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Public League gets big wins in downstate matchups

The Public League rolls down south, top Player of the Year candidates, sectional talk and much more.

Simeon’s Jaylen Drane (1) sets up the Wolverines’ offense as they play Hillcrest.
Simeon’s Jaylen Drane (1) sets up the Wolverines’ offense as they play Hillcrest.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Public League sent a contingent of powerful programs to the southern part of the state on Saturday and fared quite well. Young, Curie and Simeon all came home with wins in the annual Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.

Simeon knocked off Collinsville, a team with Class 4A state title aspirations. The tradition-rich Collinsville program headed into the Simeon showdown with a sparkling 24-1 record. Jeremiah Williams did what he does best — fill a stat sheet — as the 6-4 senior was named game MVP. Williams scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and finished with seven rebounds, two assists, four steals and two blocks.

Curie beat a Mehlville team out of St. Louis that has 18 wins on the year, including a 56-41 win over Marian Catholic late last month. What’s most impressive is that Curie has yet to lose since coach Mike Oliver has been forced to step away pending an ongoing investigation, alleging a physical altercation with a student.

What it does show is what this team has been all about all season, surprising everyone by not having a single loss to an in-state team: toughness and togetherness. Those two traits have shined through during the absence of their coach and is a microcosm of why and how the Condors have succeeded at such a high level this season.

➤ When Young faced off against Morgan Park on the opening night of the season back in November, it guaranteed the top two seniors in the state would be on the floor together. But no one knew if the celebrated matchup between Young’s DJ Steward and Morgan Park’s Adam Miller would materialize again.

Well, it has. The Duke-bound Steward and the Illinois recruit Miller will square off again Tuesday night at Young in the quarterfinal round of the Chicago Public League playoffs.

➤ My top half dozen Chicago Player of the Year candidates (listed alphabetically): Max Christie, Rolling Meadows; Ramean Hinton, Curie; Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick; Dante Maddox, Bloom; Dom Martinelli, Glenbrook South; Adam Miller, Morgan Park; and DJ Steward, Young.

➤ Following the recent commitment of Young’s Tyler Beard to Georgetown, the two best uncommitted prospects remaining in the senior class in Illinois: Niles North guard Aquan Smart and Simeon’s Jeremiah Williams.

➤ The Addison Trail Sectional gets murkier and murkier by the week. Go ahead and try seeding this thing, which will have to be done in a couple of weeks.

The presumed favorite all season, Lake Park, which was a preseason top 25 team back in November, is still a very solid team. But the Lancers, who have gone just 6-4 since winning the Pekin Holiday Tournament in December, are certainly not a prohibitive favorite.

The rest of the field? Wheaton South has a 17-9 record and right now is probably the No. 2 seed.

The field also includes a 16-win Naperville Central team that’s lost five of its last seven games. There is a young Glenbard West (14-9) which has gone 3-8 since the calendar turned to 2020. Glenbard East has 16 wins but lost to Larkin recently and doesn’t have a marquee win. Geneva is two games over .500, Hinsdale Central sits at.500 and Wheaton North is a game under.

Again, seeding will be a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity for a team to get hot at the right time and make a serious and, possibly, unexpected deep run in March.

➤ There has been a lot of talk about the new and improved Class 3A field in 2019-2020. It’s most definitely true as the depth is better and there are some real heavyweights outside of the traditional powers like Morgan Park and Bogan.

Another team to add to the list is Peoria Notre Dame. In fact, right now, as we approach the middle of February, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is forecasting an all-Notre Dame Class 3A semifinal in Peoria: Niles Notre Dame vs. Peoria Notre Dame.

Peoria Notre Dame, led by the brother combination of Connor Dillon and Declan Dillon, is 23-1 and just dismantled a hot St. Charles North team on Saturday in a 45-22 win. The perimeter attack of the Dillon brothers and junior Noah Reynolds has made the No. 3 ranked team in the state a real threat to be playing in its back yard next month.

➤ Waubonsie Valley lost a tough one to rival Neuqua Valley Friday night. The bigger concern, however, is the health of emerging Ben Schwieger, who missed the Neuqua Valley game with an injury. There is no timetable yet for the return of the athletic 6-5 junior who averages over 15 points a game for the Warriors.

Speaking of injuries, Joliet West is persevering quite well while the Tigers suffer through an endless list of injuries over the past few weeks.

Joliet West played Bolingbrook tough without its top two scorers, Jamere Hill and Jaiden Lee, along with three others who missed the game –– Ashawn Burbridge, Tre Hall and Andrew Johnson. The Tigers beat Hillcrest on Saturday without Hill and Burbridge.

Star guard Jamere Hill, who recently committed to Toledo and is among the top 20 prospects in the senior class, has missed five games. He is expected to be out at least another two weeks. Lee, Hall and Burbridge have all missed two games while Johnson has missed four games.

➤ That’s 14 in a row for a red-hot Hinsdale South team that’s pretty much locked up at least a No. 2 seed in its own sectional next month. Can the Hornets find a way to wrestle away the top seed from Bogan? What’s lacking are the wins over ranked foes. Hinsdale South has only played two teams that have been ranked at any point this season –– Bolingbrook and Schaumburg –– and lost to both at York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic in December.

➤ For those who haven’t paid attention, DePaul Prep is 20-3 on the year. Remember, last year’s team that finished third in the state in Class 3A lost 10 games. Two of the losses came to No. 4 ranked Notre Dame by five points at Thanksgiving and an overtime loss to ranked Homewood-Flossmoor at Christmas. The Rams probably haven’t received the attention they deserve considering their record and wins over Niles North, Marian Catholic and Benet.

That matchup with Loyola in Wilmette Feb. 18 looms as a monster Catholic League showdown.

➤ Loyola 67, St. Laurence 57. Is it considered a prettier or more consequential Loyola win for the masses with this score instead of 47-37? Just asking.

➤ Speaking of scoring … A little offensive outburst from Wheaton-Warrenville South last week. The disciplined and controlled Tigers split two games with St. Charles East (lost) and Batavia (won) but scored 55 and 65 points in the two games — the first time all season Wheaton South has surpassed 55 points in a game.

➤ Kankakee has four losses in what has been a really solid season up to this point. There may not be a true signature win on the schedule, but the Kays have certainly played the two big boys in their league — Thornton and Bloom — pretty tough. Yes, they are 0-4 against those two powers. But it’s a team you probably aren’t going to be real excited to play in March.

➤ St. Ignatius is one of the most improved teams in the Chicago area — and hottest. After finishing in last place in the Catholic League Blue a year ago, coach Matt Monroe’s Wolfpack are 8-3 in league play, 19-6 on the season and have won 10 of 11.

Ignatius, which will have the luxury of hosting its own Class 3A sectional if it can win a regional, could be a potential thorn in the side of the perceived sectional favorites, DePaul Prep and Fenwick.. But the Wolfpack need a second-half measuring stick. Those will come, ironically, against Fenwick (Feb. 11) and DePaul Prep (Feb. 21).