In previewing the Kenwood-Belleville Althoff game in last week’s No Shot Clock podcast, the high school basketball podcast Michael O’Brien and I put together each week, I stated that I expected Althoff to win by double digits.
That was no slight or disrespect to Kenwood; it was simply how highly I thought of Althoff –– and that was without having even watched Althoff play yet this season. At least not until watching the Crusaders pick apart Kenwood, the No. 3 ranked team in Class 4A, Saturday night in the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
Didn’t we all see enough of Althoff last season while watching the impressive Crusaders finish second in Class 3A? Didn’t we all see the endless amount of talent returning this year? And while not everyone had the opportunity to do so, I also saw how all that individual talent continued to improve and prosper during the spring and summer while playing for their respective club teams.
There was the 6-6 Brendon Gooch, a player who added to his overall game and eventually signed with Southern Illinois. But he was one who I could never figure out why he wasn’t courted by more college programs.
There was versatile Tarkus Ferguson, the 6-3 athletic combo guard who had a terrific July, elevating himself into the list of City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2016 before signing with UIC.
There was silky smooth Marvin Bateman, a sniper on the perimeter who has been one of the best-kept secrets in the Class of 2017.
There was also the underrated competitive spirit, mentality and toughness the sport of football has brought to this team. I love the fact that so many of these players –– Ferguson, Keenan Young, C.J. Coldon and Jordan Goodwin –– were instrumental in leading the Althoff football team to a 13-1 record and a Class 4A state title game appearance this past fall.
And, yes, there is Goodwin, the player the City/Suburban Hoops Report adores and sang the praises of last summer (You can read that HERE), ultimately vaulting the 6-3 do-it-all to the No. 2 prospect in the junior class. Goodwin brings something to the table for Althoff that so few teams can match in regard to his toughness, physicality, versatility and overall production.
That is, unless, you’re Morgan Park, the giant of a team in Class 3A everyone in the Chicago area is familiar with.
The Mustangs have a dynamic catalyst at the most important position on the floor in point guard Charlie Moore. They have perimeter shooting in Moore, Jarrin Randall and Cam Irvin, a defensive warrior in Jamal Burton, depth, size and play with a speed and an energy that is difficult to comprehend until playing them for 32 minutes.
The list of foes Morgan Park has discarded this season is an impressive one. The Mustangs have beaten Bogan twice, Simeon, St. Joseph, Evanston, Proviso East and 3A power Fenwick by 23 points.
With all due respect to the rest of the Class 3A field, one that is as deep and talented as we’ve had since class expansion in 2008, Belleville Althoff and Morgan Park are a step above everyone else. The two best teams also just happen to boast arguably the two best high school players in Illinois in Althoff’s Goodwin and Morgan Park’s Moore.
Bogan, Peoria Manual, St. Joseph and Fenwick will likely be the biggest threats to Morgan Park and Althoff. And upstarts like Galesburg, Centralia, Springfield Lanphier, Rockford Boylan, North Lawndale, Washington and La Salle-Peru all hope to be factors in March. But if Morgan Park and Althoff are playing at their highest level, everyone else will be playing for third.
This is the game –– Morgan Park vs. Belleville Althoff –– anyone with a basketball pulse in this state wants. It’s the game and matchup people wanted when the season tipped off in November.
It’s also the game that ended Morgan Park’s hopes of a three-peat last March.
“We didn’t know much about them [last year] and we underestimated them,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said about Althoff just prior to the start of this season. “They were a great team that played hard and played together.”
Despite a 45-point performance from Morgan Park’s Marcus LoVett, Althoff won the state semifinal game 82-74. And the six players who scored all 82 points for Althoff in that game are back.
“We look at it as Morgan Park’s name is already on that trophy, so we’re not worried about who we play or have to get through,” Irvin said back in November. “We want to go dismantle any team that is front of us.”
Eventually, Althoff and Jordan Goodwin will be in front of them.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport