City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Three-Pointer: Stevenson’s one constant, Maine East Sectional seeds and Jacobs’ FVC domination

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This week’s City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer hits on how the one constant in the Stevenson basketball program has kept the Patriots atop the North Suburban Conference, along with a look at the difficulty of seeding the Maine East Sectional and the continued dominance of Jacobs in the Fox Valley Conference.

No. 1

This was supposed to be the year someone other than Stevenson would win the North Suburban Conference.

After riding roughshod over the league the past five years to the tune of five straight conference championships and a combined league record of 53-7, the Patriots entered this season in rebuild mode.

The big-named stars from those dominating teams –– Jalen Brunson, Connor Cashaw and Justin Smith –– had graduated in recent years, and the inexperienced Patriots returned just one starter from a year ago. But after winning four straight in January, the Patriots are tied for the top spot in the conference at 6-2 and are 12-6 overall.

What it does show is the constant presence veteran coach Pat Ambrose brings to this program.

Ambrose, who has never had a losing season in his 18 years at Stevenson and has won 17 or more games in 16 of those 18 seasons, is one of the best in the business. While his teams are generally always recognized for its stingy defensive play, Ambrose has always shown the ability to adjust to personnel, particularly when he had the luxury of the aforementioned star talent.

This season he’s putting together one of his finest coaching jobs of his career.Senior Jackson Qualley was the the lone returning starter for a team that lacked experience and size. Qualley has been a steady producer, while sophomore Matthew Ambrose, the coach’s son, has emerged as a perimeter threat.

No. 2

There are still a couple of weeks for things to play out, but seeding the Maine East Sectional will be an awful chore.

Have fun trying to sort out the top four seeds, where Evanston, Loyola, New Trier and Niles North are a combined 68-8 when not playing one another. An argument could be made for any of these teams to be seeded anywhere among the top four seeds.

Niles North has the best record (19-2) but currently sits in third place in the Central Suburban League South behind Evanston and New Trier. Evanston (16-4) and Loyola (19-3) have played arguably the most difficult schedules but have lost to Niles North and New Trier, respectively. New Trier (17-3) is the only team to have multiple wins against the big four in this sectional.

Another scary sectional thought is the fact dangerous Maine South, which has beaten Niles North and lost to Evanston twice by a combined five points, will likely be a No. 5 or No. 6 seed and will be hosting a regional. Throw in Prospect (15-4) and St. Viator (17-5), two teams who are leading their respective conferences, and this sectional will have six teams with 20-plus wins.

The team with the best opportunity to separate itself from the rest before the mid-February seeds are made is Evanston. The Wildkits play three key, résumé-building games at home in the coming week against Niles North on Friday, a strong Oak Park team on Saturday, and Loyola next Tuesday.

No. 3

Jacobs is on quite an impressive run in Fox Valley Conference play. The Golden Eagles have been dominating, going 43-1 in three-plus seasons in conference play.

Jacobs is currently 8-0 in the FVC and 16-3 overall. But this year the Golden Eagles are doing it without arguably the best player in school history, big man Cameron Krutwig, who graduated and is now starring as a freshman for Loyola and coach Porter Moser.

Coach Jimmy Roberts, whose Jacobs team won 30 games and a sectional title last season, has relied heavily on the senior trio of 6-4 Ryan Phillips, 6-6 Kameron Mack and 6-3 Nik Balkcom. All three bring size and versatility on the perimeter, are capable three-point shooters and double-figure scorers.

While it will be a taller task to reach last year’s heights, which included 30 wins and the program’s first-ever sectional championship, it’s a team that can win 20-plus games for a fourth straight season and contend for another sectional title.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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