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Previewing and predicting Wednesday’s biggest holiday tournament games

In what will be a busy day of high school basketball in Illinois, here are a whole bunch of highlighted matchups that will grab some attention. 

Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) rises up and hits a jumper against Plainfield North at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Simeon’s Jalen Griffith (2) rises up and hits a jumper against Plainfield North at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Allen Cunnningham/For the Sun-Times

We are in the heart of holiday tournament basketball. While the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs crowned a champion last night –– congratulations, Larkin –– there is a plethora of quarterfinal matchups, several semifinal showdowns and one title game across the state today.

In what will be a busy day of high school basketball in Illinois, here are a whole bunch of highlighted matchups that will grab some attention.

Oswego East vs. Homewood-Flossmoor • Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic

With some bonafide talent, experience and some recent holiday magic, Oswego East heads into tonight’s championship game with a perfect 14-0 record. That includes playing with a little fire, beating Marian Catholic in overtime in the quarterfinals and following it up with a double overtime win over Hinsdale Central last night in the semis.

Leading scorer Patrick Robinson battled foul trouble and scored just two points in the win. But this has been a balanced attack all season and has continued to be throughout the tournament.

H-F hasn’t lost since going 2-2 at Thanksgiving. Christian Meeks was a monster in the first two games of the tournament, putting up 58 points and 19 rebounds in two wins. Stevenson kept Meeks in check in the semis, but the Vikings still prevailed behind steady Nashawn Holmes.

This title game sets up a man-against-boys individual matchup between Meeks and Robinson, two power-packed players and finishers around the basket.

There is something special brewing with Oswego East right now. It’s going to be another nail-biter, and it’s one that could go either way, but the Wolves have to lose at some point. H-F in an upset.

Hoops Report pick: Homewood-Flossmoor 58, Oswego East 56

Lake Forest vs. Rolling Meadows • Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York

Easily the best quarterfinal matchup at York and one of the most highly anticipated games of the tournament with Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas and Rolling Meadows’ Cam Christie set to tangle. These are two of the elite juniors in the state –– and AAU teammates with the Illinois Wolves.

Christie and Orlando Thomas have become a dynamite tandem, combining for 50 points in Rolling Meadows’ second-round win over Lemont yesterday. Christie, who looked the part of a high-major talent with 26 points in the win, is as versatile of a scorer as there is in the state. Thomas has scored 42 points in the first two wins with eight three-pointers.

Lake Forest will grind away at both ends of the floor to squeak out a close win.

Hoops Report pick: Lake Forest 55, Rolling Meadows 52

Normal vs. Wheaton South • State Farm Classic in Bloomington

Might Normal be the best team in the state outside the Chicago area? Senior Zach Cleveland, an athletic 6-6 forward headed to Liberty, is a fun and exciting player with his blocks, dunks and all-out hustle. Cleveland has scored 48 points in two Normal blowout victories.

Wheaton South never loses. Or so it seems. Dating back to last season, the Tigers have won 29 of their last 31 games and are a perfect 13-0 on the season without any avid high school basketball fan being able to name a player on this team. However, as the wins come, Tyler Fawcett becomes more and more of a go-to player.

Wheaton South frustrates everyone it plays, making you guard for a minute at a time and throwing you completely out of rhythm offensively. The Tigers didn’t allow Brother Rice star Ahmad Henderson a single made field goal. Everyone hustles, leaves everything on the floor and knows their roles.

The home cooking and a difference-making Cleveland, however, finally end Wheaton South’s fantastic start to the season. We’ll take Normal in an up-for-grabs semifinal.

Hoops Report pick: Normal 42, Wheaton South 40

Proviso East vs. Young • Proviso West Holiday Tournament

OK, Proviso East. Here. You. Go.

The Pirates are unbeaten. Together, Jaloni Johnson and Javon Johnson keep putting up points. But to get to a perfect 10-0 they will have to beat Young in this semifinal bout.

The high stakes and the immediate energy from the opportunity will keep Proviso East in this one early. But the Dolphins, led by AJ Casey, Xavier Amos, Matt Somerville and Dalen Davis, will be too much and pull away in the second half.

