Preps Talk

13 Boys basketball conference races to watch

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13 Boys basketball conference races to watch

Now that the conference season is heating up in high school basketball, it's time to examine some of the races that are worth watching these next few months. Many of these conferences are tight at the moment, as the races will prepare teams for the state playoffs in March with some great games between familiar opponents.

Here's an overview of 13 leagues with good races to watch and some of the teams still involved. We'll feature plenty of these teams and conferences over the next few months on High School Lites.

Catholic Blue

Overview: The Catholic League is deep and loaded with talent and good coaching once again. Multiple teams have found themselves in the Preps Power Rankings out of the Blue division — which has Division I talent all over the place.

Teams to Watch: DePaul Prep (12-3, 6-0) maintains a solid early lead as the Rams are trying to prove themselves as a potential Peoria team. St. Laurence (16-3, 5-2), Brother Rice (12-6, 4-2) and Loyola (13-4, 4-3) have all been in the Preps Power Rankings this season as any of this group can knock off DePaul at the top. Fenwick (9-7, 3-4) is a darkhorse that has played a tough schedule.

Catholic White

Overview: With an intriguing mix of classes, the White Division of the Catholic League has been fun this early season. Also with multiple ranked teams, the White Division could have three state title contenders from different classes.

Teams to Watch: Leo (13-3, 5-1) and St. Rita (12-6, 6-1) are both good enough to be in the top 25 as they look like the teams to take care of to win conference. Providence-St. Mel (12-4, 5-2) is another ranked team who doubles as one of the state's premier Class 1A teams. Mount Carmel (12-6, 4-3) is a fourth 12-win team playing at a solid level after the holidays.

CSL South

Overview: Another league that is annually great, the CSL South has a lot of contenders once again this season. Two of the teams are ranked and pushing for state credibility while a second pack of three teams is right there to reckon with.

Teams to Watch: Classic rivals Evanston (16-3, 4-1) and New Trier (15-2, 5-0) are the top two teams in a deep league as they play for the first time on Friday night. Glenbrook South (11-4, 2-2) has surprised this season and found themselves in the Power Rankings after an early win over the Wildkits. And Maine South (10-6, 2-2) and Niles North (9-6, 1-3) both possess the talent to steal wins from the top teams and get back in the race.

DuKane

Overview: A first-year league that has developed into a fun basketball race, the DuKane features some quality teams. With one of the area's lone unbeaten teams and a quality group of teams right behind them, the DuKane will be worth keeping an eye on into March.

Teams to Watch: Geneva (15-0, 4-0) has been one of the area's best teams, as they give the DuKane some instant credibility. Wheaton North (9-7, 4-1), WW South (11-4, 3-2) and St. Charles East (10-7, 3-2) are also teams capable of knocking off the Vikings as each have good wins to start this season. Lake Park (11-5, 2-3) is another team with double-digit wins who can do damage.

ESCC

Overview: Annually one of the area's best leagues, the ESCC is a little more top-heavy than the best few years. But while the league isn't as balanced as before, the ESCC features perhaps the best conference race in the area between really talented ranked teams.

Teams to Watch: Three unbeaten ranked teams remain in the mix for the league title as Marian Catholic (15-1, 4-0), Benet (13-3, 3-0) and St. Viator (14-2, 2-0) are three of the areas best teams. Carmel (12-8, 2-1), Notre Dame (10-7, 1-1) and St. Patrick (10-7) are three more programs who could creep up from the second tier. But for now, this mostly looks like a three-team race. 

Fox Valley

Overview: Dominated by Jacobs for the past few seasons, the Golden Eagles are hovering around .500 as their 26-game FVC winning streak was snapped by Crystal Lake Central earlier this season. For the first time in years, the Fox Valley has an interesting basketball race with a bunch of teams involved.

Teams to Watch: Crystal Lake Central (11-4, 5-0) is the lone unbeaten through five games while Hampshire (10-5, 5-1), Dundee-Crown (12-3, 4-2) and Huntley (9-5, 4-2) are all within two games. And although Cary-Grove (11-5, 3-3) and Crystal Lake South (11-6, 3-3) are both 3-3 in league play, both have double-digit wins while showing an ability to hang with anyone in the conference.

