The Thanksgiving tournaments were a tune-up. Now we’re getting into the regular-season games that begin to matter.
Here is a list of circle-the-date matchups that should be enticing to the high school basketball fan over the next two-plus months, including key conference battles and shootout showdowns.
➤ Oak Park vs. Fenwick • Dec. 1 at UIC
This has become a tradition. The battle of Oak Park on a neutral floor at UIC in the first week of December has become like Texas-Oklahoma football in the Cotton Bowl the second weekend of October.
➤ Bloomington vs. St. Rita • Dec. 1 at UIC
There is excitement surrounding the St. Rita program, both with the present team and in the future. Here’s a big early-season test from a high-quality team in Class 3A, led by Illinois State commit Chris Payton.
➤ St. Charles East at St. Charles North • Dec. 1
These two have been involved in some great ones in recent years and they always mean something. In a conference race where every win will matter, this is big even at this early stage.
➤ Morgan Park at Bogan • Dec. 5
The Public League super conference gives us an old Red-South battle in early December. This will be a terrific barometer as to how good this Bogan team will be.
➤ Simeon at Morgan Park • Dec. 9
The header above –– Simeon at Morgan Park –– says enough already.
➤ Danville vs. Orr • Dec. 10 at Mt. Carmel
The defending Class 2A champs will get a terrific early-season test from a state-ranked caliber team in Danville, led by Drake recruit Kendle Moore, in the Team Rose Shootout.
➤ Curie vs. St. Rita • Dec. 10 at Mt. Carmel
The final game of the two-day Team Rose Shootout will also be the best. There will be plenty of talented perimeter players, including Curie’s Maurice Commander.
➤ Morgan Park at Curie • Dec. 12
The Public League super conference does give us this old Red-Central/Red-South crossover. The backcourt talent on display will be must-see.
➤ Bogan at Simeon • Dec. 12
Anyone who has taken in a Simeon-Bogan game over the years is typically not disappointed. These two get after one another. A couple of ranked teams from the old Red-South go at it once again.
➤ Bolingbrook at Romeoville • Dec. 13
Both are loaded, both will be ranked. But it’s Romeoville who’s out to prove it’s ready to take a big step forward. Here’s their chance.
➤ Evanston at Niles North • Dec. 15
This is Niles North’s year, right? It starts with a December matchup against the defending Central Suburban League South champ. While the Wildkits are young, they’re still extremely dangerous.
➤ Marian Catholic at Waukegan • Dec. 22
A nice south suburban vs. north suburban pre-holiday matchup. Marian Catholic’s quick 4-0 start only makes it more intriguing and a terrific measuring stick for both teams heading into holiday tournament play.
➤ Kenwood at Curie • Jan. 11
The recent battles between these two old Red-Central rivals have been intense.
➤ Simeon at Fenwick • Jan. 15
Simeon coach Robert Smith and Fenwick coach Rick Malnati have created something fun and meaningful in this third annual MLK Day matchup. A couple of years Fenwick and star Mike Smith stunned Simeon, 71-68, while last year Simeon moved to 16-0 with a 55-50 win over the Friars.
➤ Brother Rice at Marist • Jan. 16
This one won’t have quite the star power as last year’s hyped matchup, but it’s still Brother Rice-Marist. And it’s still two very good teams.
➤ Fenwick at St. Rita • Jan. 19
Huge Catholic League battle that could potentially decide a champ. Fenwick has been the kingpin of the Catholic League.
➤ Benet at Marist • Jan. 19
This was a dandy last year with Marist going on the road and beating Benet. Now Benet’s fast start, including a win over ranked Fenwick, has the rest of the East Suburban Catholic Conference thinking, “Uh-oh, I thought they were down???”
➤ Fenwick vs. Morgan Park • Jan. 20 at Glenbard East
All this includes is a rematch of last year’s Class 3A state championship which Morgan Park won in overtime. From an individual standpoint, Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu is the state’s top senior prospect, while MP’s Adam Miller and Fenwick’s D.J. Steward are the top two sophomores in the state.
➤ Young vs. Bloomington • Jan. 20 at Glenbard East
Coach Tyrone Slaughter’s Dolphins branch out, heading to the suburbs to face a top central Illinois team featuring 6-6 Chris Payton.
➤ West Aurora vs. Romeoville • Jan. 20 at Glenbard East
Both these ranked teams have high hopes this season and square off in a midseason non-conference tussle.
