A preview of the top holiday tournaments involving Chicago area teams.
➤ Pontiac Holiday Tournament • Dec. 28, 29, 30
Teams to beat: Curie and Simeon
The top two teams in the state are both unbeaten and on a collision course to meet, once again, in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. There is a lot of recent history between these two in Pontiac.
The city powers met in the Pontiac semifinals last year and in 2012. They squared off in the championship game in 2011 and 2013.
Both have lived up to the early season expectations with a blend of seniors and promising underclassmen. Curie has a star in senior guard Elijah Joiner and a surplus of terrific parts to go with him. Simeon boasts senior point guard Evan Gilyard while receiving major production from a pair of juniors, 6-4 Talen Horton-Tucker and 6-2 guard Kezo Brown.
Top challenger: Joliet West
Led by point guard Teyvion Kirk, one of the real unsung stars in the state, Joliet West can not only play with but beat anyone in this field. Yes, that includes the big boys. A Joliet team hasn’t played in or won a Pontiac final since 2001.
After a two-game hiccup in the middle of December, the Redwings head into Pontiac with an impressive win over Fenwick. The discipline and precision Benet plays with, along with its solid perimeter shooting, could put a scare into a couple of unbeatens along its tournament path: Bloomington in the second round and a potential state championship rematch with Curie in the semifinals.
Team with the most to prove: Oak Park
The Huskies have played a very competitive schedule and proved quite a bit already in this young season. But here is the stage for coach Matt Maloney’s team to show it can play with (and beat?) the best in the state. There is experienced and blossoming talent, along with a growing confidence with this team.
Storyline to follow: Can one of the unbeaten teams at Pontiac –– Simeon, Curie, Bloomington and Joliet West –– get through a minefield of a bracket and head into January still unscathed? Whatever team does will have moved itself atop the state basketball hierarchy as we head into the second half of the season.
➤ Proviso West Holiday Tournament • Dec. 27, 28, 29, 30
Teams to beat: Morgan Park and Young
Morgan Park boasts the tournament’s best player in 6-3 junior point guard Ayo Dosunmu and is the defending tournament champ. Young has an unheralded senior in Lucas Williamson and a pair of outstanding juniors in Xavier Castaneda and Javon Freeman.
Top challenger: Fenwick
The Friars sport a stellar 8-1 record and have a pair of bookend seniors in point guard Jacob Keller and 6-4 Jamal Nixon. Fenwick reached the final last December, where it was walloped by Morgan Park, 81-55.
Keep an eye on the Titans and the brother tandem of senior Demarius Jacobs, a highly-productive guard who is headed to SIU, and sophomore Markese Jacobs, a point guard who has committed to Kansas. This Uplift team, despite being a Class 2A team when March rolls around, believes it can play with anyone.
Team with the most to prove: St. Joseph.
Led by sophomore point guard Marquise Walker, the Chargers came into the season with expectations and highly ranked but are 5-4 and in need of a reset. Here’s their chance.
Storyline to follow: Historically, there always seems to be an individual player at Proviso West who grabs the headlines and puts on a show and is talked about for four days. That player will be … ?
➤ Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic • Dec. 27, 28, 29, 30
Teams to beat: Bolingbrook and Homewood-Flossmoor
Led by athletic 6-5 Nebraska recruit Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook has a wealth of talent and has been dominant in its unbeaten start. Their speed, athleticism and depth comes at you in waves. Senior-dominated H-F features one of the more underrated players in the area in 6-3 Jeffrey Boyd.
Top challenger: Stevenson
The Patriots (7-1) are a halfcourt, buzzer-beating loss away from being undefeated on the season. More importantly, the Patriots are dangerous with high-flying, Indiana-bound Justin Smith, one of the elite seniors in the state.
Sleeper: St. Charles East
With ultra-productive Justin Hardy (20.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and a team full of shooters, the Saints are capable of an upset win and long tournament run.
Team with most to prove: Marian Catholic
A tough schedule has led to four losses for a talented Spartans team with size and solid guard play. A signature win would boost the fortunes of a team that came into the season highly ranked.
Storyline to follow: Maybe the favorites, Bolingbrook and H-F, do meet for the title, which would be the first of three matchups between these two conference foes this season. But without a Curie, Simeon, Morgan Park, Joliet West or Young in this field, it’s an opportunity for a sleeper to emerge with a big three or four-game run and be a surprise tournament finalist or even winner.
➤ Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York • Dec. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
Teams to beat: Conant and Downers Grove South
Conant is led by Bucknell recruit Jimmy Sotos and has a mix of size and experience, while Downers South and sharpshooting senior guard Denis Alibegovic are playing well. Both of these teams came into the season highly thought of and ranked and both have already bounced back nicely from losses this season.
Top challenger: St. Patrick
With the emergence of junior guard Xavier Pinson and the arrival of Alton Thompson, an athletic 6-4 transfer, the Shamrocks are 8-1 and winners of six straight. Plus, the Shamrocks have a favorable bracket in front of them with Oswego (2-7) and likely a scuffling Riverside-Brookfield in the opening two rounds.
Sleeper: Brother Rice
With two undisputed standouts on the perimeter –– seniors Mike Shepski and Josh Niego –– the Crusaders are a couple of hot shooting games from disrupting this 32-team bracket.
Team with most to prove: Naperville North
When the season tipped off it was expected the Huskies would be one of the favorites at York. Now this veteran group heads into the holidays with back-to-back losses and in need of a pick-me-up. But a very difficult matchup with Downers South in the second round awaits.
Storyline to follow: Who takes advantage of the opportunity? While balanced and competitive, along with the fact playing five games in five days is no easy task, this tournament is a chance for one of the highly-regarded teams (Conant? Downers Grove South? Naperville North?) or one of the fast-starting teams (Brother Rice? De La Salle? St. Patrick? Stagg?) or teams trying to re-establish themselves (Riverside-Brookfield? Lyons Twp.?) to put together a run that propels them into the second half of the season.
➤ Wheeling Hardwood Classic • Dec. 27, 28, 29, 30
Team to beat: Fremd
The team to beat has been very impressive with their balance, chemistry and execution at both ends of the floor. You can’t help but appreciate how this team, led by seniors Kyle Sliwa and
Top challenger: Waukegan and Prospect.
Both teams have the firepower and potential to walk out of Wheeling with four wins. Prospect’s Frankie Mack is an unsung senior, while Waukegan’s Bryant Brown is a bright prospect in the sophomore class.
No, Libertyville likely won’t win this tournament. However, with versatile 6-6 Drew Peterson, one of the top juniors in Illinois, the Wildcats could be a tricky .500 team for one of the favorites.
Team with the most to prove: Notre Dame
The Dons are big, experienced and have talent but have lost both of their big tests, falling to Benet and Fremd. Nonetheless, coach Tom Les’ team is still a not-too-shabby 8-2 but a tournament title here would be a statement.
Storyline to follow: This was one oddly paired tournament bracket as you could easily argue the three best teams after Fremd –– Waukegan, Prospect and Notre Dame –– are all playing in the same bracket. Plus, two of those teams (Waukegan and Prospect) would meet in the second round. This all lends to Fremd cruising to the title game in the opposite bracket and then one win away from heading into the new year still unbeaten.
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