Preps Talk

Five new teams enter the latest Preps Power Rankings

Five new teams enter the latest Preps Power Rankings

The Preps Power Rankings featured some shakeups this week as five new teams enter the mix. With many of the area's top teams facing elite competition during the Martin Luther King weekend, it was a good chance to see where teams stand heading into the home stretch of the regular season. 

1. Simeon (15-3, 5-0) (1) -- The clear No. 1 team in the state right now, the Wolverines picked up another double-digit win over a top-ten team by beating Fenwick on the road. Also losing by two to Montverde Academy, the unbeaten No. 1 team in the country, the Wolverines have impressed basketball analysts all over the country.

2. Orr (14-3, 5-0) (2) -- Orr lost in Michigan but bounced back with a double-digit win over Bloom. The Spartans get a tough road test this week at North Lawndale while they also host Westinghouse in conference play. 

3. Curie (14-2, 5-0) (3) -- The Condors earned two league wins over Bogan and Kenwood last week as Curie has won four consecutive games since falling to Simeon. Curie has three games against Public League opponents this week as they battle Hyde Park, Vocational and North Lawndale. 

4. Whitney Young (14-4, 4-1) (5) -- The Dolphins had a quiet week as they took down Von Steuben. Things pick up for Whitney Young this week as they face Uplift, North Lawndale and Bloomington. 

5. Bolingbrook (13-2, 3-0) (9) -- Huge week for the Raiders as they picked off Stagg in conference play before earning a win over No. 6 Morgan Park. Bolingbrook gets some more challenging games during the week when they play Joliet Central and Homewood-Flossmoor.

6. Morgan Park (12-7, 4-2) (6) -- Morgan Park fell to Bolingbrook in a big showcase game as the Mustangs are still trying to get fully healthy. Nick Irvin's ballclub has two conference games against Dunbar and Brooks before another test against No. 7 Fenwick. 

7. Fenwick (13-5, 4-0) (8) -- The Friars dropped a home contest against Simeon as Fenwick was able to hang with the Wolverines until the fourth quarter. Fenwick gets more tough matchups this week as they host St. Rita in a Catholic League game before taking on No. 6 Morgan Park in a shootout on Saturday. 

8. Lincoln Park (13-4, 5-1) (10) -- The Lions earned a home win over Westinghouse last week as they're still a major factor in the Public League Red North/West. Lincoln Park gets a pair of winnable conference games this week as they face Marshall and Farragut.

9. Marist (17-1, 3-0) (13) -- Impressive ESCC win for Marist as they took down Marian Catholic last week. The Redhawks are playing with a ton of confidence heading into a difficult week that features matchups against two ranked teams in Brother Rice and Benet. 

10. Niles North (17-2, 3-2) (4) -- An up-and-down week for the Vikings as they finally lost for the first time this season by dropping games to New Trier and Maine South. Niles North recovered with four wins over the weekend at their own event as they're one of only a only teams in the state with 17 wins.

11. Evanston (13-3, 4-1) (14) -- Huge overtime road win for Evanston at New Trier last week as the Wildkits remain right in the thick of the Central Suburban South race. Junior Lance Jones stepped up with some clutch plays on both ends of the floor in the win over the Trevians. 

12. Marian Catholic (13-3, 1-2) (11) -- The Spartans lost a tough conference clash with No. 9 Marist in ESCC play but they bounced back with a win over an Iowa opponent at Loras College. Marian Catholic gets a road game at Notre Dame this week as the Dons are coming off a solid win over OPRF. 

13. DePaul Prep (16-4, 2-1) (12) -- Strange week for the Rams as they lost to Loyola in conference play on Friday night, only to beat Loyola for an MLK tournament title on Monday. Also earning a win over Riverside-Brookfield this weekend, DePaul Prep will get another test when they play Evanston this week.

14. Loyola (16-3, 3-1) (17) -- Splitting two games with DePaul Prep over the weekend, the Ramblers won the conference matchup but lost in the championship of the MLK event the two schools help host. Riding a 10-game winning streak before losing on Monday, Loyola remains one of the hotter teams in the area. 

15. Oak Park-River Forest (13-4, 4-0) (7) -- The Huskies had some losses during the week as they dropped tight contests against Notre Dame and Wheaton-Warrenville South. Still the favorite in the West Suburban Silver, OPRF travels to Hinsdale Central this week.

16. Hillcrest (15-4, 7-0) (18) -- Hillcrest has continued to win since the Proviso West Holiday Tournament as they remain one of the best teams in the South suburbs. The Hawks will look to stay unbeaten in the South Suburban Blue when they host Tinley Park this week. 

17. North Lawndale (13-4, 3-2) (15) -- The Phoenix fell to Lincoln Park and a team from Minnesota last week while also earning a win over Von Steuben. This week sees North Lawndale play perhaps the toughest stretch of any team in the area all season. In a four-day span, the Phoenix have to play Orr, Whitney Young and Curie. That brutal stretch will teach us a lot about this team.

18. Joliet Central (14-2, 7-0) (21) -- Riding a four-game winning streak, Joliet Central is playing good ball over the last several weeks. The Steelmen have an important week ahead as they get a crack at No. 5 Bolingbrook while also facing rival Joliet West. 

