We are a week away from tipping off the 2013-2014 season. The City/Suburban Hoops Report begins breaking down its preseason Top 25, beginning with teams ranked No. 21-25, with the remaining 20 teams to be released throughout the week.
What's to like: Look who's back! Although just 14-12 a year ago, Thornton has depth, quickness and plenty of scoring options on the perimeter. A veteran trio returns in three-year starter Justin Taylor and guards Justin Montgomery and DeMarcus Turner.
Biggest concern: With only one player at 6-4, the Wildcats have little to no size inside. The quickness, depth and defensive pressure must take some of the pressure off a potential problem on the glass.
X-Factor: Is it premature to put the Wildcats back in the Top 25 after a couple of so-so seasons? Coach Troy Jackson has plenty of experience returning in six key seniors. But the keep an eye on a talented junior group, highlighted by guard Leslie Wilson, 6-2 DeQuan Applewhite and 6-4 Brian Davis, who is long and rangy. The juniors went 24-0 a year ago at the sophomore level.
#24 PLAINFIELD EAST
What's to like: Aaron Jordan. He averaged 16 points a game and shot nearly 50 percent from the three-point line as a sophomore. Now he's a more dynamic, confident talent with high-major offers. His return, along with four other starters, instantly makes the Bengals the favorite in the Southwest Prairie. Sharpshooter Nick Novak (50 three-pointers a year ago) will help space the floor and keep defenses honest.
Biggest concern: The perimeter talent, including a star piece in Jordan, is in place. Will there be enough of an inside presence at both ends of the floor?
X-Factor: Although coach Branden Adkins has chemistry and experience with five returning starters, there is some impressive young talent in the program that will provide depth in 6-4 sophomore Elyjah Goss, sophomore guard Jordan Reed and 6-4 freshman Malik Benns.
What's to like: There are three key contributors back from a 24-win team that rolled through the South Suburban Blue unbeaten. But one of those three, 6-7 Taylor Adway, will be looked upon to become a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. Allen Jones is a perimeter threat, while 6-4 junior DeAngelo Isby can be a mismatch with his size, strength and athleticism. Almari Daniels progression at point guard will be a key.
Biggest concern: The Hawks relied so heavily on Jovan Mooring for scoring a year ago. Who will pick up the slack? Coach Don Houston, however, is excited about the balance he thinks he will have offensively.
X-Factor: Although this has been a consistent Top 25 program over the years -- and squeezed itself into the rankings again this year -- the Hawks are far from hyped. For once Hillcrest can use the "no respect" card heading into the season.
What's to like: Coach Dan McKendrick's club loses virtually nothing from last year's squad, while welcoming a junior group that went 20-4 as sophomores last season. That experience/newcomer mix -- and an impressive offseason -- makes the Warriors the favorite in the Central Suburban North. Leading scorer Eric Porter (12.3 ppg) has become more than a scorer, while 6-4 Michael Alfieri (10.4 ppg, 6 rpg) is a jack-of-all-trades.
Biggest concern: Is this program ready to compete at a high level and win big games after going a combined 22-34 the past two seasons?
X-Factor: Newcomers. The veterans will be the backbone. But there is incoming talent that's going to make this team better than people realize. Jordan Baum is a talented 6-3 sophomore who showed well this past summer. Jack Lieb is a 6-8 junior who missed all of last season with an injury. And Stefanos Fasianos is a skilled, wiry 6-4 athlete on the perimeter who transferred in this summer.
What's to like: There is tremendous speed and athleticism at every position, along with a program that always gets after it. With talented guards Luwane Pipkins and Bryce Barnes returning, coach Arthur Goodwin's strength is in its backcourt. Pipkins, a 5-10 junior, averaged over 20 a game last season, while Barnes is a playmaking sophomore. An influx of under-the-radar young talent within the program who bring size and athleticism in 6-6 junior Antonio Thomas and 6-4 wing James Jones will be a big help.
Biggest concern: Getting over the psychological hump of playing -- and finding a way to beat -- the defending state champs in 3A (Morgan Park) and 4A (Simeon) in the rugged South Side of Chicago. Also, is this young team -- there isn't a senior in the regular rotation -- a year away from being a true force?
X-Factor: It's undoubtedly Pipkins, who will have to find the right mix of scoring and distributing to help this team beat the city and state powers.
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