The When Sides Collide Shootout, annually one of the biggest events on the high school basketball calendar, returned this past weekend.
Following a year off due to Covid restrictions, the event moved from Glenbard East to Benet. The return also reminded every basketball fan in attendance what we’ve all been missing for the better part of two years.
There were big-time matchups featuring highly-ranked teams and Division I players all playing in front of a standing-room-only crowd that was into it from start to finish. The blend of rabid prep basketball fans and student sections was refreshing and energizing.
The buzz was back in high school basketball, which also refreshed our memory of what’s to come this March when IHSA state sectionals return.
Full disclosure, I do put together the When Sides Collide event and matchups, but kudos to Benet coach Gene Heidkamp, the Benet administration and all the support staff that made this event run smoothly and efficiently.
Here are a whole bunch of thoughts and observations from a full day of basketball at Benet in this When Sides Collide rewind.
➤ The easy takeaway from When Sides Collide: Glenbard West showed why it’s the No. 1 team in the state. What a performance by the Hilltoppers in what turned out to be a relatively easy win over highly-ranked Young.
➤ That was one big step Braden Huff of Glenbard West took in the Player of the Year race. He sparkled on a big stage with a game-high 31 points and doing so in a POY way.
➤ When Caden Pierce plays the way he did Saturday night, Glenbard West becomes an even more dominant and impressive team. The multi-dimensional Pierce always impacts in ways that are overlooked, particularly with his defense, but he was more assertive offensively.
Glenbard West clearly set out to run a few extra sets for Pierce to get him involved and take advantage of his matchup. He scored 25 points in a variety of ways. And he took advantage of it on a big stage.
What a recruiting get for Princeton in the Ivy League.
➤ There aren’t two better defensive players who make a bigger impact at that end of the floor than Glenbard West’s Caden Pierce and Simeon’s pint-sized Aviyon Morris. It starts with both players’ toughness.
➤ Back to that Player of the Year race. Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli is in it. He has been all season but without the local fanfare others receive. But a win over Simeon while scoring 21 points and snaring 11 rebounds in a marquee event will enhance a candidacy.
With high-scoring guard Cooper Noard out for the majority of the first quarter with two fouls, it was time to lean on Martinelli. Those opening eight minutes, playing without a 17-point scorer like Noard, could have put Glenbrook South in a hole it could never get out of against a team like Simeon.
But Martinelli, the 6-7 forward headed to Elon, set the tone. He was pretty remarkable in the opening eight minutes, hitting a pair of threes en route to 14 points, eight rebounds and a 20-11 lead.
Martinelli showcased what is a different style but such an effective one. What a unique and deceptive game he displays with an arsenal of moves in the paint. He’s not Kevin McHale, oldie all-star Celtic oldie from the 1980s, but he scores it in so many ways down low the way McHale did that it’s an uncanny resemblance, shooting and finishing from a variety of angles and with either hand.
➤ It’s one thing to take a beating from some out-of-state powers like Oak Hill Academy, Sierra Canyon and Gonzaga out of DC. But it’s another when a fellow in-state Class 4A power puts it on you. This could be the wake-up call Young players were in need of going forward.
Glenbard West handled Young with relative ease in the second half, extending its lead to the point where it was able to simply cruise down the stretch of its 74-59 win.
This is still a Dolphins team with just two in-state losses –– to No. 1 Glenbard West and No. 3 Kenwood. And it’s a team with obvious talent, size and will hopefully be welcoming back promising but injured junior Daniel Johnson in coming weeks.
Johnson is needed for several reasons –– depth, additional size and, most importantly, the return of its best perimeter shooter. The Dolphins can struggle mightily shooting from the perimeter at times, and it needs Johnson to help open things for Xavier Amos and AJ Casey to work inside.
➤ Benet is not going to go away. They’re definitely one of those lurking teams.
The Redwings, who are always well coached, haven’t fared well against ranked teams this season, going 0-5 heading into the weekend. But a win over ranked St. Ignatius showed why it’s a team the more-talked-about teams won’t want to face in March.
Junior Brady Kunka has been steady and consistent all season long with his production and toughness. Then in the win Saturday over St. Ignatius another junior, promising 6-4 Niko Abusara, stepped up in the fourth quarter with eight points, including a big basket, two clutch free throws and a defensive play that was pivotal.
