A pretty wild few weeks of basketball has led us to what is a somewhat tame weekend, though Saturday’s Chicago Public League title games will take center stage and spice things up.
This Weekend Forecast previews that city final first and then several other key matchups for Friday and Saturday.
Last week: 4-3
Young (19-9) vs. Curie (24-5) at UIC on Saturday, Public League Championship
With every top team seemingly playing every top team at some point this season, the Public League title game brings together two ranked teams that haven’t yet played.
The last time these two met in the city title game it ended up being forfeited by Curie. Without going into all the drama that surrounded that one back in 2014, we’ll just leave it at Jahlil Okafor vs. Cliff Alexander.
Even with solid seasons up to this point, the semifinal victories for these two teams have no doubt rejuvenated them both. Young and Curie were in need of a signature in-state win. They each have one with wins over Kenwood and Simeon, respectively.
With those wins it’s time to stop making sweeping judgments about these two every couple of weeks. Point being: You never know. Young and Curie rose to the occasion in the semifinals and beat teams they lost to earlier in the season.
What to watch within this tussle will be a battle of the bigs.
Curie’s understated junior tandem of 6-7 Chikosi Ofama and undersized but always productive 6-5 Jeremy Harrington combined for 41 points in the 71-64 win over Simeon Thursday night. They will need to be effective again when they meet Young’s Division I-bound tandem of AJ Casey (Miami-Florida) and Xavier Amos (Northern Illinois).
Amos has been the catalyst in the quarterfinal and semifinal games, totaling 35 points, 13 rebounds and double-digit blocks in the two wins.
But even with the combination of Amos and Casey, along with the return of a healthy Daniel Johnson, it seems when junior point guard Dalen Davis is effective and in control, the Dolphins are at their best. He scored in double figures and dished out eight assists against the pressure and quickness he faced in the win over Kenwood.
Expect a city title game that is decided in the final minute with a more experienced Young eking out a win. And then look for these two to likely meet again in three weeks in the Class 4A state playoffs.
Hoops Report pick: Young 62, Curie 60
Brother Rice (21-5) at Mount Carmel (23-4), Friday
The big question with both of these teams when the Crusaders were 21-2 and the Caravan were 19-1 was whether they could keep this going, whether either of them had any headroom left to improve.
A few weeks ago it appeared this would be the game that would decide the Cathoilc League. These two were cruising right along with barely a blip on the losing radar. Things are different now.
They are both out of the Catholic League picture. Brother Rice has lost three straight while Mount Carmel is just 4-3 in its last seven games, including a loss to Loyola Tuesday night, after starting the season 19-1.
But you know what both of these 20-plus win teams still have? Dynamic point guards in Brother Rice’s Ahmad Henderson and Mount Carmel’s DeAndre Craig. These two juniors are fun to watch and make these two teams go.
But the supporting cast and which one is better could decide this one. So that will leave it up to the likes of Brother Rice’s Nick Niego and Khalil Ross and Mount Carmel’s promising 6-5 sophomore Angelo Ciravino and senior big man Elijah Jointer.
Brother Rice goes on the road and gets off the schneid with a down-to-the-wire win.
Hoops Report pick: Brother Rice 58, Mount Carmel 55
St. Rita (18-9) at DePaul (19-4), Friday
Solid seasons for both but these two are still trying to build momentum for the state tournament. Are these two teams among the best or just really solid teams?
And right now there is a different vibe to each time heading into this one.
St. Rita is fresh off a crushing buzzer-beater loss to Leo in a huge Catholic League battle. DePaul, meanwhile, is feeling good after taking down Mount Carmel.
Senior big man Dylan Arnett of DePaul will have his hands full with St. Rita’s sophomore pair of 6-9 James Brown and 6-8 Morez Johnson. How efficient those two young stars can be as interior finishers will go a long way in figuring this one out in the end.
But look to the backcourt for answers, where St. Rita has the bigger names in junior Kaiden Space and sophomore Jaedin Reyna, but DePaul has senior Trevon Thomas who has been steady of late.
Hoops Report pick: St. Rita 49, DePaul 45
Lake Park (20-5) at Wheaton Warrenville South (25-2), Friday
Lake Park’s loss to St. Charles North earlier this week took a lot of steam out of this DuKane Conference matchup. It was expected to be a battle for first place. Instead, the Lancers trail Wheaton South, which just keeps chugging along, by two games.
While coach Billy Pitcher’s Lake Park team has overachieved up to this point, the Lancers would still like to get a little bit of that mojo back before regional play. Lake Park lost to Conant a couple of weeks ago, scratched out an overtime win over Glenbard North last week and lost to St. Charles North on Tuesday.
These are two defenses that will make you work for everything. There will be limited but critical possessions and points will be hard to come by.
These two met in early January and Wheaton South held Lake Park to just 28 points in its 40-28 win. Wheaton South’s Tyler Fawcett, who is athletic, strong and has shooting ability, leads the Tigers — and was the difference in the win over Lake Park a month ago.
Expect more of the same.
Hoops Report pick: Wheaton South 51, Lake Park 39
Lemont (22-5) at Hillcrest (23-3), Friday
Quietly, this might be Friday’s Game of the Night. And it could be a preview of a sectional semifinal game in a few weeks.
Lemont has arrived. The arrival may be a year early in terms of being in the thick of a conference race this late in the season, but it has arrived, nonetheless, with 22 wins and just a game back in the South Suburban Blue.
High-scoring sophomore Nojus Indrusaitis and juniors Rokas and Matas Castillo, though, have their sights set on going to Country Club Hills this Friday, beating heavyweight Hillcrest and grabbing a share of a conference title.
Hillcrest has been so good and steady all season — until the Kenwood debacle last weekend. The balanced Hawks were down big early and fell 78-61 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that score indicates.
The Hawks, who are led by guard Bryce Tillery, have to get back to setting the tone and controlling the game defensively. They will apply just enough pressure to prevail and claim yet another conference crown.
Hoops Report: Hillcrest 68, Lemont 62
Riverside-Brookfield (19-4) at Oak Lawn (20-5), Saturday
A sneaky good non-conference matchup featuring two under-the-radar teams who can both score and shoot the three.
Oak Lawn is fresh off winning its first conference championship in 39 years. Now can the Spartans pick up an impressive non-conference victory to boost the win total? Johnny McGowan and Nicco Reyes impress on the perimeter while big-bodied Davion Lawrence takes up space, rebounds, defends and is an impact player with his 6-5, 260-pound size.
R-B brings some offensive potency with several key players capable of putting up points, including guard Joevonn McCottrey, shooter JP Hanley and versatile Joe Gilhooley.
Since dropping a pair of games a few weeks ago to Aurora Christian and Fenwick, R-B is back on a roll again. The Bulldogs have rattled off five straight wins, averaging 70 points a game in that stretch, and lead the Metro Suburban Blue. But a non-conference road win over a 20-win team would be a nice momentum boost heading into the postseason. They’ll get one here.
Hoops Report pick: Riverside-Brookfield 68, Oak Lawn 61