When it comes to Simeon and Orr the preseason hype has extended into February. The two teams that began the season ranked No. 1 in November –– Orr No. 1 in the Sun-Times Super 25 and Simeon No. 1 in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason rankings –– will finally meet.
There is no doubt these are the top two teams in the city, the top two teams in the Chicago area and, perhaps, in the entire state. Simeon and Orr are favored to win Class 4A and Class 2A state championships, respectively, next month. Now they collide in Sunday’s Public League championship game.
“This is so huge, so significant in a lot of ways,” says Orr coach Lou Adams. “I can’t lie, it’s not a regular or normal game.”
In addition to what’s at stake –– a No. 1 ranking and city championship –– Adams says the ties between the two teams are unique.
“The boys on these two teams are friends, Rob [Smith] and I are friends, so it’s going to be pretty special,” says Adams.
Here’s a preview of the most anticipated game of the season.
The perimeter attack of Simeon has pieces that fit and play off one another, along with a hammer in Talen Horton-Tucker, the do-it-all Iowa State recruit who is a mismatch problem for any team it faces with his skill and power. Does Orr go with the long, agile 6-5 Ty Mosely or a bigger body like Dannie Smith or Raekwon Drake on Horton-Tucker?
Kejuan Clements has been an unsung player for the Wolverines at point guard. He has played patiently this season but can get to the rim and defends on the perimeter. Kenny Pittman is a knockdown shooter and Xavier Pinson a creative pinpoint passer who makes others better.
Orr certainly has talent with Chase Adams at point guard, senior Brian Hernandez and Mosely. But there is a pretty significant advantage for the Wolverines on the perimeter.
If there is one weakness with this Simeon team –– and it may be an overstatement to even call it a weakness –– it’s the Wolverines lack of size and interior depth in the frontcourt. Messiah Jones, however, is a rock. He was outstanding in the semifinal win over Young with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“Talen is special, and he’s probably going to get his points, but the key for us is keeping Messiah off the glass,” says Orr coach Lou Adams. “He makes such a difference on the glass with put-backs, tip-ins. Our focus is going to be on Messiah.”
But Orr has bookend bigs in Drake and Smith, a pair of highly-productive 6-5 seniors who have wreaked havoc on opponents all season. They bring a blend of strength, athleticism, experience and productivity that’s difficult to match.
“The key for us is rebounding,” says Simeon coach Robert Smith. “They do a great job rebounding.”
Simeon brings Pinson, a Missouri-bound point guard, and Zion Young, a Division I prospect, off the bench. That’s some serious ammunition. Coach Robert Smith has a rotation that’s allowed for each player to thrive in their roles, including the aforementioned Division I tandem that’s accepted coming off the bench.
Simeon has been No. 1 all season, the kingpin of the Chicago Public League with two straight city titles and a long history of tradition and success. This is the program that constantly plays with a target on its back and everyone tries to bring down.
While this game will always be big for Simeon, it’s even bigger for Orr. As a Class 2A team next month, the Spartans will get their only shot at Simeon and their last chance to finish the season ranked No. 1 in the Chicago area.
However, you worry Orr could be too amped up when this game tips. A heavy senior presence will hopefully keep the emotions of the moment at a level that doesn’t allow Simeon to jump out early.
Simeon is Simeon. There is a way about this team that exudes confidence and composure. The Wolverines have played with a business-like approach since the season began.
“The seniors have been through this, played in big games,” says Robert Smith. “
Offensively, Simeon has shown it can play fast and in the open court while also being able to play at a slower pace. Defensively, Simeon has clearly been the better team throughout the season.
Plus, Simeon has the best player and most versatile weapon in this game in Horton-Tucker. That matters in games like this.
The Pick: Simeon 62, Orr 57