High school basketball: Previewing and predicting this weekend’s best games

The week of holiday tournaments 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 is the Weekend Forecast and picks.

Downers Grove North (12-1) at Lyons (11-1)

A pair of talented one-loss teams in a huge conference showdown to kickstart the new year.

Downers Grove North has been far from the limelight, cruising in the easy-to-forget East Aurora Holiday Tournament and a schedule lacking a big stage up to this point.

As an early unbeaten team, Lyons was in the same predicament — until it made a run over the holidays at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York. The Lions won four games and walloped ranked St. Ignatius along the way before falling to Rolling Meadows in the championship game.

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 a weight class? The Trojans will learn a lot about themselves this weekend with key West Suburban Silver matchups with Lyons and Hinsdale Central.

DGN is led by guard Jack Stanton. He’s among the better juniors in the state and is averaging 16.2 points. Max Haack, 6-5 Jacob Bozeman and 6-8 junior Jake Riemer all chip in between seven to eight points a game.

The difference in this one is Lyons’ strength in its older players. Led by Niklas Polonowski, the Penn recruit, the Lions lean heavily on five seniors. The unselfishness leads to balance as the 6-5 Polonowski, guard Jackson Niego, Graham Smith, Connor Carroll and Matthew DeSimone share the load.

The pick: Lyons 56, Downers Grove North 52

Glenbrook North (14-1) at Glenbrook South (13-4)

There are always important, key matchups each week in the Central Suburban League South. But the GBN-GBS battle takes on a little more significance than what’s at first glance.

First, it’s a rivalry.

Second, GBS already has two league losses and can’t afford another one at this juncture if it hopes to stay in the league race.

And third, GBN has another huge tussle less than 24 hours later against highly-ranked St. Ignatius. A loss to GBS, followed by a loss to Ignatius on Saturday, and suddenly a red-hot Spartans team that began 14-0 would be riding a three-game losing streak.

GBN, led by veteran scoring guard Ryan Cohen and junior point guard Josh Fridman, is coming off its first loss of the season. The Spartans were upset by Libertyville in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic final. But this is still a ranked team that owns a conference win over Evanston and has its eyes set on a CSL South title.

Glenbrook South has four losses but two of them came to Rolling Meadows. Nick Taylor has been playing some really good basketball in leading the Titans. An all-tournament selection at York, the 6-6 Taylor is strong, active and versatile. But it’s a balanced team among Taylor, Rodell Davis, Jr., Josh Wolf and Gaven Marr, and one that should only get better as this season progresses.

The pick: Glenbrook North 64, Glenbrook South 57

Benet (16-1) at St. Patrick (10-4)

Times have changed in this East Suburban Catholic Conference. No longer is it one-and-done with each opponent in the ESCC. Every team plays each another twice within the league instead of the most recent eight-game schedule.

But what we know through December in the ESCC is this: Benet remains an overwhelming favorite.

With Marian Catholic already sitting with three league losses, it’s St. Patrick and Marist holding on to hope it can knock Benet off its perch atop the league. That will be a tall task. Benet gets both St. Pat’s and Marist this weekend. A sweep and Benet will have a two-game lead over everyone.

Benet thoroughly impressed everyone at Pontiac — and that was without a typically sound shooting team shooting the ball that well. The Redwings shot just an OK 32 percent from three in the four games on Pontiac, yet made it to the final and gave Simeon everything it could handle.

While Benet’s Niko Abusara, Brayden Fagbemi and Brady Kunka have led this team at different points this season, the role players did their job in Pontiac. That has included some additional scoring from the likes of Sam Driscoll and Patrick Walsh.

St. Patrick, who are led by senior guard Andrew Ayeni and sophomore EJ Breland, gets a shot at the league’s top team on its home floor. If it wants to pull off the upset, juniors Antoine Thomas and Harper Krolak will be keys.

The pick: Benet 55, St. Patrick 45

Decatur MacArthur (15-0) at Sacred Heart-Griffin (11-0)

We go outside the Chicago area for one Weekend Forecast. There is a big one in central Illinois Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams. Both are ranked among the top Class 3A teams in the state.

SHG, the defending Class 3A state champs, are better than ever. They bring it defensively and still have the 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 Azarion Richardson, who came up big in the Collinsville title game with a game-high 19 points, are two perimeter weapons.

