High school basketball season is officially in full swing after a full weekend of hoops action. The Chicago Elite Classic at UIC and the Mac Irvin Diabetes Classic at Larkin both had a number of great games and high-level performances on Saturday, and when you look around the Chicagoland area, there are even more talented teams and players that stepped up as well.
Big names step up at Chicago Elite Classic
While the Chicago Elite Classic marked the season debuts of new No. 1 Simeon (1-0) and old No. 1 Whitney Young (0-1), for most involved, it was about the marquee players and matchups and the big names did not disappoint.
Although No. 6 Whitney Young lost on a buzzer-beater to a very talented St. John Bosco team from California, senior center Jahlil Okafor had 24 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in front of Coach K and Saint Louis commit Miles Reynolds played the best game of his career with 25 points.
Cliff Alexander's performance against Bishop Gorman was at times jaw-dropping. Displaying a lot of raw power and athleticism, the Curie (2-0) senior forward controlled the inside against the highly-touted junior duo of Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter to the tune of 22 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks. Alexander had numerous tip dunks and at times overwhelmed Zimmerman and Jeter physically. Zimmerman was playing on a bum ankle and was around 85 percent and Jeter fouled out in the fourth quarter as Bishop Gorman's rally fell short.
Although Marian Catholic (4-1) fell to a very balanced Etiwanda (Ca.) squad, point guard Tyler Ulis had 29 points to continue his great start to the season as the Spartans fell to 4-1. The Kentucky commit is scoring at a very high level and is still one of the best floor leaders the area has seen in the last decade.
Simeon back at the top
Though the co-host Wolverines and head coach Robert Smith played warm-up act to the big boys Cliff Alexander and Jahlil Okafor, they didn't need a standout performance from an individual to look dominant at times in their win over Hamilton (Tn.). Simeon stands as the new No. 1 team because they're balanced on both ends of the floor and are long and athletic. Hamilton was able to run with Simeon for a quarter before the Wolverines started to open it up before a second-half dismantling.
"For the first game I thought we played well," Smith said. "We had some defensive lapses but we shared the ball and scored the ball. A lot of different guys score the ball. It always helps when you have five or six people that can score."
The Simeon defense was stifling and they played the Simeon way, finding open players and sharing the scoring balance. Illinois commit D.J. Williams had 13 points and played a great overall floor game and sophomore guard Zach Norvell played well at point guard by handling presses and scoring 13 points of his own.
"He's really mature for his age, that's why I thought moving him to the point wouldn't hurt us that much because he's up for the challenge," Smith said of Norvell.
Simeon's bench is also good enough on its own to be a force. Senior Jaycee Hillsman scored 17 points, sophomore lead guard Joshua Thomas is talented getting to the rim and senior Saieed Ivey gave good minutes at guard as well.
"We can reach down the bench and play the same," Smith said.
Point guards continue stellar play
The area is currently fixated on Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Tyler Ulis, but two junior point guards in Stevenson's Jalen Brunson and St. Joseph's Glynn Watson are off to fantastic starts as well.
Brunson had performances of 27 and 25 points this week in wins for No. 4 Stevenson (6-0) over Prospect and Mundelein while Watson had 18 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals in No. 8 St. Joseph's win over St. Francis de Sales.
The impressive thing about both point guards is the undefeated records while each of them continue to produce at a high level.
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Not to be overlooked, both guards each have a stellar backcourt partner as well. Stevenson junior shooting guard Connor Cashaw had 25 points in that win over Prospect and junior combo guard Jordan Ash was the MVP of the St. Charles East tournament for St. Joseph (5-0) during Thanksgiving.
Both Stevenson and St. Joseph are legitimate top-10 teams with the way those backcourts are playing in this early season.
Holiday tournament schedules released
The 83rd annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament and the McDipper both begin on December 26th and both events released their holiday schedules over the weekend.
Here is the schedule for the first round of games for each event.
First round (in bracket order)
Bloom vs. Niles West, 9 a.m.
Oak Park-River Forest vs. Lockport, 10:30 a.m.
Bloomington vs. St. Charles North, 1 p.m.
Simeon vs. Waukegan, 2:30 p.m.
Manual vs. Danville, 4 p.m.
West Aurora vs. Joliet West, 6 p.m.
Curie vs. Pontiac, 7:30 p.m.
Warren vs. Plainfield North, 9 p.m.
First round (in bracket order)
Seton vs. King, 9 a.m.
Thornton vs. Perspectives, 10:30 a.m.
Rich South vs. U-High, noon
Bolingbrook vs. Crete-Monee, 1:30 p.m.
Joliet Central vs. Leo, 4 p.m.
Hales vs. Rich Central, 5:30 p.m.
Marian Catholic vs. Tinley Park, 7 p.m.
Barron Collier (Naples, Fla.) vs. Rich East, 8:30 p.m.
Pontiac will be headlined by No. 1 Simeon and No. 3 Curie along with other ranked teams including No. 14 Oak Park-River Forest, No. 21 West Aurora and No. 24 Plainfield North.
Bloom and St. Charles North are also talented as well and there are usually some surprises in that tournament.
Marian Catholic, the No. 11 team in this week's Power Rankings, will be favored to repeat at the McDipper but they'll be challenged by Joliet Central, Thornton, No. 20 Bolingbrook and Hales.
Teams to keep an eye on
The top 25 had minimal movement this week, but it is because the teams that lost usually lost to other ranked teams while others remained unscathed.
There are a couple of teams playing very well outside of the top 25 though and a few teams are right on the cusp of making our Power Rankings with some losses in front of them.
Evanston and New Trier is a tremendous rivalry, which is why it was eye-opening to see the Wildkits pull off a 68-39 win over the Trevians. Although New Trier was without starting senior point guard Jordan Thomas, Evanston was still impressive on both sides of the ball, going 14-for-17 from two-point range in the first half, winning the rebound battle 32-12 and also forcing 15 New Trier turnovers.
Stagg improved to 5-0 on its young season with an 80-64 win over Homewood-Flossmoor. Kevin White and Max Strus can both score, but keep an eye out for third option Jeff Goral, who had 19 against the Vikings.
Richards is 5-0 after a win over Hillcrest on Friday night. The Bulldogs haven't been 5-0 since 2009 and Chicago State signee Josh Meier is an active 6-foot-7 forward that leads the charge. Meier had 26 points in Richards' win over Hillcrest.