The week of the holiday tournament provided a fun and traditional week of high school basketball across the state. But this first full weekend of action in the new year promises to be a whopper.
Here’s the forecast and picks for the weekend.
Downers Grove North (12-1) at Lyons (11-1)
A pair of talented one-loss teams square off in a huge conference showdown to start the new year.
Downers Grove North has stayed away from the spotlight, cruising in the easily forgotten East Aurora Holiday Tournament and a schedule lacking a big stage up to this point.
As a starting unbeaten team, Lyons was in the same position—until he made a run over the holidays at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament in New York. The Lions won four games before falling to Rolling Meadows in the championship game, walloping St. Ignatius’ ranks along the way.
This is one of those regular-season games with a big stage. The question is, how ready is Downers Grove North as it moves up in weight class? The Trojans will learn a lot about themselves this weekend with key West Suburban Silver matchups with Lyons and Hinsdale Central.
The DGN is led by Guard Jack Stanton. He is one of the better junior players in the state and is averaging 16.2 points. Max Hack, 6-5 Jacob Bozeman and 6-8 junior Jake Reimer all chip in between seven and eight points a game.
The difference lies in Lyon’s strength in its older players. Led by Niklas Polonowski, a Penn recruit, the Lions rely heavily on five seniors. Selflessness leads to balance as 6-5 Polonowski, guards Jackson Niego, Graham Smith, Connor Carroll and Matthew DeSimone share the load.
Picks: Lyons 56, Downers Grove North 52
Glenbrook North (14-1) at Glenbrook South (13-4)
There are always important, critical matchups every week in the Central Suburban League South. But the GBN-GBS battle holds a bit more significance than what meets the eye.
First of all, it is a rivalry.
Second, GBS already have two league defeats and cannot afford to lose another at this point of time if they hope to stay in the league race.
And third, GBN has another big clash against the highly ranked St. Ignatius in less than 24 hours. A loss to GBS, followed by a loss to Ignatius on Saturday, and a red-hot Spartan team off to a sudden 14-0 start would ride a three-game losing streak.
GBN is coming off their first loss of the season, led by veteran scoring guard Ryan Cohen and junior point guard Josh Friedman. The Spartans were upset by Libertyville in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic final. But it is still a ranked team that owns a conference win over Evanston and has its eyes set on the CSL South title.
Glenbrook South had four losses but two of them came at Rolling Meadows. Nick Taylor has been playing some really good basketball in leading the Titans. An All-Tournament selection in New York, the 6-6 Taylor is strong, active and versatile. But this is a balanced team between Taylor, Rodell Davis, Jr., Josh Wolff and Gaven Marr, and one that should only get better as the season progresses.
Picks: Glenbrook North 64, Glenbrook South 57
Bennett (16-1) (10-4) at St. Patrick’s
Times have changed at this formerly suburban Catholic conference. It is no longer done individually with each competitor in the ESCC. Each team plays each other twice within the league, instead of the most recent eight-game schedule.
But what we do know through December at the ESCC is this: Bennett remains an overwhelming favorite.
With Marion Catholic already sitting with three league losses, it’s St. Patrick’s and Marist will be hoping it can knock Bennett off the top of the league. It will be a long task. Bennett gets both St. Pats and Marist this weekend. A sweep and Bennett would have a two game lead over all.
Bennett impressed everyone at Pontiac well—and that was without a typically good shooting team that shot the ball well. The Redwings shot only a decent 32 percent three out of four games over Pontiac, yet made the finals and gave Simeon everything he could handle.
While Bennett’s Nico Abusara, Bryden Fagbemi and Brady Kunka have led this team at different points this season, the role players at Pontiac did their job. This included some additional scoring from the likes of Sam Driscoll and Patrick Walsh.
St. Patrick’s, led by senior guard Andrew Ayeni and sophomore EJ Breeland, gets a shot at the league’s top team on their home turf. If he wants to pull off an upset, juniors Antoine Thomas and Harper Krolak will be the keys.
Picks: Bennett 55, St Patrick 45
Decatur MacArthur (15-0) at Sacred Heart-Griffin (11-0)
We go out to the Chicago area for a weekend forecast. The battle of the unbeaten teams is a big event in central Illinois on Friday night. Both are ranked among the top Class 3A teams in the state.
SHG, the saviors of Class 3A State, are better than ever. They bring it defensively and still have a potent combination of 6-5 Zack Hawkinson and guard Jake Hamilton.
MacArthur is on a roll. The Generals, who knocked off Bolingbrook back in November, took care of Belleville East and Quincy to win the Collinsville Holiday Tournament. Athletic big man Makhi Wright is the headliner, while 6-1 senior Chase Cunningham and 6-2 senior Azarian Richardson, who came up big with a game-high 19 points in the Collinsville title game, are the two perimeter weapons.
