Henricksen: A get-ready-for-the-stretch-run Top 25 Power Rankings

Can you believe we have zoomed past the midway point of the high school basketball season? The win totals for some are in the 20s and sectional seeding time is just around the corner.

With so much in the rearview mirror it’s time to gauge just where we’re at as we head towards the stretch run of the regular season. The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Power Rankings are based on a whole variety of factors, including a team’s won-loss record and strength of schedule.

But it also includes marquee wins, how teams are playing right now as we head into February and the all-important eye test.

Here is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Power Rankings as of February 1.

1. Bolingbrook (19-0)

When this Raider thing is rolling, downhill, at a fast face, who’s beating this team? Sure, you would like for the schedule to have had a few more potential pitfalls to learn from, but coach Rob Brost’s team certainly passes the look test.

They’re unbeaten, have looked terrific and are currently the king of the Hoops Report Power Rankings.

This is a team with a Big Ten talent in Nebraska recruit Nana Akenten and the most speed and athleticism of any team in the state. With five players averaging in double figures, you have to love their balance. Plus, the Raiders already handled it their biggest obstacle (Joliet West) that stands between them and a likely sectional title.

2. Curie (20-2)

The appreciation for what the Pontiac Holiday Tournament does for teams should be pretty real –– and that goes for teams that win and struggle at the annual December basketball-thon.

Since losing to both Danville and Joliet West at Pontiac, coach Mike Oliver’s team has looked completely different. You know, like the team that was ranked No. 1 by everyone when the season began. The Condors have ripped off nine straight wins and are very much a threat to go back-to-back in Class 4A.

3. Young (17-5)

The Dolphins have as much firepower as any team in the rankings when you add together senior Lucas Williamson with the junior trio of Javon Freeman, Xavier Castaneda and Justin Boyd. Plus, Jake Kosakowski, who has missed almost all of the season, returned this week and even contributed 8 points in a win over Westinghouse. This is a potent and deep team.

Young followed up an upset loss to North Lawndale last week with perhaps its most impressive win of the season, beating Chaminade (Mo.). That 79-69 win came against the top-ranked team in St. Louis and ended that giant’s 26-game home win streak.

We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves –– the city playoffs still need to be played –– but there’s no topping a potential Young-Curie sectional championship game.

4. Simeon (19-2)

Coach Robert Smith’s team was cruising along at such a smooth rate you figured something had to go wrong. It has. And in reality that bump in the road came at the perfect time –– in January, before the city and state playoffs.

Simeon was badly beaten by Bogan, 83-64, where Smith’s team was out of sorts after the coach benched players for extended periods of time. Then it lost at home to Morgan Park in a down-to-the-wire finish. No, these aren’t major red flag losses, but they’re just enough for the veteran coach to re-direct and grab the attention of his team.

Still, Simeon does have a win over both Morgan Park and No. 3 Young. The Wolverines beat Benet and Fenwick while also winning five out-of-state matchups. This is still every bit the state championship contender it was a month ago.

5. Morgan Park (15-3)

Here’s a pretty comfortable prediction from the City/Suburban Hoops Report: Of all the top teams ahead of Morgan Park in these power rankings, it’s the Mustangs who are the best bet to reach Peoria. That’s because they’re a good team playing in the weakest Class 3A field we’ve seen since the dreadful expansion to four classes. (Oh, Bogan has to be reading this and salivating!).

Coach Nick Irvin also has the best player in Class 3A, point guard Ayo Dosunmu, while also receiving a boom of confidence with its recent road win over Simeon. Without that win over Simeon, Morgan Park’s short list of marquee wins includes only Uplift and Bogan.

6. Uplift (19-4)

How many in-state games has Uplift lost this season? Quick … Answer, please. …. That would be one. Coach David Taylor’s team lost to Morgan Park –– by just two points –– yet people tend to quickly forget the Jacobs brothers-led team as we head into February because it plays in the Red-North.

This is a legit Class 2A state title –– and a scary Public League playoff team for the city’s elite –– with Demarius Jacobs playing at a super high level and the young players in the program making strides. That was unknown sophomore Deion Jackson with 13 points recently and equally unknown junior Joe Todd with 12 points and 8 assists in a game. I like this team.