Metro Suburban Blue

Overview: Sometimes an afterthought league, the Metro Suburban Blue has some serious talent in 2018-19. Multiple teams could make deep postseason runs in multiple classes and the league is good enough to have multiple ranked teams.

Teams to Watch: Riverside-Brookfield (13-3, 4-0) has burst back on the area scene as they've been ranked before this season. Aurora Christian (14-3, 2-0) and Chicago Christian (14-5, 4-1) are both firmly in the conference race as well as both are only a handful of local teams to reach 14 wins. And McNamara (12-7, 2-3) looms as a threat in the middle of the conference. 

Mid-Suburban West

Overview: Although both Mid-Suburban races are intriguing, this one has three 12-win teams all battling it out. One team has come ahead as a potential favorite, but the other two teams are still firmly in the mix.

Teams to Watch: Fremd (12-3, 4-0) has emerged as a top-25 team after proving themselves with multiple quality wins at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Schaumburg (12-5, 3-1) and Barrington (12-5, 2-2) have both set solid marks this season while flying under the radar as the Broncos beat the Saxons by a point.

Public League Red South/Central

Overview: Perhaps the state's most star-studded conference, the Public League's Red South/Central division features multiple state title contenders and top-10 teams. The clashes between top teams usually highlights any week of games and this season has been no different.

Teams to Watch: Curie (16-1, 4-0) has looked like the area's best team to start the season after winning Pontiac. Morgan Park (12-3, 3-1) and Bogan (14-2, 3-2) won the Big Dipper and Proviso West, respectively, as they've been top-five teams most of the season. Simeon (7-9, 2-2) is still top-ten good despite their tough start while Kenwood (11-5, 3-2) is another top-25 caliber team.

Public League Red North/West

Overview: While the other Public League Red division has more star power, the Red North/West is the deeper of the two. An astounding nine of the league's 10 teams find themselves over .500 at this point, as it's nearly impossible to take a night off in conference play.  

Teams to Watch: Orr (10-7, 4-0) currently finds itself as the league's only unbeaten, but they still have to prove themselves against the area's and conference's elite teams. Whitney Young (13-6, 3-1) remains a favorite despite still figuring some things out while Uplift (9-4, 3-1) and Lincoln Park (10-6, 2-2) are both top-25 worthy teams. Lane (11-4, 2-2), Marshall (7-4, 2-2) and North Lawndale (8-5, 2-2) are all good at home and help make the league's insane depth.

South Suburban Blue

Overview: Traditionally dominated by Hillcrest, the Hawks get another year of stiff competition. An astounding six teams out of seven are 4-2 or better in league play 

Teams to Watch: Hillcrest (10-6, 6-0) is the favorite and unbeaten to this point. Behind them, Tinley Park (11-4, 4-1) and Lemont (9-8, 4-1) are only a game behind. At 4-2 in league play lies Oak Forest (13-4), T.F. North (9-4) and T.F. South (7-8, 4-2) can all still make an impact by continuing to win.

Upstate Eight

Overview: The re-worked Upstate Eight still has a great three-team race at the top as the conference tries to figure itself out for the future. While the Upstate Eight is having a down year, there are a lot of programs with recent success having rebuild years.

Teams to Watch: The class of the conference has been West Aurora (15-3, 8-0) to this point. Glenbard South (11-3, 6-1) and South Elgin (12-6, 6-2) are the only two other teams in the 10-team conference even close to over .500 at this point as they'll need to knock off the Blackhawks to catch ground. 

West Suburban Gold

Overview: Four teams are within a game of first in this division of the always-talented West Suburban. The Gold Division is as wide open as any in the Chicagoland area heading into the heart of January.

Teams to Watch: Proviso East (11-3, 4-0) is the league's only unbeaten as a pack of three teams are right behind the Pirates. Downers South (11-5, 4-1), Willowbrook (9-6, 3-1) and Morton (8-6, 2-1) are all hanging around and Leyden (8-7 2-2) presents another team who could become a problem. 

