We are just past the midway point of the season, so forgive me for being a week or so late with this high school basketball midseason report.
From the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Top 25 Power Rankings to the midseason all-state team and midseason player and coach of the year awards, here is where we stand.
We’ll start with the rankings.
All rankings are subjective. These are my opinions based on the merits of each team and a broad perspective.
I look at the strength of schedule –– the weak and the strong –– and the wins and losses while playing that schedule. I take into account head-to-head play, the talent on each team, my very own eye test and how well they are currently playing.
Breaking each one of those down can make it even more challenging.
Strength of schedule: There is such a discrepancy between teams when it comes to schedule strength. But there is no better way to judge a team than with how they play against the best. So much is learned through those types of games.
Head-to-head play. Sure, it matters. But the season is long. What happens in November and early December may not be a true indicator of what would happen in January and February. Teams evolve and improve at different rates. Some even peak too early and fade.
As an example, despite Curie beating Orr all the way back in the first week of the season, I believe if the two were to meet today that Orr, who played without Chase Adams in that game, would be victorious. Nonetheless, the two are deserving of their top three ranking.
The eye-test: Maybe this is more about understanding the game, tendencies, style of play and results. It’s dangerous to take too much stock and over-react to one game, one result. There are teams –– good, quality ranked teams –– that just aren’t built to beat teams by impressive scores. But they just win.
How well they are currently playing: This should be taken into account more than it does when it comes to sectional seeding time. One team’s 16-5 record may be a whole lot different than another team’s 16-5 mark.
With all that being said, here’s where the City/Suburban Hoops Report sees the midseason Top 25 as January comes to a close.
Midseason Power Rankings
1. Simeon (20-3)
There is no debate. This Wolverines team has been dominant, played a rugged schedule, hasn’t lost to an in-state team and boasts the best high school basketball player in the Chicago area right now.
2. Orr (18-2)
In the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, Orr has looked the part of the best team in the Chicago area not named Simeon. The Spartans, fresh off beating a talented St. Louis Vashon team over the weekend, have gone 15-1 since the middle of December, losing only to English Village out of Detroit.
In addition to wins over Fenwick and Young, the athletic and physical tandem of Raekwon Drake and Dannie Smith poses a very difficult matchup for any team it plays.
3. Curie (19-3)
Curie beat both Orr and Morgan Park early in the season when those two highly-ranked teams were shorthanded. They’ve been manhandled by Simeon to the tune of 19 points and 17 points in two losses. But those are the only two in-state losses the Condors have suffered. The question remains: Does Curie have a true, legit go-to player as it’s had in past years with Devin Gage and Elijah Joiner?
4. Young (18-5)
The Dolphins have one of the marquee players in the state in Javon Freeman. Coach Tyrone Slaughter’s team has shown it can put points on the board with the best of them and still have just one in-state loss –– to No. 2 Orr –– since holiday tournament time. But in their five losses this season the Dolphins are allowing an average of 82 points a game.
5. Morgan Park (16-8)
This may be the most difficult team to handicap due to the injuries coach Nick Irvin’s team has battled through. The Mustangs lost to Bolingbrook by just four points, 75-71, with a hobbled Ayo Dosunmu playing at about 50 percent. What can Morgan Park become with a healthy Dosunmu –– and 6-9 Tamell Pearson –– joining a nucleus that’s improved in their absence?
6. Fenwick (15-6)
There isn’t a team that’s played a tougher in-state schedule than Fenwick. No one. And since early December the Friars have only lost to top five teams Simeon, Morgan Park and Orr. Fenwick is a better team right now than it was in late November and early December.
7. Niles North (20-2)
There are the two first half wins over DePaul Prep and Evanston that opens eyes. But since winning the Wheeling Hardwood Classic in December, Niles North has lost to both Maine South and New Trier and beaten five opponents –– Lake View, Wauconda, Deerfield, Latin and Glenbrook South –– who have a combined record of 46-63. The talent and pieces are there, however, to claim a top sectional seed and be playing in Peoria.
8. Bolingbrook (16-3)
The Raiders have a pair of losses to teams that were unranked at the time of their loss in Lincoln-Way East and St. Rita. But there are some wins to hang their hat on, and the ’Brook features a perimeter attack, led by juniors Tyler Cochran and Joseph Yesufu, that is capable of winning another sectional championship.
9. DePaul Prep (18-5)
Aside from stumbling over the holidays at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament, DePaul Prep has taken care of business and shown it’s a team that continues to get better. Coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s team has shown an ability to bounce back and beat teams it previous lost to (St. Rita and Loyola), while junior Perry Cowan has become a go-to player and adapted well to having a target on his back as that go-to player.