7. Evanston (18-3)

Aside from an overtime slip to Naperville North, a very good team that is playing like the ranked team it was when the season began, the Wildkits haven’t lost to a team from Illinois. Plus, Evanston has played a tough but overlooked out-of-state slate to enhance its credentials.

Nojel Eastern is putting up the type of numbers you would expect from an all-state, Purdue-bound senior, while there is some balance to go with him. And when Evanston turns it up defensively, it plays better defense than most of the teams in these rankings. This is clearly one of the top 10 tams in the Chicago area.

8. Wheaton South (22-1)

In my mind this is the best story of the high school basketball season. The Tigers coming out of nowhere with a group of veterans who obviously care and share on the basketball court has fueled this remarkable season.

Coach Mike Healy has nurtured this beautifully and maximized every little bit he could out of this team. But it’s an ongoing process for a team that has a very small margin for error and hasn’t exactly registered a ton of wins over highly-ranked teams. But the breakout of Dillon Durrett, the success, chemistry and cohesion can’t be denied.

9. Fremd (20–0)

There are the two wins over Conant in the Mid-Suburban League West and two over Niles Notre Dame, including the overtime victory to win the Wheeling Hardwood Classic in December. After that? It’s a pretty weak schedule with a whopping average victory margin for the Vikings. They’ve actually rarely been tested.

Remember, while Fremd is a very efficient offensive team and plays to its strengths, this isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut of a team. Yet the Vikings have beaten all 16 of its foes not named Conant and Notre Dame by double digits, including 12 teams by 15 or more points.

They won’t wow you. You won’t think they will beat you when you watch them in the warm-up line. But all you have to do is appreciate the actual game of basketball to understand this Fremd team’s success.

There are a lot of examples this year of the ‘ol “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” but it might be Fremd that best fits that description.

10. Joliet West (18-3)

I’ve stated a number of times that of all the really good teams that have been consistently ranked among the top 10 most of the season, this is the one I’ve always had the most concerns with. And those haven’t been alleviated yet.

The Tigers lost to two high-level teams in Bolingbrook and Young, while edging Romeoville, in their last three games. There just isn’t quite the consistency you need, from player to player in game to game that you would expect from a top 10 team. And we haven’t even talked about its free-throw shooting, an overlooked need you must have in March.

But there is enough talent, enough pieces and just enough of everything else to still get toe Peoria in March.

11. Fenwick (17-4)

This is a legitimate Class 3A state title contender. These seniors, led by Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon, have won a lot of games and played in some big ones over the past couple of years. Plus, the juniors won every game at the sophomore level last season. They all know how to win.

Throw in an emerging freshman in D.J. Steward, who has made a major impact since late December, and it’s easy to see why the Friars are the best team in the Chicago Catholic League.

Now, can the Friars beat a Chicago Public League team when it really matters? Fenwick has lost to Young, Uplift and Simeon. And the most likely sectional foe this March? North Lawndale.

12. North Lawndale (18-5)

Additions to this team in the second half of the season, namely rugged athlete David Forrest, and the recent terrific play from Steven Ross, is a worthy undercard to the established talent in Carlos Hines and Martrell Barnes.

North Lawndale was praised in the preseason and now has a big-time win under its belt with its win over Young last week. But the Phoenix still seem a tad bit too erratic to be among the top 10.

13. Geneva (24-0)

First, the good. The Vikings have a little of that Fremd-like mojo going with balance and playing unselfishly and together. That’s resulted in this memorable run that has vaulted coach Phil Ralston’s team into a legitimately ranked team and a bonafide sectional title contender at Hinsdale Central in March.

Dom Navigato and Matt Johnston are two unsung seniors, while sophomore point guard Jack McDonald has provided a big lift.

Now, the bad. The Vikings have played the weakest schedule of any team ranked ahead of them –– and probably behind them. The Upstate Eight Conference is very competitive, but it doesn’t have a single team that currently or will sniff the Top 25. The top non-conference win came over a solid but not great Prairie Ridge team back in November.

