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Henricksen: Thoughts, observations and storylines

I hate to start this with picking on the Chicago Public League, but come on …

The Chicago Public League has announced its city playoff schedule. The way this thing is drawn up usually draws criticism and questions from all sorts of people from the outside. But it’s been done this way for years, with a rotation each year of which conference plays which conference in the opening round.

But this isn’t even about the pairings, which typically always has uneven brackets in terms of strength and big-time matchups happening earlier than you would like. This is about CPS scheduling. Again.

The second round playoff games are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6. Assuming both Kenwood and Morgan Park get past their opening-round games as expected, the two will advance to play in second round games next Saturday at 1 p.m. But you know what? Kenwood and Morgan Park are scheduled to play in the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout in a couple of highly anticipated games that same day.

Morgan Park is scheduled to play Hazelwood Central at 7:15 p.m., while Kenwood will face Class 3A giant Belleville Althoff at 8:45 p.m. in O’Fallon, a 280-mile trek from Chicago.

Come on, this scheduling thing really isn’t too tough.

I’m thinking a little more Public League drama is on the way.

➤ How about this potential gauntlet? If Simeon were to reach the city final, coach Robert Smith’s Wolverines could be looking at the following schedule: Morgan Park on Friday, Feb. 19 in the city semifinals; facing a top five ranked team in Evanston on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Lyons Twp.; potentially playing either Curie, Kenwood or Bogan in the city final on Sunday, Feb. 21.

➤ There were some serious matchups this past week in high school basketball, highlighted by the Morgan Park-Simeon showdown. But the highlight of the week for me? Sitting with legendary high school coach Gordie Kerkman for a couple of hours watching basketball at the Batavia Night of Hoops on Saturday.

Kerkman, who stepped down as head coach at West Aurora after 39 remarkable winning years there, is an absolute joy to sit and talk basketball with –– both present and, especially, the past. He’s as genuine and down-to-earth as they will ever come.

➤ Speaking of talking historical high school basketball, I also spent time with former Illinois high school coach Bruce Firchau at the Batavia Night of Hoops. Firchau has been instrumental in spearheading the creation of the Basketball Museum of Illinois.

The museum, which will be in Pontiac and is set to open this June, is the creation of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. The IBCA will house its Hall of Fame there. When the doors open the museum will still be a work in progress, but anyone who has memorabilia or wishes to make a pledge to the museum can email Firchau at firchau@sbcglobal.net.

➤ With both Thornton and Homewood-Flossmoor better than expected, along with Marian Catholic quietly being the team most thought it would be when the season began, that “very winnable” Bloom Sectional doesn’t appear to be as easy of a road for Public League power Simeon as many expected. Those are your top four seeds, folks, so winning two sectional games will take some navigating and some gumption.

➤ With so many uncommitted players in this nondescript senior class, it will be interesting to see how many of them go and play on the AAU circuit with a club team this spring in hopes of garnering some late interest.

For club teams, this trend is about the equivalent of the fifth-year senior transfer rage in college basketball. Take an uncommitted senior in high school with a ton of varsity experience, play them against younger players on the circuit and ride them a little while longer until they are too old to play AAU basketball.

➤ A little over a month ago New Trier had lost 58-45 to rival Evanston in mid-December. By late December the Trevians were 5-8 overall. Now coach Scott Fricke’s team has rattled off eight straight wins heading into its rematch with Evanston this Friday. This game has a little more juice to it than it did a few weeks ago.

➤ Just in case anyone missed it, that was Deerfield racing to 20 wins Friday night before anyone else in the Chicago area.

➤ Finally! Yes, finally the college interest Lake Forest’s uncommitted Lorenzo Edwards has generated is turning into offers. Furman and Saint Louis have both offered the versatile forward who the City/Suburban Hoops Report has had among the top 10 seniors in the class.

➤ Currently, a team can schedule a couple of different ways in high school basketball. You can play in two tournaments and have 18 scheduled games in a season, or you can play in three tournaments and have 16 games on your schedule.

Here’s a real downer for conferences made up of a large amount of teams: scheduling freedom.

Take the current nine-team DuPage Valley Conference, which plays 16 conference games and leaves each school just two non-conference games to schedule.

You want to get out of your league and play different teams. You want to be able to have some control over your schedule. You want to encounter new experiences, gyms and styles, challenge yourself with a tough non-conference schedule, particularly if your league is down.

But this conference slate the DVC plays takes away multiple scheduling options and the many possibilities of playing some fun and different non-conference games.

There are a few teams that will take the option of playing in a third tournament, thus playing no regular season non-conference games. But you’re playing all those teams outside your conference in a three-day window –– i.e. MLK Holiday Tournament weekend.

