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Weekend Forecast: Previewing and predicting this weekend’s top games

Important conference matchups highlight this weekend’s slate of games.

East Aurora’s Jullian Acosta (23) shoots against Larkin.
East Aurora’s Jullian Acosta (23) shoots against Larkin.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Let’s not jinx ourselves here but following a 5-2 record last weekend, we’re sitting at 17-4 on the forecast picks for the year.

This might not be a circle-the-date type of weekend on the high school basketball calendar, but there are some key conference battles across the Chicago area and one big national matchup featuring all kinds of star-studded talent and marquee names.

Young (11-4) vs. Sierra Canyon (15-1), Friday

The most intriguing matchup of the weekend will be played in Missouri. Both Young and national power Sierra Canyon out of California won opening-round games Thursday night at the 37th Bass Pro Tournament of Champions. They now meet Friday night in the semifinals.

Young, which is led by seniors AJ Casey and Xavier Amos in the frontcourt and junior point guard Dalen Davis, received 13 points from Matt Somerville in the quarterfinal win Thursday. Now the Dolphins have a chance to make some serious noise playing one of the top 10 teams in the country.

Loaded is an understatement when it comes to Sierra Canyon, and it starts with former Chicago grammar school star Amari Bailey and the son of Lebron James, junior guard Bronny James. Before moving to California, Bailey was a household basketball name as a 13-year-old in Chicago. Now the UCLA recruit is the No. 2 ranked player in the country in the senior class. James is among the top 20 juniors in the country.

Plus, Sierra Canyon has two other high-major players: Nebraska-bound point guard Ramel Lloyd, Jr., and South Carolina recruit Kijani Wright, a 6-9 big man who is among the top 50 players in the country.

Hoops Report pick: Sierra Canyon 66, Young 54

St. Ignatius (10-7) at Mount Carmel (17-0), Friday

There is increased scoreboard watching these days when it comes to Mount Carmel basketball. That’s what happens when your unbeaten streak runs into the middle of January. But the biggest test of the season thus far awaits the Caravan in this Chicago Catholic League matchup.

St. Ignatius, the team with all the preseason hype but with two months of yo-yo performances, just might be starting to gel and be putting it together. The Wolfpack beat Bolingbrook a week ago and nothing would rejuvenate the season more than handing Mount Carmel its first loss of the season.

The Caravan, however, will be at home and still have the best player on the floor in junior point guard DeAndre Craig and perfect pieces surrounding him. Big man Elijah Jointer has been an unsung player in the Chicago area and is an elite rebounder with 15 boards a game. Mount Carmel’s best start in school history continues.

Hoops Report pick: Mount Carmel 63, St. Ignatius 60

Glenbrook South (14-1) at Evanston (11-4), Friday

This is not the juggernaut Evanston team of recent years. But it’s still Evanston and it’s a challenging road date for favored Glenbrook South. The Titans can’t get caught looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Simeon in the When Sides Collide Shootout. Any way you look at this, it’s a nice test for the No. 4 ranked team.

Is there a more reliable and more productive 1-2 punch in the state than Nick Martinelli and Cooper Noard? Whether it’s Noard’s back-breaking three-pointers, Martinelli’s stat-sheet-stuffing ways and take-over ability, or simply Glenbrook South’s seamless execution, the Titans prove week by week they’re one of the state’s elite teams.

Evanston, however, will relish the role of underdog for a change. The Wildkits, led by senior guard Roshawn Bost and shooter David Gieser, have not been in this position in quite some time. But Glenbrook South is a different animal this year.

Hoops Report pick: Glenbrook South 63, Evanston 54

Rolling Meadows (16-2) at Prospect (8-7), Friday

The overall record of Prospect may not signal “must-see” here. However, both teams are sitting atop the Mid-Suburban League East with identical 4-0 records.

Rolling Meadows has a big weekend –– a key conference tilt Friday night and a tough road game at Evanston on Saturday. Cameron Christie, the highly-regarded junior with high-major offers, has emerged as a bonafide difference-maker. Backcourt mate Orlando Thomas is putting together a big senior year.

While Prospect’s recent run has turned its season around and point guard Owen Schneider is under-appreciated, the overall talent of Rolling Meadows overwhelms here and shows the distance between the Mustangs and everyone else in the MSL East.

Hoops Report pick: Rolling Meadows 65, Prospect 49

Libertyville (13-5) at Stevenson (10-4), Friday

The North Suburban Conference has been in the background a bit through the first two months of the season. But these two play a rivalry game that means something. Both need a win to keep within distance of frontrunner Lake Forest.

Stevenson has a nice combination of backcourt experience and up-and-coming young big men. But it all starts with senior guard Evan Porto, who leads the Patriots in scoring and does so in different ways, and senior point guard Jaden Davis. The tandem of 6-6 junior Joshua Thomas and 6-6 sophomore Christian Uremovich offer size and continue to make strides.

Libertyville will again lean heavily on 6-6 Chase Bonder, who is putting together a terrific senior season, and junior guard Jack Huber.

Hoops Report pick: Stevenson 52, Libertyville 47

Bolingbrook (13-5) at Homewood-Flossmooor (10-4), Friday

Good luck figuring out just where Bolingbrook’s frame of mind is at this moment. The Raiders ripped off 12 straight wins to start the season. Now they’ve lost five of their last six games. There is no better time to right the ship than in this key Southwest Suburban Blue opener.

Keep an eye on a couple of super intriguing individual matchups. In the backcourt there are two talented juniors in Bolingbrook’s Mekhi Cooper and H-F’s Nashawn Holmes. Then there is plenty of production and impressive physicality in the frontcourt with Bolingbrook’s Michael Osei-Bonsu and H-F’s Christian Meeks.

H-F survives at home and gets an early leg up on the ’Brook in conference play.

Hoops Report: Homewood-Flossmoor 55, Bolingbrook 51

East Aurora (10-4) at Bartlett (14-4), Friday

While Larkin has been the story in the Upstate Eight Conference thus far, these two are right behind the Royals with one loss apiece in conference play.

East Aurora, fresh off its feel-good win over rival West Aurora last weekend, continues to fly under the radar. While the Tomcats are balanced, Jullian Acosta remains the catalyst. He does so much for his team, both in the stat sheet and beyond. Junior JJ Acosta and a pair of sophomores, CJ Savage and James Parker, provide ample support.

How does East Aurora manage to neutralize 7-2 Conrad Luczynski? The defensive scheme the Tomcats draw up against this matchup nightmare will go a long way. Lucyznksi puts up massive numbers –– scoring, rebounding, blocking shots and providing easy scoring opportunities for teammates with his superb passing skills.

Sophomore Kelton McEwen is an established and confident scorer –– and ideal complement to Luczysnki –– on the perimeter.

Hoops Report pick: Bartlett 68, East Aurora 61