Predicting what will happen in March when we’ve just turned the calendar to December can be tricky. So we won’t even go there. But we’ve already learned a few things about this season in just two short weeks. Here are five first impressions from this young season.
1. St. Joseph is a legitimate 3A title contender.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … St. Joseph was bandied about in the preseason as a team with big expectations and high hopes. That comes with the territory of being St. Joseph, a legendary program under iconic coach Gene Pingatore, and boasting three high-major talents.
But what the Chargers have done in the first two weeks –– win a tough St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament, look impressive in taking care of Redondo Union out of California on a big stage, and then coming right back and beating underrated Hales in overtime –– shows this team has some fortitude to go along with all that talent.
Pingatore has himself a team that is very capable of winning a second state championship in the long, illustrious career of the state’s all-time winningest coach.
2. Hales Franciscan is the best team no one is talking about.
After winning the Chicago Heights Classic over Thanksgiving, one of the top opening-season tournaments, Hales Franciscan showed it was better than preseason prognostications. But after taking St. Joseph to overtime in their only loss of the season to date, the Spartans have shown they’re going to be a contender in the Catholic League and in Class 2A this March.
The respected, mild-mannered Gary London has had his share of high-level talent come through his program at Hales. This group, however, is a relative bunch of no-namers, but they have balance and experience in guards Joseph Larry, Erion Moore and Dominic Christian, along with big man Johnny Fox.
3. The Class of 2017 is blossoming.
Just as you would expect out of a bunch of young kids playing basketball, the sophomores around the city, suburbs and across the state are getting better and better. Names we know have solidified themselves, while new names are popping up regularly here in the early going.
No, there isn’t a Jahlil Okafor or Jabari Parker in the bunch, but it’s time we quit looking for those types of talents. This sophomore class is impressing and, as a whole, coming along in a wave rather than a ripple.
4. The Public League’s Red-West is down.
The vaunted, mighty Red-West in the Chicago Public League has taken a major step back. Everything goes in cycles, but the big, bad Red-West rarely ever seems down. But this is the year –– at least in terms of historical Red-West basketball.
Young is talented and will get better, but the Dolphins are inexperienced and there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. After being a state and national power the past several years, there will be a learning curve for the young Dolphins as they find a new identity.
Orr has taken a big step back after reaching its zenith the past two years, getting to Peoria and bringing back a fourth and third place state trophy in Class 3A. But the Spartans lost all five starters.
While Farragut is going to be better this year than many people thought, the Admirals don’t have the star power they’ve had in the past. North Lawndale, while still dangerous, isn’t the North Lawndale of five to seven years ago when the Phoenix were bringing back hardware from Peoria. And tradition-rich Marshall is good but not great.
5. There still isn’t a Class 4A team that can compete with Simeon or Stevenson.
Yes, it’s very early. But just as we expected when the season began, there is a sizable gap between Simeon, Stevenson and everyone else in Class 4A –– at least in the Chicago area. We shall wait and see what talented Rockford Auburn brings to table when it visits the area later this month as the No. 5 seed at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
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