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

A look at all of this weekend’s biggest games.

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Glenbard West’s Paxton Warden (24) reacts after throwing down a dunk against St. Charles North.

Glenbard West’s Paxton Warden (24) reacts after throwing down a dunk against St. Charles North.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

While there isn’t a deep, long list of marquee games over the course of the weekend, there are certainly a few attention-grabbing showdowns that will grab headlines.

Here is the Weekend Forecast, highlighted by a pair of dueling events Saturday night — one at Wintrust Arena and one at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena.

Last week: 7-2

Overall: 34-11

Glenbard West (25-0) vs. Sierra Canyon (20-3) at Wintrust Arena, Saturday

This is one of those “Game of the Year” types that should get any high school basketball fan excited. You better believe the Glenbard West fanbase is fired up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for its program.

This just might be the Game of the Year. But it’s a completely different one than we are accustomed to in Illinois.

An out-of-state national power from California with household names travels to Illinois to face the state’s top-ranked team in front of a sold out crowd at Wintrust Arena.

No matter the national ranking you pay attention to or what you think of national rankings for high school teams, this one features two of the highest ranked teams in the country.

MaxPreps has Glenbard West No. 10 in the country and Sierra Canyon at No. 13. The two powerhouses are flipped in the ESPN rankings with Sierra Canyon at No. 14 and Glenbard West checking in at No. 19.

The three Sierra Canyon losses on the season came to three teams ranked nationally by MaxPreps, including No. 2 Duncanville out of Texas, No. 7 Camden (NJ) and No. 15 St. Paul VI in Virginia.

There is one common opponent: Young. The Trailblazers pulled away in the second half and beat Young 81-49 in early January, while the Hilltoppers knocked off Young 74-59 at When Sides Collide a week later.

When it comes to pure, high-level college talent, Sierra Canyon is absolutely loaded with it, starting with Amari Bailey. The 6-5 guard guard grew up in Chicago and is now the No. 2 ranked prospect in the country. The McDonald’s All-American is headed to UCLA next year.

Isaiah Elohim is a 6-5 sophomore guard and one of the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2024. Jeremiah Nyarko is a 6-8 Division I big man who remains uncommitted. Both transferred in to Sierra Canyon this year.

And then there is Bronny James, the son of basketball icon Lebron James. Bronny is a 6-2 junior and among the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2023.

Glenbard West’s unbeaten run is on the line. This is the best team the Hilltoppers will have faced all season. And this big game, crowd and environment is another walk in the park for a team like Sierra Canyon who have played in so many of them.

The Hilltoppers have a versatile star in Braden Huff, the 6-11 Gonzaga-bound senior, senior veterans with size and chemistry, and a vaunted 1-3-1 defense that can neutralize just about anyone in the halfcourt.

Maybe being the underdog for the first time will be helpful for coach Jason Opoka’s Hilltoppers.

Glenbard West can play with Sierra Canyon, so why not just go with the homer pick here for fun?

Hoops Report pick: Glenbard West 58, Sierra Canyon 57

Curie (20-4) vs. Glenbrook South (23-2), Wintrust Arena, Saturday

Don’t forget the undercard of this terrific night of basketball at Wintrust Arena. This clash brings together two highly-ranked teams for a late-season showdown. And it’s another city vs. suburban matchup in a growing list of ones that have taken place this season.

When it comes to Glenbrook South, it’s always going to start with the much-talked-about tandem of 6-7 Nick Martinelli and scoring guard Cooper Noard. They are a load and complement one another well, but they were neutralized a week ago by New Trier in a CSL South loss. Can Curie do the same?

Big man Chikasi Ofoma will try and hold down the crafty and extremely effective Martinelli, who is just so unique in finding ways to score in the paint. The big, physical backcourt of Phoenix Bullock and Carlos Harris is a talented one on the perimeter for the Condors.

Glenbrook South discarded Simeon two weeks ago at the When Sides Collide Shootout, while Curie has lost twice to Simeon.

Hoops Report pick: Glenbrook South 61, Curie 57

Brother Rice (21-2) at Leo (16-3), Friday

This is arguably the biggest game of the year in the Chicago Catholic League. Who would have guessed that when the season began?

Both teams are a perfect 10-0 in league play.

Leo can sometimes be described as “sneaky good.” But when your only three losses are to Curie, Glenbard West and Hillcrest — three teams with a combined record of 67-6 — you shouldn’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore.