Benet is on top of the East Suburban Catholic Conference and sport a 17-5 record while playing a quality schedule.
➤ After a rocky 8-6 start to the season, St. Ignatius has been really tested the past few weeks. That included a tough, last-second, back-and-forth road loss to Benet on Saturday.
After seeing St. Ignatius several times this season, it’s been a mixed bag that includes some rather inconsistent offensive outputs. But when junior Richard Barron is rolling on the offensive end, the Wolfpack seem to follow his lead.
But playing six games against quality teams this month, beating Mt. Carmel, DePaul, Bolingbrook and Loyola to win the Jesuit Cup, has restored a lot of faith. That includes losses to Benet and ranked Brother Rice by a combined three points.
St. Ignatius simply needs to establish some consistency by the time regional play begins next month, because the Wolfpack are in what is an extremely winnable Class 3A sectional.
➤ Anyone who has followed, read or listened, I have been banging the drum for New Trier since last summer. And I’ve continued throughout the first two months of the season.
The Trevians play with confidence. Plus, this team can defend and shoot it from beyond the arc while having a big man inside in 6-8 Jackson Munro who must be accounted for due to his offensive potential.
Both Munro and junior shooter Jake Fiegen receive a lot of attention, both in headlines and from opposing teams, but there are several other valuable pieces.
Karlo Colak, a 6-5 senior wing, provided the added boost in the win over Yorkville Christian, while point guard Peter Kanellos makes things go without even being a big scorer. Kanellos doesn’t put up numbers but simply puts on a “how to run a basketball team” clinic.
Maybe some refuse to believe but New Trier can play with and beat anyone it faces now and going forward.
➤ Considering the opponent, stage and where the two teams were ranked, Glenbrook South’s win over Simeon Saturday night is arguably the biggest win in program history.
But the Titans hope there is a bigger moment still to come.
This is a program that has never won a sectional championship –– and only six regional titles in the 59-year history of the school. However, a familiar foe may stand its way: New Trier.
Forget about the upcoming Glenbrook South-New Trier showdown for first place in the Central Suburban League South this Thursday. OK, don’t forget it. Enjoy it because it should be absolutely dynamite.
But what about a potential and monumental clash in the sectional when these two are the top two seeds and everything is on the line?
Glenbrook South is fortunate to be hosting the sectional. The Titan Dome in Glenview will be jumping if that one materializes for Round III in March.
➤ Yorkville Christian was simply overmatched by New Trier in the opening game of the event. New Trier took control right from the start. And it was to be expected.
The schedule Yorkville Christian put together was daunting. The Class 1A school features one of the best players in the state in Duke-bound Jaden Schutt, who just passed 2,000 career points in the loss to the Trevians. But when March rolls around every Class 1A school will need to ignore whatever record the Mustangs bring into state tournament play.
Currently, coach Aaron Sovern’s team is 12-12. That’s not going to impress anyone when reading through the state tournament program in a little over two months.
The Mustangs have even lost four of six this month. It’s been a win two, lose two, win one, lose one all season long. But Yorkville Christian has shown growth, recently beating Orr and playing Glenbrook South tough in a 63-58 loss.
While the last Class 1A state champion, Providence St. Mel, also played a pretty rough schedule in 2018-19 playing in the Chicago Catholic League, it didn’t come close to what Yorkville Christian has faced this season.
And Okawville, the 2017-18 Class 1A state champ, lost to the likes of Mascoutah, Nashville, Columbia and the Freeburg Midgets. Maybe that’s a tough schedule for a southern Illinois Class 1A team. But it pales in comparison to the gauntlet Yorkville Christian is going through.
The reward for playing this schedule hasn’t been a whole lot of big wins. But it’s hopefully what will prepare Yorkville Christian for what’s to come –– and what’s most important. This schedule was built to prepare for a state tournament run.
There is no Class 1A school who will have played against the quality of competition, the settings or environments that the Mustangs have experienced.
The schedule isn’t letting up. There could be three, maybe four more regular season wins. What it also means is there is a chance Yorkville Christian could win a state championship with the fewest amount of wins in over 100 years of IHSA basketball state champions.
Mt. Vernon won 19 games and a state championship in 1926.