10. Evanston (16-4)
A big stretch awaits the Wildkits as they face Niles North, Oak Park and Loyola in the next seven days. This young team, which features two juniors and a host of freshmen, is only getting better and more dangerous as the season goes on. But the youth is real, and youth typically isn’t real dependable in March.
11. Marist (19-2)
Morgan Taylor is putting together an all-state type of season and coach Gene Nolan has pushed all the right buttons in getting this team to 19 wins at this point in the season. But the RedHawks have just one win over a ranked team, beating Marian Catholic earlier this month. Marist, however, has been one of the real surprises of the season.
12. New Trier (17-3)
This New Trier team is tougher and has a little more grit than recent New Trier teams. Then there is the big men inside in 6-8 Spencer Boehm and 6-9 Ciaran Brayboy, along with the steady guard play from Andrew Fitzpatrick. New Trier stumbled at the Proviso West Tournament over the holidays where it could have built some equity, but it does own wins over Loyola, Maine South, Niles North, Larkin and St. Viator.
13. Naperville North (16-2)
Time will tell if this team is better than last year’s sectional championship team. But I like the look of this team. The Huskies have just two losses on the year –– one coming with top player Chris Johnson out of action.
There is productive size, experience and just enough guard play to make the Huskies a potential top seed in its sectional. North is missing a second half test like it had last season vs. Evanston, so you wonder how prepared this particular group will be with the schedule it plays in the final two months of the season.
14. Loyola Academy (19-3)
The Ramblers don’t do anything fancy, they don’t have any big names, and they aren’t built to blow teams out. But they may be the most under-appreciated team and is capable of beating much more talked about teams. Coach Tom Livatino’s team defends, executes and will grind you to crumbs at both ends.
Those ingredients have led Loyola to a hard-to-ignore 13-1 record over its last 14 games, with the lone loss coming to DePaul Prep, which it had beaten days earlier.
15. Oak Park (16-4)
Since a 9-0 start to the season it’s been a bit up and down for coach Matt Maloney’s team. The losses to talented and highly-regarded Curie and Danville at Pontiac were understandable. But the Huskies were tripped up by both Niles Notre Dame and Wheaton South in recent weeks, leaving some doubt as to the potential of this team going forward. It’s time for a measuring stick, and Oak Park will get it this weekend at Evanston.
16. Hillcrest (17-5)
Coach Don Houston has done a terrific job all season and senior Bobby Harvey has risen to the occasion. But the Hawks lost to Homewood-Flossmoor this past weekend, squeaked by the likes of Oak Lawn and T.F. South in recent weeks and are 2-4 against Chicago area teams that have been ranked at some point this season.
17. West Aurora (16-4)
This is a case of how a team is playing and looks right now. The Blackhawks are on a roll, beating very good but maybe not great teams in impressive fashion.
Regardless, coach Brian Johnson’s team looks like a different team in January compared to the one in November and December, thanks to star Camron Donatlan, emerging Jared Crutcher and a host of players who have found and are relishing in their roles.
18. Marian Catholic (14-4)
Right up until laying an egg in its last game, a buzzer-beating 51-49 loss to St. Patrick, the Spartans had proven to be a model of consistency throughout the season –– win four, lose one; win three, lose one; win five, lose one.
You have to like Marian’s chances as we inch closer to March and Class 3A basketball. Yes, coach Mike Taylor’s team is in 3A this year and playing in a winnable sectional in Pontiac. The Spartans will be in a sub-sectional with Hillcrest, a team it beat back in November.
19. Benet (16-4)
Gene Heidkamp has already been a City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year twice. He’s making a push for No. 3.
There are two wins that have really propped up this Benet team –– a November win over Fenwick and a January victory over Marist. As a result, the Redwings have crept into the top 25 on the heels of winning seven straight games since falling to Danville and St. Charles North at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Even while this Gene Heidkamp team has its limitations and isn’t at the level of recent Benet teams, it also has several winnable games in front of it, is destined for another 20-win season, a definite top four sectional seed and a real chance to make a deep run in March.
20. Leo (15-5)
This is a team that’s going to be a load in Class 2A when March rolls around, though there will be a monster roadblock before it can reach Peoria in the super-sectional: Orr.
But the schedule and quality wins really doesn’t warrant a ranking much higher than this one. The Lions haven’t beaten a team that’s currently ranked in the top 25, and it lost to a Morgan Park team without Ayo Dosunmu. But remember, we’re talking Class 2A and a very winnable sectional.
