Preps Talk

Can Simeon capture its third consecutive Public League Playoff title?

Can Simeon capture its third consecutive Public League Playoff title?

The Public League Playoffs begin on Tuesday as Simeon tries to capture its third consecutive title in the event. 

Annually the event is the toughest to win in the state because of the depth of teams and overall star power, the Wolverines could get tested by Class 2A favorite Orr or Class 3A favorite Morgan Park. Unlike the state tournament, Simeon multiple state title contenders from multiple classes loom in order to win a third straight city title.

High School Lites will have highlights of some of Thursday's second round games on Friday's edition of the show as well as highlights from the semifinals the following Friday.

Can anyone beat Simeon?

Based on how the Wolverines have looked this season, they're the heavy favorites to win a third consecutive title in this event. Led by Talen Horton-Tucker, Messiah Jones and Xavier Pinson, Simeon has perhaps its best and deepest team ever under head coach Robert Smith. The Wolverines are ridiculously balanced. So far this season, Simeon hasn't lost to a team from Illinois and all of the Wolverines' wins against Illinois teams have come by double digits. 

It remains to be seen if Simeon can beat No. 2 Orr if they play in the finals. The other strong contenders like Curie, Morgan Park and Whitney Young are going to be tough as well. But Simeon is the heavy favorite to capture another city title entering this event. They're playing at as high of a level as any local team in recent memory.  

Who are the other contenders to know?

Simeon might be the heavy favorite, but they'll need to beat a number of high-profile teams to get there. Defending Class 2A champion Orr would love to get a shot at the city title as they're looking for more respect. The Spartans already have a Proviso West Holiday Tournament title and two wins over Whitney Young, but they lost to Curie earlier this season. Dannie Smith and Raekwon Drake are two of the city's better players and they're a tough cover for anyone. Like Simeon, Orr can also score across all five spots on the floor.

Curie owns great wins over Orr and Morgan Park but they've also lost by double digits twice already to Simeon. Curie still has the scoring punch to beat anyone in the state but they haven't had good luck against the Wolverines so far.  Whitney Young has prepared for this event by playing another ridiculous schedule as the Dolphins have been tested with top opponents from all over the country. The Dolphins have beaten some really good teams like North Lawndale, but they've fallen to Orr twice and don't own a win over another top-five Public League team this season.

Morgan Park is the wild card. The Mustangs have a lot of talent that has started to improve over the season but the team's health remains a major question mark. Sophomore Adam Miller showed that he's capable of taking over a game with his perimeter shooting in the win over Fenwick as he's one of the tournament's most fascinating players to watch.

Who are the other teams to watch?

Besides for the top five teams in the Preps Power Rankings all being from the Public League there are a lot of really good second-tier teams looking to make a move.

Lincoln Park is the team to keep an eye out for thanks to quality wins over Whitney Young, Uplift, Marian Catholic and DePaul Prep. The Lions are on a recent three-game slide, however, as they have to figure things out quickly before an event like this. Bogan has won four consecutive games as they're looking like a potential darkhorse. The Bengals had very close games against Morgan Park and Curie this season as they could be peaking at the right time. North Lawndale lost to Lincoln Park, Whitney Young, Orr and Curie in a span of weeks but they were close in every game. The Phoenix are a team nobody wants to see early in the draw. 

Which White division team is most dangerous?

Although the Red divisions in the Public League split into two super conferences this season, there were also some talented teams in the White division that should be watched. In fact, all four White divisions of the Public League had undefeated teams who won conference. Among those four schools, two are particularly dangerous.

High School Lites recently profiled Lane as our Team of the Week as the Indians are playing well with an 18-5 overall record. Unbeaten in the White-North, Lane gave Lincoln Park a solid game this season and they're confident facing another Red division opponent. The Indians face Harlan in the first round.

Corliss is perhaps the most dangerous team out of the White division because of the presence of Iowa State commit George Conditt. The 6-foot-11 Conditt is a potential game changer at the rim because of his ability to block shots. Corliss also solid guards and the team owns a very good win over Lincoln-Way East. Corliss will get another strong test when they face North Lawndale for its opening matchup.

First Round

Feb. 6, 5 p.m.

