What a weekend it was, highlighted by two scintillating Chicago Public League semifinal games Friday night and a down-to-the-wire city title game Sunday night.
Here’s a City/Suburban Hoops Report weekend rewind …
➤ When the season began and all the preview stories were being churned out, a Nov. 27 piece I wrote identified “breakout performers to watch” in 2015-2016. Glenbard West’s Justin Pierce and Lake Forest’s Lorenzo Edwards were two seniors on that list, while Simeon’s Evan Gilyard was a junior who was prominently highlighted. What a job the 5-9 point guard has done in living up to that early-season Hoops Report hype.
If senior Zach Norvell, the Gonzaga recruit, has been Simeon’s MVP and rock, Gilyard has played the role of unsung star. You could argue right now the Norvell-Gilyard tandem is currently the best duo in the Chicago area.
After a breakout summer on the club circuit, Gilyard shot up the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s player rankings in July, landing among the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2017. Yet no one quite knew the impact Gilyard would have this season after playing a small role a year ago.
Gilyard, in fact, was the reason I placed Simeon atop my preseason rankings when the season started. The media, high school coaches and the vast majority of fans didn’t realize the jump he had made. The Hoops Report fully expected Gilyard to go from a spark as a sophomore to a catalyst as a junior.
He’s tough, competes and is disruptive. You can’t slow him down, but where he’s improved so much is that you can’t speed him up as much. A year ago he would play too fast, over-dribble, penetrate too deep and, as a result, would turn the ball over or take an ill-advised shot if he played too many minutes. He continues to make strides in playing aggressive while staying in control, with a knack of making pivotal plays.
➤ There will be some debate over who is No. 1 in the Chicago area, with Fenwick certainly having an argument with a 24-2 record, a win over Simeon last month and playing at a high level behind Mike Smith and Company. But the way Simeon has settled in since then and how well it’s playing right now, the Wolverines are No. 1.
The Wolverines put in some big-time work this past weekend, knocking off previous No. 1 Morgan Park, beating Evanston and then taking care of Kenwood in a high-stakes city final. That’s three of the top six teams in the Chicago area in last week’s rankings in three days.
➤ While Kenwood did lose in the Public League final on Sunday, the win over Curie Friday night –– as well as going toe-to-toe with city champ and 4A favorite Simeon –– had to have done wonders for this team’s state of mind as it looks ahead to regional and sectional play.
Coach Marlo Finner’s team picked up the confidence-building, marquee win it badly needed. While I’m sure the Broncos firmly believed it could win its first sectional title in school history regardless of what happened this past weekend, you also better believe knocking off R-B Sectional top seed and nemesis, Curie, alleviates any question marks Kenwood might have had going into the postseason.
➤ Kenwood is certainly a threat in win it all in Class 4A. They just have so many guys who can make a play and get a basket, including ones that surround star Nick Robinson and ones who come off their bench. The concern, however, is this: Does Kenwood have the stability, poise and take-charge ability at the lead guard position, particularly at crunch time in close games?
There just seems to be a sense of uneasiness in the final minutes of tight games without that true point guard dependability. And over time, it’s been difficult for teams to bring home state hardware without that presence.
➤ It’s really too bad the city playoffs sandwiched Saturday’s City-Suburban Showdown’s doubleheader at Lyons Twp.
On paper the two matchups –– Morgan Park vs. Riverside-Brookfield and Simeon vs. Evanston –– looked so appealing and fun. In reality, at least to anyone who has watched the two city powers play this season, the typical zest, intensity and focus you see in Morgan Park and Simeon simply wasn’t present Saturday night in LaGrange. Yet they both picked up wins in workmanlike fashion.
➤ Regardless of what mental shape Morgan Park played with in its game against Riverside-Brookfield, the Bulldogs looked the part on their end. Coach Tom McCloskey’s team played very well the majority of the 32 minutes and showed it will be a sectional threat, especially with R-B hosting the sectional in a few weeks. Now, can the Bulldogs get the amount of defensive stops a team needs down the stretch of tight games in March?
➤ That was a big-time performance from Riverside-Brookfield’s Jalen Clanton in the loss to Morgan Park. The junior guard put up 32 points while knocking down four clutch free throws down the stretch. The guard play of point guard Daniko Jackson and Clanton is the type of backcourt you need to win games in March.
➤ I’m not sure what to make of Maine South’s upset win over Evanston. The game was in Park Ridge, Evanston had already clinched a conference championship, and the Wildkits may have been caught looking ahead to Simeon. That’s a trap game if I’ve ever seen one. Nonetheless, Maine South built some momentum heading into a regional it will host next week.
➤ With Mike Ballard out with an injury, senior Quinn Fisher stepped up with a nice performance in Fenwick’s win over St. Joseph. Fisher scored 14 points in the Catholic League championship game win. With an all-state point guard in Mike Smith, the emerging Jacob Keller attacking the basket and a healthy Ballard spacing the floor with his shooting, it’s easy for a defense to forget about Fisher. So any production from the 5-9 senior is a huge plus.
➤ St. Joseph certainly isn’t trending in the right direction. The Chargers are just 9-8 since starting off the season 10-0. More of a concern is the fact St. Joe’s has lost five games to the area’s top teams ––Bogan, Morgan Park twice and Fenwick twice –– all by double digits.
➤ That was a nice road win Niles Notre Dame picked up over Marist this past weekend. Might the Dons be starting to live up to the high expectations the Hoops Report placed on this team when the season began, ranking coach Tom Les’ team No. 8 in the preseason?
Notre Dame, a No. 4 seed in the Glenbrook South Sectional, has run off four straight against teams with a combined record of 73-26 (Marian Catholic, St. Viator, Lake Forest and Marist) and beaten them all by 10-plus points.
➤ Glenbard West has put together one of the school’s greatest basketball seasons, and it’s doing it with one of its greatest players –– William & Mary recruit Justin Pierce. The 6-5 senior not only is averaging 24.6 points and 11 rebounds a game, he became the school’s all-time leading scorer in the win over Proviso West.
➤ Downers Grove North (12-13) hasn’t quite had the season the Hoops Report anticipated, with inconsistency limiting this team’s progress. This past weekend, however, was certainly a step in the right direction. Downers North beat Oak Park-River Forest 73-56 on Friday and then followed it up with a 51-50 win over Nazareth on Saturday.
DGN, which the Hoops Report had at No. 31 in the preseason Top 65, has enough talent, led by productive senior Devin Blake, and has shown enough at times this season to make them a No. 14 sectional seed you don’t want to overlook. If the Trojans can handle LT in the regional opener, No. 3 seed Naperville North would be waiting for them in the regional semis.
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