Holiday tournament action began over the weekend and as many high school basketball fans can attest, it is one of the most exciting times of the year. Holiday tournaments play an important part in high school basketball because the tournament setting against different competition from around the state -- and even the country -- prepares teams for what they'll face later in the season in the IHSA state playoffs.
Let's have a look at some things to watch for during this week of holiday hoops.
BEST TOURNAMENT FIELD: Proviso West Holiday Tournament
With a loaded 32-team field backing an already prestigious event, the Proviso West Holiday Tournament field is absolutely ridiculous this season. Of the 32-team field, an astounding nine teams are currently ranked in our CSN Preps Power Rankings and no other event in the state boasts the potential second-round matchups that Proviso West could have. No. 2 Stevenson, No. 4 St. Joseph, No. 6 Morgan Park, No. 9 Bogan and No. 14 Proviso East are the favorites entering the event with a strong second-tier including No. 20 Uplift, No. 22 Fenwick, No. 23 Maine South and No. 25 Benet that could easily make a run as well.
Runner-up: The Pontiac Holiday Tournament is headlined by No. 1 Curie and No. 7 Simeon, but No. 18 West Aurora is off to a strong start and Plainfield North and Oak Park-River Forest have been ranked this season as well. And don't sleep on feisty teams like Warren and Bloom.
BEST TOURNAMENT ATMOSPHERE: The 82nd annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament tips on the 26th and if you haven't had the chance to see a game at this event, you are truly missing out on a wonderful basketball experience. The event's website will proudly tell you that the Pontiac Holiday Tournament is the nation's "original and oldest high school Christmas tournament in the nation" and the entire town gets behind the event. The hospitality of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament is also unmatched and the fans really get into the tournament action, even if they don't have a direct rooting interest.
Runner-up: Although its 32-team field isn't nearly as strong as Proviso West, the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York is still a great event and only a short drive away from Proviso West. With a tremendous two-gym set-up and an atmosphere that is very accessible and fan-friendly, the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic is worth checking out.
MOST ENTICING (POTENTIAL) SECOND-ROUND MATCH-UP: The Wheeling Hardwood Classic contains two really good potential second-round matchups if No. 12 St. Viator faces Deerfield (6-3) and No. 21 Fremd faces Niles North. Deerfield has a balanced scoring attack that could give St. Viator problems and Niles North is getting comfortable adding talented senior wing Duante Stephens to its rotation.
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Runner-up: There are plenty of other great potential second-round games -- including many at Proviso West -- but how about this potential contrast of styles between No. 6 Morgan Park and No. 23 Maine South? Morgan Park might be the deepest team in the state, but Maine South is strong on the interior and very well-coached and should give the Mustangs plenty of difficulty in this enticing potential second-round matchup.
MOST ENTICING (POTENTIAL) CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Stevenson and Morgan Park played in an epic game -- by summer shootout standards -- at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout this past June and many fans have been clamoring for the rematch at Proviso West ever since. Stevenson point guard Jalen Brunson plays his AAU ball with the Mac Irvin Fire, so Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin, and many of the Mustangs, are quite familiar with Brunson and vice-versa. Since these two teams play in different classes and wouldn't meet in the state playoffs, this potential championship game is as good as it gets.
Runner-up: Simeon and Curie's potential clash at Pontiac is certainly up there, but those teams could meet in the city or state playoffs going forward. How about a potential Wheeling Hardwood Classic final between No. 12 St. Viator and unbeaten No. 21 Fremd? Fremd would get a chance to prove themselves against an elite team and St. Viator has played one of the toughest schedules in the area during this early part of the season. And although these two teams play in different leagues, many of the players know each other through local rivalries.
TEAM WITH THE MOST TO PROVE: Uplift is off to an 11-0 start, but they haven't faced a top-25 caliber team yet. The Proviso West Holiday Tournament should give the Eagles plenty of opportunities to play some good competition. Although Uplift is still the favorite in the Public League Red-North, we'll see just how they stack up with the state's elite during the week.
Runner-up: York is undefeated heading into its own Jack Tosh Holiday Classic and they'll be the hunted team in the field as the host and highest-ranked team.
PLAYER WITH THE MOST TO PROVE: Curie currently sits at No. 1 in our CSN Preps Basketball Power Rankings and senior center Cliff Alexander has a chance to cement part of his legacy in Illinois if he and the Condors can top Simeon and the rest of the field at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. If Curie can win at Pontiac it would give Alexander major Player of the Year points for the end of the season.
Runner-up: Senior point guard Tyler Ulis has a lot of weight on his shoulders as he attempts to lead Marian Catholic to back-to-back titles at the McDipper.
TEAM THAT COULD SURPRISE: The field at McDipper this year isn't quite as strong as in years past -- No. 8 Marian Catholic and No. 17 Bolingbrook are the clear favorites to reach the championship game -- but Joliet Central is off to a solid 7-2 start and Jonah Coble and Antonio Dyson can both really play.
Runner-up: Prospect knocked off St. Viator earlier this season and has the talent to make a run in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic if they get rolling.