Henricksen: Breaking down teams with greatest strength of schedule

Good teams are hardened by tough schedules.

There is likely a time during the season when a coach, who put together a grueling schedule, questions whether he forced his team to take on too much.

There are certainly times where a rough stretch of losses, caused by a rugged schedule, can possibly hurt the psyche and confidence of a team. But more often than not the benefits clearly outweigh the negatives.

Maybe it does put a dent in the loss column more than a coach would like, but it’s also tremendous preparation for what matters most –– playing in March. Teams are forced to rise to another level, testing themselves against teams that are often better.

Coach Tyrone Slaughter has annually put together as tough of a schedule as he could for his basketball program. Young has had the benefit of having some high-profile players that warrant out-of-state invitations, but it’s also a mindset Slaughter adopted, which is basically playing anyone, anywhere.

The 2008-2009 Young team lost nine regular season games and was written off by most. But seven of those nine losses that season came to out-of-state basketball giants with well recognized names like Oak Hill Academy (Va.), Mater Dei (Calif.), St. Benedict’s (NJ), Fairfax (Los Angeles) and DeMatha (Md.).

Young then reached Peoria in March and won the 2009 state championship, beating Waukegan to finish the year with a 24-9 record.

The 2014 Young team that won a state championship behind Jahlil Okafor played 13 teams outside Illinois.

It’s no wonder Young is playing what looks to be the toughest schedule of any team in Illinois again this season.

1. Young

When you come to play at Young you’re going to face the best, starting with Red-West play, continuing with the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and extending to high-profile teams outside Illinois. This year has been another schedule that has certainly tested the Dolphins.

Young played in the state’s toughest conference this season where it faced ranked foes Orr and North Lawndale twice, along with competitive matchups with Farragut and Westinghouse.

In all, Young has played 10 games against teams that have been ranked in the Chicago area this season, including No. 4 Morgan Park, No. 5 Simeon, No. 11 Fenwick, No. 12 Joliet West and Kenwood.

As the Dolphins always do, they’ve faced a plethora of high-level, out-of-state opponents: Dillard (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) is 22-4 and the No. 4 ranked team in Florida; Muskegon (Mich.) is unbeaten and ranked No. 6 in Michigan; and Chaminade (St. Louis) is 18-3 and ranked fourth in the state in Missouri.

In addition, Archbishop Molloy (Queens, NY) is the 23rd ranked team in New York and DeSoto (Tex.) has 20 wins on the season.

When you add the potential matchups Young could face in the Chicago Public League Tournament, no team has played as tough and competitive of a schedule as Young.

2. Simeon

Coach Robert Smith’s program always tests and challenges itself with a rugged schedule that includes both in-state and out-of-state powers.

There is the built-in luxury of playing in the always strong Public League Red-South, the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in December and the Chicago Public League Tournament in February.

The battles in the Red-South annually pits Simeon against rivals Morgan Park and Bogan twice a season. Morgan Park is currently ranked No. 4 and Bogan No. 21 in the Chicago area.

The Wolverines have played Catholic League North champ and No. 11 ranked Fenwick, No. 3 Young and No. 17 Benet. Plus, Simeon has played past ranked teams Oak Park and Bloom.

The out-of-state schedule has included Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.), currently ranked No. 9 in the country with a 19-3 record, Cordova (Tenn.), ranked No. 11 in Tennessee, and a 20-win Washington (Milwaukee) team that is ranked No. 20 in Wisconsin.

Simeon will finish the final few weeks of the season with a bang, playing Evanston in the City-Suburban Showdown, Feb. 21, while playing in the rough-and-tumble Chicago Public League playoffs. Up next for the Wolverines is Farragut.

3. Kenwood

The Broncos are 17-6 and unranked in the most recent Sun-Times Super 25, but they’ve played one heck of a schedule, albeit a top-heavy schedule.

Coach Marlo Finner’s team has played No. 2 ranked Curie twice in Red-Central play, No. 3 Young and a once-ranked Downers Grove South.

