Brush the snow off the car and head for the Sears Centre Saturday, high school basketball fans. This tripleheader is a must-see.
Four teams ranked in the top five of the Daily Herald Top 20 are poised to square off at the 15th Annual National Guard High School Hoops Showdown, and the middle game features one of the suburbs' most intense rivalries. Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for students.
Here's a look at the matchups:
Game 1: No. 1 Elgin (15-1) vs. No. 5 Huntley (15-1), 4:30 p.m.: This is one of the most-anticipated regular-season matchups between far northwest suburban teams in the last decade.
Huntley ended Elgin's season last March by virtue of a 57-46 victory in a Class 4A sectional semifinal at Jacobs, a game the Maroons remember well.
"They got the best of us, so some of my returning players are looking very forward to playing this game," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said.
Each team has enjoyed its fair share of success already. Huntley won the Sycamore Thanksgiving Tournament for the third straight season and followed up with its first title at the Jacobs Holiday Tournament on Dec. 23.
The defending champions of the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, the Red Raiders' only loss was inflicted by Fremd on a 27-footer at the buzzer. They have since won 10 straight.
Elgin won its second straight Thanksgiving tournament title at Buffalo Grove, then upset nationally ranked powerhouse La Lumiere (Ind.) to win its own holiday tournament on Dec. 22.
The defending champions of the River Division of the Upstate Eight Conference, the Maroons endured their only loss in triple overtime at Geneva on Dec. 2. They have since won 11 straight.
Huntley graduated top scorers Tyler Brunschon and Dylan Neukirch from last year's squad, but the Red Raiders haven't missed a beat, thanks in large part to the emergence of 6-foot-6 sophomore Amanze Egekeze, who is already drawing interest from major college programs. He averages 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds to go with an area-best 30 blocked shots and 24 steals.
Huntley enjoys veteran leadership, thanks to a trio of third-year varsity performers. Entering this week, senior guard Troy Miller was averaging 11.6 points and 2.5 assists. Miller is his team's primary outside threat with 34 field goals from 3-point range in 87 tries (39 percent).
"Our two leaders left last year and that role has kind of transferred to me," Miller said. "I'm trying to get the ball to Amanze. If no one can guard him, the smartest thing to do is just get him the ball and score."
Huntley senior Justin Frederick averages 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, and junior Bryce Only averages 8.3 points and a team-best 5.1 rebounds.
Elgin counters with the Fox Valley area's most potent offense (60.1 ppg). The Maroons are led by 6-foot-4 senior Kory Brown, the reigning honorary captain of the Daily Herald All-Area team. Brown can do it all. He is fourth in area scoring (15.8 ppg), first in rebounding (8.6 rpg) and had 29 blocks through 14 games.
Brown is adept at penetrating the lane for a shot, but the multitalented post is equally comfortable kicking the ball out to the perimeter, where the area's two most accurate 3-point snipers await. Senior guard Cortez Scott is shooting 58 percent from beyond the arc (29 of 50) while junior wing Arie Williams has connected on 29 of 57 attempts (50.9 percent).
Huntley coach Marty Manning said limiting the production of Scott and Williams from the perimeter is a key, but it won't be the primary focus.
"It'll be important, but I think cutting off their dribble penetration will be more important," Manning said. "Let's hope playing in a bigger arena might make them shoot a little bit worse. To be honest, we don't have the speed and quickness at all five positions to be able to worry about them shooting first and driving second, so our first goal will be to cut off penetration and then, hopefully, be able to close out properly on their shooters."
Anyone who attended last year's sectional matchup between these teams can expect to see a repeat from a strategic standpoint, says Sitter.
"I guarantee neither Marty nor I will change hardly anything that we did last year," Elgin's coach said. "They're going to sag back and dare us to beat them from the outside. If Arie's hitting his 25 footers, we'll be all right.
"If we get hot and get a lead, then we can spread it out and make them come out and play us at half court. And I guarantee he doesn't want his kids to pick us up three-quarter court or half court. He's going to meet us at the 3-point line and no further.
"It'll be a clash of styles. We'll see whose style wins."
Game 2: Geneva (9-7, 3-1) vs. Batavia (4-10, 1-4), 6:30 p. m: Some fans on either side of this ancient rivalry have been turned away at the gate through the years due to overflow crowds at one venue or the other.
