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Ranking the top 10 conferences in the area

The pecking order of the top area conferences generally always starts in the city, especially once the Public League formed its power conferences several years back.

Hyde Park’s Camron Williford (2) floats in the lane for a layup as the Thunderbirds play Homewood-Flossmoor.
Hyde Park’s Camron Williford (2) floats in the lane for a layup as the Thunderbirds play Homewood-Flossmoor.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The pecking order of the top area conferences generally always starts in the city, especially once the Public League formed its power conferences several years back. That’s the case once again this season.

The Red South-Central is enjoying its perch on top and ranking as the No. 1 high school basketball conference.

Here is a ranking of the top 10 basketball conferences in the area.

1. Red South-Central

Favorite: Kenwood

Top contenders: Simeon and Curie

Keep an eye on: Hyde Park

Storyline to follow: Can upstart Kenwood with all its young talent keep the perennial powers, Simeon and Curie, at bay and make a December-to-February run in the city? The talent is there, the experience isn’t.

Conference outlook: This is the best conference in the state with three legit top 10 teams and a Hyde Park team set to make noise. Expect a wild race — with losses handed down — and each of these teams to be fully prepared for the rigors of the Public League playoffs and state tournament action in March.

But with all the attention Kenwood and its individual players have received, you better believe the traditional powers, Simeon and Curie, will be primed and ready. Plus, Davontae Hall for Hyde Park can be a one-man wrecking crew at times.

2. Catholic League Blue

Favorite: St. Rita

Top contenders: Brother Rice, DePaul Prep, Mount Carmel

Keep an eye on: Loyola

Storyline to follow: The hype surrounding St. Rita, whether fair or not, is there and everyone has heard it. Though no fault of their own –– the Mustangs simply have high-profile talent, albeit young talent –– there is a target on their back. Can the young kids rise to the occasion and win one of the state’s toughest conferences?

Conference outlook: This conference has it all. There is a lot of depth, parity, quality coaching and some teams with game-changing stars, so expect this league to beat up on each other. St. Rita is clearly the draw. And while St. Rita does have the most talent, there are enough quality teams in this league to make it interesting.

Replacing an entire starting five, especially one with a bonafide star like TY Johnson, is never easy. But coach Tom Kleinschmidt now has a program at DePaul Prep that does groom players and reloads talent. Thus, the Rams are in good shape to not only stay relevant but to push St. Rita.

Brother Rice is a year away from being a legit top 10 team, but don’t take the Crusaders and junior point guard Ahmad Henderson lightly. Mount Carmel’s Deandre Craig has shown he put a team on his back and carry it.

3. Central Suburban League South

Favorites: Glenbrook South and New Trier

Top contenders: Evanston

Keep an eye on: Maine South and Glenbrook North

Storyline to follow: A monumental showdown is brewing in the north suburbs — and in the overall landscape of high school basketball — in the CSL South. Glenbrook South and New Trier are that good, both potentially being legit top five teams over the course of the season.

Conference outlook: Although on paper it appears to be a two-team race, Evanston will be lurking and a scary two games for both of the favorites. The Wildkits aren’t just going to go away after a five-year run of high-level play a big-time success.

Maine South can still muck things up with its funky style and Glenbrook North, led by underrated junior guard Ryan Cohen, gives this conference quality depth.

4. Red North-West

Favorite: Young

Top contender: Orr

Keep an eye on: Clark and North Lawndale

Storyline to follow: The conference race will be an afterthought if the top two teams, Young and Orr, can make it to Champaign in March and win state titles in their respective classes –– Young in Class 4A and Orr in Class 2Al. That’s very realistic.

Conference outlook: This is clearly Young’s title to lose, though the Dolphins, with their high-profile national schedule, haven’t always been ultra-motivated with conference championships. But if Young is locked in on winning the Red-West/North, it will be surprising if it doesn’t.

Orr coach Lou Adams is in his final season, set to retire after quite a run at the West Side power. Can the Spartans send him out with a bang?

5. West Suburban Silver

Favorite: Glenbard West

Top contenders: Oak Park and Lyons

Keep an eye on: Hinsdale Central

Storyline to follow: Take Glenbard West out of this league and it’s still a solid conference. But will Glenbard West, the state’s No. 1 ranked team, run the table? Likely. But Glenbard West will get everyone’s best shot each night out.

Conference outlook: Despite some quality teams, even a ranked one here and there, this is not a wide open conference race. Nonetheless, the league is in the top conference list for more reasons than just mighty Glenbard West. Oak Park has the talented 1-2 punch of Justin Mullins and Sam Lewis.

Lyons has a dynamic star in Akron recruit Tavari Johnson at point guard. And although Hinsdale Central doesn’t have big names, the Red Devils are better than a lot of people think.

