The biggest takeaway from a busy weekend of local high school basketball is Simeon beating Morgan Park for the city championship on Sunday at Chicago State.
The eighth city title for the Wolverines is important and it is the reason that Simeon currently sits at No. 1 in the latest CSN Preps Power Rankings. But Simeon's win Sunday also meant that people quickly forgot (or dismissed) how well Evanston played against Simeon the previous night in the annual McDonald's City-Suburban Showdown.
The 18-point win over Simeon does come with an asterisk because of the Wolverines' playing backups a lot of minutes because of the impending Morgan Park game. Evanston does deserve credit, however, for still put a beating on Simeon, impressing Wolverines' head coach Robert Smith enough to acknowledge that Evanston might have won even if Simeon was at full strength.
It's part of the reason that Evanston comes in at No. 2 this week in the latest Power Rankings.
"I give them credit. They did everything they needed to do to win the game," Smith said. "Even if we were at our best, I don't know what the outcome would be. It would have been a little more competitive than that. But they did some good stuff out there."
The scary part about Evanston's takedown of Simeon is that star senior and Purdue commit Nojel Eastern only totaled four points. Unlike a lot of top-10 teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings, the Wildkits only have one player signed to play college basketball next season.
Eastern is the big draw for Evanston but he doesn't have to score for the Wildkits to beat good teams this season. He still helped with nine rebounds and played a solid floor game -- showing his usual ability to find open players with creative passes -- but Eastern didn't shoot the ball well and missed multiple dunks.
"We talked about [Nojel's play]. We talked about that at halftime," Evanston head coach Mike Ellis said. "Ten-point lead and Nojel had played below average. Imagine how we look in the second half if he plays above average? Let's be honest about the whole thing, Nojel is such an unselfish player that it doesn't cause his teammates to panic. Nojel is not a guy, if you don't get us 30 points we're gonna lose. He's the glue that keeps our team together and it gives others confidence to say that he looks for me [to make plays]."
The Wildkits faltered down the stretch last year to end the regular season and ended up losing to Notre Dame earlier than some predicted in the sectional semifinals, but this year's group appears to be peaking later in the season.
A deeper and more experienced Evanston team showed its overall depth and talent in the Simeon win. Senior Chris Hamil knocked in five three-pointers and played hard on both ends while senior Malcolm Townsel had a good outing as well with a team-high 20 points.
Others like senior Elyjah Williams and sophomores Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden have shown great flashes of play as well this season and the Wildkits go even deeper than that at times. Evanston isn't just a one-man team. That showed with Saturday's win as they had 20 field goals on 15 assists.
Four years with a notable player on varsity has shown Eastern and Evanston plenty of unique defensive looks like box-and-ones and differing zones. In the past that might have rattled Evanston. This year's team is more prepared to handle those situations now after playing more of a national schedule in 2016-17 that included the loss to nationally-ranked Montverde at the Chicago Elite Classic and finishing as the runner-up in the loaded Beach Ball Classic.
Evanston has a solid draw as the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional as they hope to make a run in Class 4A. Eastern has talked before about his desire to take the Wildkits back to Peoria with his group of seniors and other teammates.
And the Wildkits still only have one loss to an Illinois opponent all season, when they lost to Naperville North back in January at Glenbard East.
Simeon might be bigger favorites in Class 4A at full strength as we get closer to March but Evanston is ready for a run of its own.