14. Thornton (14-4)

You want to like Thornton. You want to believe it’s truly better than last year’s surprise team. But relying so heavily on such a mercurial star is always cause for concern. Nonetheless, Alonzo Verge is capable of putting a team on his back and carrying it, while 6-7 junior Orlando Allen gets better and better.

The Wildcats, however, don’t have the résumé some others have on this list. There aren’t a ton of big wins and three of their losses came by double digits –– 14, 17 and 18 points.

15. Conant (17-4)

I admit, when you really believe in a team heading into the season –– the Hoops Report had the Cougars ranked No. 12 in the preseason –– it’s difficult to get off the bandwagon. But I really don’t see any need to get off, even though the concern is three of its four losses have come to foes ––Prospect and Fremd –– that it must beat to win a second straight sectional championship.

But the blend of Jimmy Sotos in the backcourt and the size it possesses, along with the experience of playing in big games last March, remains intriguing going forward.

16. Orr (13-4)

Orr doesn’t have a single bad loss (two losses to Young and a loss to St. Patrick) and owns wins over North Lawndale and Marian Catholic.

I’m still not convinced this team is a threat to crash the party and pull off a city championship, but it has more than enough ingredients to crash the Class 2A party and reach Peoria.

17. Marist (21-2)

Among basketball fans out there, this may be the most controversial ranking in the Hoops Report Power Rankings. So be it.

After a pair of measuring stick road games in hostile environments two weeks ago, losing to Brother Rice in an intense rivalry game and beating Benet, I was fully on board with the potential of this team going forward. The loss last week to St. Rita, however, did take a little bit of the shine off my Marist love.

But I like the young but talented backcourt of Maurice Commander and Morgan Taylor to go with 6-8 big man Justin Brown. I’ve seen them at their best –– beating Benet on the road –– and really liked what I saw.

18. Benet (17-6)

Each year the Redwings play a daunting schedule. The schedule tests them for three months and always prepares them for March. That’s how this season is playing out. Now we’ll wait and see if the rewards will be there for them in March.

But look at some of those losses and the final scores: Simeon (52-50); H-F (48-45); Conant (52-48); St. Patrick (76-73) and Marist (49-45. That’s five losses to ranked teams by a total of 16 points. Plus, the Redwings have wins over Loyola, DePaul Prep, Notre Dame, Fenwick, Bloomington, Danville, Oak Park and Stevenson.

When Benet is gets the tempo to its liking and knocks down shots –– both in advantageous transition opportunities and in the halfcout –– coach Gene Heidkamp’s team can play with just about anyone. And you have to love the ball in Jack Nolan’s hands when it matters and a shot needs to be made. The senior guard has made the junior-to-senior leap from quality role player to star.

19. Jacobs (19-1)

There was a reason the Hoops Report had the Eagles ranked No. 21 in the preseason. And there is no reason why they’re among the top 20 now.

This team is experienced and won a regional championship a year ago, knocking off two very good teams in Larkin and DeKalb along the way. And then there is Hoops Report favorite Cameron Krutwig, who is now finally starting to receive the recognition he deserves. But this team is also better defensively than people give it credit for when talking top teams.

All of that –– the star player surrounded by experienced pieces who know their roles –– is why this team is still in the Top 25 and has the potential for a long state tournament run. I know it will take some more of something, but it’s time to take Krutwig & Company a little more seriously.

20. Prospect (17-4)

A renaissance in the Mid-Suburban League with three teams ranked in the City/Suburban Hoops Report Power Rankings. I like that this team has played in a lot of close games and won a bunch of them, winning four one-possession games.

Senior guard Frankie Mack deservedly receives a lot of the notoriety, but the play of 6-6 Matt Szuba is inspiring. The senior warrior has made such an enormous jump over the course of his career and is now one heck of a high school basketball player. There aren’t many players around who fill the stat sheet up better than Szuba.

21. St. Patrick (18-4)

This is a talented team that owns a win over Benet and has manhandled the majority of the teams on its schedule by double digits. But the Shamrocks, who have athleticism, depth, size and quality guard play, hit a snag last week with a pair of losses. Those losses are glaring after such a highly successful run.