13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

13 Days to Kickoff: Phillips

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Phillips

Head coach: Troy McAllister

How they fared in 2018: 9-3 (5-0 CPL Illini Land of Lincoln Conference). Phillips made the Class 6A state playoff field and defeated Lake Forest and Prairie Ridge. They advanced for the quarterfinal round and lost to Cary-Grove.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 @ Cass Tech (MI)
Sept. 7 vs St. Mary (MO) at East St. Louis
Sept. 13 vs Taft
Sept. 20 vs Raby
Sept. 27 @ Morgan Park (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 5 @ Simeon (Gately Stadium)
Oct. 11 vs Lane Tech
Oct. 19 @ Westinghouse
Oct. 25 @ Lincoln Park (at Lane Tech)

Biggest storyline: Phillips has gone from a Public League also-ran to a program with annual state title aspirations. Can the two-time state champion Wildcats get back into the 6A playoff field and make a deeper run this November?

Names to watch this season: S Robert Pledger (Sr., Western Michigan) OL/DL Demerick Morris (Sr., Temple)

Biggest holes to fill: The Wildcats will bring back an experienced team this season after playing a ton of underclassmen in 2018. The biggest hole is more from a leadership standpoint with the graduation losses of WR/DB Fabian McCray (NIU) and DB Joseph Thompson (Illinois), both of whom were long time varsity starters. 

EDGY's Early Take: Phillips (4A-sized enrollment) and head coach Troy McAllister volunteered to "move up" to Class 6A level last season and also this season. The Wildcats will bring back big group of returning starters who saw significant playing time last season.

While they came up short last season with a 6A quarterfinals loss to Cary-Grove, look for the Wildcats to again challenge everyone who comes their way in the Chicago Public League. They’ll have to be road warriors the first two weeks, as they take on marquee competition from out of state. The Oct. 5 date vs. Simeon is a must-see. The 6A playoff field will have to be wary of Phillips.

14 Days to Kickoff: Montini Catholic

14 Days to Kickoff: Montini Catholic

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Montini Catholic

Head coach: Mike Bukovsky

Assistant coaches: Brian Casey, Mark Placey, Kyle Petros, Joe DiCanio, Thomas McLaurin, Ted Fleckles, Larry Sheppard, Roosevelt Holiday, Joe Consalvo and Jack Bruscianelli

How they fared in 2018: 12-2 (3-1 CCL Blue Conference). Montini made the Class 5A state playoff field and defeated Woodstock North, Sycamore, Evergreen Park and Sterling. They advanced to the state title game where they lost to Joliet Catholic.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 31 @ Hudson (WI)
Sept. 6 vs Collins
Sept. 13 @ Mount Carmel
Sept. 20 vs St. Rita
Sept. 27 vs St. Viator
Oct. 4 @ (Niles) Notre Dame
Oct. 11 @ St. Joseph
Oct. 18 vs De La Salle
Oct. 25 vs Providence Catholic

Biggest storyline: Finishing. Can the Broncos get to DeKalb for the 5A state title game and walk away with a championship trophy?

Names to watch this season: WR/TE Nate Muersch (Sr., Miami OH), OL Jeremiah Banks Wall (Sr.), QB Deontay Bell (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Broncos welcome back 12 starters (five offense, seven defense) from last season's squad but they will have new faces at receiver, running back and defensive back. 

EDGY's Early Take: Montini Catholic has been chomping at the bit to get back on the field. They had a great run last season and fell short in Champaign against JCA. Several key names return this season, including quarterback Deontay Bell and a sure-handed, tall receiver in Nate Muersch. The offensive line brings back three starters as well.

The Broncos defense has speed and experience on the line and at linebacker. Senior defensive back CJ Bufkin is a name to watch this fall. The newly-realigned CCL/ESCC schedule is strong but the Broncos should be well prepared after playing in the old CCL Blue the past few seasons.