Don't sleep on 'em: IHSA boys basketball teams to watch outside Chicagoland

NBC Sports Chicago

Don't sleep on 'em: IHSA boys basketball teams to watch outside Chicagoland

The state of Illinois has plenty of great high school basketball teams from all over the state. And while we focus mainly on the Chicagoland area at NBC Sports Chicago during the regular season, there are title contenders and fun teams to watch all over. 

With that in mind, here are five teams from outside of our Chicagoland area that fans should pay attention to this season. Some of these teams feature a star with Division I talent. Others are coming off of trips to Peoria last season and have high hopes for another trip to state. 

Try to catch these teams at some point this season if you happen to venture outside of our area. 

Collinsville -- There's an argument to be made that Collinsville is the best team in Illinois outside the Chicagoland area. Finishing 27-6 last season, Collinsville holds the distinction of beating both Class 3A champion East St. Louis and Class 4A champion Belleville West during the regular season last year.

Senior Ray'Sean Taylor, an SIUE commit, is one of the state's top returning players as he put up 21.4 points per game as a junior. Taylor has over 1,300 career points as he tries to push for the Collinsville school record this season. Taylor is joined by some talented returning players including guard Cawhan Smith and forward Keydrian Jones.

Circle the calendar on Dec. 14 as Collinsville clashes against Morgan Park at the Scott State Bank Shootout and on Feb. 8 as the Kahoks play Simeon at the O'Fallon Shootout.

Geneseo -- The logic for seeing Geneseo this season is simple: senior forward Isaiah Rivera is the best senior in the state not playing in the Chicagoland area. The Colorado State commit is a big-time athlete who puts up huge numbers for the Maple Leafs. 

Rivera is the type of player who will see constant double teams and defense geared to stop him. That won’t matter; Rivera will still get buckets. The Maple Leafs will always be a threat this season as long as Rivera is on the floor. 

Geneseo could match up with some area teams when they participate in the Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament at DeKalb in December. 

East St. Louis -- The defending Class 3A champions will have to move on without graduated senior forward Terrence Hargrove Jr. and many of his strong senior teammates. But there’s still a lot to like about the Flyers this season. The program still has a healthy amount of talent. 

Senior Armond Williams showed flashes of great play during last year’s state tournament and this summer as he’s a Division I prospect and interior force at 6-foot-8. Senior point guard Jashawn Anderson is also back as he provides stability on the perimeter. Senior shooting guard Lashawn Johnson has already drawn steady buzz for his play over the last six months. 

East St. Louis plays a few local teams this season, most notably a trip to the Orr Breast Cancer Shootout in January and a mid-February matchup with Lincoln Park. 

[MORE: Five Boys Basketball Conference Races to Watch]

Rock Island — An interesting team in the Class 3A mix, the Rocks are loaded with size and experience in the front court. The co-Western Big 6 champions from last season are, once again, dangerous. 

Solomon Gustafson, Malachi Key and wing Taurean Holtam all provide varsity experience. All of them are at least 6-foot-5 and give the Rocks a decided size advantage against many opponents. Rock Island also has a lot of young talent on the perimeter. That group will have to prove itself on the varsity level if Rock Island is a true state title contender. 

Rock Island will have games against Chicagoland competition on Jan. 3 and 4 when they face Zion-Benton and Kaneland in two shootout events. 

Peoria Manual — Surprising many in the state with a final four appearance in Class 3A last season, nobody should be surprised by the Rams this season. 

A program with proud basketball tradition brings back two double-figure scorers this season in senior guard Pee Wee Brown and junior Emaryon Byrd. Brown was a breakout player during the state tournament while Byrd is a promising wing who should step up this season. 

Peoria Manual isn’t scheduled to play any Chicagoland competition during the season except for possible tournament teams in the State Farm Holiday Classic.

Dream on? Some fantasy-like HS matchups could become a reality


Dream on? Some fantasy-like HS matchups could become a reality

With two more weeks left until the IHSA state playoffs, here are some fun dream matchups to consider.  I would love to see some of these happen-- and in some cases, a few of these actually have a chance to occur.

Homewood-Flossmoor vs East St. Louis: The 8A Vikings, coached by Craig Buzea, have a ton of playmakers. They feature a speedster in NIU-bond senior RB Justin Hall; plus, their speed and athleticism on both sides of the football is eye-catching. As for East St Louis, the Flyers (Class 7A) also have a ton of talent and speed including senior dual-threat QB Christian Perez and a big, very physical offensive line. This would be an excellent back-and-forth game-- a possible 'last possession wins' type of finish.

Marist vs Lincoln-Way East: Both 8A schools could very well see each other on the IHSA playoff road. Coach Rob Zvonar's Griffins feature one of the state's top defensive lines, built around senior Northwestern commit Devin O'Rourke. They also have a strong running game and good overall depth. Marist, under first-year head coach Ron Dawczak, also boasts a fantastic defensive line led by Indiana commit DE Gavin McCabe and Minnesota pledge Elijah Teague. The Redhawks' offense can beat you with the run and the pass. QB Mike Markett, RB Delonte Harrell and a ton of quality receivers are helping Marist rack up nearly 45 points per game. I'd pay to see these two teams compete in any postseason playoff round.

Barrington vs Huntley: It's another matchup that could potentially happen in 8A this postseason. How much fun would it be to see both do-it-all quarterbacks (Barrington's Ray Niro and Huntley's Eric Mooney) battle each other for four quarters?

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 8 Power Rankings]

Maine South vs a Rochester/Sacred Heart-Griffin CO-OP team: Since 4A perennial power Rochester and 5A-sized Sacred Heart-Griffin are both smaller than Maine South (from an enrollment standpoint) I'd allow a CO-OP for both schools here. How wild would a combined Leonard Family-led team be? Maine South has great balance on offense with QB John O'Sullivan, NIU commit RB Fotis Kokosioulis and a ton of quality receivers. Team Leonard's offense would undoubtedly be equal to the task. 

Glenbard West vs Loyola: Sort of like Godzilla meets Godzilla? Both Loyola (8A) and Glenbard West (8A/7A bubble team) pride themselves on defense first, but both are pretty diverse on offense as well. How cool would this be: two of the top overall programs in Illinois over the past decade going head to head? We can only hope. 

Lake Zurich vs Prairie Ridge: It's the unstoppable force (6A's Prairie Ridge offense with QB Samson Evans) against the immovable object (The 7A Lake Zurich defense). The matchup between the Bears' offense, which has opened up considerably under first year head coach Luke Mertens, against the Wolves' speedy and hard-hitting defense could potentially be just as impressive. 

Phillips vs Peoria: Peoria (4-3), the defending 5A state champs, seem headed to 6A. Of course, they would have to qualify for the state playoff field first. Phillips, the 3A/4A-sized school voluntarily moved up to 5A for the next two seasons. How would the Wildcats defense contain Peoria's offense, led by Illinois commit QB Coran Taylor and company? 

High School Lites Podcast: How is Peoria High School scoring 70 points per game?


High School Lites Podcast: How is Peoria High School scoring 70 points per game?

Peoria High School scored 94 points –in football—against Bloomington on Friday. They are averaging close to 70 points on the season. Will they score 100 points in a game this year? Can the Lions repeat as 5A state champs?

Joe Collins, Jared Storck and “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran catch up with their head coach, Tim Thornton. Also: Niles North (hazing) and Whitney Young (low participation numbers) have suspended their football programs for the rest of the season. How does this impact the future of these programs? The panel discusses this topic and sets up Week 6 on the High School Lites calendar.

Listen to the High School Lites Podcast below: