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High school basketball weekend forecast: Previewing and predicting the top games

Joe Henricksen breaks down the best games of the weekend.

Bloom’s Justin Moore (11) drives toward the basket.
Bloom’s Justin Moore (11) drives toward the basket.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

In what has been a very volatile week of high school basketball, the weekend forecast gets pretty heated.

Three of the city and state’s top teams, Curie, Young and Simeon, head to the annual O’Fallon Shootout.

The return of Patrick Baldwin, one of the nation’s elite players, to Evanston to play in the E-Town Showdown is a big draw in the north suburbs.

And then we have several key conference battles throughout the Chicago area.

Here is a preview of them all in this weekend forecast.

Bolingbrook (20-4) at Homewood-Flossmoor (19-3), Friday 7

These Southwest Suburban Blue games have been fun ones and big ones in recent years. Last year Bolingbrook swept both games. With both unbeaten in league play this one is no different.

Bolingbrook features a major weapon in Darius Burford, the lightning-fast senior guard headed to Elon. Burford has take-over-the-game abilities as he averages 25 points a game. Junior Kai Evans has evolved as a solid scoring sidekick at 18 points a game.

Homewood-Flossmoor is balanced with five different players capable of hurting you from the three-point line, including 6-5 R.J. Ogom and guard Josiah Palmer.

We’ll take H-F at home in a tight one as the Vikings regroup from last week’s loss to Hillcrest.

Hoops Report pick: Homewood-Flossmoor 65, Bolingbrook 62

Rolling Meadows (14-7) at Buffalo Grove (20-5), Friday 7:30

First-place is on the line in the Mid-Suburban League East. Buffalo Grove holds a one-game lead as a result of its 80-70 road win over Rolling Meadows the first time these two met.

The league’s two highest scorers –– junior Max Christie of Rolling Meadows and sophomore Kam Craft of Buffalo Grove –– are the focal points. Christie scored 30 and Craft 26 the first time these two met. They’re going to get their 25 or so points, so what supporting cast members can rise to the occasion? The senior tandem of Nate Cole and Matt Brunelli of Buffalo Grove have been consistently reliable all season.

This has the feel of one that will go down to the wire. But Buffalo Grove prevails at home.

Hoops Report pick: Buffalo Grove 68, Rolling Meadows 66

Bloom (21-5) at Kankakee (19-3), Friday 6:30

Very quietly, Kankakee has put together a terrific season. The only three losses on the season have come to the big boys in the south suburbs –– Bloom and Thornton. The latest was a tight 52-49 loss to Thornton Tuesday night.

Here’s another shot for the Kays to make a major statement with the pumped up, highly-regarded Blazing Trojans coming to town.

Kankakee is balanced. Coach Chris Pickett has four offensive threats in junior Ambrozino Storr (13 ppg), Lavell McIntosh (13 ppg), Deylon Johnson (12 ppg) and Rashard Harris (12 ppg). But Bloom’s arsenal is stacked and experienced with five seniors.

Hoops Report pick: Bloom 68, Kankakee 60

Waubonsie Valley (22-3) at Neuqua Valley (19-6), Friday 7

A district rivalry that means something as both come in with impressive records and sectional seeding implications on the line.

Junior John Poulakidas remains the headliner for a Neuqua Valley team that has played well in the second half of the season. The Wildcats have won 12 of their last 13 games.

Marcus Skeete is fresh off another monster performance earlier this week. The productive 6-5 senior put up 27 in the first half against Oswego and finished with 35 points and 13 rebounds in the win. He scored 41 points in a game earlier this season. Ben Schwieger, a blossoming 6-5 junior, remains a versatile threat and forms a potent 1-2 punch for coach Jason Mead.

Waubonsie Valley thumped Neuqua pretty good back in December, winning 60-44 at home. This will be closer on the road but with the same end result.

Hoops Report pick: Waubonsie Valley 53, Neuqua Valley 49

Simeon (18-8) vs. Collinsville (23-1) at O’Fallon, Saturday 8:30

Arguably the game of the weekend and the main attraction of this year’s O’Fallon Shootout. Perennial power Simeon travels to the southern part of the state to face Collinsville, a legit state title contender in Class 4A.

