You know what I realized this week? That today is an underrated day of the high school basketball season. With the start of state tournament play now just days away, you almost forget about it.
Several years ago many of the conferences decided to move their final conference game on the schedule up a day or two, playing them on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for the state playoffs the following week. It makes sense. I've never understood why every conference wouldn't do the same and get away from playing the final Friday night of the regular season. If I'm a coach, give me an extra day or two to prepare for my regional opponents.
I digress ... The last thing I want to be doing is playing a game on Friday or Saturday, especially if it's one that matters, and turn right back around and play my regional opener on Tuesday. In addition, you're also looking ahead to a potential regional championship game opponent.
Now, because of that move by many conferences, we have today -- conference championship Wednesday.
#10 North Chicago (24-2) at #13 Stevenson (22-4)
If this game is half as good as I think it will be, it's the best game of the night. Superstar sophomore Jalen Brunson up against the speed and talent of North Chicago. Forget the fact both these teams will be even better NEXT season; this is a must-see matchup in the north suburbs between two teams that could be playing in Peoria next month -- Stevenson in 4A and North Chicago in 3A.
Hoops Report Pick: Stevenson 58, North Chicago 55
#12 Niles North (24-3) at #17 Maine South (25-3)
Who's jumping on the Malachi Nix train with me? Anyone? The kid has been a ton throughout his career and grabbed some attention earlier in the week with his 44-point performance. You could make an argument there aren't five players in the Chicago area more important to their team than Nix.
The problem is this: Maine South is a different animal. I just think their style of play at both ends could give this Niles North team, in particular, issues. But I will be shocked if this game is anything but a one or two possession game.
Hoops Report Pick: Maine South 50, Niles North 47
#4 Proviso East (21-3) at #22 Hinsdale Central (18-5)
Hinsdale Central is smoking hot. Winners of 12 straight and a very dangerous No. 5 seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional, the Red Devils are fresh off winning their first West Suburban Silver championship since 2000.
It has a rising talent in 6-7 sophomore Matt Rafferty (15 ppg, 11 rpg), but it's a balanced team with a number of players who can hurt you. The underrated aspect of this team is the size and versatility of the perimeter players. Brian Owens, Alec Hutcherson, Chase Hamilton and Jared Eck are all guards with size and scoring ability.
A win over favored heavyweight Proviso East would certainly sound the alarm throughout the Bolingbrook Sectional field. That's no small task with the speed and quickness Proviso East brings to the table. Sterling Brown, Paris Lee and the Pirates haven't lost in a while, either -- the last lost coming Dec. 31 to Morgan Park. I'm really wanting to pick upset here ... Just do it. ... Pick it! .... Ughhhhhh. Just can't.
Hoops Report Pick: Proviso East 63, Hinsdale Central 56
Schaumburg (16-9) at Prospect (15-9)
When it comes to crossover conference championship games, the Mid-Suburban League is the grandfather. And when it comes to the MSL title tilt, Schaumburg and Prospect have been regulars in recent years. Prospect is making its fourth trip in the last six years to the MSL championship game as the MSL East representative. Schaumburg won this game a year ago.
No, these aren't ranked teams, but they're the two best programs the MSL. Schaumburg, with veteran seniors in Kyle Bolger and Jimmy Lundquist who have played in their share of big games, is playing well. The Saxons are 9-2 since starting the season 7-7. Prospect has the home floor, balance, some size and a promising junior in Bobby Frasco. But Schaumburg's been here and done that.
Hoops Report Pick: Schaumburg 57, Prospect 48
Glenbard East (18-6) at #21 West Aurora (22-5)
This one isn't a crossover conference title matchup. It's just a regular-season finale for all the marbles -- or at least a share of them -- in the DuPage Valley Conference. These are the two best basketball programs in the league. Glenbard East knocked off West Aurora back in January behind the play of Tahron Harvey and holds a one-game lead on the Blackhawks. The home court and the do-or-die situation West Aurora is in gives them a slight edge in the rematch.
Hoops Report Pick: West Aurora 55, Glenbard East 50
And on the weekend ...
The final weekend of the regular-season offers some exciting matchups as well, headed by a showdown between Whitney Young and Benet Academy in the annual City-Suburban Showdown. In addition, Lemont and Hillcrest go at it in Country Club Hills to decide the South Suburban Blue, while Neuqua Valley and Larkin square off in the Upstate Eight Conference crossover title game.
The City-Suburban Showdown, which is always one of the premier events in this state and nationally, moves to the House of Hope on Chicago's South Side for a tripleheader Saturday evening. Here is the City-Suburban Showdown lineup:
• De La Salle vs. Proviso East @ 4 p.m.
Proviso East will be coming off its Wednesday West Suburban Conference championship game with Hinsdale Central. With Alvin Ellis leading De La Salle, Proviso East can't afford an emotional letdown after playing in Wednesday's emotional conference title tilt.
• Benet Academy vs. Whitney Young @ 6 p.m.
It's rare when you get to see two quality, back-to-the-basket big men square off at the high school level. But that's what fans will get when Young's 6-11 Jahlil Okafor and Benet's 6-9 Sean O'Mara meet in this battle of top 10 teams.
• Marist vs. Simeon @ 8 p.m.
The season hasn't gone as planned for a Marist team that was hit hard by the absence of 6-5 Nic Weishar, who was lost for the season due to injury months ago. Here is an opportunity for Marist and its talented backcourt of Lexus Williams and L.J. McIntosh to find a way to shock the world.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport