The Hoops Report's notebook of basketball thoughts is starting to overflow. Lets get to it, along with a little Public League Playoff primer.
➥ Has anyone noticed that Hinsdale Central has quietly climbed atop the league standings in the West Suburban Silver? Most would have assumed it was either York or maybe Oak Park-River Forest on top, but it's Hinsdale Central that's holding a one-game lead.
There is a trio of senior perimeter players in Brian Owens, Alec Hutcherson and Jared Eck that have been instrumental in the 7-1 league mark and 14-5 overall start, but the Red Devils have reached another level due to the development of Matt Rafferty. The 6-7 sophomore provides size and a versatile big man who can get work done around the basket and step out to the three-point line.
If coach Nick Latorre's team can take care of both Proviso West and Lyons Twp. this weekend, it would set up a league showdown with York Feb. 12.
➥ When you talk about Mundelein basketball, the ACL injury to high-scoring senior Robert Knar and the play of Southern Illinois recruit Sean O'Brien has been the center of conversation. But a couple of seniors, Quinn Pokora and Chino Ebube, are worth mentioning as they've put together very solid seasons in a supporting role. Pokora is a gutty perimeter threat on both ends, while Ebube is an uber-athlete headed to Division II Missouri S&T.
You can't help but discuss Mundelein in a bit of a "What if?" dialogue. The expectations were through the roof for this team heading into the season. While the Mustangs have persevered -- they currently sit 12-9 -- it's a shame no one could see just how potent this team might have been with a healthy Knar, a 20-plus point scorer who is headed to Northern Iowa. Knar made a brief debut recently, so we'll see how big of an impact he can make in the postseason. This is a senior group that has played together since they were kids, so it would be terrific and rewarding for them to get a chance to play out their dreams this March with a healthy (or at least a somewhat healthy) Knar.
➥ I realize Palatine is a very modest 14-11 on the season, but this team has shown a marked improvement over a year ago. The 14 wins may not jump out at the average fan -- and maybe not even the big win over rival Fremd last week will -- but it's a team that went 3-24 a year ago.
But this IS eye-popping: Palatine is on the verge of its first season above the .500 mark since the 1990s.
As long as 6-3 sophomore Roosevelt Smart, who isn't talked about enough in the Class of 2015, is around, the arrow will continue pointing up for this program. Smart is putting up an impressive 18.3 points a game and is one of the Hoops Report's top 10 prospects in the sophomore class. Smart's game continues to grow. Then there is fellow sophomore Chris Macahon, an unknown but solid point guard who will continue to impress. Macahon is averaging close to 10 points a game for coach Eric Millstone.
A regional championship this March may be a bit much to ask for a team prominently featuring two sophomores, but the next two years could bring the most back-to-back years of success since coach Ed Molitor's teams in the early 1980s.
➥ Oswego is a fantastic 22-2 and running away with the Southwest Prairie. Meanwhile, the season has been a showcase for senior guard Miles Simelton, who has arguably enhanced his recruiting stock as much as any uncommitted player in the Class of 2013 over the course of the season. But Elliot McGaughy, a 6-2 senior, has grown up, matured as a player and become so much more consistent in his third season as a varsity starter.
As a result, the Panthers are thriving and McGaughy is putting together a heck of a season. How about these numbers from McGaughy, who will be a high-value junior college recruiting target this spring: 17 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds a game.
How much have Simelton and McGaughy meant to the Oswego basketball program over the past three-plus years? Aside from the Simeon duo of Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, it could be argued no two seniors have had a bigger impact on their respective program over four years than Simelton and McGaughy. Both have scored well over 1,400 career points and are on pace to combine for more than 3,000-career points. Impressive.
➥ The Player of the Year conversation in the Chicago area has been more fluid than expected this year. In a recent conversation with Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce, the second-year coach is surprised his star, Sterling Brown, hasn't been mentioned more prominently. Brown is averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 1 block a game for a team that has been ranked among the top five all season.
➥ Speaking of Donnie Boyce, the Proviso East coach hasn't even finished his second season on the bench and already has 50 wins. Boyce is 50-4 in his young coaching career.
➥ The Benet Academy team I saw play in the first half against West Aurora last weekend was, as I tweeted that day, one that would not lose in a strong and balanced Bolingbrook Sectional this March. That's how dominant and impressive the Redwings were in building a 19-point lead at the half. Junior big man Sean O'Mara gets the the much-deserved pub, but what more can you say about all that 6-4 senior Pat McInerney has and continues to do for this team?