With the foursome of Cam Cleveland, Austin Ford, Jakeem Cole and Jarrod Gee, Jr., Leo is capable of beating teams with balance, quickness and some opportune shooting. Leo is also a play-hard team that competes and has a unique home gym that’s always challenging for opponents.

Brother Rice is a team that seems to be on cruise control, winning 11 straight — and winning the close ones while they’re at it. The losses are by a combined five points to top 10 teams Curie and Wheaton Warrenville South.

Junior Ahmad Henderson continues to make the Crusaders go. His value to this team is off-the-charts important at the point guard position, while juniors Nick Niego and Khalil Ross feed off the attention Henderson draws.

Hoops Report pick: Brother Rice 58, Leo 53

New Trier (24-2) vs. Evanston (16-8) at Northwestern, Friday

This has lost a little pizzazz of late with Evanston fighting through some struggles. The Wildkits have lost two of their last three. But it’s still New Trier-Evanston, one of the best rivalries in the Chicago area.

It’s a rivalry Evanston has owned of late, winning six of the last seven meetings and 15 of 17 between the two familiar foes.

But this is New Trier’s year. The Trevians have a massive advantage inside with Jackson Munro. The Dartmouth recruit is playing at a very high, all-state level. Surrounded by multiple shooters, Munro and New Trier could take out its Evanston frustrations in this one — and again three days later when the two play Monday night.

Hoops Report pick: New Trier 65, Evanston 52

Oak Forest (20-5) at Hillcrest (22-2), Friday

A pair of 20-win teams familiar with one another square off.

Hillcrest is back to its dominating ways in conference play. The nicely balanced Hawks are unbeaten in the South Suburban Blue but must be ready for Oak Forest and highly-productive big man Robbie Avila — and not get caught looking ahead to a huge test Saturday night against Kenwood.

This is a measuring stick for an Oak Forest team that could see Hillcrest again in the sectional in a few weeks.

Hoops Report pick: Hillcrest 65, Oak Forest 55

Kenwood (18-6) vs. Hillcrest (22-2) at UIC, Saturday

Is Kenwood’s confidence rattled after barely getting by Longwood and Morgan Park last week in Public League play and then losing to Yorkville Christian last weekend? And if it isn’t, the obvious question is which Kenwood team will show up? Hillcrest has consistently been good and is a team where Kenwood will have to bring its A game.

Kenwood has endless weapons with Trey Pettigrew and juniors Darrin Ames and 6-7 Davius Loury to name a few.

Hillcrest, meanwhile, is beaming with confidence. The Hawks have won 11 in a row, including a win over highly-ranked Wheaton South. Also in their back pocket is knowing they played top-ranked Glenbard West so well back in December, losing 51-48.

There is no one player to focus on when it comes to the balanced Hawks, who are led by guard Bryce Tillery (11.5 ppg) who is one of four players in double figures. There is some size and activity in a pair of bigs, Darrion Baker (10 ppg) and Marcus Glover (10 ppg), while sophomore Isaiah Green (10 ppg) has provided some offensive punch in the backcourt.

This could be a barnburner, particularly if Kenwood can regroup and bring it the way it did the first half of the season. Coach Mike Irvin’s Broncos need this one.

Hoops Report pick: Kenwood 68, Hillcrest 65

Oak Lawn (18-4) vs. Mount Carmel (21-3), Sunday at Evergreen Park

A busy day at the Evergreen Park Shootout where there will be six games played. But this one is the most intriguing.

Both are enjoying terrific regular seasons with win totals these two programs aren’t exactly accustomed to putting up.

Oak Lawn could use a signature win, particularly one week before sectional seeding time. The Spartans are trying to inch their way up the seeding ladder in what will be a rough-and-tumble Thornwood Sectional. Oak Lawn will be hosting a regional and would like to take full advantage of that as a 4-5 seed rather than six of seven seed.

The senior trio of Johnny McGowan, Nico Reyes and Davion Lawrence have led Oak Lawn to its first conference championship in four decades. A win here would signal that the Spartans can start dreaming of adding the first regional title since 1988.

Mount Carmel, led by junior standout DeAndre Craig, is fresh off a nice win over DePaul Prep. The Caravan are pretty well locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Hinsdale South Sectional, looking up at only highly-ranked Simeon. But it’s a chance to regain and build momentum in the midst of a rugged Chicago Catholic League slate.

Hoops Report pick: Mount Carmel 62, Oak Lawn 55

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