A dozen fearless forecasts for the new basketball season

With the high school basketball season tipping off this week, why not get it started with a dozen fearless forecasts for this 2022-23 season.

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Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie (24) shoots against St. Patrick at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout this summer.

Rolling Meadows’ Cameron Christie (24) shoots against St. Patrick at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout this summer.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

With the high school basketball season tipping off this week, why not get it started with a dozen fearless forecasts for this 2022-23 season. 

Will they all come to fruition? Of course not. But predictions — and analysis of those predictions — are here for your entertainment and, in some cases, bulletin board material for some. 

St. Rita can still have a great and groundbreaking season without winning a state championship.

Junior star Morez Johnson may have stated “State or bust” in the preseason, but there can still be plenty of success between what St. Rita has done historically (not a whole lot) and winning a state title this season. 

Let’s remember, St. Rita has never won a sectional championship in program history. And in what will undoubtedly be a rugged road to get to Champaign — the likes of Kenwood, Brother Rice and Bloom are likely sectional foes and Young or Curie would be standing in the way in a supersectional — surpassing anything the program has ever done before with a junior-dominated team would be a major success story. 

Thus, first things first: win a Catholic League title and follow it up with a first-ever sectional championship. 

With the type of teams that stand in their way of doing so, yes, that’s a major accomplishment no matter what the expectations are this season. 

The Mustangs will be more than ready to live up to the hype with the schedule it has put together in preparation for March. But let’s not undersell the potential of success that doesn’t include a state championship. 

Rolling Meadows will be the only team outside the top five to reach No. 1 in the Super 25 rankings this year. 

Simeon is the preseason No. 1 team. And there won’t be any real shock if No. 2 St. Rita, Kenwood, Joliet West or Young were to all elevate to the top spot at some point this season. 

With all these teams playing such tough schedules — and often playing one another — there will be losses and numerous opportunities to warrant a No. 1 ranking. 

Joliet West, after all, will get a shot at both St. Rita and Kenwood in the first 13 days of the season, potentially play Simeon at Pontiac and face Young in January. 

But while Rolling Meadows has really strengthened its schedule this year, the Mustangs will have a chance in the first half of the season to get on a real roll before the second half slate includes Joliet West, Evanston, Glenbrook North, Brother Rice and Moline. 

So while some of these top five teams beat up on one another early on, Rolling Meadows could be in position over the first month to take over the No. 1 spot. 

Moline vs. Simeon will be the regular season game of the year. 

There are several potential “Games of the Year” already on the docket with a heavy shootout schedule matching up highly-ranked powers. But Simeon-Moline brings together talent, intrigue and storylines that will be difficult to top. 

First, Simeon is the Class 3A favorite and the preseason No. 1 team in the Chicago area, while Moline is arguably the Class 4A favorite. Obviously, these two will not meet in March. But the When Sides Collide Shootout at Benet this January will bring the two state title contenders together. 

There is an abundance of Division I talent, highlighted by Moline’s tandem of point guard Brock Harding and Owen Freeman who are headed to Iowa. Simeon features an abundance of future college players, including 6-9 Miles Rubin (Loyola), 6-9 Wes Rubin (Northern Iowa), Kaiden Space (Stony Brook), Sam Lewis (Toledo) and the unsigned Jalen Griffith. 

Plus, it’s an opportunity for Chicago area fans to get their first look at the best team in the state outside the Chicago area. 

If these two do win their respective state titles on the final Saturday of the season, we’ll be glad they faced one another in January. 

Glenbrook North — and not perennial contenders Evanston, Glenbrook South or New Trier — will win the rough-and-tumble Central Suburban League South. 

The preseason rankings would indicate Glenbrook North is the favorite in the CSL South. The Spartans are ranked No. 12 while New Trier is No. 19 and Evanston No. 20.

But there will definitely be some GBN skepticism on the North Shore heading into the season. Since Glenbrook North’s arrival in the CSL South from the CSL North in 2019, the Spartans are a combined 9-21 in league play in those three seasons. 

No one other than Evanston, Glenbrook South or New Trier has won the CSL South since Maine South in 2013-14. 