21. Lincoln Park (14-7)
There is some debate when it comes to the Lions, who rode the wave of two eye-opening wins, beating Young in December and DePaul Prep in a third-place game at the Hinsdale Holiday Tournament. But there are three straight losses to currently account for and double-digit losses earlier this season to St. Ignatius, Loyola and Orr by a whopping 54 points. The detractors do have their ammunition.
22. Bogan (15-7)
The team with the most losses in the top 25 is hanging around in the top 25. But this is a dangerous team that doesn’t have a bad loss all season. That list of losses includes St. Charles North, Morgan Park, Simeon, Hillcrest, Fenwick, Curie and Benton Harbor, a talented team out of Michigan. But this still relatively young team does lack high-quality wins.
While it won’t be a threat to win a city championship this year, the talented Bengals will be a scary Class 3A team in March.
23. Lincoln-Way East (16-3)
When everyone had forgotten about Lincoln-Way East, a team the City/Suburban Hoops Report had ranked in the top 25 when the season began, the Griffins beat a pair of ranked teams, Bolingbrook and Joliet Central, this past weekend.
Lincoln-Way East, led by Southern Illinois recruit Sam Shafer, has some dangerous offensive potential, including a knack for making free throws –– the Griffins knock down a pretty remarkable 82 percent from the line as a team. The rematch with Bolingbrook in the regular-season finale in Frankfort should be fun.
24. Prospect (15-4)
The Hoops Report didn’t anticipate the Knights coming close to duplicating last year’s 23-6 mark. But here they are, starting to close in on 20 wins once again.
What has stood out recently is that after star point guard David Swedura carried this team in the early going, others have stepped up in recent weeks and provided a lot more balance. A big test awaits when Prospect travels to Niles North Feb. 10 that could really mess up trying to seed the Maine East Sectional.
25. Joliet Central (16-4)
First things first: Larry Thompson has done quite a job over the past two seasons. For the second straight season the Steelmen have surprised and are on pace for second straight 20-plus win season. Unbeaten in the Southwest Prairie Conference and poised for a top five sectional seed, Joliet Central’s biggest wins have been Romeoville and Wheaton South.
Midseason All-State Team
• Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon (Sr.)
The multi-faceted Horton-Tucker just gets better and better. He can beat you physically or with finesse, with the dribble or the pass, and he’s such a versatile threat as a scorer.
• Ryan Davis, Conant (Sr.)
All the 6-8 skilled big man has done this year is average 24 points and 11 rebounds a game while shooting 60 percent from the field while the Cougars have gone 15-6.
• E.J. Liddell, Belleville West (Jr.)
The kid is special and impacts the game as much as anyone in the state. The 6-7 junior is averaging 21.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, three assists and over six blocks a game. He’s knocked down 17 three-pointers and is shooting 55 percent from the field.
• Javon Freeman, Young (Sr.)
The season Freeman has put together has shown that Valparaiso is getting one heck of a Missouri Valley Conference recruit. The 6-3 senior is averaging 22 points and nearly seven rebounds a game.
• Adam Miller, Morgan Park (So.)
Maybe a controversial choice for some, but in Ayo Dosunmu’s absence, the sophomore star has been sensational.
Midseason All-State Second Team
• Morgan Taylor, Marist
• Drew Peterson, Libertyville
• Kendle Moore, Danville
• Francis Okoro, Normal West
• D.J. Steward, Fenwick.
(Note: Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu’s absence over the past several weeks prevents the star guard from consideration at this point. But a return to action and strong finish would elevate him back into all-state status.)
Midseason Player of the Year
• Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon
With the way Horton-Tucker has performed this season, along with the injury that has hampered and shelved Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu for weeks, this was any easy midseason choice. THT is doing it all and doing it against the state’s toughest schedule.
Midseason Coach of the Year
As always, there are many worthy candidates, especially at this time of the year. It’s impossible to ignore the job five coaches have done this season: Marist’s Gene Nolan, Evanston’s Mike Ellis, Hiillcrest’s Don Houston, Benet’s Gene Heidkamp and the Hoops Report’s Midseason Coach of the Year …
• Tom Livatino, Loyola Academy
The Ramblers were nowhere to be found in anyone’s preseason top 25 rankings, save for checking in at No. 40 in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s massive preseason top 80. Now Loyola is arguably the biggest overachiever in the top 25.
The Ramblers are 19-3 and challenging for a conference championship in the Chicago Catholic League, arguably one of the top three conferences in the Chicago area. This team has likely overachieved a bit thus far, which is another feather in the cap for Livatino and why he’s been awarded the Midseason Coach of the Year.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport