While many of the area's boys basketball teams will be competing at Wheeling, here's a look the squads who will be hitting the road this holiday season.
A tough field at Jacobs will surely challenge Elk Grove (5-4).
The Grenadiers open pool play against the tournament favorite Zion Benton (9-1), who currently lead the North Suburban Lake behind the play of Milik Yarbrough.
But Elk Grove also has the luxury of having a guy that can take over a game at any moment in Austin Amann, who is averaging 21.7 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game.
"Austin's doing a nice job," said Elk Grove coach Anthony Furman. "When teams take him away, we're looking for other guys to step up."
Sophomore Matt Wary, who delivered a career-high 18 points on Tuesday and Kishan Patel (11.2 ppg) can both attack the basket, while Joell Melendez and Bryan Alcazar do a little bit of everything.
"It's not about one guy stepping up," Furman said. "We can score, but we're more effective when we score off of our sets. Want to establish inside-out combination to take pressure off our perimeter players."
Barrington (6-5) leads the Mid-Suburban West and opens up with Prairie Ridge (2-5).
The Broncos are possibly the area's biggest surprise and have been sneaky-good thus far with their patient offense. Experienced point guard Brad Zaumseil, Scott Nelson and Zach Bart all play key roles.
Crystal Lake Central (7-1), Lakes (8-3), Cary Grove (6-3), Johnsburg (4-2) and Bartlett (6-4) should all challenge for the title.
Buffalo Grove (4-6) will look to rebound from a lopsided loss at Schaumburg and drew Glenbard North, who is only 2-4 thus far but is dangerous with several players hitting their stride after a deep football run.
"They're really athletic," said BG coach Ryan O'Connor. "They do a lot of things defensively to mix it up a bit. MSL basketball is a lot of man-to-man and this will be something totally different for us."
Luke Potnick (24 ppg) controls most of the action for the Bison, but with games in four straight days, the team will need Jonah Malin to continue his impressive start to the season and get contributions from Andrew Apel and Steve Soifer.
O'Connor is looking forward to seeing a wide variety of teams and seeing how his team adjusts.
"It'll be a challenge and that's the reason we go there," O'Connor said.
After a difficult start to the season with three canceled games, Hoffman Estates (1-8) has shown plenty of improvement with close losses to the Mid-Suburban's division leaders, Prospect and Barrington.
"We are growing," said Hoffman Estates coach Luke Yanule. "Our kids are hungry and have showed tremendous character throughout the whole thing. I think we're right on the cusp of being a really good team despite the record being what it is."
That growth will be put to the test in the Hawks' first round game against the tournament's No. 2 seed Rockford East, a long and athletic team who has opened the season 6-2 and in second place in the Northern Illinois.
The leadership of captains Takuro Azumaya, Connor Schwarz and Joe Biko has been exceptional, according to Yanule.
Biko leads the team in scoring, but on any given night the team will git contributions from Trevor Pye, Iziah Robinson, Jordan Robinson and Olu Adelaja.
"Our kids have bought in and I'm excited to see how they respond to that challenge," Yanule said. "If we respond the way that we have to every challenge this year, I think we're going to have a nice, little tournament."
Larkin (9-2), Dundee-Crown (6-2) and Las Vegas Centennial round out the tournament's top four seeds.
At Hinsdale South
No. 6 Schaumburg (6-4) returns to the tournament where they were runner's up last season, the tournament's inaugural year.
Their first round matchup will test their ability to adjust on the fly as the Saxons open up with Graves County (Kent.).
"I don't know the first thing about them," Walsh said. "That's why holiday tournaments are fun. It's neat to have a chance to play someone from a different state."
Kyle Bolger (15 ppg) has done a little bit of everything for a team that has won their last two games after a brief two-game losing streak.
"It's always our goal to get better throughout the season," said Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh. "Certainly we feel that we've gotten better this past week."
Schaumburg could potentially face No. 3 Brother Rice (8-0) in the second round.
No. 15 Rolling Meadows (3-7) will have its hands full with a first-round matchup against No. 2 St. Patrick (7-2), which currently sits atop the East Suburban Catholic standings.
But the Mustangs, who went 3-1 in this tournament last season with their only loss coming to Metea Valley, will be ready as they have overcome a flurry of early season injuries and are starting to hit their stride with wins in two of their last three games.
Matt Dolan (12 ppg, 8 rpg) and Jack Milas (12 ppg) lead Meadows offensively and contributions from big men Adam Pavlakis and Brian Sabal along with improving sophomore point guard A.J. Aluquin have been important for coach Kevin Katovich.
And the Mustangs are starrting to get healthy with the return of senior Mike Dolan. Originally thought to be out until at least the end of January after he tore his labrum over the summer, Dolan played his first game against Wheeling last Friday
"He worked so hard and I couldn't be happier for him," Katovich said. "He wanted to come back sooner than (doctors) projected."
After starting every game last season, Dolan will provide scoring depth for a team that has had no problems stopping teams, allowing just 40.8 points per game, but has sometimes lacked the punch offensively to win games.
Lake Forest (6-2) is the tournament's top seed.
No. 6 Palatine (6-4) has already doubled its' win total from last season and looks to add to that number at York.
The Pirates open with UIC Prep and will also face the host Dukes (7-2), who won Palatine's Thanksgiving Tournament with a perfect 4-0 mark. York boasts Division I guard David Cohn along with plenty of height.
And a big test against Riverside-Brookfield (8-3), the top team in the Metro Suburban, has an added twist as assistant coach Dan McCloskey's dad, Tom, is the school's longtime coach.
"That's a really competitive tournament," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone. "We know that we're going to face good teams, whoever we face. We just want to make sure that we're playing as well as we can play, because there's no gimmes in that tournament."
The Pirates should be able to hold their own with solid guard play in sophomore standout Roosevelt Smart (17.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and sophomore point guard Chris Macahon (7.2 ppg). Greg Grana (7.6 ppg) is a threat from the outside and Josh Baldus (6.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) anchors the interior. Forward Jason Jablonski is expected back tonight and gives Palatine depth down low.
No. 8 Conant (5-5) returns to a tournament that it has won five times since 1996, most recently in 2008 when Cameron Leavitt's buzzer beater topped St. Ignatius in the final.
The Cougars will face the top-seeded Wolf Pack (7-1) to open pool play and will also see Lane Tech (3-6) and Holy Trinity (1-8).
"You need to be able to absorb a game-plan very quickly," said Conant coach Tom McCormack. "After the first game, you don't have much time to practice or walk through stuff. The kids have to do a good job of learning on the fly."
Robert Hudson (14 ppg) has paced Conant that has either tied or led in the fourth quarter of all five of their losses.
Conant is on a 3-game winning streak and a big reason for that has been the return of junior D'Angelo McBride, who broke his wrist in the football team's second round loss to Maine South. McBride played his first game against Palatine on Dec. 6 and while McCormack still expects his offense to come around, his presence has been crucial for the Cougars.
"He's a big reason why we've been able to string some things together recently," McCormack said. "His leadership and toughness have been two things that have helped us these last few games."
Waubonsee Valley (6-4), Naperville North (5-3) and Lyons Township (4-3) are possible late round matchups for Palatine and Conant.
Hersey (3-6) makes its annual trip to central Illinois and opens up with Plainfield East (4-4), which is in second place in the Southwest Prairie.
Alex Sutrinaitis paces the Huskies in scoring, and the team will need Connor Watters to handle the ball with Quinn Orlandi and Mike Fuerst playing big in the paint.
At Glenbard West
Leyden (5-3) has had a rough start to conference play at 1-3 but will look to continue their perfect nonconference mark at Glenbard West. The Eagles open with the host Hilltoppers (6-1) and will also play Hubbard (1-7).
Christian Liberty (3-8) has played a difficult schedule so far but that should prepare them to compete at Alden-Hebron.
They open round-robin play with Keith Country Day School (1-3), who the Chargers beat 53-31 two weeks ago.
Wesley Swiderek (12 ppg) leads the team in scoring after sitting out all of last season due to injury and David Colbert (11 ppg) has been a steadying presence.
Christian Liberty will also see Harvest Christian (2-6), Alden-Hebron (2-6) and Faith Lutheran.
"It'll be an interesting tournament for us," said Christian Liberty coach Jed Bennett. "I think we could win it, but Harvest or Alden could win it, too."
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