➥ Talk about a little "Take that, Hoops Report!" New Trier did just that last weekend. The Hoops Report picks last week included calling a Waukegan upset win over New Trier, followed by a pick of St. Viator over New Trier the following day. New Trier went out and handled Waukegan and then took care of St. Viator. That's an impressive weekend that should help the Trevians lock up a top four sectional seed. Since losing to Maine South Jan. 11, coach Scott Fricke's team has reeled off nine straight wins.
➥ Lets talk some Round Lake basketball. Round Lake, you ask? Uh, yeah. I know, I know, the Panthers are 3-18 on the season. But it's still worth mentioning this: James Mobley, a 6-4 freshman, is putting together a season. Mobley is averaging 10 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.5 steals a game.
➥ One of my feel-sorry-for teams in the Chicago area is Nazareth Academy. This is a pretty solid team with some nice pieces, but this is not the year to be playing the schedule it plays. The Roadrunners are now 10-11 after a 6-1 start to the season.
A trip to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December and non-conference games with St. Ignatius and Brother Rice are one thing, but the rigors of being a bottom half East Suburban Catholic Conference team this year will take its toll on any team. Nazareth played Ignatius tough on Tuesday, losing 48-45. It did the same in losses to Marist (68-62), St. Viator (86-81) and St. Patrick (75-70).
➥ A look at the national rankings shows both Simeon and Whitney Young remain among the top 10 in the country. Simeon is currently ranked No. 4 nationally in the most recent USA Today Top 25 and Whitney Young checks in at No. 10. The MaxPreps Top 25 has Simeon ranked No. 2 in the country, with Whitney Young No. 9. And ESPN.com's Top 25 rankings feature Simeon and Whitney Young at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively.
Public League Primer
Overall, from top to bottom, the Chicago Public League is not what it's been in comparison to past years. The top dogs, though, are prepared to do some heavy lifting in the next five to six weeks. The top five teams in the city -- Simeon, Whitney Young, Morgan Park, Orr and Curie -- are head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. It will be fun to watch these teams sort things out over the course of the city playoffs.
But how about when March rolls around? While Simeon, Young and Curie will bounce one another out of the Argo Sectional, with the winner likely headed to Peoria as the 4A favorite, there is a chance both Morgan Park and Orr could join them in Peoria.
Morgan Park will cruise to a sectional title and then likely face Hillcrest in the super-sectional. Orr, meanwhile, will have to overcome some of its past regional/sectional demons (hold off St. Ignatius, St. Joseph, Farragut, Fenwick, etc. in the Nazareth Sectional in the process) and then beat North Chicago in the super-sectional.
But first things first ... the Chicago Public League playoffs. Here is a quick Hoops Report city forecast.
Team to beat: Simeon.
With the improved play of the Wolverines over the past few weeks, along with wins over Morgan Park and Whitney Young, coach Rob Smith's team is the one to beat -- again. Are they invincible? No. But it's still easy to attach the label of favorite to them.
Most in need of making a statement: Whitney Young
Boy, have people stopped talking about Whitney Young. And it happened like overnight ... tsk-tsk-tsk-tsk. This is still the same Dolphins team that was so impressive playing a rugged slate of national teams. This is still the same Dolphins team that features 6-11 Jahlil Okafor. But after falling to both Simeon and Orr, a city title would quickly make people forget about those losses. And it would instill a little bit of that mojo Whitney Young was feeling post-holidays.
Most anticipated (potential) quarterfinal matchup: Curie vs. Morgan Park
We will have to wait for Curie to take care of North Lawndale and Morgan Park to dispose of Lane Tech first on Thursday night, but this is a highly-anticipated matchup. It wasn't all that long ago when superstar Wayne Blackshear, now at Louisville, bolted Curie in the middle of the season and transferred to Morgan Park. That adds some sizzle. Same two programs; same two coaches. But these are two new teams. Will the size of 6-9 Cliff Alexander give Morgan Park's guard-dominated team problems? Will Morgan Park's loaded backcourt give Curie's guards fits?
Hoops Report's projected semifinal matchups
• Whitney Young over Orr
The Dolphins get some quick revenge over the team that knocked them off in Red-West finale.
• Simeon over Morgan Park
Red-South rivals collide again with similar results. Morgan Park plays the defending champs tough but falls in a close one.
City Championship Pick
• Simeon over Whitney Young
Round II between these two giants. But until someone can prove it can knock off Simeon in a meaningful game, I'm picking the Wolverines.
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