But check out Kenwood’s out-of-state schedule. It’s a list of impressive state powers from around the country. That long list of measuring stick games includes Esperanza (Calif.), the No. 8 ranked team in California with a 23-1 record.

Then there is Spartanburg (SC), a 20-win team that’s ranked eighth in the state in South Carolina. Ben Davis (Indianapolis) is ranked 10th in Indiana, Cordova (Tenn.) is 18-5 and the No. 11 ranked team in Tennessee, and Jonesboro (Ark.) is unbeaten, ranked 13th in the country and is the top-ranked team in Arkansas.

Now Kenwood is in the midst of playing in the Public League playoffs where it beat a ranked Bogan and will play Young for a second time in the city quarterfinals.

4. Evanston

The schedule Evanston put together this season has been vastly overlooked as a result of playing so many out-of-state teams. But the slate has been filled with elite, state-ranked teams from across the country.

Evanston has lost just one game to an in-state team, falling to a ranked Naperville North team in a down-to-the-wire overtime defeat. In addition to playing four teams that have been ranked in the Chicago area this season, including wins over Conant and Prospect, the Wildkits have faced the following:

• Two teams currently ranked among the top 10 teams in the country, including a tough 78-76 loss to Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia), presently the No. 8 ranked team in the nation.

• Have faced a whopping seven teams who already have 20 wins on the year.

• Played five out-of-state teams that are currently state-ranked in their respective states, including wins over Providence (Jacksonville, Fla.), St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) and Scott County (Georgetown, Ky).

Plus, Evanston still has a date with No. 5 ranked Simeon remaining on the schedule.

5. Marian Catholic

Beginning with the challenge of a strong Thanksgiving Tournament, the schedule hasn’t let up for Marian Catholic. Coach Mike Taylor’s schedule is loaded.

The Spartans play the traditionally strong East Suburban Catholic Conference schedule, where five different teams in that league have been ranked at one point this season.

Then there was the recent matchup with La Lumiere (Ind.), a nationally ranked prep school giant, while also playing a one-loss Iowa City West (Iowa) team that’s ranked No. 2 in Iowa.

Marian Catholic has also played three of the strongest south suburban teams –– Hillcrest, H-F and Thornton –– along with non-conference dogfights with Bloomington, DePaul Prep and Fenwick.

Other tough schedules …

Benet

The philosophy of coach Gene Heidkamp has been to put together a battle-tested schedule to prepare his team for the rigors of March. This year is no different.

The very competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference schedule Benet plays has featured teams that have been in and out of the rankings all season in Marian Catholic, Marist, Notre Dame and St. Patrick.

The lengthy non-conference schedule included several others who have been or are ranked, including Loyola Academy, Conant, Fenwick, Simeon, Homewood-Flossmoor, Oak Park and Stevenson.

In addition, Benet played two tough central Illinois teams who have been state ranked in Bloomington and Danville, along with Class 2A state threat DePaul Prep.

Fenwick

The Catholic League North champs have had their fill of Public League powers this season, including Bogan, Uplift, Young and Simeon. In addition to its Catholic League schedule, the Friars have also played rival Oak Park, Benet, Marian Catholic and Hope Academy in non-conference play.

Homewood-Flossmoor

When the season ends and you look back at the H-F schedule it will be anchored by three matchups with No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Bolingbrook. But the Vikings built a rugged schedule with some expected powers like Benet and Evanston, along with some surprises in Wheaton South.

Throw in games with DePaul Prep, Marian Catholic, Farragut and two against Bloom and coach Marc Condotti’s team has played one of the top 10 schedules in the Chicago area. Overall, H-F will have played 11 games against ranked teams.

Morgan Park

The Mustangs have faced all the biggies in the city, including two games each with Red-South rivals Bogan and Simeon. But they also played highly-ranked Uplift and Young at the Proviso West High Holiday Tournament.

Last week Morgan Park faced talented Webster Groves (Mo.), a 15-3 team ranked No. 9 in Missouri. Now the Mustangs prepare for the Chicago Public League playoffs before playing Stevenson and Justin Smith to close the season.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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