The start of the state tournament is right around the corner, but there is one big regular season weekend ahead.
Here is a snapshot of the top games this weekend.
Overall season picks: 26-14
Chicago Public League Semifinals • Friday
• Simeon vs. Young
Another monumental clash between two of the biggest names in high school basketball. While there is a lengthy list of talented, big-named juniors for both teams, two seniors –– Young’s Lucas Williamson and Simeon’s Evan Gilyard –– provide the backbone. Simeon beat Young 59-52 back in December.
Hoops Report pick: Young 65, Simeon 63
• Curie vs. Morgan Park
The potential for plenty of backcourt fireworks is pretty high with Curie senior guard Elijah Joiner and Morgan Park junior Ayo Dosunmu headlining this city semifinal. Since the calendar turned to 2017, Curie hasn’t lost a game and Morgan Park hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent.
Hoops Report pick: Curie 62, Morgan Park 58
Chicago Catholic League Championship • Friday
• Fenwick vs. St. Joseph
Who would have thought St. Joseph would be in this position a month ago when the Chargers were struggling at 8-10? Now coach Gene Pingatore’s rejuvenated team has won seven straight and looks to end Fenwick’s two-year Catholic League dominance.
But this Fenwick group simply knows how to win. Senior Jamal Nixon recently became the winningest player in Fenwick history, while the Friars haven’t lost a Catholic League game of any kind –– regular season or tournament play — since falling to St. Joseph, 67-54, Feb. 18, 2015.
Hoops Report pick: Fenwick 57, St. Joseph 50
Other top games …
Jacobs at Prairie Ridge • Friday
These league foes have split two games this season. Now a conference championship in the Fox Valley is on the line. Prairie Ridge must find a way to neutralize 6-8 Loyola recruit Cameron Krutwig, a matchup nightmare with his size and skill passing the basketball.
Jacobs didn’t shoot the ball well and turned the ball over a lot (23 total turnovers) in that first loss to Prairie Ridge. But the Eagles, led by Krutwig and junior Ryan Phillips, haven’t lost since.
The Jacobs defense has been overlooked all season. In its last four wins opponents are averaging just 34 points a game, and only two opponents have scored more than 50 points on Jacobs since the calendar turned to 2017.
It’s been too great of a regular season and it’s too good of a team for Jacobs not to win a conference championship. The Eagles win the rubber-match and claim a Fox Valley Conference championship.
Hoops Report pick: Jacobs 51, Prairie Ridge 44
Willowbrook at Downers Grove South • Friday
This one will go a long way in deciding the West Suburban Gold. Willowbrook has beaten everyone on its schedule not named Hinsdale South, including a 56-53 win over DGS the first time the two met. But this team isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore.
An up-and-down season for Downers South is pointing up after winning six of seven, including an impressive victory over Kenwood and a convincing win over Hinsdale South.
Look for shooter Denis Alibegovic and Western Michigan recruit T.J. Clifford to keep this positive late-season swing going.
Hoops Report pick: Downers Grove South 57, Willowbrook 53
Bloom at Crete-Monee • Friday
Fresh off a huge win over Thornton earlier this week, Bloom looks to finish off an unbeaten Southland Conference season.
Whether it’s Austin Richie, Jalen Lee, Tramail McCray or Javonte Slater, the Blazing Trojans are extremely balanced. Senior Chino Johnson rose to the occasion in a win over Thornton to add another option.
But Crete-Monee and senior star Dwayne Rose have won eight straight and are just one game back of Bloom.
Hoops Report pick: Bloom 63, Crete-Monee 56
St. Patrick at Marist • Friday
Just another big game in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
The ESCC has been the most interesting conference race in the Chicago area, with five different teams ranked at some point this season and bunched near the top.
If St. Patrick can go on the road and knock off Marist Friday night, the ESCC race becomes quite chaotic. Marist is 6-1 in league play, while Notre Dame, Marian Catholic, St. Viator and St. Patrick are all 5-2.
