What have we learned?
That’s the question so many high school basketball enthusiasts always come out of the holidays answering.
Those answers are a little more difficult to come by this holiday tournament season.
First, there is obvious parity, particularly when you get outside the top half dozen or so teams. But beyond those teams there is a whole lot of evenness and uniformity in the sport.
Then you throw in the absences, both with practice time and being down players and head coaches not coaching their teams. This just adds to the difficulty of figuring out just what is what in this 2021-22 season.
As a result, we may want to limit the use of the term “bad loss” this season without knowing the circumstances.
Whether it’s reaffirming what we already know or striking up new questions, we still learned a lot. There is basketball to celebrate as we hit the midway point of the season.
Glenbard West is still No. 1
The preseason No. 1 team is unbeaten, winning a strong Jack Tosh Holiday Classic with ease. The Hilltoppers have beaten a consensus top five team in Glenbrook South, defeated Hillcrest (11-2) and rolled to easy wins over Rolling Meadows (12-2) and Lyons (11-4) at York.
More importantly, the pieces just fit. The length and size the Hilltoppers play with in that 1-3-1 defense can be debilitating for opponents. Plus, 6-11 Braden Huff, the Gonzaga recruit, is difference-making, especially at the high school level.
The biggest challenges lie ahead the Hilltoppers will take on Young in the When Sides Collide Shootout Jan. 22 at Benet, and then play Kenwood Feb. 5 at Wintrust Arena.
Then there is the all-everything state tournament in March. Glenbard West has reached one State Finals in school history –– 84 years ago.
Best conference dominates
The Public League’s Red-South/Central was the best basketball conference before the holidays. All Kenwood, Simeon, Curie and Hyde Park did over the holidays was show why it’s the best.
Kenwood won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, beating highly-ranked Young in the title game. Simeon beat conference rival Curie in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament championship game. Hyde Park took care of a Ty Rodgers-less Thornton and then Hillcrest to capture the Big Dipper title.
Brooks also took home a championship. The Eagles won the title in Effingham/Teutopolis.
There weren’t a whole lot of people talking about Homewood-Flossmoor heading into the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic. The buzz centered mostly around a pair of unbeatens in DePaul Prep and Oswego East, St. Rita with its big names and Marian Catholic which had already beaten H-F earlier this season.
But it was the Vikings, fueled by senior Christian Meeks and junior guard Nashawn Holmes, who won four straight, including wins over St. Rita and a title game victory over Oswego East. Meeks and Holmes combined to average 35 points a game in the four wins.
This is no surprise: H-F and Bolingbrook will once again battle it out for the top spot in the Southwest Suburban Blue.
The least-talked-about unbeaten
Mount Carmel rolled through the first month of the season. The Caravan headed to Pekin over the holidays with a perfect 11-0 record.
But without a single pre-holiday marquee win on its résumé, while being out of sight, out of mind playing in Pekin, Mount Carmel is still flying under the radar despite its 15-0 record.
DeAndre Craig was the talk of Pekin, where he averaged 25.3 points and 4.5 assists a game in four wins while being named tournament MVP. Big man Elijah Jointer, who put up 19 points and 13 rebounds in the title game win over Morton, and sophomore Angelo Ciaravino were named to the all-tournament team.
January and February dates with St. Ignatius, St. Rita, Leo, DePaul Prep, Loyola and Brother Rice await coach Phil Segroves’ unbeaten team.
Biggest holiday shot
It doesn’t get any bigger in December than a buzzer-beating win to capture a holiday tournament. Burlington Central’s Nick Carpenter provided the heroics.
Carpenter’s put-back, just before the buzzer sounded, lifted the Rockets to a stunning 56-54 overtime win over top-seeded Peoria Notre Dame, a team with state aspirations in Class 3A and led by one of the top sophomores in the state, 6-8 Cooper Koch.
In a tournament with bigger names, including Koch and Duke-bound Jaden Schutt of Yorkville Christian, it was Burlington Central’s Gavin Sarvis who was named tournament MVP.
Burlington Central is a serious threat in Class 3A, especially with a healthy Sarvis, who missed a little over two weeks earlier this season with a fractured wrist. A Burlington Central-Peoria Notre Dame rematch in a 3A super-sectional at DeKalb is a real possibility.
Biggest holiday shot: Part II
While it may not have been a buzzer-beater, Simeon’s Jaylen Drane provided what was perhaps the biggest difference-making shot in propelling the Wolverines to a Pontiac Holiday Tournament title.
Leading by six points with 33 seconds to play, New Trier appeared to be in control of its semifinal showdown with Simeon at Pontiac. But Drane, an unsigned senior guard who was terrific at Pontiac, was able to get his defender in the air, draw a foul on his made three-point attempt and complete a game-changing four-point play to trim the deficit to just two.
The Wolverines were able to tie the game in the closing seconds, win in overtime and then knock off Curie in the championship game.
There were standout performances from players throughout the state with several helping teams to holiday tournament championships. Here is an 10-player holiday all-tournament team.
Nick Martinelli, Glenbrook South
The Elon recruit not only led the tournament in scoring in leading Glenbrook South to the Wheeling Hardwood Classic title, he also was second in assists and sixth in rebounding. In four games Martinelli averaged 23.5 points, six rebounds and 3.2 assists a game.
Trey Pettigrew, Kenwood
A monster week in leading the Broncos to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the 6-3 senior guard averaged 28.5 points in four games. He was 9 of 13 from the field in the title game win over Young with a pair of threes and 21 points.
DeAndre Craig, Mount Carmel
The Caravan remain unbeaten after winning four straight at Pekin, thanks to Craig’s dominating performance. The junior guard was named tournament MVP after averaging 25.3 points and 4.5 assists a game.
Braden Huff, Glenbard West
The Hilltoppers rolled at York behind Huff, who scored 25 in the semifinal win over Rolling Meadows and 21 in the title game win over Lyons. He was named tournament MVP while averaging 17 points, 7.2 rebounds and nearly three assists a game.
Christian Meeks, Homewood-Flossmoor
Throughout the Vikings’ march through the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Meeks was a dominant figure. The 6-5 senior averaged 20.3 points and eight rebounds a game.
Toughest holiday luck
There were several teams forced out of action over the holidays due to various Covid protocols. But arguably the toughest holiday bad luck goes to Riverside-Brookfield and Niles West.
Following an impressive 9-1 start to the season, a senior-dominated and ranked Riverside-Brookfield was primed and ready to make a run at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York. The Bulldogs, seeded third in the tournament, never had a chance, withdrawing before a game was played after a number of players and coaches tested positive for Covid.
Niles West went on a run and was set to play in the championship game of the Maine East Holiday Tournament but was unable to play due to Covid protocols.