Sunday, January 14, 2007

What coach says is true

POINT #1 .... Simeon remains the top-ranked team in the City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings. And the Hoops Report doesn't care that it dropped its second game of the year Sunday night to Rice out of Harlem, 53-51, at Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines clearly remain the most talented and diverse team in the state.

Coach Robert Smith has repeatedly said Simeon's goal this season was not to go unbeaten, which would have gone a long way in putting this particular team in Illinois prep basketball lore. The goal remains the same: to become the first Chicago Public League team to win back-to-back state championships. Smith believes the schedule, the target on its back and constant media attention his team faces this year is the perfect ingredient to repeat. And he's right.

The fact is, when March rolls around, no team will be more prepared for a state tournament run than Simeon. When Illinois teams are at home beating up on other Illinois teams, Simeon is playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden against a solid Rice program out of Harlem. As other Illinois teams are watching, Simeon will be playing on ESPN and facing the country's best team, Oak Hill Academy. Throw in playing in front of packed houses at the Marshall County Hoopfest in Kentucky and the City-Suburban Showdown at Northwestern, plus facing different styles of teams and officiating at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, and Simeon will have faced about every test imagineable prior to its March run. Throw in the fact this team is incredibly talented and has been through the state tournament grind before, winning it all a year ago, and it's impossible not to keep Simeon No. 1 in the polls.

POINT #2 .... No team in the Top 25 has had as many wins with as little fanfare as Conant. The Hoops Report did have Conant ranked in its preseason Top 25. Nonetheless, the Cougars have quietly put together a terrific 14-1 start to the season. Underrated coach Tom McCormack, though, will find out a lot about his team this weekend. If Conant wants to add to the scrapbook and claim a MSL West title, it must beat a hot Schaumburg team Friday night. Conant lost to Schaumburg back in December but could force a tie with a win. Then the Cougars will travel to No. 3 ranked St. Joseph the following night for a perfect mid-season measuring stick. This is a different Conant team than it was early in the year. The reason? Geoff McCammon. The 6-4 senior has been huge, playing bigger than his size and providing a major presence inside.

POINT #3 .... The East Aurora-West Aurora rivalry, the oldest in Illinois, is the best in high school basketball. The latest edition, last Saturday at East Aurora, only added to the great history of this rivalry, with East upsetting West in a last-second two-point thriller. There will be plenty of people who will argue Evanston-New Trier or maybe some other rivalry. But a rivarly is a little extra special when it involves one community, split by a river and bounded together by this one game. The two have faced each other in so many meaningful and memorable games that it's come to be expected. Might there be another East-West showdown in March?

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