But this is the best Glenbrook North team in well over a decade. And it’s one that battled everyone tough last season but ended just 5-5 in league play. 

The Spartans split with Evanston, losing the one in overtime. And while going 0-3 against Glenbrook South, the Spartans lost one of the matchups 60-59. They lost to New Trier twice in a pair of one-possession games. 

With a proven scorer on the perimeter in Ryan Cohen, an ignitor at point guard in Josh Fridman, and a presence inside in 6-7, 220-pound Patrick Schaller, a three-year varsity starter, Glenbrook North is the pick. 

Outright champs? Maybe. But the Spartans are at least grabbing a share of the CSL South. 

Downers Grove North will be the team outside the Super 25 to make the biggest climb up the rankings. 

Coach Jim Thomas’ team isn’t ranked — yet. But the Trojans will be one of the first teams to break into the top 25 as the early season plays out.

The slate the first two months of the season isn’t exactly daunting for DGN, which includes very winnable Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments. Don’t be surprised if the Trojans get off to a 10-1, 11–1 or 11-0 type of start. 

The schedule ramps up a bit in January and February, but the Trojans will give everything West Suburban Silver favorite Lyons Twp. can handle as those months play out. 

Phoenix Gill will be the biggest breakout player in the sophomore class. 

Much of this has to do with how much the players in this class impacted as freshmen. When it comes to Gill, the minutes and opportunities in his first year were very minimal. He played in just seven games and scored 15 points at the varsity level. 

That had more to do with his need to develop and mature physically more than his individual talent or mindset. It was always going to be just a matter of time for the 6-2 guard. 

After leading the Ignatius sophomore team to a glitzy 27-1 record a year ago, Gill’s role will expand greatly as a sophomore for a ranked varsity team.

So while Joliet West sophomore Jeremiah Fears is a star who is currently overlooked nationally, and St. Rita awaits the return of the established but injured Melvin Bell, Gill will become a fixture this season among the top players in the class. 

This Wednesday’s St. Ignatius-Lake Forest game will be a preview of a Class 3A supersectional in March. And Lake Forest will win its first sectional in program history. 

Last year the St. Ignatius-Lake Forest opening week tussle was a barnburner. Richard Barron was a monster for St. Ignatius, but it was Lake Forest and Asa Thomas escaping with a 62-60 early-season win. 

They meet again this Wednesday at Loyola Academy in what will be — if the sectional assignments remain the same as last year — a preview of a Class 3A supersectional in four months. 

While St. Ignatius won a sectional last year and finished third in Class 3A, this year Lake Forest will win its first-ever sectional this year. The Scouts came oh-so-close a year ago, falling to St. Patrick 53-52 in the sectional final. 

Clemson recruit Thomas brings high-level scoring and a wealth of experience as a four-year varsity player. 

Lincoln-Way East will have the biggest turnaround season of any team. 

The football program keeps humming along in dominating fashion with another trip to a state finals football game appearance this weekend. Those heights won’t be reached by the basketball program, but it will provide the most significant turnaround season from a year ago. 

Last year the Griffins finished 11-17 and were a No. 14 sectional seed, losing to Andrew in a regional semifinal. All of that could potentially be flipped this season.

Bolingbrook remains the favorite in the Southwest Suburban Blue, but coach Rich Kolimas’ team is lying in the weeds. Kolimas has a bunch of experience to lean on, including heady senior point guard Kaiden Ross. 

This is a potentially very dangerous team with Ross, 6-2 guard Ty Toliver, who came on strong last year as a true shooting threat, and breakout candidate Kyle Olagbegi, an athletic 6-6 senior wing. George Bellevue is a veteran 6-6 senior while 6-8 junior Mac Hagemaster provides some size. Keep an eye on freshman point guard BJ Powell. 

Coach Robert Smith will win state title No. 7

Some might say this isn’t so fearless. It’s Simeon and Robert Smith, the coach who has already won a state record six state championships. 

But the team that beat Simeon in the Class 3A state semifinals last year, Metamora, returns almost its entire team. Defending state champ Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin has all five starters back. Downstate East St. Louis, led by Kansas State recruit Macaleab Rich, is loaded. And locally, Mount Carmel is going to be a pesky out in the sectional. 

