Weekend Forecast: Previewing and predicting the top games

A look at this weekend’s biggest games, from the city championship to several suburban clashes.

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Libertyville players celebrate after Aidyn Boone, not pictured, hits a three against Stevenson.

Libertyville players celebrate after Aidyn Boone, not pictured, hits a three against Stevenson.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

We are entering the final days of the regular season, which means state tournament time is right around the corner. Soon we will be previewing regional and sectional championship games, but first we have some conference-deciding matchups to enjoy this weekend.

We’ll start with the biggest game of the weekend: Kenwood vs. Simeon.

Here is the Weekend Forecast.

Last week: 5-2

Season: 29-15

Simeon vs. Kenwood at UIC, Saturday

They meet again.

In what was considered at the time to be the biggest regular-season game of the year back in early January, Kenwood went into Simeon and won a clunky 46-43 dogfight.

The stakes have now been raised as the two city powers meet in Saturday’s Chicago Public League championship.

Kenwood and coach Mike Irvin are new to the party. They are looking for their first-ever city championship.

This will be Simeon’s Simeon’s 17th appearance in the Chicago Public League title game. The Wolverines have won 10 city championships, with legendary coach Robert Smith, who is set to retire at the end of the season, having won seven of his own. The Wolverines would love to send Smith off with one more.

Simeon is fresh off a dramatic four overtime marathon win over Curie in the city semifinals. Now it must remain fresh against a team that will apply pressure and push the tempo. The Wolverines have a point guard in Jalen Griffith who has been rock steady all season long to go with a frontline of 6-10 Miles Rubin and 6-9 Wesley Rubin.

Griffith was terrific again in the city semifinal win over Curie, scoring 21 points and adding four steals. Then there is the defensive presence the Rubin brothers have provided all season with their size and ability to alter and block shots.

The good news for Kenwood is the younger frontline pieces, namely juniors Calvin Robins, a 6-5 uber-athlete, and 6-10 Jaden Smith, have progressed over the course of the season.

Smith, in particular, took a big step Thursday night in the 56-42 semifinal victory over Perspectives-Leadership. Smith was efficient and took advantage of his opportunities as he was 7-of-7 from the field and scored 14 points. He added eight rebounds and three blocks

Kenwood’s Dai Dai Ames, though, is the star. The Kansas State recruit was the difference in the first showdown with Simeon as he scored a game-high 20 points and made two clutch free throws in the closing seconds.

Simeon is a what you see is what you get. And that’s been pretty good considering the Wolverines are ranked No. 1 and 25-3 playing the schedule they’ve faced. Plus, Smith has prepared for and played in countless big games over the past two decades.

Kenwood’s vast amount of talent and depth provides Irvin plenty of options. The Broncos can go big or small and dictate games with matchups.

No matter the outcome in this one, each team involved will still emerge with reputations intact, meaning both are state title contenders in their respective classes –– Simeon in 3A and Kenwood in 4A. But a city title and state title? You can’t claim both without getting this one first.

The pick: Simeon 58, Kenwood 56

Glenbrook North (24-3) at New Trier (25-4), Friday

One of the best conferences in the state comes down to this.

With a win, New Trier clinches the Central Suburban League South. A Glenbrook North win and the two teams will be tied at the top. They are also the top two seeds in the New Trier Sectional, so there may be an even bigger matchup still to come.

They met back in January with Glenbrook North winning 53-44 in Northbrook, where the Spartans have been unbeatable.

GBN is fresh off a huge win over Rolling Meadows, but it did so while losing junior point guard Josh Fridman to injury. He’s the engine of this team and his status remains uncertain heading into Friday. A lot will be on the shoulders of Mr. Consistent, senior guard Ryan Cohen.

New Trier, led by Jake Fiegen and the balance scoring that supports him, gets it done at home.

The pick: New Trier 56, Glenbrook North 51

Loyola (21-8) at St. Rita (17-10), Friday

For all the ups and downs and the constant analysis of St. Rita basketball this season, a win Friday night would move the Mustangs one step closer to winning one of the best conferences in the state.

