(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)
PROVISO WEST HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Where: Proviso West High School, Hillside, Ill.
When: Dec. 21, 23, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31
➤ NEED TO KNOW: No tournament has had more different teams ranked in the top 25 this season (6) or among the top 15 (Stevenson, Morgan Park, St. Joseph, Bogan and Proviso East) than the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
➤ BUZZ WORD: Rematches. Several of the marquee matchups from a year ago -- Morgan Park over Stevenson in the semifinals, Morgan Park over Proviso East in the title game, Proviso East over Benet in the quarterfinals -- could (should?) materialize again this year. Could they be even more entertaining/more competitive than a year ago?
➤ THE FAVORITE: Stevenson is a year older, a year better and more comfortable starring on the big stage of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. The Patriots have been impressive in the first few weeks and boast the tournament's best player, 6-2 junior guard Jalen Brunson. Plus, 6-4 junior Connor Cashaw continues to mold into a more complete player.
➤ TOP CONTENDER: Morgan Park. Led by 6-7 senior Josh Cunningham and some budding young talent, the defending Class 3A state champs and 2012 Proviso West Holiday Tournament winner will challenge for another title. The speed, athleticism and depth of coach Nick Irvin's team could be the difference in a title game matchup with Stevenson.
➤ SLEEPERS: With the junior backcourt of Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash, unbeaten St. Joseph could claim its first tournament title since 2006. ... Proviso East has compiled a 11-2 record at Proviso West over the past three years and reached the title game in each of the past two years. With the backcourt firepower the Pirates feature, led by West Virginia-bound Jevon Carter, coach Donnie Boyce's team could make another run. ... Benet Academy has a big man inside in 6-9 Sean O'Mara who demands attention, and the Redwings surround him with several solid perimeter shooters.
➤ CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Bogan. Led by junior guard Luwane Pipkins, the Bengals have a chance to make some real noise and grab people's attention if it can get by Hillcrest in the second round and take down Benet in the quarterfinals. That would set up an all-eyes-are-on-them tilt with fellow Public League rival Morgan Park in the semifinals.
➤ STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: Over the course of 11 days at Proviso West, observers will see firsthand if last year's powers -- Stevenson and Morgan Park -- are as good as advertised. Both are legit state title contenders, but is this year's version clearly better than last year's? ... Prep basketball fans enjoyed their first real taste of Stevenson's Jalen Brunson last year at Proviso. This year it's a chance for Brunson to elevate his status on a stage that has seen so many all-time greats shine over the years. ... Fenwick is 6-2 WITHOUT its star player, Northwestern recruit Scott Lindsey. We won't go as far as saying it's "Malnati Magic," but can the Friars make a little more noise before they get their top player back? ... Uplift is unbeaten and ranked. Yes, we said Uplift. But it won't be easy as St. Charles East will be a difficult opening-round game. But everyone will know a little more about this upstart Uplift team a couple weeks from now.
➤ MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: Without looking too far ahead, a matchup between Stevenson and St. Joseph in the semifinals would bring a head-to-head matchup between the top two point guard prospects in the Class of 2015, Jalen Brunson vs. Glynn Watson, and pair up two unbeaten teams in a big-time matchup Dec. 30.
➤ TOP DOZEN PROSPECTS: Jalen Brunson, 6-2, Jr., Stevenson; Connor Cashaw, 6-3, Jr., Stevenson; Josh Cunningham, 6-7, Sr., Morgan Park; Kain Harris, 6-3, Jr., Morgan Park; Sean O'Mara, 6-9, Sr., Benet; Glynn Watson, 5-11, Jr., St. Joseph; Jordan Ash, 6-2, Jr., St. Joseph; Nick Rakocevic, 6-9, So., St. Joseph; Jevon Carter, 6-1, Sr., Proviso East; Luwane Pipkins, 5-9, Jr., Bogan; Tai Odiase, 6-8, Sr., Homewood-Flossmoor; Matt Rafferty, 6-7, Jr., Hinsdale Central.
➤ UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: Libertyville big man Joe Borcia, an unknown 6-9 junior, is off to an impressive start and putting up big numbers. ... The young backcourt at Morgan Park, sophomore Charlie Moore and junior Kain Harris, are blossoming talents and scorers. Harris, however, is one to watch. He has the physical characteristics -- he's a big, athletic 6-3 guard -- and really seems to have turned the corner in his approach and consistency. ... Keep an eye on developing big man Joe Borcia of Libertyville, who has jumped out of the gate with some big numbers to start his junior year. Borcia will match up with H-F and 6-8 Tai Odiase, a UIC recruit, in the opening round. ... There are bigger names and bigger prospects at Hinsdale Central, but undervalued shooter Chase Hamilton has been huge for the Red Devils this season. ... Just a Hoops Report favorite for you here: St. Charles East junior point Cole Gentry.
➤ HOOPS REPORT PICK: Morgan Park