From a pure personnel standpoint, Marist and St. Pat’s probably have the most individual talent. Marist features a big man in 6-8 Justin Brown, along with junior guard Maurice Commander. But junior Morgan Taylor, a key component at both ends of the floor, is still out with an injury. Coach Gene Nolan hopes to get him back next week.
St. Pat’s has a budding junior guard in Xavier Pinson and the highly-athletic Alton Thompson.
While St. Patrick has put a lot of points on the board this season, Marist has shown it can both grind out games and play with a little bit of pace. But Marist is really missing Taylor.
A struggling St. Pat’s –– the Shamrocks have lost four of their last five –– gets back on track and throws the ESCC up for grabs.
Hoops Report pick: St. Patrick 59, Marist 55
Hersey at Prospect • Friday
Since falling to Waukegan in December, Prospect has ripped off 12 straight wins and is set to win the Mid-Suburban League East outright –– if it can beat Hersey, who is only one game back.
While Prospect is smoking hot, Hersey has won eight of its last nine behind Joey Coffaro, a senior guard with over 1,000 career points. And most have forgotten the fact Hersey handed Prospect its lone league loss. But Prospect has a pretty dynamic 1-2 punch in seniors Frankie Mack and Matt Szuba.
What team has made the biggest strides since Hersey beat Prospect in overtime way back in early December? Prospect looks the part of a major player in March and gets this second meeting with Hersey.
Hoops Report pick: Prospect 63, Hersey 55
City-Suburban Showdown • Saturday
at Robert Morris University
• Morgan Park vs. Stevenson
A couple of big-time talents –– Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu and Stevenson’s Justin Smith –– highlight this city vs. suburbs showdown. Dosunmu is the top-ranked prospect in the junior class, while the high-flying Smith is headed to Indiana next season.
Morgan Park has a huge game Friday night with Curie in the city semifinals. Will coach Nick Irvin’s team be sky high following a win? Licking its wounds following a loss? Looking ahead to a city final on Sunday?
Stevenson is a terrific 19-4 but is looking for a win that shows it belongs with the state’s best as we head into March. In its biggest non-conference games this season the Patriots have lost to Benet (69-53) and Prospect (47-46).
Hoops Report pick: Morgan Park 61, Stevenson 55
• Simeon vs. Evanston
The signature game of the annual City-Suburban Showdown at Robert Morris University in Arlington Heights. Both of these teams have visions of playing in Peoria for a state championship next month.
This showdown is sandwiched in between what could be a monster weekend for Simeon, playing in the Chicago Public League semifinals Friday night and, potentially, playing for a city championship on Sunday. Mentally and physically you never know where a team could be playing three impact games in three days.
For Evanston, it doesn’t matter. The Wildkits want a shot at a state power in a tune-up for what they hope is an extended state tournament run in March. It’s also an opportunity for Evanston star Nojel Eastern to elevate his status in POY talk with a win here.
Hoops Report pick: Simeon 64, Evanston 60
Joliet West at Joliet Central • Saturday
It was expected to be the year of Joliet West with all the talk about this team returning everyone from a sectional title team and one that began the season highly ranked.
The Tigers have impressed and matched expectations. But Joliet Central has been able steal just a little of its rival’s thunder with its identical 21-3 record –– the best season at Central since the Joliet schools split in 2010.
The Steelmen, however, are still in need of that signature win. Here’s their chance –– and an opportunity to share a conference title with their rivals.
This could be a preview of bigger things to come, such as an all-Joliet sectional semifinal game in a few weeks. But basketball fans in Joliet will enjoy this Saturday afternoon matinee before the potential win-or-go-home showdown in March.
Hoops Report pick: Joliet West 57, Joliet Central 53
Geneva at Quincy
Big test for the unbeaten with a road date at Quincy. The Vikings play in a famed and often intimidating venue against a Blue Devils team that’s 18-4. Quincy walloped Geneva rival Batavia 53-35 last month. With that unbeaten regular season firmly within reach, the Vikings find a way to pull off a big road victory.
Hoops Report pick: Geneva 52, Quincy 50