Pesky Loyola, however, is in position to really jumble up the Catholic League Blue. St. Rita is in the lead with a 9-1 record. But Brother Rice, Mount Carmel and Loyola are all sitting right behind them at 10-2.

Can the Ramblers handle the inside size of 6-9 James Brown and 6-8 Morez Johnson, along with the quickness and athleticism St. Rita possesses? That’s a tall task for a Loyola team that’s lost to Bolingbrook, De La Salle, Mount Carmel, Taft and Evanston.

The pick: St. Rita 44, Loyola 38

Benet (26-1) at Marist (23-5), Friday

While Benet has climbed the rankings and made headlines all season with signature wins and a glitzy record, Marist has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season.

Benet is in control of the East Suburban Catholic Conference. But a huge home win for Marist here would do wonders heading into state tournament play in what will be a rugged Class 4A St. Rita Sectional.

Benet has its full complement of players and continues to be led by the trio of point guard Brayden Fagbemi, Niko Abusara and Brady Kunka.

Marist, which lost at Benet 57-47 in early January, has played with the top teams on its schedule, losing to Evanston by two and to Brother Rice by one. Can the RedHawks get over the hump here? They’ve won the most games since the 2017-18 season behind a very balanced attack.

Whether it’s been the senior veterans, Kaden White, Mason Ross and Justin Lang, or the promising youngsters in sophomore Keshaun Vaval and freshmen Stephen Brown and Adoni Vassilakis, different players have stepped up all season long for coach Brian Hynes.

The pick: Benet 57, Marist 50

Stevenson (20-5) at Libertyville (22-5), Friday

Both teams have done their job in getting to this point, which is a tie atop the North Suburban Conference with a conference title on the line.

Libertyville beat Stevenson 62-53 back in early January. The difference was 1-2 punch of Will Buchert (20 points) and the hot shooting of Aidyn Boone, who put the game away with four three-pointers in the second half to finish with 18 points. Cole Bonder has stepped up in the second half of the season.

Libertyville is looking to regain a little bit of its mojo after last week’s 69-43 slaughter to Rolling Meadows.

Stevenson has some younger pieces that continue to improve. The Patriots’ depth and balance, featuring sophomore point guard Aidan Bardic, 6-6 junior Christian Uremovich and 6-5 Jack Jack Dabbs, has been such a big plus. And coach Pat Ambrose, who recently won his 500th game, has coached in plenty of big games.

These two likely won’t be done with one another after Friday night. They could very well see one another again in the Barrington Sectional in a few weeks.

The pick: Libertyville 58, Stevenson 55

Hinsdale Central (25-3) at Lyons (21-4), Saturday

The team with the longest winning streak in the Chicago area will head to LaGrange in search of a conference-clinching title win. Hinsdale Central hasn’t lost in nearly two months. The current 17-game win streak includes a 49-41 win over Lyons last month.

Coach Nick Latorre’s team has the most wins in a season at Hinsdale Central in over 25 years. The senior-dominated Red Devils have snuck up on everyone. Ben Oosterbaan has been the ringleader among the six seniors that play the bulk of the minutes, putting up 20 points a game to go with seven rebounds and 2.7 assists a game while shooting 41 percent from three.

With the 6-6 Oosterbaan, 6-4 Emerson Eck, 6-3 Patrick Graham, 6-5 Chase Collignon and 6-4 Billy Cernugel there is size and length to go with 5-11 guard Evan Phillips.

Lyons is also a veteran team loaded with seniors, leaning heavily on the duo of Niklas Polonowski and point guard Jackson Niego. The 6-6 Polonowski, who is headed to Penn, can beat you in a number of ways with his size, shooting and versatility.

Lyons will not only have its own fans but plenty from a distance in Downers Grove. They, too, will be cheering for the Lions as Downers Grove North sits just one game back behind Hinsdale Central in the West Suburban Silver.

The pick: Hinsdale Central 50, Lyons 45

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