Preps Talk

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

Evanston more prepared to make a deep playoff run this March

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.

Top five under the radar teams to watch in 2020

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NBC Sports Chicago

Top five under the radar teams to watch in 2020

There are several teams that finished with losing records this past season; they will undoubtedly be flying under the radar come August.  Who are the top 5 teams who could surprise IHSA football fans next fall?

St. Charles North (4-5): It was a tough 2019 season for the North Stars both on and off the field. The school administration and head coach Ron Pomazak had to deal with the serious brain injury to sophomore RB Aidan Carlson-- an issue which impacted the entire community. St. Charles North still has talent in the program including several starters on the offensive line, namely junior OL/DL Carmine Bastone and junior OT Ian Erickson. They are on the rise along with junior ATH Jordan Nubi, the younger brother of former North Star and current Minnesota Gopher safety Tyler Nubin. 

Naperville Central (4-5): The Redhawks had a ton of hype in the preseason, then the reality of a brutal schedule set in. Naperville Central ended up losing three games to eventual state champions (Lincoln-Way East, Ohio’s Pickerington Central and East St. Louis). They lost another two games to teams with a combined record of 17-4. The 2020 Redhawks will still have one of the state's most dangerous athletes in QB Sam Jackson (Minnesota) along with a deep group of talented young receivers led by junior Keon Green and sophomore Reggie Fluerima.

Stevenson (4-5): The Patriots missed the IHSA state football playoff field for the first time since 1988. Can postseason football come back to Lincolnshire? Stevenson head coach Brent Becker will need to replace a very big senior class; however, this remains one of the top programs year in and year out in Illinois. Don't look for Stevenson to be down for very long.

Lockport (4-5): Easily one of the better stories of 2019. Former longtime Porter assistant coach George Czart was given the reins of this program in the offseason. Czart was also the head coach at Lincoln-Way North and led the Phoenix to a 54-29 record in eight seasons before the district closed the school. The Porters have numbers in the program; Czart’s staff did an outstanding job of getting everyone to buy in and the program became competitive as a result. The overall talent level is still a work in progress but the ingredients are in the building. They have the potential of becoming an eventual monster to watch in the Southwest suburbs.

Oak Park-River Forest (4-5): The Huskies, under head coach John Hoerster, wound up posting a losing record—a rarity for this Western Suburban Silver program. But outside of a 42-0 Week 9 loss to Glenbard West, OPRK was in every game last season. Several of the Huskies top players in 2019 will be back in 2020, led by QB/S Jaden McGill, LB Naahlyee Bryant and junior OL/DL Amarion Jones.

VOTE: Wintrust Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

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NBC Sports Chicago

VOTE: Wintrust Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?              

NBC Sports Chicago and Wintrust present our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of passionate high school basketball followers. Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @NBCSPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights and postgame reaction of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00 p.m. The show also live streams at www.nbcsportschicago.com/watchlive and appears in the MyTeams app.  High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. the following Saturday on NBC Sports Chicago. 

This week, we're going to get a taste of the Chicago Public League/White division. Which game should we attend for High School Lites?

Mather at Foreman, 5:00 p.m.

Jones at Wells, 5:00 p.m.

Perspectives-MSA at Raby, 6:30 p.m.

To participate, our fans are encouraged to do the following:

**Follow our NBC Sports Chicago preps Twitter page: @NBCSPreps.

**Note the pinned tweet that is atop the feed.

**Vote for the game you want NBC Sports Chicago to cover Friday night.

**Spread the word!

The poll will start promptly at 12:00 p.m. Monday. We will make an announcement with the official results on @NBCSPreps just after 4 p.m. Thursday. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @NBCSPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other high school sports news, scores and highlights, all season long.