Despite national losses, Simeon still the team to beat in Chicago

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Despite national losses, Simeon still the team to beat in Chicago

The Simeon Wolverines have already lost two games this season. Both losses came on national television and one of those defeats came in embarrassing fashion. Since opening the December month later than most teams, the three-time, Class 4A Illinois state champions have looked nothing like the dominant squad many have become accustomed to seeing.

That being the case, it stands to reason that the losses especially the 29-point drubbing at the hands of Montverde have given local teams confidence that the Wolverines can be beaten just dont tell them that.

Im pretty sure theres a few teams thinking they can beat us right now. If I watched the game on TV, Id feel good about myself on winning too, head coach Robert Smith said. But at the end of the day, everybody that knows me and what Im about and what I do, they know well get it together.

Simeon took out a bit of their anger and frustration from the Montverde loss on Perspectives-Calumet Wednesday night, blowing them out by a final score of 68-39.

Jabari Parker continued to work himself back into elite status as the senior put up 26 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in the victory.

Though the win over Perspectives was expected. The real test comes later this season when the Wolverines will square off against the likes of Whitney Young, Morgan Park and other top-tier Public League programs; schools that feel like they may have a shot at knocking off the champs.

The competition in the city, theyre no pushovers, Dayton commit Kendall Pollard explained. Weve still got to deal with Whitney Young and Morgan Park. Theyve seen us get our butts kicked on national TV Whitney Young was there against Montverde. So Im sure they think they can get us, but I dont think they can.

The games against nationally ranked teams that weve played so far, just prepares us for the local teams, the Duke-bound Parker said. Yeah, weve lost, but now were basing all our practices and games as preparation for what well have to face in the city. A couple of more practices and I think well be ready. I think well be back blowing the other top teams out and well make our presence felt in the city.

University of Illinois commit, Kendrick Nunn, echoed his senior teammates sentiments.

Locally, I think we should handle those games pretty well. Im not worried about any of those teams beating us, but you still have to be humble about it and just play hard. Always play hard.

Past success breeds confidence, but confidence can also be instilled by a strong leader. The Wolverines seem to get their confident attitude from their head coach who has pretty much seen it all and knows what his team is capable of, even if it doesnt appear to be that way on the surface.

When it comes down to those last games when its win or go home theres been no better team than us, Smith said. As the season goes on we start to figure things out. But were still the champs and if people dont think that or understand who we are or what we are, then theyre sadly mistaken. At the end of the day, were still Simeon.

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

The biggest takeaway from a busy weekend of local high school basketball is Simeon beating Morgan Park for the city championship on Sunday at Chicago State.

The eighth city title for the Wolverines is important and it is the reason that Simeon currently sits at No. 1 in the latest CSN Preps Power Rankings. But Simeon's win Sunday also meant that people quickly forgot (or dismissed) how well Evanston played against Simeon the previous night in the annual McDonald's City-Suburban Showdown.

The 18-point win over Simeon does come with an asterisk because of the Wolverines' playing backups a lot of minutes because of the impending Morgan Park game. Evanston does deserve credit, however, for still put a beating on Simeon, impressing Wolverines' head coach Robert Smith enough to acknowledge that Evanston might have won even if Simeon was at full strength.

It's part of the reason that Evanston comes in at No. 2 this week in the latest Power Rankings.

"I give them credit. They did everything they needed to do to win the game," Smith said. "Even if we were at our best, I don't know what the outcome would be. It would have been a little more competitive than that. But they did some good stuff out there."

The scary part about Evanston's takedown of Simeon is that star senior and Purdue commit Nojel Eastern only totaled four points. Unlike a lot of top-10 teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings, the Wildkits only have one player signed to play college basketball next season. 

Eastern is the big draw for Evanston but he doesn't have to score for the Wildkits to beat good teams this season. He still helped with nine rebounds and played a solid floor game -- showing his usual ability to find open players with creative passes -- but Eastern didn't shoot the ball well and missed multiple dunks.

"We talked about [Nojel's play]. We talked about that at halftime," Evanston head coach Mike Ellis said. "Ten-point lead and Nojel had played below average. Imagine how we look in the second half if he plays above average? Let's be honest about the whole thing, Nojel is such an unselfish player that it doesn't cause his teammates to panic. Nojel is not a guy, if you don't get us 30 points we're gonna lose. He's the glue that keeps our team together and it gives others confidence to say that he looks for me [to make plays]."

The Wildkits faltered down the stretch last year to end the regular season and ended up losing to Notre Dame earlier than some predicted in the sectional semifinals, but this year's group appears to be peaking later in the season.

A deeper and more experienced Evanston team showed its overall depth and talent in the Simeon win. Senior Chris Hamil knocked in five three-pointers and played hard on both ends while senior Malcolm Townsel had a good outing as well with a team-high 20 points. 

Others like senior Elyjah Williams and sophomores Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden have shown great flashes of play as well this season and the Wildkits go even deeper than that at times. Evanston isn't just a one-man team. That showed with Saturday's win as they had 20 field goals on 15 assists.

Four years with a notable player on varsity has shown Eastern and Evanston plenty of unique defensive looks like box-and-ones and differing zones. In the past that might have rattled Evanston. This year's team is more prepared to handle those situations now after playing more of a national schedule in 2016-17 that included the loss to nationally-ranked Montverde at the Chicago Elite Classic and finishing as the runner-up in the loaded Beach Ball Classic.

Evanston has a solid draw as the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional as they hope to make a run in Class 4A. Eastern has talked before about his desire to take the Wildkits back to Peoria with his group of seniors and other teammates.

And the Wildkits still only have one loss to an Illinois opponent all season, when they lost to Naperville North back in January at Glenbard East.

Simeon might be bigger favorites in Class 4A at full strength as we get closer to March but Evanston is ready for a run of its own.

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

The Battle of Vincennes is one of the best high school basketball rivalries in Illinois. But for as often as storied rivals Morgan Park and Simeon play, the two Red-South titans had never met for the city title.

That changed on Sunday. 

In an epic clash of top-five teams that might go down as the season's best game, No. 4 Simeon held on for a 68-64 win over No. 3 Morgan Park in the Public League Playoff finale at Chicago State.

The city title is the eighth for the Wolverines as they've won this event in back-to-back years -- the first time a team has done that since the Derrick Rose-led Simeon teams in 2006 and 2007. 

Simeon (24-3) was led by junior Kezo Brown, as he finished with 26 points while senior Evan Gilyard added 18 points. Simeon also had 13 points from junior Talen Horton-Tucker while role players like Messiah Jones (six points, seven rebounds) and Madison Lowery (three points, five rebounds) made winning plays down the stretch by grabbing key rebounds in a tight game. 

After going six consecutive quarters without a made three-pointer after going 0-for-6 in the first half on Sunday, the Wolverines finally heated up from the perimeter in the second half thanks to Brown's three triples and a key bucket from Gilyard.

The Mustangs (19-6) had a chance to tie this game down by three with 11 seconds left but junior Ayo Dosunmu missed a contested pull-up three that was rebounded by Lowery. 

Lowery made one of two free throws at the other end to ice the game after getting fouled.

Dosumnu finished with 16 points despite battling foul trouble for Morgan Park while big man Lenell Henry continued a strong recent stretch with 15 points. Melo Burrell added a double-double for the Mustangs with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. 

Simeon and Morgan Park split the regular-season series in Red-South conference play during the season as the road team won both games. Sunday's clash at Chicago State was a fitting conclusion to three great games between the two rivals this season as both schools enter their respective classes as potential title favorites.

Both Simeon and Morgan Park were clearly focused on Sunday's city championship game on Saturday as the two teams both lost in the annual City-Suburban Showdown. Playing a lot of reserves and not going their hardest, the Wolverines lost to Evanston and Morgan Park fell in overtime to Stevenson. 

While Morgan Park has a far easier path to Peoria in Class 3A, Simeon is still a major contender in Class 4A as the Wolverines are playing very balanced ball entering the final stretch of the season.