Foreman at Orr

Lane at Harlan

Westinghouse at Farragut

Julian at Bogan

Hubbard at Curie

UP-Englewood at Marshall

Dunbar at Kenwood

Collins at Lincoln Park

Longwood at Simeon

Corliss at North Lawndale

Brooks at Hyde Park

Payton at Uplift

Clark at Whitney Young

Crane at Vocational

Von Steuben at Prosser

King at Morgan Park

De La Salle's Steven Hawthorne talks about growing list of offers

De La Salle's Steven Hawthorne talks about growing list of offers

Why would students from De La Salle, a Chicago high school, take part in a charity dodgeball tournament over 30 miles away in Wheaton? For fun and games, of course. But to also raise funds and awareness for a good cause.

I had a chance to catch up with De La Salle’s three-star ranked junior defensive end Steven Hawthorne (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) at the sixth annual Franklin Middle School Dodgeball Tournament in Wheaton. Proceeds from the event benefitted the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Cammy Can, Jack’s Army and Franklin Middle School. Hawthorne is an upcoming senior who recently added his second Big Ten offer (Nebraska) this offseason. He could be on the verge of a major recruiting breakout this spring.

And Meteors head coach Mike Boehm and company may have picked up their first victory on the season. De La Salle took home a first place finish in their first-ever appearance.

Check out the interview with Steven Hawthorne above.

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

PEORIA -- Belleville West finished an undefeated IHSA boys basketball campaign on Saturday night by capturing the Class 4A state title with a memorable 60-56 overtime win over defending champion Whitney Young.

An intense back-and-forth contest that delighted fans at Carver Arena, the Maroons held off the Dolphins as junior forward and Mr. Basketball candidate E.J. Liddell finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The state title matchup between the St. Louis metro powerhouse and the Chicago Public League superpower somehow lived up to the immense hype. But perhaps more important than the game itself was the significance of the outcome. Saturday's win for Belleville West also served as an important passing of the torch.

For the first time since Shaun Livingston and Peoria High went back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, the largest IHSA boys basketball state title won't be going home to a team from the Chicagoland area.

Class 4A has been dominated by Chicago-area teams every year since four-class basketball came into existence during the 2007-08 season. And after Livingston and Peoria's two-year run, Jon Scheyer (Glenbrook North) and Derrick Rose (Simeon) swept through Peoria and won three straight titles to close out the two-class basketball era in Illinois.

For the last 13 years, the biggest, and most important, state title in basketball-crazy Illinois has gone to a team from the Chicagoland area. A legendary run of talents from the area saw players like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Jalen Brunson win state championships.

Liddell and Belleville West knocking off a Public League powerhouse, and defending state champion, for a state title is a significant moment in IHSA basketball history. It's the first time the Class 4A boys basketball state title is going somewhere besides the Chicagoland area.

While Class 3A has seen some memorable state title runs from teams outside of Chicago like Belleville Althoff and Rock Island, the more-depleted Class 3A field is generally considered an afterthought for many Illinois high school basketball fans.

By going undefeated against IHSA competition this season and beating a team like Whitney Young for a state title, Belleville West established legitimate credibility that should be respected all over the state. Chicago area high school fans can be fickle about downstate teams and their stars. None of those doubts should be apparent for Belleville West after the way they dominated the 2017-18 season.

Since Liddell is only a junior, and many of the Maroons' top players are also returning, it also sets up the possibility that Belleville West is the favorite for the Class 4A state title entering the 2018-19 season. Things have dramatically changed in the world of high school basketball. Transfers can change anything overnight. But given the return of Liddell, and the loss of only three seniors, the Maroons could have staying power next year as well.

It sets up for a fascinating offseason and an intriguing subplot for Class 4A next season as everyone will be chasing Liddell and Belleville West. And if Liddell pulls off the win and beats Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker and Morgan Park's Ayo Dosunmu for Mr. Basketball in Illinois then the pressure will be that much greater.

The Chicago Public League will still be the epicenter of high school boys basketball in Illinois next season. Orr and Morgan Park are coming off of back-to-back state titles. Whitney Young just missed joining them. Simeon was nationally ranked nearly all season. Curie remains an imposing threat only two years removed from its own Class 4A state title. There's a depth and quality of teams in the Public League that is unmatched anywhere else in the state.

But, for right now, that Public League's depth doesn't mean a thing. It's an afterthought. Because the Class 4A state title in Illinois high school basketball is heading south to Belleville. And it might not be leaving there for another year or two.