and tied for first in the Central Suburban League South with Maine South, it appears this one is a no-brainer. Just pick New Trier. But Waukegan remains dangerous and is quietly just a game back in the CSL South standings. Jerome Davis, a 6-5 junior, is going to be a load to handle for the Trevians inside. Plus, the Bulldogs have won four of five, with the lone loss a 67-64 defeat to top 10 Notre Dame. Sensing upset here.
Hoops Report Pick: Waukegan 53, New Trier 50
Fremd (14-6) at Palatine (12-11)
No, it's not a battle of ranked teams. But it's a rivalry game that will have major conference implications as Fremd, which is tied for first in the Mid-Suburban League West, sits one game up on second-place Palatine. While Palatine features super sophomore Roosevelt Smart and is playing better this season, the Pirates have dropped three straight. Fremd has won three straight.
Hoops Report Pick: Fremd 51, Palatine 44
SATURDAY, FEB. 2
#24 New Trier (20-4) vs. #23 St. Viator (14-5)
The middle game of Loyola Academy's War on the Shore tripleheader features two ranked teams. New Trier has 20 wins and has ripped off seven straight. But against who? Belvidere has been the best opponent New Trier has faced since losing to Maine South. St. Viator is in need of a non-conference pick-me-up as they are in the midst of a rigorous stretch. In the four games leading up to this matchup, St. Viator has faced ranked teams in Lake Forest (loss), Marian Catholic (win), Notre Dame (loss) and Benet Academy (Friday night). That's a meatgrinder. What will be left in the tank after a physical battle with Benet on Friday night?
Hoops Report Pick: St. Viator 50, New Trier 47
#7 Notre Dame (18-2) vs. Loyola Academy (15-5)
A red-hot Loyola team gets its measuring stick in this War on the Shore featured game. The Ramblers, behind junior Jack Morrissey (20 ppg), have won nine straight. Even their three losses prior to the winning streak came to three teams that are all currently ranked among the Hoops Report's Top 25. Notre Dame, meanwhile, has been a model of consistency. Notre Dame, with its strong backcourt play, is positioned to be the No. 1 seed in the Glenbrook North, while Loyola is pushing for a top four seed. This is the game where Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino sees how far his team has come.
Hoops Report Pick: Niles Notre Dame 51, Loyola Academy 44
#15 West Aurora (16-3) vs. #6 Benet Academy (19-3)
The highlight of the annual Batavia Night of Hoops will be a preview of a potential Bolingbrook Sectional matchup between two ranked teams. Plus, the outcome here will go a long way in helping sort out the seeds in that sectional. Benet has put together big-time teams on this year's schedule. Here is another one. But the previous two months have prepared them for games like this.
Hoops Report Pick: Benet 52, West Aurora 45