➤ Larkin at Willowbrook • Jan. 23
Coach Deryn Carter steps away from the battles of the Upstate Eight River and takes his Larkin team on the road to face Ethan Schuemer and a ranked Willowbrook team out to prove its legitimacy. A win here would go a long way in doing just that.
➤ Curie at Simeon • Jan. 25
These two could hook up in a meaningful game a month earlier in Pontiac. But two of Simeon-Curie in the regular season is better than one.
➤ Fenwick at DePaul Prep • Jan. 26
Fenwick has moved up from Class 4A to Class 3A. DePaul Prep has moved up from Class 2A to Class 3A. They both remain major players in the Catholic League and their respective classes. Plus, a pair of talented underclassmen –– Fenwick’s D.J. Steward and DePaul Prep’s Perry Cowan –– are on display.
➤ Fremd at Conant • Jan. 26
Did you see last year’s games between these two? No, it can’t live up to that, but we’re still talking Mid-Suburban League West supremacy here between two solid teams and what looks to be a dominating MSL star –– Conant big man Ryan Davis.
➤ West Aurora vs. Willowbrook • Jan. 27 at Batavia
Willowbrook beefed up its schedule by adding a ranked West Aurora team on it in the annual Batavia Night of Hoops.
➤ Naperville North at Wheaton North • Jan. 30
A couple of top DVC teams with size –– Naperville North boasts 6-7 Tom Welch and 6-7 Chris Johnson while Wheaton North features the tandem of 6-6 Deng Reng and 6-7
➤ Joliet West at Romeoville • Feb. 2
Joliet West transfer Eddie Creal playing his old teammates in a game that could decide a conference championship provides some drama and intrigue.
➤ Rich East at Bloom • Feb. 2
Rich East will still be scoring massive amounts of points and Bloom’s sophomores will be a whole lot more seasoned by early February. Plus, a conference championship could be on the line. A fun one in the south suburbs.
➤ Willowbrook at Hinsdale South • Feb. 2
How about these two programs as one of the featured attractions of the 2017-2018 season? These two tied for the West Suburban Gold title a year ago. They’re both better this season.
➤ Belleville West vs. Normal West at O’Fallon • Feb. 3
We’ll include one special out-of-the-area matchup in the always strong Bank of O’Fallon Shootout as the top two juniors in the state –– Belleville West’s 6-7 E.J. Liddell and Normal West’s 6-9 Francis Okoro –– go at it.
➤ Lake Zurich at Waukegan • Feb. 3
Stevenson has finally left the door open in the North Suburban Conference. Experienced Lake Zurich, led by Ryan Kutsor, and talented Waukegan are the top two contenders.
➤ Larkin at St. Charles East • Feb. 8
This will be a fun one in the Upstate Eight. Larkin is loaded, led by guard Anthony Lynch and big man Jalen Shaw, while St. Charles East and Justin Hardy have sights set on a UEC River title.
➤ New Trier at Niles North • Feb. 9
Niles North’s perimeter firepower and New Trier’s great size will meet in a key, late season Central Suburban South game.
➤ Marist at St. Viator • Feb. 10
These two have the look of being the top teams in what should be a pretty wide open East Suburban Catholic Conference race.
➤ St. Joseph at St. Rita • Feb. 16
The fast start for coach Gene Pingatore’s team has St. Joe’s believing it can contend in the strong Catholic League. There is a long road to between now and the middle of February, but this could really mean something if the Chargers can survive the potential pitfalls (January games with Fenwick, Brother Rice and DePaul Prep).
➤ St. Charles North at Larkin • Feb. 16
The UEC River will have all kinds of twists and turns in a deep and balanced race. But this late season tussle could go a long way in deciding things.
➤ Bolingbrook at Lincoln-Way East • Feb. 20
The final regular season game of the year for the two conference favorites could decide the Southwest Suburban Blue.
➤ Wheaton-Warrenville South at Naperville North • Feb. 21
There is some heat to this one as these two met three times last year. Wheaton South swept the regular season matchups to claim a DVC title, only to fall in the sectional rematch in March. It would be fun to have the conference race go down to the final day of the regular season.
➤ Batavia at Larkin • Feb. 21
Another late-season game that could really matter. Don’t dismiss Batavia’s chances in the rugged and deep Upstate Eight River, where Larkin is considered the favorite.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport