High school basketball season officially kicks off this week as practices begin all over the state of Illinois.
While we still have two weeks until games tip, and a long time until the season finishes in March, there are plenty of intriguing local storylines to keep tabs on as the season begins.
With that in mind, here are five major themes to think about as the season gets going.
Can a Chicagoland Class 4A team capture the state title?
For the past two years, the IHSA Class 4A state title has gone back to the St. Louis metro area with Belleville West.
Now that E.J. Liddell has left the Land of Lincoln for Ohio State, the Class 4A title should return back to the Chicagoland area this season.
While teams like Whitney Young, Bloom, Curie, Simeon and Stevenson remain preseason favorites among area 4A teams, there is a glaring lack of out-of-area powerhouses in 4A this season.
Belleville West remains tough and Collinsville is a threat. But many of the top schools from outside Chicago reside in a much tougher 3A group this season.
It’ll be interesting to see which programs emerge in the 4A race and if the Chicagoland area gets more competition from out of the area this season. Right now it looks like the 4A title will be returning to our area this season unless something dramatically changes.
Class 3A gets way more interesting this season
It took about a decade of four-class basketball for Class 3A to become a consistent force. There have been some years where the Class 3A field wasn’t particularly competitive or compelling.
This season should be different. There’s a a fascinating crop of Class 3A teams all over the state. Morgan Park and Bogan remain the consistent 3A favorites from the Public League.
They get plenty of local competition from a revamped Chicagoland presence in 3A. DePaul Prep, Hillcrest, Fenwick, Notre Dame, St. Viator and Oak Forest are just a handful of 3A teams who should make the area Power Rankings at some point this season.
And the group of 3A teams outside of Chicago is tough as well. Defending champion East St. Louis is strong again. Rockford Boylan, the Peoria area (Manual and Notre Dame), Rock Island and Lincoln also have teams firmly in the 3A mix.
Between the overall depth of teams and a better representation of good teams from around the state, 3A should turn into a very entertaining field this season.
Will Orr win a fourth straight title in Class 2A?
The past three seasons have seen Orr completely dominate the Class 2A field. The Spartans cruised to three state titles without much competition.
Although the Spartans have to replace multiple double-figure scorers from last season’s team they still look like the preseason favorite to claim another Class 2A title this season.
Senior Demarius Splunge and transfer guard Reggie Strong should form a tough duo to stop at the 2A level. Orr has become one of the city’s best programs — regardless of class.
If head coach Lou Adams can capture the 4th state title in a row then Orr will be included among the discussion of one of Illinois’ greatest programs.
Can Class 1A maintain a presence in Chicagoland after Providence-St. Mel
The Class 1A playoff proceedings are generally an afterthought among this area because we generally lack a state title contender.
Providence-St. Mel changed that last season by taking Class 1A by storm. The Knights proved they were not only the state’s best 1A team but they were one of the city’s best teams last season regardless of class.
This season doesn’t feature a Class 1A juggernaut from the area but two intriguing teams stand out in Leo and Aurora Christian.
The Lions have been a strong 2A presence the past few seasons as forward Kendale Anderson returns for his senior season. And Aurora Christian has one of the state’s premier sophomores in Jaden Schutt.
So while Class 1A doesn’t have a local team the caliber of Providence-St. Mel last season, there are still some smaller schools to track during the season.
Does Illinois produce a McDonald’s All-American?
An unprecedented drought has been happening in Illinois the past few seasons. The state hasn’t produced a McDonald’s All-American since Stevenson‘s Jalen Brunson in 2015.
What used to be an annual occurrence hasn’t happened in four classes. Illinois hasn’t produced elite-level high school players for the longest span in 45 years.
The drought has a serious chance to end this season with not only one, but potentially two local Burger Boys.
Whitney Young senior D.J. Steward is coming off of a monster summer that saw him commit to Duke and elevate in the national rankings. Following a stellar junior season, Morgan Park’s Adam Miller will look to follow that up with another massive year.
Both Public League stars are right near the five-star national rankings cut off in the Class of 2020. Perhaps most importantly, both seniors should get opportunities to impress during the season as the Dolphins and Mustangs play in some big national showcase games.
As long as Miller and Steward play at a high level, they should be firmly in the McDonald’s mix when they announce the final rosters in late January.