That won't be an issue Saturday when the Hatfields and McCoys of the Fox River Valley take their long-standing feud to a grander battleground.
"I've never played in a place like this so you never know going into it," Batavia senior Cole Gardner said. "But hopefully it'll be a lot of fun. I'm sure we'll get into it. I'm excited."
"I think both pep bands are going to be there, so that will add to it," Batavia coach Jim Roberts said of the atmosphere. "It's a unique situation for both teams and we're proud to be a part of it. It's a very well-run event, very well organized and thought out."
Geneva gave up its home game to make the event happen,
"I feel very fortunate and grateful to our administration and athletic director (Jim Kafer) for letting us participate because an event like this is great for the kids," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "It builds real good memories for them. We've had a couple of opportunities to participate in the Preps to Pros event at the United Center. Kids come back a couple of years later and they all say that is one of the things they remember best.
"I'm sure with this game being against Batavia, it will make this that much more memorable for them."
Geneva can't afford to slip against its chief rival. The Vikings remain tied in the loss column with Elgin in the Upstate Eight's River Division entering tonight's rematch against the Maroons.
Geneva, led by senior guards Brendan Leahy, Phil Lorenz and Ben Rogers, has won 3 out of 4 games.
Batavia has battled injuries to key players all season. Gardner (6-6) and junior Zach Strittmatter (6-5) are both back in the lineup after earlier injuries, but junior guard Mike Rueffer is currently sidelined. On the one occasion when all three were in the lineup simultaneously, Batavia dusted a 9-win Larkin team 57-39.
Geneva's Connor Chapman will play a key role against Batavia's big frontcourt. The 6-foot-5 junior is coming off his best game of the season Tuesday, when he scored a team-best 13 points, blocked 3 shots and grabbed 9 rebounds in a win at West Chicago.
Batavia enjoys an overall size advantage, but the Vikings have the edge from a quickness standpoint.
"You have to play good defense, stay in front of people and don't try to swat at everything just because you have the size advantage," Gardner said. "You can't pick up silly fouls. They'll be able to do things we won't be able to do, but that goes both ways. We can do things inside and that will hopefully open up other things.
"I'm interested to see how it will be. We've been having a rough year, but I think a lot of people will come out just because it's the Geneva game. And because it's at the Sears Centre I think it will draw more people than normal. Hopefully, it'll be a good game."
Game 3: No. 2 Warren (12-2) vs. No. 4 Downers Grove South (13-3), 8:30 p.m.: The nightcap features a contrast in styles between two of the top teams in the suburbs.
Warren, ranked fifth in this week's Associated Press Poll of Class 4A schools, boasts a huge frontcourt, led by 6-foot-9 senior Nathan Boothe (Toledo) and 6-8 senior Darius Paul (Western Michigan). The Blue Devils return a bevy of players responsible for last year's 31-4 record and runner-up finish to Simeon in Class 4A.
Downers Grove South is coming off Thursday's loss to Proviso East, a team ranked No. 2 in this week's statewide poll. The Mustangs have talent on the perimeter in senior guards Jamall Millison and Jerron Wilbut, the latter of whom said Tuesday he is weighing offers from finalists Memphis, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Xavier and Nebraska.
"It's our first time playing Warren," said Wilbut (6-3). "From what we've seen, they're a pretty big team. We'll have to look to our strengths. We're faster than them, more athletic than them, so we have to use that to our advantage. We really have to box out this game. Everyone's over 6-6 now."
Wilbut can score. He was named the Daily Herald Player of the Week last week after scoring 73 points in wins over Fremd, Leyden and Glenbard North. Warren, though, has seen it all.
"In the Pontiac Tournament we played Peoria Manual and they had some smaller guys like that," Boothe said. "You have to rely on your fundamentals defensively. You have to play them the same way you try to play every game, pressure the ball and keep them in front of you. But I know it's going to be a challenge."
Warren coach Chuck Ramsey said his guards are often overlooked by opponents who instead focus on the Blue Devils' bigs. He said opponents can't go to sleep on Warren's guards.
"Our bigger kids tend to get the notoriety, but our perimeter players are pretty good, too," Ramsey said. "They're not slow. They can pick and move. Hopefully, they can do the job and give us a chance to compete."
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