➤ While I’m on the topic of conference scheduling …

Next year the Southwest Prairie will add Joliet Central and Joliet West, bumping the number of teams in the league to 10 teams. The idea now is to play 14 conference games –– in a 10-team league.

I know the Big Ten does the whole unbalanced schedule thing, but do we have to go that route in high school sports? In addition, under this scheduling plan there will be years where natural rivals –– Oswego-Oswego East and Joliet West-Joliet Central –– will only play each other once.

Dumb. And something only school administrators could have come up and school boards would approve, not coaches or athletic directors.

One quick, easy fix? Have two divisions within the conference. You play the four other teams in your division twice, play the other division in crossover games once for a total of 13 conference games. Then have a conference championship game at the end of the season for conference game No. 14. Pretty simple.

➤ The far western suburbs is really down. It’s as down as the City/Suburban Hoops Report has seen it in years. But when two regular stalwart powers, Neuqua Valley and West Aurora, are a combined 13-29, the area’s prep hoops is bound to take a big hit.

➤ I really like late bloomers when it comes to projecting prospects. Mt. Carmel’s Christian Peevy continues to be one of those late bloomers. The versatile 6-5 wing has averaged a double-double in his last five games (19 points and 11 rebounds).

➤ While Glenbard East has had the misfortune of having its most talented player, 6-6 Patrick Peterkin, not play a single game all season, the Rams have persevered. Amazingly, Glenbard East has played 13 games this season that have gone down to the final possession of the game, going 10-3 in those down-to-the-wire finishes.

Glenbard East has four wins at the buzzer –– South Elgin twice, Downers Grove North and St. Ignatius –– and beat Metea Valley on a shot with 1 second left on the clock. As a result, the Rams have 14 wins on the year and are tied for the top spot in the Upstate Eight Valley.

➤ The non-conference loss to Wheaton North this past weekend didn’t do any damage to Glenbard West’s hopes of winning its first conference championship in over four decades –– the Hilltoppers lead the West Suburban Silver by two games –– but it did put a big blemish on its sectional seeding résumé and hopes for a top seed.

With the Glenbard West loss, Benet, with by far the toughest schedule in the sectional, is now your No. 1 seed in the East Aurora Sectional. And if Naperville North (15-3) knocks off Wheaton North this week, the Huskies can begin making a case to move into the No. 2 spot over Glenbard West.

Minooka (17-7). Oswego (14-6). Joliet West (13-6). Joliet Central (10-8). Stagg (12-6). Plainfield North (12-8). Lincoln-Way Central (13-5). Unless a super darkhorse emerges in March, one of the aforementioned teams will win a sectional and be one game away from playing in Peoria.

Minooka, Oswego, Stagg and Plainfield North have never won a 4A sectional. The two Joliet schools haven’t won their own individual sectional, as Central and West, since before the two schools merged athletics together in 1993-1994. And Lincoln-Way Central has one sectional title in 40 years, that coming in 2001 which was the last time the program has won more than 14 games in a season. When the regular season finishes, Minooka just may be the only team in the sectional with 20 wins on the season.

What this all means is that someone is going to be doing something it hasn’t done in a long, long time a little over a month from now. I guess some would say this is an example of validating the IHSA’s much-maligned four-class basketball system. Unfortunately for the two-class purists out there, too many sectionals are like this.

➤ The seasons for St. Charles East and St. Charles North may not have gone as hoped –– at least up to this point –– but there is something special about any rivalry game that ends with a buzzer-beater. East knocked off North Saturday night as J.T. Ford’s shot set off a wild celebration. That’s always special and why high school basketball can be so much fun.

Ditto for the great East-West game in Aurora. The two may have a combined 12 wins this season, but the great, venerable East Aurora gym still filled up this past weekend and one of the greatest rivalries in all of high school sports went down to the wire, with West Aurora beating East Aurora 58-57.

➤ Though he’s out of the area, I’m going to talk about Springfield Lanphier guard Xavier Bishop –– again. The 5-8 senior may be dismissed by some because of his size, but what a special season and career he’s put together. Bishop, who is now 60 points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in Lanphier history and second all time in Springfield high school history –– Hello, Ed Horton, Kevin Gamble, Andre Igoudala and Richard McBride –– has scored 120 points in his LAST THREE GAMES. That’s 40 points a game for you mathematicians.

Bishop is now averaging 26.5 points a game on the season and picked up an offer from UMKC this past weekend, while receiving heavy interest from UC-Davis. VMI, Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, UC-Irvine, Toledo and Missouri State have all showed varying degrees of interest.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport