We will take what we can get, right?
The drama that unfolds in packed gyms each March across the state is missing. For the second straight year there will be no Illinois High School Association state finals.
But the Chipotle Clash of Champions, which will tip off Friday, will provide a tournament format with brackets and top teams from across the Chicago area. It’s an event that gives the participating teams something to play for in this wild, abbreviated season.
The top three ranked teams in this week’s Super 25 — No. 1 Young, No. 2 Simeon and No. 3 Mundelein — are a combined 29-1 on the season. Those three take center stage as the teams to beat and are three of eight ranked teams battling it out this weekend.
The quarterfinals will tip off Friday at St. Patrick. The semifinals and championship game will be be played at Notre Dame on Saturday.
Here is a breakdown of the four Friday games which will be live streamed on No Fans In The Stands TV.
#1 Simeon (5-0) vs. #8 St. Patrick (8-2), 1
Many will point to overtime wins over Hyde Park and Bogan as reasons why Simeon may not have deserved the top seed. But that may be a shortsighted take on a Simeon team that is now getting into a groove after playing fewer games than any team in the field.
St. Patrick will be playing the role of spoiler — with the advantage of playing in its own gym.
Simeon player to watch:Michigan recruit Isaiah Barnes, an athletic wing, transferred in from Oak Park for his senior season. A big, 6-7 multidimensional player, Barnes has shown in spurts why he’s headed to play for the Big Ten champs next year. In five games he’s averaged 18.9 points, eight rebounds and three assists a game.
St. Patrick player to watch:While it’s a senior-led team, junior Timaris Brown is the player to watch for the Shamrocks. The 6-4 wing leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points a game. He chips in over seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game and is among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2022.
Scouting Simeon:While Barnes is the most talented player on the roster, the strength of the Wolverines is in the backcourt. The guards come at you in waves. Coach Robert Smith’s has a surplus of guards at his disposal, including senior DePaul recruit Ahmad Bynum (10 ppg), the junior pair of Jaylen Drane (13 ppg) and Aviyon Morris and sophomore Jalen Griffith.
Scouting St. Patrick:There is experience with this team, including the senior-led guard tandem of Caleb Corro (14.3 ppg, 4 apg), who runs the team at point guard, and Nick Galati (14.2 ppg). Senior big man Michael Hamilton (8.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg) is one of the most improved players in the senior class and is a factor around the basket and on the glass with his size and athleticism.
The pick: Simeon 56, St. Patrick 47
#4 Notre Dame (15-2) vs. #5 Evanston (15-2), 3
These were two teams ready to play in sectional championship games last March before the pandemic, sadly, shut everything down.
Yes, this is a consolation prize in comparison, but it’s a pair of programs that have been so good and highly ranked over the past two seasons who have the opportunity to play against one another. They’ve also been as active as any teams out there with a combined 34 games between them this season.
The added fuel to the fire is the fact Notre Dame’s top player, senior Louis Lesmond, played on Evanston’s state runner-up team as a sophomore, scoring 12 points in the state title game, before transferring.
Notre Dame player to watch:Lesmond, the 6-5 wing headed to Harvard, has emerged as the biggest and most consistent weapon for the talented Dons. He’s had the signature moment of the season — the monster 35-point performance while draining a buzzer-beating 60-foot shot — while averaging a team-leading 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Evanston player to watch:What a career it’s been for senior sharpshooter Blake Peters. While he’s been accustomed to playing in Peoria and in sectional games in March, the Chipotle Clash of Champions will have to due in 2021. Peters is putting up 17 points and an impressive seven rebounds as a 6-0 guard. Plus, he’s shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc while being the focal point of opposing team’s defensive plans. His three-point shooting is game-changing.
Scouting Notre Dame:Offensively, the Dons haven’t quite clicked like they did a year ago. However, defensively they are allowing only 40 points a game. That talented trio of Lesmond, 6-7 Troy D’Amico, a Southern Illinois recruit, and point guard Anthony Sayles is experienced and versatile. They’ve faced a grueling schedule over the past two seasons.
Scouting Evanston:The four-guard lineup of Peters, Elyjah Bull, Isaiah Holden and Rashawn Bost will spread you out in the half-court and create easy baskets off its defense and transition game. Bull, Holden and Bost all average between nine and 11 points for coach Mike Ellis.