19. Brother Rice (12-6, 2-2) (22) -- Brother Rice earned a double-digit win over Mount Carmel in Catholic League play last week. The Crusaders get a chance at a top-ten team when they travel to No. 9 Marist this week while they also host De La Salle in league play.

20. Batavia (18-3, 5-1) (23) -- The first team in the area with 18 wins this season, the Bulldogs are red hot, having won eight consecutive games. Winning the Rockford Jefferson tournament was an impressive feat, especially since Batavia knocked off the 17-win hosts on the way to the title. 

21. New Trier (14-3, 4-1) (NR) -- The Trevians enter the mix after an impressive win over Niles North. Although New Trier dropped an overtime heartbreaker to rival Evanston, they recovered nicely with a strong showing at the Rockford Jefferson event, including a beatdown of Larkin.

22. Naperville North (14-1, 6-0) (NR) -- With four consecutive wins, Naperville North is back in the Power Rankings after defeating conference rival and previously-ranked Naperville Central. The Huskies have only lost to No. 20 Batavia this season as they look like the favorite in the DuPage Valley Conference.

23. Romeoville (15-3, 7-0) (NR) -- The Spartans are back in the mix after some double-digits wins since losing during the holidays. Still a threat in the Southwest Prairie, Romeoville will get a big test with a game against No. 25 West Aurora on Saturday night.  

24. Benet (14-4, 2-1) (NR) -- An impressive weekend for the Redwings as they won four games to capture the title at Wheaton-Warrenville South. Benet's offense was more potent than they've shown in the past during Saturday's two wins while they're still able to grind out wins if they need to.

25. West Aurora (12-4, 4-0) (NR) -- The Blackhawks have won four consecutive games since the Pontiac Holiday Tournament with all of those coming by double-digits. A dangerous team with no bad losses, West Aurora remains the favorite in the Upstate Eight Valley.

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.

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

PEORIA -- Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin brought his entire team with him to the press conference podium after claiming a second consecutive IHSA Class 3A state championship.

Irvin and the Mustangs have claimed four boys basketball state titles over the past six years. The quotable Irvin is usually only flanked by his starting five.

Even though Morgan Park had a clear star and leader in senior guard and Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, the Mustangs needed every member of their roster to make it back to Peoria during an injury-ravaged season.

Morgan Park needed its reinforcements to make it back to the state finals. Dosunmu took care of the rest. The Illinois commit led Morgan Park's back-to-back quest with a Class 3A state title game record 28 points as the Mustangs earned a 71-56 win over Springfield Southeast on Saturday afternoon.

Although Morgan Park won a Class 3A title with Dosunmu on the roster last season, the Illinois commit wasn't able to play much during the final weekend in the state tournament after suffering a injury to his right foot that forced him to be on crutches for most of the weekend.

This time in Peoria, a healthy Dosunmu carried Morgan Park with an impressive game in front of his future head coach, Brad Underwood. Dosunmu's eight-point flurry to end the third quarter -- including a half-court buzzer-beater -- lifted the Mustangs to a 54-45 advantage entering the fourth quarter. From there, Morgan Park maintained a comfortable advantage as Dosunmu and his teammates held off the feisty Spartans.

"I told myself, once I got hurt, that it felt good for my team to win it. But I wanted to come back and be apart of it and actually be on the court," Dosunmu said.

"I just wanted to come back and redeem myself after getting hurt last year. I knew what I could do. I think I stopped the haters from saying that I couldn't win the big game."

Dosunmu did the heavy lifting for Morgan Park in the state title game. But the Mustangs needed all hands on deck during a tumultuous regular season. Morgan Park was viewed in the preseason as one of the major forces in the Chicago Public League. Injuries to seniors like Dosunmu and big man Tamell Pearson, a UAB commit, meant that the Mustangs had to change all of their plans.

Dosunmu missed 10 games with injury this season. Pearson only played in four games the entire season after multiple surgeries on his eye. That meant others like senior Cam Burrell and sophomores Adam Miller and Marcus Watson had to step up their play.

Morgan Park didn't make a lot of noise during conference play in the Public League Red South/Central. They were eliminated during the quarterfinals of the Public League Playoffs by Whitney Young. Morgan Park hadn't lost this much since Irvin's first season on the job 10 years ago.

But there was still the hope that a healthy Morgan Park could figure things out and make another run at a Class 3A state title. Once Dosunmu got rolling, the Mustangs gained a new confidence to claim another trophy.

"Absolutely, the toughest one," Irvin said of the title run. "At the end of the day I knew these guys were loyal to me. I knew they'd run through a brick wall for me. And I just had to get myself level-headed. I'm used to winning and beating everybody -- or close to it. Taking tough losses was a bit of an adjustment."

Morgan Park winning another title this season is a testament to how talented, and deep, the Mustangs have been the last two seasons. Even with teams not at full strength during the state playoffs the past two years, Morgan Park still managed to win back-to-back titles.

With five trips to Peoria in six seasons, and a roster still filled with young talent, Morgan Park should remain a major contender for years to come -- even with Burrell, Dosunmu, Pearson and the senior class moving on to the next level.

Miller has the look of a potential Player of the Year candidate. Watson played with a ton of confidence down the stretch. More promising young players are also in the pipeline in the rest of the program.

“Three-peat. Three-peat; that’s the goal,” Irvin said. “We’re going to come back home to Peoria next season — hopefully. I’m gonna be on Marcus, and Adam and Kyel (Grover) and just see what we can.”