5 Sleeper Boy's Basketball Teams In Illinois
By Roy & Harv Schmidt
November 20, 2016
1:30 P.M. CST
As we have said many times before, anyone who follows boy's high school basketball in Illinois is capable of comprising preseason rankings of the top 25 (or beyond) boy's basketball teams in Illinois. However, we believe it takes greater ability to go beyond that and pick out the teams who are under-the radar, who haven't gotten the degree of respect they deserve and as a result fall into the category of true "sleepers."
Well, Illinois Prep Bulls-eye has been identifying sleeper teams in the Land Of Lincoln ever since our inception and have done so with considerable accuracy year after year. With that in mind, the following is our analysis of five teams that won't be picked to win their respective conferences this season, but when all is said and done could not only be claiming conference championships but also making serious noise come state tournament time.
Make no mistake about it--the East Suburban Catholic conference is one of the top three boy's basketball conferences in the state along with the Southwestern Conference and the Red-South division of the Chicago Public League. And while Benet Academy, Marian Catholic, Notre Dame and Marist are all mentioned by various outlets in the preseason rankings, absolutely no one is talking about the Shamrocks of St. Patrick. And we don't understand why, as they have an unsung back court in 6'1 2018 combo Xavier Pinson and 5'9 2017 point guard Lawrence Merritt, both of whom can put points on the board. However, the X factor is 6'5 2017 wing forward Alton Thompson, who transferred in from California. Thompson is a world-class athlete and if he provides consistent offense to match the power in the back court, St. Patrick could be a dangerous team.
Naperville North is the favorite in the DuPage Valley Conference and rightfully so, but look for the Falcons of Wheaton North to be knocking right on the door. That is because they return their entire starting lineup from a team that finished 19-9 last season. The leaders are 6'5 2017 wing forward Rowan McGowen and 6'3 2017 2-guard Luke Anthony. Both are ideal small college recruits who are drawing attention from several D3 and NAIA schools. In addition, Wheaton North is also an excellent 3-point shooting team. Receiving consistent scoring on the interior will be a key. Having reached the Class 4A regional final final a year ago, we believe this year's squad is capable of going even further.
There is not another conference in the state that is more loaded with talent than the Southwestern Conference. Almost every team has at least one D1 player. Edwardsville has the most experience and therefore has to be considered the favorite. Belleville East, East St. Louis and Alton also figure to be in the picture. But the most improved team will undoubtedly be Belleville West, who finished 14-14 overall and 7-7 in the conference a year ago. That is because they feature an imposing front line that includes a legit D1 recruit in 6'7 2019 forward E.J. Liddell and in our opinion one of the more overlooked front court players in the state in 6'7 2017 power forward Tyler Dancy. There is also considerable depth, as they are capable of going with a 9 man rotation. Should they find consistency at the point guard spot, the Maroons could very well be standing tall in the end.
Downers Grove North
As far as we are concerned, Downers Grove North could very well be the favorite in the West Suburban Silver conference. Yet no one else seems to be picking them, which we find a bit baffling. The Trojans are led by 6'6 2017 wing forward Mike Jakobsze, a versatile and athletic player who has gone underrecruited. Offensive punch can also come from 6'3 2018 2-guard Keenan Davis and 5'10 2019 point guard Semaj Henderson, both of whom held their own against top competition during the summer. How they end up faring at the prestigious Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December could tell us an awful lot as to just how good this team can be.
Most everyone agrees that the best team in Chicago's south suburbs is Hillcrest, but at the end of the day Bloom could very well be #2. The Trojans' primary scorer will be 6'5 2017 wing forward and St. Cloud State signee Austin Richie, who transferred from Marian Catholic. However, they also have an unheralded back court led by 6'4 2017 2-guard Jaylon Lee. Overall, the Bloom guards are as good defensively as any group you will see from the south suburban area. There is also a strong freshman class featuring 3 class of 2020 prospects who could all make an impact on the varsity. We'll find out early just where Bloom stacks up, as they'll battle for area bragging rights in the highly competitive Chicago Heights Thanksgiving Classic.
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