6. East Suburban Catholic

Favorite: Marian Catholic

Top contender: Benet and Notre Dame

Keep an eye on: St. Patrick and Carmel

Storyline to follow: For the first time there is an East Suburban Catholic Conference Tournament at the end of the season. What impact will that have on the regular-season race and what kind of reception will the tournament get when it’s played?

Conference outlook: This conference has been one of the best, usually deepest, basketball conferences for a long time. But generally there always seems to be a true favorite or dominant team within that depth. Not this year. So with a lot of good to very good but maybe not great, there should be plenty of week-to-week battles.

Marian Catholic, led by two-way star Jeremiah Jones, gets the edge with the most experience returning. Notre Dame graduated a ton but has a dangerous young group, while Benet is Benet and should be better than a year ago. Carmel, which has a Division I player in Niagara recruit Bryce Moore, and St. Patrick, which will lean heavily on three-year starter Timaris Brown, have the potential to sneak up on some teams.

7. South Suburban Blue

Favorite: Hillcrest

Top contender: Tinley Park

Keep an eye on: Lemont and Oak Forest

Storyline to follow: Hillcrest’s league domination. Yes, for the first time in decades the Hawks did not win a conference championship in 2016-17. But even with a revamped Tinley Park and star power leading both Lemont and Oak Forest, does Hillcrest maintain its conference mystique? Hillcrest has won an astonishing 32 of 33 conference championships over the last three-plus decades.

Conference outlook: Hillcrest’s fast start over Thanksgiving is cause for concern for a host of teams with realistic hopes of contending for a conference championship. The Hawks have forever been the favorite in every conference they play in. Nonetheless, it’s a conference with a little more depth than usual and, as mentioned, two of the better players in the state in Oak Forest’s Robbie Avila and Lemont sophomore Nojus Indrusaitis.

8. Southwest Suburban Blue

Favorite: Bolingbrook

Top contender: Homewood-Flossmoor

Keep an eye on: Lockport

Storyline to follow: The continued domination of Bolingbrook and Homewood-Flossmoor. You have to go all the way back to the 2009-10 season to find the last time one of these two didn’t win this conference. It’s probably apropos that H-F and Bolingbrook have shared the conference title each of the last three seasons.

Conference outlook: It’s always the ‘Brook and H-F. They will again go at it as always, but the Raiders are the team to beat as H-F retools a bit. Can Lockport surprise and get in the mix? The Porters, led by guard Anthony Munson, appear to be your classic blue-collar team with depth, balance and experience to be an intriguing darkhorse.

9. Southland

Favorite: Thornton

Top contender: Bloom

Keep an eye on: Kankakee

Storyline to follow: The buzz around this league right now is Ty Rodgers, the transfer from Michigan who should lift Thornton to new heights. The impact of the athletic 6-6 Rodgers at Thornton will be significant. Will it be enough to claim a conference championship? Regardless, adding a talent like Rodgers, who is headed to Illinois, certainly is the story in the Southland and spices things up considerably.

Conference outlook: This is likely a two-horse race. It’s Thornton with the arrival of Rodgers and a Bloom team with multiple offensive weapons and a big man in Emondrek Erkins other teams don’t have.

However, defending conference champ Kankakee will be a tough out in time. The Kays return four key players who gained experience last year. However, coach Chris Pickett’s team is due for a slow start. There are seven key players who were part of Kankakee’s football playoff run that ended in a Class 5A state championship game loss last weekend.

10. DuKane

Favorite: Batavia

Top contender: St. Charles North and Wheaton-Warrenville South

Keep an eye on: Geneva

Storyline to follow: Since the inception of the DuKane Conference, St. Charles North, Geneva, Wheaton South and St. Charles East have all either won or shared a league title in the first three years of the league. Is it Batavia’s turn? The Bulldogs haven’t won a conference championship since the 2015-16 season when they won their side of the Upstate Eight.

Conference outlook: This will be a fun few months in the DuKane, a conference with natural rivalries and a ton of parity in the top half of the league. We’ll call Batavia the favorite even though this is a wide open race with Batavia, St. Charles North and Wheaton-Warrenville South all right in the middle of the conference hunt.

Ethan Marlowe of St. Charles North may be on the verge of a breakout season after putting together an overall impressive stat line as a junior. The 6-8 big man is a difference-maker with his vast skill set and size.

With its more-than-methodical offensive approach and a slow-you-down ball press defense, no one wants to play Wheaton-Warrenville South. And the teams in this conference have to do it twice. The Tigers are flying under the radar in the Chicago area –– just as players like Tyler Fawcett, Rourke Robinson and Danny Healy are –– but it’s a team that’s very capable of claiming a conference championship.

Geneva isn’t what it’s been in recent years. However, the under-talked-about success of Geneva the past decade matters, because the Vikings know how to win and will remain very competitive.