Simeon will have its hands full in Class 3A once it walks through the first three rounds of state tournament play. 

This Simeon team, however, is better than the one that came very close a year ago. The Wolverines are No. 1 in the preseason for a reason. They have difference-making size and what should be steady guard play. They also clearly have a motivational factor that resonates.

If the IHSA keeps the sectional assignments the same as last year, the eight teams playing in Champaign will be Kenwood, Rolling Meadows, Benet and Moline in Class 4A and East St. Louis, Simeon, Metamora and St. Ignatius in Class 3A. 

Picking state semifinal matchups in November is pretty much fruitless. There are so many unknowns right now and variables we aren’t even aware of yet. But, heck, it’s fun and headline-grabbing at this time of the year. 

This fearless forecast could have read: Despite all five starters returning, Sacred Heart-Griffin will not repeat in Class 3A. There’s some bulletin board material for you, SHG.

But it’s so difficult to repeat, especially repeating some of the magic that took place a year ago for SHG. That included a buzzer-beating, double overtime thriller over Metamora in the state title game. 

Nonetheless, it was very tempting to pick the exact same four Class 3A teams as a year ago; it could very well happen again. But my on-a-limb belief is that there won’t be a repeat of the same four teams. And to mix it up we went with the best team outside those four, East St. Louis, to break up the 3A semifinals repeat. 

ESL lost to eventual state champ Sacred Heart-Griffin in last year’s supersectional. We’ll go with the upset this year. 

Kenwood will have to outlast the likes of St. Rita, Curie, Young, Brother Rice and others if it wants to reach the State Finals for the first time. There is a lot to still learn about this Kenwood team, but regardless of the uncertainty, right now the Broncos are the pick. 

Moline and Joliet West are on a collision course to meet in a supersectional, and I expect a toss-up of a game to be played in Normal between the two. 

Benet’s road to Champaign is so enticing, while Rolling Meadows will have to fight off all the North Shore powers in March if it wants to return to the State Finals for the first time since 1990. 

The Public League’s Red-South/Central will have six teams awarded top four sectional seeds and playing sectional basketball.

No matter how many highlights and headlines Simeon, Kenwood and Curie provide this season that could lead you to believe otherwise, the Public League’s Red-South/Central is about much more than just the Big Three. 

Despite there being no debate as to which conference is the best in Illinois –– and it’s really not even close, the Red-South/Central is that good –– this really isn’t a vanilla forecast. Getting six teams from one conference through regional play? Tall task. 

We can agree Simeon, Kenwood and Curie will roll through their two regional games and be playing in the sectional. 

But the depth of this league is staggering, which includes two more preseason ranked teams: Hyde Park and Perspectives-Leadership. 

Hyde Park was a No. 3 seed last year and reached a sectional championship game. With the returning senior backcourt of Cameron Wiliford and Damarion Morris, Hyde Park could be even better and be right back playing in a sectional under first-year coach Jerrel Oliver. 

Perspectives-Leadership is new to the league after winning 25 games and a White-South title last year. The top player, junior Tim Handy, is back. But with the arrival of transfers Gianni Cobb, KJ Cobb and Jakeem Cole, this is a team that has legitimate dreams of playing in Champaign and for a Class 2A state championship. 

Then there is Lindblom. Last year’s White-Central champs won 21 games and earned a No. 4 seed in Class 3A, losing a tight one to Nazareth in the regional championship game. The move up to the Red-South/Central this year, however, will prepare the Eagles even more for postseason play. 

With Jeshawn Stevenson, a 6-4 junior who averaged 20 points a game last season, and unheralded 6-3 junior guard Quentin McCoy, the first regional title since 2011 is attainable. 

The shot clock will be a huge success and everyone will want more. 

Did you expect any other shot clock prediction? Fans, coaches and players are overwhelmingly in favor of adding a shot clock. And it’s coming this year in small doses. 

But once everyone gets a taste of it, even with the certain hiccups that will come with it in limited use this season, they’ll want more. 

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