Pick: SHG 67, MacArthur 59
Brother Rice (14-2) vs. Bolingbrook (10-4) at DePaul Prep.
A fierce non-conference battle ensued as both brothers Rice and Bolingbrook are ranked top 20 teams – Rice at No. 10 and ‘Brook at No. 18. However, both came up short in major holiday tournament tests last week.
Brother Rice was shocked in the second round by Mesa (AZ) at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington. York lost 76–61 to Bolingbrook Rolling Meadows in the semi-finals.
The highlight of it from a personal perspective is a battle in the backcourt between two Division I guards. Bolingbrook’s Mekhi Cooper, a Miami-Ohio recruit, and Brother Rice’s Ahmaud Henderson, who is headed to Niagara, are dynamic scoring point guards.
Picks: Brother Rice 60, Bolingbrook 57
Joliet West (12-4) vs. Rolling Meadows (16-1) at DePaul Prep
weekend game. It is a battle of two highly ranked teams with monster aspirations this season. But it’s also a fun one for fans in that it features two of the best senior prospects in the state: Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows and Jeremy Fiers, Jr. of Joliet West.
Rolling Meadows is fresh off an impressive five-win run in New York, where it handled each team in fashion and all by double digits. Meanwhile, Joliet West leaves Pontiac with a bad taste in her mouth after a loss to Bennett and Currie.
Christy was sensational in New York, winning tournament MVP honors while shooting at a high clip and averaging 26 points per game. But Rolling Meadows is much more than a future Minnesota Golden Gopher. 6-7 Tsvet Sotoriv and 6-8 Mark Nikolic-Wilson have size and scoring punch. Plus, it has a defensive stopper in Physique Foster Ogbonna. It will be interesting to see who faces Fear Bhai Ogbonna.
Jeremy Fears Jr., a Michigan State recruit, and super sophomore Jeremiah Fears are a formidable and potent 1-2 combo in the backcourt. However, the Tigers will need a big effort from inside 6-8 big man Matthew Moore. And their defensive pressure should cause some havoc and present problems for Rolling Meadows and force the Mustangs out of their comfort zone.
Expect nothing less than a down-to-the-wire finish. But it looks like Joliet West is due—and in need of—to perform and win big time. Tigers in a thriller.
Picks: Joliet West 65, Rolling Meadows 64
Simeon (12-0) vs. Imhotep Charter (9-1) in the Highland Shootout.
The state’s top-ranked team will face its biggest test yet in the Highland Shootout. In fact, this is the most challenging weekend of the year for the unbeaten Wolverines. Could this be the weekend we see a glimpse of mortality in the unbeaten Simeone?
Coach Robert Smith’s team faces the Indianapolis Cathedral on Friday night. Simeon will then travel to Southern Illinois on Saturday for the Highland Shootout to compete with a national power.
Imhotep won its eighth state championship– and second consecutive Philadelphia Public League championship last season under coach Andre Noble. And all the major pieces are back.
The Philadelphia powerhouse is ranked No. 7 in the country by MaxPreps and No. 10 by ESPN. He won the prestigious City of Palms Classic in Florida last month. The Panthers are coming off their first loss of the season, however, losing to Long Island Lutheran last week in the Jordan Holiday Classic.
Justin Edwards, a 6-7 Kentucky rookie, is the No. 2 ranked player in the country. The backcourt is stellar with Florida Gulf Coast recruit Rahmir Barno and 6-2 Ahmaud Nowell, who ranks among the top 35 junior prospects in the country.
Yes, Simeone can play with anyone in the country. But Simeon really needs all hands on deck to beat the best, which won’t happen with Kaiden Space’s injury. The Wolverines will have their hands full with a team that boasts size, Division I talent and is ready with a schedule played by Imhotep and big-time events.
Picks: Imhotep 68, Simeon 62
Bloom (9-3) v Kenwood (12-2) at Hyde Park.
Featured game in the nine-game event at Hyde Park.
With a fifth-place tournament finish, Bloom gained some confidence in the way he went 3–1 at Pontiac. Blazing Trojans compete and play hard. More importantly, each of Dante Maddox’s teams played with greater consistency, led by backcourts of Jordan Brown and Rayshawn Harris.
While Kenwood has some Bloome’s length and athleticism to counter his endless volume, it’s going to be a huge challenge. Dai Dai Ames is a high scoring guard headed to Kansas State. But that’s just the beginning. Kenwood is loaded with talent and depth, upset by losing to Young in their Proviso West Holiday Tournament title game, and will play in their backyard at Hyde Park.
Pickup: Kenwood 70, Bloom 59
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