Preps Talk

Chicago Recruiting Focus: Illinois basketball

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Chicago Recruiting Focus: Illinois basketball

Plenty of question marks loom for Illinois basketball as we get closer to the 2015-16 college basketball season. Can the Illini stay healthy enough to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year drought? Who emerges from the large group of newcomers that includes graduate transfers and highly-touted freshmen?

The on-court aspect head coach John Groce and his program have to deal with is fascinating enough but there are also some questions when it comes to the future of Illinois basketball recruiting.

With the state of Illinois -- and the Midwest in general -- being significantly down from a talent perspective in the class of 2016, Groce and his staff have had to get creative when it comes to recruiting that group of players.

Illinois currently owns a class of 2016 commitment from Wisconsin native and three-star point guard Te'Jon Lucas. Adding the late-blooming Lucas was a nice move by Illinois since point guard options were quickly drying up and Lucas showed some upside after a promising summer on the grassroots circuit. With an ability to run an offense while also creating his own shot, Lucas should fit what Illinois looks for in guards.

What comes after Lucas in that class is where it all starts to get murky.

[ILLINOIS PREVIEW: Hill, Nunn need to keep stepping up for Illini]

In addition to Lucas, Illinois would like to use one or two more scholarships in the class to find a big man or a wing. Australian 6-foot-9 power forward Harry Froling is a target for Illinois and they've even flown across the world to see him in person. Adding an international player like Froling would be a great addition to the roster, but it might be a little while before Froling figures out the next step in a complicated worldwide recruiting process. A source close to Froling told CSN that he's expected to announce his official visits in the next two weeks and Illinois is in the running for one of those visits. Getting Froling on campus for an official will likely be a key for whichever schools lands him.

After Froling, Illinois is essentially starting anew when it comes to class of 2016 prospects. The Illinois coaching staff will search near-and-far for more options who emerge this season. They'll also look at potential transfers and there is also the realistic possibility of rolling a scholarship over for an important class of 2017.

The class of 2016 is a down year in the Midwest, but 2017, particularly in Illinois, looks very promising. And Illinois has been very aggressive recruiting the Land of Lincoln when it comes to the junior class.

With five or six potential scholarships in the class of 2017, Illinois will look to add one player for each position on the floor as they've already started to host a lot of unofficial visitors from the group.

Illinois has been active recruiting in-state targets like Evanston's Nojel Eastern, Stevenson's Justin Smith, Belleville Althoff's Jordan Goodwin, Belleville East's Javon Pickett, Peoria Manuel's DaMonte Williams, Bloomington Central Catholic's Charles Payton and Larkin's Christian Negron. Former East St. Louis big man Jeremiah Tilmon has also been to the Illinois campus and the staff will continue to recruit him heavily after transferring to La Lumiere in October. Former Willowbrook star Alonzo Verge was also being recruited by Illinois while he lived in the area, but it's hard to say if things will change in that one now that Verge has transferred to Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Illini fans!]

Groce and his staff know that a talented class of 2017 in Illinois is a hugely important and they've been quick to try to get those players to Champaign to check out campus.

The class of 2017 is an important one for the Illini, but the class of 2018 list is also starting to form. Among the main in-state targets include Champaign Central's Tim Finke, the younger brother of Illinois redshirt freshman forward Michael Finke, and Simeon point guard Kezo Brown.

Both Brown and Finke have shown some promising flashes early in their high school careers and Illinois has good recruiting connections to both the Finke family and Brown's high school.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that Illinois needs to make it back to the NCAA tournament and show recruits that the program is trending in the right direction. Top prospects like the players Illinois are recruiting expect to play in the spotlight of the sport.

All of that can take care of itself with some strong on-court results this season, but Illinois has at least put itself in the conversation for a lot of talented Illinois players in the next few classes.

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

The Class 1A and 2A regionals begin this week and the regular season is finishing up for every other team in the state. We're getting that much closer to state titles being decided in Peoria. Simeon remains the clear No. 1 in the latest Power Rankings after beating No. 4 Whitney Young and No. 2 Orr by double digits on the way to earning a third straight Public League Playoff title, while a couple of familiar faces are back in the tail end of the rankings.

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- Simeon stays at No. 1 after winning the Public League Playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Wolverines have now defeated teams No. 2 through No. 6 in the Preps Power Rankings for a 6-0 record on the season in which the average margin of victory has been 14.5 points per game. The clear No. 1 in the state of Illinois, Simeon has the week off before the Class 4A playoffs.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- Orr put up a good fight but they ultimately fell short to No. 1 Simeon in the Public League Playoff title game. The Spartans did gain revenge on No. 3 Curie, however, with a big semifinal win on Friday. Orr has to forget the title loss ahead of the Class 2A Playoffs that begin this week as the Spartans try to repeat as champions.

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The Condors have only lost to No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to in-state losses as they remain one of the most complete and balanced teams in the state. Curie has the week off before the IHSA Playoffs.

