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

Holiday Tournament Week provided a fun and traditional week of high school basketball across the state. But this first full action weekend of the new year promises to be a whopper.

Here’s the weekend forecast and tips.

Downers Grove North (12-1) near Lyon (11-1)

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

Downers Grove North was far from the limelight, cruising in the easily forgotten East Aurora Holiday Tournament and a schedule that hadn’t had a big stage up to that point.

An early unbeaten team, Lyons found themselves in the same predicament – until they made a run over the holiday season at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament in York. The Lions won four games, beating the ranked St. Ignatius in the process, 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 when it moves up a weight class? The Trojans will learn a lot about themselves this weekend when it comes to West Suburban Silver’s crucial matchups against Lyons and Hinsdale Central.

DGN is led by Guard Jack Stanton. He is one of the better juniors in the state and has an average of 16.2 points. Max Haack, 6-5 Jacob Bozeman and 6-8 junior Jake Riemer are all scoring seven to eight points per game.

The difference in this game is Lyon’s strength with their older players. Led by Niklas Polonowski, the Penn recruit, the Lions lean heavily on five seniors. The altruism brings balance as the 6-5 Polonowski, guard Jackson Niego, Graham Smith, Connor Carroll and Matthew DeSimone share the burden.

The choice: Lyons 56, Downers Grove North 52

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

There are important and important encounters every week in the Central Suburban League South. But the GBN-GBS fight takes on a little more meaning than meets the eye.

First, it’s a rivalry.

Secondly, GBS have already had two league losses and cannot afford another at this point if they hope to stay in the league race.

And third, less than 24 hours later, GBN has another big fight against senior St Ignatius. A loss to GBS, followed by a loss to Ignatius on Saturday, and suddenly a red-hot Spartans team that started 14-0 would be in for a three-game losing streak.

GBN, led by veteran scoring guard Ryan Cohen and junior point guard Josh Fridman, suffer their first loss of the season. The Spartans were upset in the finals of Libertyville’s Wheeling Hardwood Classic. But this is still a ranked team, owning a conference win over Evanston and eyeing a CSL South title.

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

The choice: Glenbrook North 64, Glenbrook South 57

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

Times have changed in this Eastern Suburb Catholic Conference. In the ESCC it is no longer one-on-one with every opponent. Each team plays each other twice within the league instead of eight games as they did last time.

But what we do know at ESCC as of December is this: Benet remains an overwhelming favorite.

With Marian Catholic already suffering three league losses, St. Patrick and Marist are hoping to oust Benet from his place at the top of the league. This will be a big task. Benet is getting both St. Pat’s and Marist this weekend. A sweep and Benet has a two game lead on everyone.

Benet thoroughly impressed everyone at Pontiac – and that’s without a typically solid shooting team that shoots the ball so well. The Redwings shot just a good 32 percent from three in the four games at Pontiac but made it to the finals and gave Simeon everything they could handle.

While Benet’s Niko Abusara, Brayden Fagbemi and Brady Kunka have led this team at various points this season, the roleplayers at Pontiac have done their job. This included some extra points from the likes of Sam Driscoll and Patrick Walsh.

Led by senior guard Andrew Ayeni and sophomore EJ Breland, St Patrick are getting a chance at the league’s top team at their home level. If the upset wants to pull through, juniors Antoine Thomas and Harper Krolak will be key.

The choice: Benet 55, St. Patrick 45

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

We’re heading out of the Chicago area for a weekend forecast. It’s a big Friday night in central Illinois in a battle of undefeated teams. Both are among the top Class 3A teams in the state.

SHG, the defending champions of Class 3A, are better than ever. They play it defensively and still have the strong combination of 6-5 Zack Hawkinson and guard Jake Hamilton.

MacArthur is on the road to success. The Generals, who defeated Bolingbrook in November, dealt with 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 went big in the Collinsville title game with a game-high 19 points, are two perimeter weapons .

The choice: SHG 67, MacArthur 59


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

A terrific fight outside of the conference as both Brother Rice and Bolingbrook are ranked in the top 20 teams – Rice at No. 10 and ‘Brook at No. 18. However, both failed key holiday tournament tests last week.

Brother Rice stunned Mesa (AZ) in the second round at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington. Bolingbrook failed in the semifinals in York with 76:61 at Rolling Meadows.

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

The choice: 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 between two high-level teams with monster ambitions this season. But it’s also fun for fans, as it features the state’s top two senior prospects: Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie and Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears, Jr.

Rolling Meadows has had an impressive five-win run at York, where they’ve handled every team convincingly and all in double digits. Joliet West, meanwhile, left Pontiac with a bad taste in his mouth after losses to Benet and Curie.

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

Michigan State recruit Jeremy Fears Jr. and super student Jeremiah Fears is a great and powerful 1-2 backcourt combination. However, the Tigers need a big effort from 6-8 Big Man Matthew Moore inside. And their defensive pressure needs to trouble Rolling Meadows and push the Mustangs out of their comfort zone.

Expect nothing short of a down-to-the-wire finish. But Joliet West just seems due — and in need of it — for a great performance and a win. Tiger in a thriller.

The choice: Joliet West 65, Rolling Meadows 64

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

The state’s top-ranked team will get their biggest test yet at the Highland Shootout. Indeed, this is the most challenging weekend of the year for the undefeated Wolverines. Could this be the weekend where we take a look at the undefeated Simeon’s mortality?

Coach Robert Smith’s team meets Indianapolis Cathedral on Friday night. Then Simeon will travel to the Highland Shootout in southern Illinois on Saturday to take on a national force.

Imhotep won his eighth state championship last season — and his second straight Philadelphia Public League championship — under coach Andre Noble. And all the key pieces have 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, however, came off their first loss of the season when they lost to the Long Island Lutheran last week in the Jordan Holiday Classic.

Justin Edwards, a 6-7 recruit from Kentucky, is the second-ranked player in the country. The backcourt is outstanding with Florida Gulf Coast recruit Rahmir Barno and 6-2 Ahmad Nowell, one of the top 35 youngsters 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 he won’t have with Kaiden Space’s injury. The Wolverines will have their hands full with a team that excels in size and talent in Division I and is more than prepared with the schedule and big events Imhotep has played.

The choice: Imhotep 68, Simeon 62

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

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

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

While there is some bloom length and athleticism to combat Kenwood’s endless supply of it, it’s going to be a formidable challenge. Dai Dai Ames is a successful Warden on his way to the state of Kansas. But he’s just the beginning. Full of talent and depth, Kenwood is upset after losing his Proviso West Holiday Tournament title match to Young and will play in his backyard at Hyde Park.

The choice: Kenwood 70, Bloom 59