Hoops Report pick: Young 70, Proviso East 57

Simeon vs. Oak Park • Pontiac Holiday Tournament

With its best game of the season thus far –– a romp over Warren in the first round at Pontiac behind 31 points from Justin Mullins –– Oak Park is ready for a shot at Simeon.

An up-and-down season thus far can all be forgotten and recognized as growth with an upset win over Simeon. Mullins and junior Sam Lewis lead the way for a Huskies team that’s not short on talent or athleticism that matches up with Simeon.

Coach Robert Smith’s team rolled over Plainfield North behind what has become an extremely balanced Wolverines team. The backcourt trio of Jaylen Drane, Jalen Griffin and Avyion Morris, along with the inside tandem of Miles and Wesley Rubin –– will be too much.

Hoops Report pick: Simeon 63, Oak Park 52

St. Charles North vs. Curie • Pontiac Holiday Tournament

Ethan Marlowe is healthy. And St. Charles North is a different team when he is healthy. He went for 22 points and 13 rebounds in a blowout win over Danville. Now it’s top-seed Curie in the quarterfinals.

This could be closer than some maybe think it will be, but the Condors keep flying in the unbeaten air and move on to semifinals. Again.

Hoops Report pick: Curie 67, St. Charles North 60

Why not a few more for fun …

Clark vs. Kenwood at Proviso West. As expected, Kenwood has cruised with Trey Pettigrew, the 6-3 guard headed to Nevada, scoring 52 points in the first two wins. Clark has four double-figure scorers and it will help that high-scoring Kenwood guard Darrin Ames is out of action. But Clark certainly doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with this Kenwood juggernaut. The Broncos roll.

Benet vs. Joliet West at Pontiac. The one upset at Pontiac came courtesy of Joliet West and Jayden Martin (23 points) in knocking off fourth-seeded Bloom last night. It’s taking some time for Benet to piece everything together at both ends of the floor, but they’re getting there. This will be another step in the right direction. Joliet West enjoyed it’s one upset at Pontiac. There won’t be another. Benet by double digits.

Leo vs. Glenbard West at York. That was a really nice win for Leo in the second round, knocking off Batavia in convincing fashion. But this little Jack Tosh run is going to end abruptly against No. 1 Glenbard West.

Bolingbrook vs. Andrew at York. There is no question Andrew has been a pleasant surprise. But one of its two losses of the season came to Bolingbrook conference rival H-F, 71-60, so we’re going with the Raiders speed and quickness. The ‘Brook by a dozen and a trip to the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament semifinals.

Glenbrook North vs. Prospect at Wheeling. Prospect is humming along after a 1-3 start to the season, which includes back-to-back upset wins over Niles North and Notre Dame in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Completely overlooked Prospect point guard Owen Schneider is a fun one. But Glenbrook North, led by junior guard Ryan Cohen, gets the edge and moves on with a semifinal win. And waiting for the Spartans in that title game tomorrow night …

Glenbrook South vs. Libertyville at Wheeling. Maybe Libertyville can pull off … Nope. The Wildcats fell short in their three biggest tests of the season (Evanston, Rolling Meadows and Lake Forest). And this is a way bigger test. Glenbrook South by a lot.

Morton vs. Mt. Carmel at Pekin. The Caravan won two games on Tuesday at Pekin, surviving a tough shooting night from star DeAndre Craig to remain unbeaten and advance to Wednesday night’s title game. Morton, the local central Illinois team still standing, upset top-seed Moline. But let’s go with the Caravan in this one, marching home with a tournament title and into the new year with a glitzy 15-0 record.

Yorkville Christian vs. Burlington Central at Plano. A semifinal battle featuring two teams that obliterated their first two opponents. Burlington Central advanced by beating its two foes by a combined 84 points; Yorkville Christian won two games by 100 points. Both of these teams with heavy expectations this season need a “big” win. The winner will likely get No. 1 seed Peoria Notre Dame in the final Thursday night. Yorkville Christian’s offensive firepower proves to be too much.