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- Whitney Young earned a huge quarterfinal win over Morgan Park before falling to Simeon in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Dolphins also have the week off before they attempt to repeat as Class 4A champions. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) Disappointing result for the Mustangs as they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Public League Playoffs to Whitney Young. Defending champions in Class 3A, the Mustangs will rest this week before the playoffs begin.

6. Fenwick (18-7, 8-0) (8) -- The Friars earned two wins during the week as they beat Marmion while also getting a huge conference road win at Loyola. Fenwick will battle Taft during the week.

7. New Trier (22-3, 8-1) (9) -- New Trier had one of the best weeks of any team in the area as they picked up wins over Maine South and Evanston. Now the leaders in the rugged CSL South, the Trevians have some more tough games against Niles North and Glenbrook North this week. 

8. Evanston (20-5, 8-2) (6) -- Evanston's red-hot recent play was finally slowed down as they fell to rival New Trier. The Wildkits will try to bounce back when they play Vernon Hills in a Central Suburban crossover this week.

9. Oak Park-River Forest (21-5, 12-0) (11) -- The Huskies finished the West Suburban Silver season unbeaten following wins over York and Proviso West. OPRF gets a great test right before the playoffs when they face Hinsdale South in the West Suburban championship game.

10. Benet (21-4) (6-1) (12) -- Two wins for the Redwings this week when they beat Joliet Catholic and Stevenson. Things aren't easy for Benet this week as they head to Marian Catholic before hosting Carmel in two tough ESCC games. 

11. West Aurora (19-4, 8-0) (13) -- The winning streak is now 11 for the Blackhawks after beating South Elgin. West Aurora will play Bartlett and crosstown rival East Aurora this week as they try to keep the momentum going into the playoffs. 

12. Marist (23-4, 6-2) (15) -- Marist picked up a double-digit win over St. Patrick during the week as they prepare for the Class 4A draw. The RedHawks will have an ESCC game against Marian Central this week. 

13. Niles North (22-4, 5-4) (8) -- The Vikings fell to CSL South rival Maine South and followed that up with an overtime win over a tough Wisconsin team in St. Catherine's. The Vikings get a crack at conference leader New Trier this week before playing Maine West in a tough Central Suburban crossover. 

14. Marian Catholic (20-4, 5-3) (16) -- Three wins for the Spartans during the week as they knocked off Nazareth, Rich Central and Marian Central. Marian Catholic gets a tough test this week when they host Benet in its final ESCC game.

15. Naperville North (23-2, 14-1) (17) -- The Huskies have won eight straight games as they clinched at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference with a win over Waubonsie Valley this week. Naperville North hosts Wheaton-Warrenville South this week to decide the DVC title.

16. DePaul Prep (20-6, 5-3) (19) -- Picking up a convincing double-digit win over Mount Carmel, the Rams got back on track after the loss to Brother Rice. DePaul Prep will host Montini during the week as they prepare for Class 3A. 

17. Loyola (21-6, 5-3) (10) -- Tough recent stretch for the Ramblers as they fell to St. Joseph and Fenwick to fall out of the Catholic League Blue race. Loyola hosts Steinmetz for a tune-up this week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (21) -- Hillcrest survived a tight win over T.F. North before winning convincingly against Oak Forest. The Hawks have the week off as they prep for Class 3A. 

19. Leo (19-5, 8-0) (22) -- Finishing the regular season with a big win over Marmion, the Lions will be one of the area teams to watch in the Class 2A playoffs as they are in the Marshall Regional. 

20. Homewood-Flossmoor (16-6, 7-1) (23) -- Another huge win for Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings took down Bolingbrook to keep a lead in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Homewood-Flossmoor goes on the road this week to battle Sandburg and Lockport. 

21. Hinsdale South (20-5, 10-2) (24) -- The Hornets stayed hot with wins over Addison Trail and Proviso East as they clinched the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South has a tough battle against Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban championship game this week. 

22. St. Viator (22-5, 8-0) (25) -- The Lions picked up some wins against Carmel and Bartlett. St. Viator will try to close out the ESCC with an undefeated record when they play Nazareth this week. 

23. Bolingbrook (17-6, 5-3) (18) -- Bolingbrook fell out of the SouthWest Suburban Blue conference race when they lost to Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders still have some tough games to close out the regular season when they play Lincoln-Way East and Stagg.

24. Maine South (20-7, 6-4) (NR) -- Huge win for Maine South as they knocked off Niles North after losing to New Trier in overtime earlier in the week. The Hawks close out the regular season with a Central Suburban Crossover against Highland Park.

25. Willowbrook (22-5, 9-3) (NR) -- Willowbrook is back in the rankings by earning three double-digit wins over Morton, Leyden and Downers South. The Warriors have only lost to ranked teams like West Aurora and Hinsdale South lately as they've been playing well. 

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title