Simeon is playing its best basketball of the season. Ahamad Bynum is letting things come to him more while staying a dynamic force. Jeremiah Williams has become more comfortable and effective. And a host of others –– take your pick among 6-7 Phillip Holmes, 6-5 Dylan Ingram, freshman Jalen Griffith and sophomore Jaylen Drane –– have taken their turns stepping up.

Collinsville suffered its first loss of the season last week, losing to Southwestern Conference foe O’Fallon. But behind high-scoring guard Ray’Sean Taylor (25.3 ppg), the Kahoks are a true state threat. Earlier this month, Taylor broke the school record for points in a game with 53 and also scored 44 in a game.

In addition to Taylor, Collinsville has three more weapons in Keydrian Jones (8.8 ppg), Nate Hall (7.9 ppg) and Cawhan Smith (10.1 ppg). But the Kahoks don’t shoot it particularly well from three, so a Simeon zone would go a long way in helping contain Taylor and neutralizing one of the state’s top teams.

This is a long trip for a Simeon team that’s in the midst of the Public League playoffs and will play in front of a partisan southern Illinois crowd.

Hoops Report pick: Simeon 66, Collinsville 63

Loyola (22-2) vs. Stevenson (17-4) at Northwestern, Saturday 5

A couple of well coached, tough, stout defensive teams who make it difficult for opponents to score will meet in what could be a super-sectional preview.

The Ambrose brothers –– senior Matthew and junior Evan –– both scored 13 points each in Stevenson’s come-from-behind win over Zion-Benton last weekend.

How stingy has Loyola’s defense been? There has only been one opponent, Homewood-Flossmoor with 51 points, that’s scored over 50 points against the Ramblers all season. Only four foes have cracked the 40-point marker. And this is the team that held Evanston to a mere 33 points.

But don’t underestimate Loyola’s offensive potential with a very balanced team, led by 6-8 twins Jordan and Bennett Kwiecinski, gritty point guard Billy Palmer, 6-4 wing Matt Enghauser and improving junior guard Vaughn Pemberton. While Loyola only allows 33 points a game, coach Tom Livatino’s team has scored 50-plus points on 13 occasions.

Loyola takes advantage of having more size and depth to win a low-scoring dog fight where possessions will be at a premium.

Hoops Report pick: Loyola 45, Stevenson 40

Evanston (21-3) vs. Sussex Hamilton, Wis. (14-1) at Northwestern, Saturday 6:30

Remember Patrick Baldwin, Jr.? He was a ballyhooed eighth-grader in Evanston who the City/Suburban Hoops Report labeled as the best prospect in the state of Illinois, regardless of class –– before he had played a single high school game.

When his father, Pat Baldwin, Sr., was named the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the state –– and Loyola Academy –– lost its best player. Now he’s the No. 3 ranked player in the country in the Class of 2021. And he’s coming back to the area.

Evanston has hit its first road bump in the season, losing three games in 10 days after going two months without a loss. However, Evanston’s speed and quickness should overcome everything the 6-8 Baldwin brings to the table. But there should be some points on the board.

Hoops Report pick: Evanston 72, Sussex Hamilton 65

Hillcrest (16-7) vs. Joliet West (20-4) at Lewis University, Saturday 2

Where does Hillcrest go from here?

After a topsy-turvy couple of months of basketball the Hawks notched their biggest win of the season in beating Homewood-Flossmoor last week. Now can coach Don Houston’s team, led by juniors Julius Rollins and Jakobi Heady, keep it rolling?

Since beating Simeon in late December, Joliet West has lost all three of its toughest games since then, falling to Curie, Lincoln Park and Bolingbrook. So it feel like the Tigers, who rely on recent Toledo commit Jamere Hill and junior Jaiden Lee, need to regain a little of that first-half-of-the-season juice it had.

Hoops Report pick: Joliet West 65, Hillcrest 62