Ten intriguing IHSA conference races

Ten intriguing IHSA conference races
January 8, 2014, 3:15 pm
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Scott Phillips

Now that the holiday tournaments are finished and conference season is in full swing, CSNChicago.com takes a look at 10 of the Chicagoland area's more intriguing conference races within each league from top to bottom.

Catholic League North

Favorites: A tremendous three-way battle looms at the top as No. 11 Loyola (10-2, 3-0), No. 12 St. Joseph (11-2, 4-0) and No. 22 Fenwick (11-4, 4-0) battle for the league crown. Loyola is experienced and balanced and has a tremendous backcourt in Jack Morrissey and Kevin Kucera. The Chargers don't have senior leadership, but the junior guard duo of Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash have been tremendous, while Fenwick is just starting to come into their own behind sophomore point guard Mike Smith and frontcourt seniors Tom Planek and Dan Dwyer. The Friars will also get senior Scott Lindsey back soon.

Contenders: Mount Carmel (10-5, 3-1) and St. Ignatius (7-5, 2-1) loom as tough outs for any team in the league. The Caravan have lost three of their last four, but senior David Nichols is one of the more unsung players in the city and St. Ignatius owns solid wins over Kenwood and Riverside-Brookfield while they've played tough against ranked opponents like Lake Forest and York.

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The rest: Gordon Tech (8-8, 2-2) is very young and talented. They'll have growing pains and could potentially pull off some upsets going forward. Leo (6-4, 1-2) had a four-game losing streak bookended by two, three-game winning streaks while St. Laurence (2-9, 0-4) has struggled to start the season.

Catholic League South

Favorites: St. Rita was dropped from the CSN Preps Power Rankings this week after they fell to 5-4, but the good news for the Mustangs is that they're finally getting healthy and their losses have come mostly to out-of-state opponents. This is still one of the most talented teams in the state led by the Matthews brothers — Dominique and Charles — and Northwestern commit Vic Law.

Contenders: De La Salle (4-8, 2-2) has a lot of talent, but they've struggled to find their footing in the early part of the season. If guards Karl Harris and Martez Cameron can get rolling with forward Brandon Hutton, then watch out. Hales (8-7, 3-1) is another team to watch, but after their up-and-down performance at the McDipper, it's hard to get a read on how good they are.

The rest: Providence (7-7, 1-3) is finally getting healthy and Brother Rice (6-7, 1-3) handed Richards its first loss on the season. St. Francis de Sales (3-5, 1-3), Seton (3-9, 0-3) and Bishop McNamara (5-8. 0-4) round out the rest of the league.

Central Suburban South

Favorites: It's a two-horse race between No. 23 Maine South (8-3, 3-0) and No. 25 Evanston (11-4, 2-1) and the Hawks own the early victory over the Wildkits in conference play. Maine South is one of the better coached teams I've seen in the early season and they went toe-to-toe with Morgan Park at Proviso West. Evanston had a strong third-place finish at Pekin after falling to unbeaten Springfield Lanphier in the semifinals.

Contenders: Glenbrook South (8-6, 1-1) has had issues with turnovers at times and they were up-and-down at Wheeling, losing on a buzzer-beater to Prospect before beating Niles North and New Trier (6-6, 1-2) looked completely overwhelmed against No. 1 Stevenson before they bounced back with a solid win over Uplift at Proviso West.

The rest: Niles West (4-7, 0-3) showed some signs of life at Pontiac and sophomore Evan Hines can really score from the perimeter. Waukegan (2-9, 1-1) has struggled, but owns a win over Niles West early on in league play.

DuPage Valley

Favorites: This answer should become a bit clearer on Friday when the league's two 3-0 teams, No. 19 West Aurora (8-3, 3-0) and Glenbard North (9-2, 3-0) square off at Glenbard North. The Blackhawks nearly beat Curie and senior guard Jontrell Walker is one of the area's best guards while Glenbard North has a potent 1-2 combo of Chip Flanigan and Jeremiah Fleming that helped them to a third-place finish at Elgin.

Contenders: Wheaton North (8-4, 2-1) has beaten Naperville North (7-6, 1-2) twice on the year, but neither the Falcons or Huskies can seem to get over the hump against really good competition. The same problem with beating really good teams has plagued Lake Park (11-6, 1-2) and Naperville Central (8-4, 2-1) is probably the best of this bunch after a respectable loss to unbeaten Fremd at Wheeling in the semifinals.

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The rest: Glenbard East (3-10, 0-3), showed some signs of life at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic while Wheaton-Warrenville South (2-9, 0-3) rounds out the league.

East Suburban Catholic

Favorites: No. 2 Marian Catholic (11-1, 1-0), No. 17 St. Viator (11-2, 2-0) and Benet (8-4, 0-1) are all very talented ballclubs that have played very difficult schedules to start the season. All three feature Division I prospects as Tyler Ulis (Marian Catholic), Ore Arogundade (St. Viator) and Sean O'Mara (Benet) are three of the most talented seniors in the Chicagoland area.