The pick: SHG 67, MacArthur 59


Brother Rice (14-2) vs. Bolingbrook (10-4) at DePaul Prep

A terrific non-conference battle as both Brother Rice and Bolingbrook are ranked among the top 20 teams — Rice at No. 10 and the ‘Brook at No. 18. Both, however, came up short in key holiday tournament tests last week.

Brother Rice was stunned in the second round by Mesa (AZ) at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington. Bolingbrook fell to Rolling Meadows, 76-61, in the semifinals at York.

The allure of this one from an individual standpoint is the battle in the backcourt between two Division I guards. Bolingbrook’s Mekhi Cooper, a Miami-Ohio recruit, and Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson, who is headed to Niagara, are dynamic scoring point guards.

The pick: Brother Rice 60, Bolingbrook 57

Joliet West (12-4) vs. Rolling Meadows (16-1) at DePaul Prep

The game of the weekend. It’s 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 the two best senior prospects in the state: Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows and Jeremy Fears, Jr., of Joliet West.

Rolling Meadows is fresh off an impressive five-win run at York, where it handled each team in convincing fashion and all by double digits. Joliet West, meanwhile, left Pontiac with a bad taste in its mouth after losses to Benet and Curie.

Christie was sensational at York, winning tournament MVP honors while shooting it at a high clip and averaging 26 points a game. But Rolling Meadows is more than just the future Minnesota Golden Gopher. There is size and scoring punch with 6-7 Tsvet Sotoriv and 6-8 Mark Nikolich-Wilson. Plus, it has a defensive stopper in the physical Foster Ogbonna. It will be interesting to see which Fears brother Ogbonna is matched up against.

Jeremy Fears Jr., the Michigan State recruit, and super sophomore Jeremiah Fears are a terrific and potent 1-2 combo in the backcourt. The Tigers, however, will need a big effort from 6-8 big man Matthew Moore inside. And their defensive pressure must create some havoc and present problems for Rolling Meadows and get the Mustangs out of their comfort zone.

Expect nothing less than a down-to-the-wire finish. But Joliet West just seems to be due — and in need — of a big-time performance and win. Tigers in a thriller.

The pick: Joliet West 65, Rolling Meadows 64

Simeon (12-0) vs. Imhotep Charter (9-1) at Highland Shootout

The top-ranked team in the state will get its biggest test to date in the Highland Shootout. In fact, this is the most challenging weekend of the year for the unbeaten Wolverines. Might this be the weekend we see a glimpse of mortality in unbeaten Simeon?

Coach Robert Smith’s team faces Indianapolis Cathedral Friday night. Then Simeon will travel Saturday to the Highland Shootout in Southern Illinois to square off with a national power.

Imhotep won its eighth state championship — and second straight Philadelphia Public League championship — last season under coach Andre Noble. And all the key pieces returned.

The Philadelphia powerhouse is ranked No. 7 in the country by MaxPreps and No. 10 by ESPN. They 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 recruit, is the No. 2 ranked player in the country. The backcourt is stellar with Florida Gulf Coast recruit Rahmir Barno and 6-2 Ahmad Nowell, one of the top 35 junior prospects in the country.

Yes, Simeon can play with anyone in the country. But Simeon really needs all hands on deck to beat the best, which it won’t have with Kaiden Space’s injury. The Wolverines will have their hands full with a team that boasts size, Division I talent and is more than prepared with the schedule and big-time events Imhotep has played.

The pick: Imhotep 68, Simeon 62

Bloom (9-3) vs. Kenwood (12-2) at Hyde Park

The featured game at the nine-game event at Hyde Park.

Even with a fifth-place tournament finish, Bloom gained some confidence with how it played in going 3-1 at Pontiac. The Blazing Trojans compete and play hard. More importantly, each Dante Maddox’s team, led by the backcourt of Jordan Brown and Raeshom Harris, played with more consistency.

While there is some Bloom length and athleticism to combat Kenwood’s endless amount of it, this is going to be a massive challenge. Dai Dai Ames is a high-scoring guard headed to Kansas State. But he’s just the beginning. Kenwood is loaded with talent and depth, peeved from its Proviso West Holiday Tournament title game loss to Young, and will be playing in its backyard at Hyde Park.

The pick: Kenwood 70, Bloom 59

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