The Wildkits will need to see continued development and production from its big men, 6-7 senior Ola Ajiboye and 6-6 sophomore Prince Adams. Prior to missing action last week, both showed flashes prior to that of being impactful with they size, athleticism and length.
The pick: Notre Dame 67, Evanston 63
#2 Young (12-0) vs. #7 DePaul (11-2), 5
If a regular season had been played, Young would be a heavy Class 4A favorite while DePaul would be a frontrunner in Class 3A.
Young player to watch:The state’s top-ranked junior prospect, 6-8 AJ Casey, has lived up to the hype. He’s the most highly-ranked national player in the tournament — a consensus top 25 player with high-major offers — who does things on the court players at his size just don’t do at the high school level. Casey is putting up 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and three assists while shooting 35 percent from three.
DePaul player to watch:TY Johnson, who has battled nagging injuries throughout this shortened season, has still shown to be a dynamic offensive force. The 6-3 guard has take-over ability as he can score at all three levels. The Loyola recruit is a scorer who fills the stat sheet, averaging 19.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals.
Scouting Young:The Dolphins should be the No. 1 seed in this tournament. Coach Tyrone Slaughter’s team is perfect on the season and has impressed in beating the likes of Homewood-Flossmoor, Thornton, St. Ignatius and Mount Carmel.
And, oh, they’re big, long and the most talented team in the field with the 6-8 Casey, 6-7 breakout junior Xavier Amos and 6-7 senior Grant Newell. The Dolphins have even won while super sophomore point guard Dalen Davis has missed time with an injury. He’s back for the tournament this week and forms a top-notch backcourt with Jaehshon Thomas.
Scouting DePaul:While talented and extremely dangerous as a No. 7 seed, this has been an up-and-down abbreviated season for the Rams. COVID-19 has caused its own problems for coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s team. As a result there has been inconsistent scoring and, more importantly, inconsistent defense, especially considering the defensive foundation every Kleinschmidt coached team leans on.
But Johnson and Rasheed Bello, an experienced guard with speed and athleticism in the open floor and defensively, constantly create havoc for foes. Like Johnson, Bello is a stat-sheet-stuffing guard who puts up 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals.
Can the big men, 6-9 senior Brian Mathews (10.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and 6-9 junior Dylan Arnett, maintain order in the paint against Young’s length and size?
The pick: Young 62, DePaul 56
#3 Mundelein (13-1) vs. #6 Fenwick (12-2)
Mundelein, which won its first conference championship since 1994, has been building for this 2020-21 season. In superstar Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick boasts its best and most decorated four-year player since Corey Maggette played 23 years ago. It’s time for both Mundelein and Fenwick to make the most of what is presented to them.
Mundelein player to watch:There are few legitimate big men around the state, but Mundelein has one in 6-8 Scottie Ebube. The Southern Illinois recruit averages a double-double with 14.2 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 66 percent from the field.
Fenwick player to watch:There may not be a more dominating player in the tournament than Hopkins. The 6-6 senior forward is capable of putting a team on his back. Hopkins, who is headed to Kentucky next season, is averaging 23.5 points, 13.4 rebounds and three assists. He’s a monster to deal with at the high school level.
Mundelein scouting report:Following an opening-season loss to Lake Forest, a game where Ebube was out with an injury, coach Matt Badgley’s team hasn’t lost a game since. Mundelein has remained consistent throughout and will get the type of tests this weekend that this team was built and ready for when the season began.
While Ebube offers something most teams don’t have with his brute size and production, this team relies heavily on the senior backcourt of Conor Enright (13.6 ppg) and Trey Baker (13.8 ppg). Those two are part of a pretty balanced offensive attack that includes veteran Jack Bikus (7.9 ppg).
Fenwick scouting report:There is no team that’s played more wild games with down-to-the-wire finishes than the Friars. Buzzer-beaters, comebacks, overtimes, you name it and Fenwick has played it — even in this shortened season. Maybe that will prove to be fruitful when the stakes are raised in a tournament setting.
From an individual standpoint, Hopkins is a nightmare matchup with his combination of size, strength and skill. He can overpower defenders at the rim with his body and great hands. When the focus surrounds Hopkins, juniors Gabe Madej (10.5 ppg), David Gieser (8 ppg) and Denim Juette (11.5 ppg) become bigger weapons. Fenwick can score points. The defensive effort of the Friars will determine whether Fenwick advances deep into this tournament.
The pick: Fenwick 66, Mundelein 60