Contenders: Carmel (11-3, 0-1) and Marist (11-2, 1-0) are off to somewhat surprising starts on the season. The Corsairs made the championship at Jacobs before falling to Zion-Benton and Marist ran off three straight wins at Centralia after dropping its opener. St. Patrick (9-4, 0-2) is off to a sluggish start in league play, but looked better at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.

The rest: Nazareth (7-5, 1-1) and Notre Dame (7-7, 1-1) both have the talent to pull off upsets and make some noise in the league as well, while Joliet Catholic (5-10, 0-0) has yet to play a league game.

North Suburban Lake

Favorites: How about this trio: No. 1 Stevenson (13-0, 3-0), No. 8 Zion-Benton (12-1, 3-0) and No. 13 Lake Forest (12-2, 3-1) atop the NSC Lake? All three won holiday tournaments — Stevenson won Proviso West, Zion-Benton won Jacobs and Lake Forest won York — and all three are playing really good ball right now.

Contenders: Warren (7-6, 1-1) is on the uptick lately after a solid showing at Pontiac and putting a scare into Stevenson a few weeks back. Libertyville (7-5, 1-3) and Lake Zurich (8-6, 2-2) are solid teams that can play with most competition as well.

The rest: Mundelein (1-12, 0-4) has struggled to find their way this season and they're in for an uphill battle in a pretty loaded NSC Lake.

Public League Red-South

Favorites: Well, No. 4 Morgan Park (10-2, 3-1), No. 7 Simeon (9-2, 2-1) and Bogan (13-2, 2-0) have all beaten up on each other so far with Bogan and Morgan Park splitting two games and Morgan Park beating Simeon. With Morgan Park (Class 3A) and Simeon (Class 4A) both coming off of state titles and Bogan emerging as a powerhouse, this is another ridiculous top three that might be rivaled only by the NSC Lake.

Contenders: Harlan (8-7, 2-2) is feisty and experienced enough to give any team in the Red-South problems. Led by Andre Hogan, Harlan nearly beat Morgan Park earlier this season.

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The rest: Vocational (9-3, 1-2) has a solid record but has been blown out by Simeon and Harlan and Brooks (6-8, 0-4) hasn't notched any great wins, but many of their losses have come to respectable opponents.

Public League Red-West

Favorites: No. 14 Whitney Young (8-4, 2-0) and No. 7 Orr (7-1, 1-0) have played mostly out-of-state competition this season, but they'll have to face each other in the Red-West sooner or later and those matchups should decided the conference.

Contenders: North Lawndale (7-6, 2-1) has rallied after a slow start to the season behind interim coach Randy Stonewall and Westinghouse (9-4, 1-2) and Marshall (4-5, 1-2) are tough enough to make any Red-West contest a battle. This is perennially one of the toughest leagues in the state from top-to-bottom and — much like the Red-South — most of the middle-of-the-pack teams can hang with the top dogs long enough to make great games.

The rest: Farragut (4-4, 0-2) is a bit of an unknown at this juncture in the season because they haven't played as much as many teams, but junior guard Ernest Johnson can play and the Admirals can easily move into the ranks of "contender" if some things fall their way.

West Suburban Gold

Favorites: No. 15 Proviso East (10-3, 2-0) and No. 24 Morton (7-3, 2-0) both proved at Proviso West that they can face top competition and both teams have multiple guys that can get buckets. The Pirates will rely on senior guard Jevon Carter and emerging sophomore guard Antonio Williams to carry them while Morton has a solid duo of its own in senior guard Greg Carter and junior forward Weisner Perez.

Contenders: Hinsdale South (11-3, 3-0) quietly won the DeKalb Holiday Tournament and sophomore 6-foot-9 center Barret Benson is a premier big man, despite being so young.

The rest: Leyden (6-5, 0-3), Downers South (4-7, 1-2), Addison Trail (5-10, 1-2) and Willowbrook (2-10, 0-2) are a clear step behind the top three teams in the West Suburban Gold.

West Suburban Silver

Favorites: No. 18 York (13-1, 4-0), No. 20 Hinsdale Central (10-3, 2-1), and No. 21 Oak Park-River Forest (10-3, 0-1) all have the talent and leadership in place to make a run at the league's title. The Dukes have only lost to Lake Forest, while Hinsdale Central and Oak Park-River Forest has respectable outings in the Proviso West and Pontiac tournaments, respectively.

Contenders: Lyons (8-5, 2-1) has a Division I guard prospect in Harrison Niego and they're good enough to beat elite teams if they have a good night shooting.

The rest: Proviso West (6-5, 1-1) and Downers North (4-7, 0-3) both had so-so showings at Proviso West's tournament but Glenbard West (6-6, 0-2) won its own event over the holidays and has a bit of momentum going into conference play.

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