Potentially, though, this is an awfully dangerous team for the likes of Young and Curie in the Proviso East Sectional. With the offensive potential of this team, the Shamrocks only have to play good defense, not great, to really push themselves even higher in these rankings.

22. Brother Rice (19-3)

When there is any Coach of the Year talk, it might be wise to consider throwing young Bobby Frasor into the conversation. Yes, he has a strong two-headed perimeter attack in Josh Niego and Mike Shepski, but Frasor has certainly gotten everything he can out of this team through the first 22 games. But that’s a bit of the problem. You do get the feeling Brother Rice has maxed out a bit.

While Brother Rice does own the big rivalry win over Marist, in three other measuring stick games –– to Joliet West, Conant and Oak Park –– they’ve fallen. But with the perimeter shooting Shepski and Niego provide, it’s a team you can go down to on the wrong night.

23. Bogan (15-6)

While the Bengals have a few ugly, lopsided losses, including a 31-point loss to Fenwick, a 30-point loss to Simeon by 30 points and a 16-point defeat to Morgan Park, it’s still a dangerous team going forward. They’re young and still putting things together while developing chemistry and understanding roles.

Coach Arthur Goodwin’s team has ripped off nine wins in its last 10 games, including a win over Simeon. But can this team put a scare into Morgan Park this March in a likely sectional showdown? I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far.

24. Loyola Academy (15-6)

This is the classic case of taking a team for how it’s playing right now. And it’s evident Loyola is playing at a higher level now than it was in November and December.

The Ramblers were just 5-5 heading into the holidays and coming off a loss to Taft, a team that’s currently tied for last place in the Red-North. However, it’s important to remember that four of those five losses came in a pair of overtime games and by a combined seven points.

But Loyola headed to Florida for the holidays in December, won four games, picked up confidence, surely some togetherness and won 10 straight before falling to Fenwick Tuesday night.

25. Willowbrook (21-1)

I’m cautious with this one, probably because one of the two times I watched Willowbrook I took in its only loss of the season. There aren’t a whole lot of eye-opening wins on the ledger but there sure are a lot of them. The Warriors have gained more and more confidence and, pretty remarkably, are in position to win the West Suburban Gold.

But I’m not so sure there aren’t a few teams on the outside looking in of the Power Rankings that aren’t better than this team. But you just can’t ignore the success and that win total.

On the cusp: Naperville North, Notre Dame, DePaul Prep, Kenwood, Stevenson and T.F. North.

5 comments

  • Ray

    Willowbrook may not have great wins, but plenty of solid wins that show a good trend. DGS, Proviso East twice, Stagg. Again not great but good. Brother Rice one good win over Marist. But not sure how you keep Kenwood out. Bad lost to DGS. But DGS is a team that can beat anyone and lose to anyone. When their 3 point shooting is hot they are very good. Like they were when they beat NN. Kenwood has wins again Whitney Young and some great out of town wins. The one Curie loss a blow out but the second time they showed that they can play. I am sure you would bet on Kenwood against anyone outside the top 15.

  • James

    Joliet Central not even on the bubble? You must not really believe in WWS if you dont give credit to JC FOR beating them. They have only 3 losses and the best win of any team outside the top 25. I might take all your bubble teams over Brother rice and loyola.

  • RealityCheck

    LOL… Joe loves him some St. Pats… At the cost of his credibility. Pats will lose at least two more conference games this season…

    • Lefty

      Brutal sectional, but St. Pat’s ‘probably’ avoids the toughest teams and gets sent to the Fenton regional. Some very good teams that will lose in the first round (not counting play-in round). Would you give St. Pat’s a 3-seed ahead of OPRF? 3 v 6 regional final not a lock for the 3.

      • RealityCheck

        You might be right but I think Pats will end up as a 4 or 5 seed. I think they will be a 3 if they win their next three games (Viator, Joliet Catholic, Conant) but if they lose to Conant again I think Kenwood will slip in ahead of them. But that still would give them a decent chance to win their Regional.

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