(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)
Where: Wheeling High School
When: Dec. 23, 26, 27, 28
➤ NEED TO KNOW: The loss of North Chicago, Stevenson and Loyola Academy in recent years (unbeaten Loyola is headed to Florida for a holiday tournament later this month) has really hurt this tournament's field and reputation.
➤ BUZZ WORD: New blood. OK, it's two words. But there could very well be two teams in the championship that no one has seen in the final game in years.
➤ THE FAVORITE: There is no question St. Viator, led by the 1-2 punch of senior guard Ore Arogundade and junior guard Roosevelt Smart, is the heavy favorite. The hope for Viator is injured point guard Mark Falotico will be back, which would make the Lions all the more dangerous.
➤ TOP CONTENDER: Fremd boasts great size, experience and is off to a 7-0 start on the season. A potential title game matchup with St. Viator would pit Fremd's size vs. Viator's perimeter talent.
➤ SLEEPERS: Deerfield has so much experience, chemistry and continuity. ... Naperville Central seems to always play well at Wheeling, reaching the semifinals in three of the last five years, winning the whole thing in 2008 and 2011. The Redhawks can lean heavily on the veteran senior tandem of 6-7 Nick Czarnowski and guard Ryan Antony. ... Don't forget about Niles North, which finished second in 2012 and 2010 and features high-scoring guard Duante Stephens.
➤ CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Deerfield. This team may not have a star -- the 1994 tournament champs featured superstar Ryan Hogan and the 2009 title team was led by MVP Duje Dukan -- but it's a rock solid team. Here's a chance to open eyes, similar to what that 2009 team did. St. Viator may be the team to beat, but the brackets didn't do any favors for the best team in the field, because a talented Deerfield team will be a tough out in the second round.
➤ STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: As the prohibitive favorite, can St. Viator reach the title game for the first time since 2000 and capture its first title since 1996? It just so happens the last time St. Viator won the Hardwood Classic, current coach Mike Howland was an all-tournament selection on that 1996 tourney title team. ... If Fremd walks out of Wheeling with four wins, we have ourselves a clear-cut team to beat in the Mid-Suburban League going forward. Heck, the Vikings may be anyway.
➤ MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: St. Viator (6-1) vs. Fremd (7-0). If this matchup doesn't materialize at Wheeling, we've been shortchanged. Both have been so impressive in their quick starts.
➤ TOP FIVE PROSPECTS: Ore Arogundade, 6-2, Sr., St. Viator; Roosevelt Smart, 6-2, Jr., St. Viator; Riley Glassman, 6-4, Sr., Fremd; Duante Stephens, 6-3, Sr., Niles North; Mark Falotico, 6-0, Jr., St. Viator.
➤ UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: The senior Deerfield tandem of shooter Eric Porter and blue-collar, stat-sheet stuffer Michael Alfieri are Division III prospects that play the right way and are very productive. ... Prospect's Bobby Frasco, a 6-4 senior wing, is a stat sheet stuffer. ... St. Viator has some big names, but 6-3 junior Pat McNamara is an emerging talent in the Class of 2015 and becoming a bigger weapon by the week.
➤ HOOPS REPORT PICK: St. Viator