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Henricksen: Weekend primer includes must-see showdowns

Believe it or not, we are down to the final days of the regular season. Yes, state tournament play is right around the corner.

But wait! Hold off on sectional seeds, brackets and the possibilities of March for one more week. This weekend of hoops is too tasty to ignore, with a trio of enticing rematches that will decide the Catholic League and Public League playoffs.

Throw in an an appetizing doubleheader shootout and it’s a weekend of high school hoops worth getting excited about.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report previews them all.

Chicago Public League Semifinals • Friday

Morgan Park vs. Simeon

The rubber match between arguably the two best teams in the Chicago area with a city final appearance on the line. Each team has won on the opposing team’s floor, with this third and deciding game on a neutral floor.

By nature and design, Morgan Park plays fast, puts pressure on opponents and plays freely. However, some rushed shots and poor shot selection in the last Simeon game resulted in a home loss.

Simeon’s Zach Norvell has been a true constant for the Wolverines all season long. In the lopsided win over Young, Norvell and Josh Thomas played like the physical, experienced seniors that they are, playing confidently and taking over the game. Junior point guard Evan Gilyard was sensational in the win over Morgan Park. Thomas complements the star power of Norvell and Gilyard quite well.

Meanwhile, Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore remains the type of catalyst that can ignite a team. The Mustangs feed off his style of play and the individual runs he can put on an opponent. When Moore is at his best he’s scoring, breaking down a defense and creating open looks for the likes of Jarrin Randall and Cam Irvin on the three-point line.

This is the kind of true, flip-of-the-coin matchup late in the season you love to see.

Hoops Report pick: Morgan Park 69, Simeon 68

Kenwood vs. Curie

These two Red-Central rivals split during the regular season, though Kenwood knocked off a Devin Gage-less Curie team. Kenwood is seeking its first-ever trip to a city championship, which would be a monumental moment for this program.

What makes both these teams so dangerous and so successful is that their supporting casts have played exceptionally well in their respective roles. They’ve been consistent and productive. This one could come down to which big-named player, Gage and Elijah Joiner for Curie and Nick Robinson and Zion Morgan for Kenwood, elevate their team and step up in the moment. These two teams are too evenly matched, have played too tight of contests for this to be anything but a down-to-the-wire finish.

Kenwood, since the beginning of the season, has been a high ceiling team that hasn’t quite reached the top floor. This weekend is another chance for coach Marlo Finner’s team to do so.

Hoops Report pick: Curie 70, Kenwood 68

City-Suburban Showdown at Lyons Twp. • Saturday

Morgan Park vs. Riverside-Brookfield

Alright, R-B, your biggest test yet. The talented Bulldogs have been highly regarded since the season tipped off in November. They’ve won a lot of games (19) and played some of the best teams tough (losing to Fenwick and St. Joseph in tight games). But the eye-opening win has been elusive. This one, against Charlie Moore and the top-ranked Mustangs, would certainly do the trick. And might Morgan Park be looking past R-B in the midst of a monster city playoff weekend? Expect a large and super charged fan contingent at LT in what will be a hostile environment for coach Nick Irvin’s Mustangs.

Simeon vs. Evanston

This is one heck of a matchup featuring two of the top teams in the state and some star power in Simeon senior Zach Norvell and Evanston junior Nojel Eastern.

The biggest question is just where will Simeon’s mindset be coming into this one –– one night after facing rival Morgan Park in the city semifinals and, possibly, one day before a city championship? With a win Friday night over Maine South, Evanston would ride into this super showdown with a 14-game win streak.

Catholic League Championship • Saturday

St. Joseph vs. Fenwick

The game everyone expected to materialize –– and one many expect to see in the Westinghouse Sectional a month from now. These two met nearly a month ago, with Fenwick handling St. Joseph 54-42.

The veteran presence and productivity of senior point guard Mike Smith has been game-changing for the Friars, while physical junior guard Jacob Keller is a silent assassin. However, senior Mike Ballard, a spread-the-floor shooter for Fenwick, is out of action and will be sorely missed by a team without much depth.

St. Joseph has someone and something that a smallish Fenwick team simply will have trouble matching up against: 6-11 big man Nick Rakocevic. He battled some foul difficulty in the first game, yet still finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Rakocevic will need to dominate around the basket for the Chargers to pull off the upset.

Hoops Report pick: Fenwick 55, St. Joseph 49

Other top games to watch

Niles Notre Dame at Marist • Friday

While Benet Academy and Marian Catholic battle it out for the lead in the East Suburban Catholic, these two are fighting for some late season momentum.

Niles Notre Dame has the tools to evolve into a serious player in March, but it must begin playing with consistency against quality teams. Marist has 20 wins but would like a late season, confidence-building win over a top-level opponent. Chamar Hawkins (16 ppg) and the Redwings get their chance here at home.

Crete-Monee at Bloom • Friday

A good one in the south suburbs. In case you haven’t paid attention, Bloom has knocked off both H-F and Thornton in the past two weeks, so this would be the third impressive win for the Blazing Trojans in recent weeks. Jamal Parks, the 6-5 senior wing, has elevated his game and his team. Crete-Monee is led by promising junior Dwayne Rose and senior guard Jeremiah Matthews.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport