The schedule makers at Jacobs High School have redesigned their boys basketball tournament with the high school fan in mind.
Previously, teams in the same pool played their games back to back. That system made it convenient for coaches to scout upcoming opponents, but the casual fan had to pick and choose the most attractive matchups to see over a 12-hour span.
In an effort to maximize attendance this Saturday, the opening-day schedule has been adjusted to showcase four of the day's most compelling matchups consecutively, beginning at 3 p.m. The evening showcase begins with Barrington (4-5) vs. Prairie Ridge (5-3) at 3 p.m., followed by Crystal Lake South (8-0) vs. Zion-Benton (7-1) at 4:30 p.m., Larkin (8-1) vs. District U-46 rival South Elgin (5-5) at 6 p.m. and host Jacobs (2-3) vs. Lakes (2-6) at 7:30 p.m.
"On the first night we saw an opportunity to stack some good games on a Saturday evening slate," said first-year Jacobs coach Jim Roberts. "Fans can come out here and see some very good teams and some very good players."
The tournament -- officially renamed the Hinkle Holiday Classic presented by Meijer, in honor of former Jacobs coach Jim Hinkle -- includes Larkin, the No. 2 team in the Daily Herald Top 20. The Royals won the Elgin Holiday Tournament last season. Led by guards Kendale McCullum (14.6 ppg) and Derrick Streety (11.6), forwards Drew Jones (13.9), Brayden Royse (7-0) and Christian Negron (8.3).
Larkin joins Carmel (6-2) and Zion-Benton, led by 6-foot-4 small forward Malik Yarbrough, among the favorites to contend for the title when the 5-game tournament concludes on Dec. 28.
"It was tough to leave Elgin, no doubt," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "The main reason is we get to play a fifth game at the Jacobs Tournament. The other thing was just seeing different opponents. At Jacobs we have the potential to see teams we could face in the postseason, whereas, at Elgin we know many of those teams from our league." Larkin could be on the move again next year. The Royals made a one-year commitment to play at Jacobs.
Other contenders include Rockford Jefferson (4-3), CL South and Bartlett (7-3). Jefferson knocked Larkin out of the playoffs last season in a Class 4A sectional semifinal at DeKalb. No. 10 CL South won the Richmond-Burton Thanksgiving Tournament, while No. 12 Bartlett won the title at Wheaton Academy. However, the Gators and Hawks find themselves lumped in the toughest pool along with Zion-Benton and Marian Central (6-4).
"We have a tough game Saturday against Zion," said CL South senior Austin Rogers, who leads the Gators in scoring. "They have a couple of studs."
"It's a great field for us," said CL South coach Matt LePage, whose team reached the title game last season before losing to Crystal Lake Central. "The Zion game Saturday is going to be a lot of fun. They're really good and it's a good test for us. We played well there last year, but we have a heck of a road with (Zion-Benton) and Bartlett."
The Hinkle Holiday Classic opens with a matchup between Carmel and Cary-Grove (3-5) on Saturday at 9 a.m.
At Elgin: Defending champion Larkin does not return, but the field gets a boost from the entrance of three-time Fox Valley Conference (Valley) champion Huntley (5-3), which has won 5 of 6 games since an 0-2 start. Huntley is ranked No. 15 in the Daily Herald Top 20
"We're trying to invite a bunch more local teams to increase the fan base and to allow those local teams who don't play each other on a regular basis to play," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said.
Competing in the Elgin Tournament scratches an itch for Huntley coach Marty Manning, who attended the tournament as a child with his father.
"We used to go to it all the time when I was growing up," said Manning, a Hoffman Estates graduate. "I've always wanted to play in the Elgin Tournament. I remember going to see (Chicago) King play there with Tommy Hamilton and Rashard Griffith. My dad said I went right to the front row and my mouth was agape watching them. Chesbrough Field House is historic so it's nice for our guys to get a chance to play there."
The Red Raiders are led by 6-foot-8 Belmont recruit Amanze Egekeze. Fully healthy this season, the versatile senior leads Huntley in scoring (17.0), rebounding (9.1) and blocked shots (18). Egekeze is shooting 33 percent from 3-point range (7 of 21) and 77.8 percent from free-throw line (21 of 27).
Other key contributors for Huntley include 6-4 senior forward Zach Gorney (11 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and 6-3 senior guard Riley Wicks (9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Huntley limited Crystal Lake Central to 24 points on Dec. 10 and held Cary-Grove to 25 points on Tuesday.
"Defensively, we're playing really well," Manning said. "Offensively, we're making strides to get better teach game as the guys are getting more comfortable in their roles. This gives us the chance to play against a bunch of teams with different styles without much time to prepare because the games are back to back. It'll give us a good sense of how well we adjust on the fly."
The Elgin field also includes Buffalo Grove (2-5), Rockford East (2-6), Dundee-Crown (2-6), Rockford Guilford (2-6), Walther Christian (1-5), Glenbard North (5-1), and Parker (6-0) as well as Chicago Public League entrants Harlan (1-9), Team Englewood (4-2), South Shore (4-1) and Corliss (1-8).
"There are four Public League teams, so you don't really know what you're getting," said Sitter, whose Maroons (3-7) open against South Shore at 1:45 p.m. Monday. "Harlan is in the Red-South with Simeon and Morgan Park so they play a high level of competition and could be pretty good. When you have those mystery teams, you're not exactly sure what you're getting and you don't always get a good scout."
Dundee-Crown opens tournament play against Team Englewood on Monday at 12:15 p.m. The Chargers have dropped a 70-48 decision to Crystal Lake South on Tuesday.
"I thought the last week and a half or so we made some strides, but (against CL South) we took a step back," D-C coach Lance Huber said. "There will be other bumps in the road, but hopefully we can make a few more strides and get it going."
At Plano: Burlington Central landed the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the 24-team tournament by virtue of its 7-2 start, which took a hit Thursday night with a 62-59 loss to Genoa-Kingston. The Rockets open tournament play against the St. Bede/Somonauk winner on Thursday, Dec. 26 at 8:30 p.m. Defending champion Ottawa (5-1) is the top seed.
"It's a nice feeling to be seeded No. 2 because 24 teams vote on it based on what you've done this year," Burlington Central coach Brett Porto said, "but it's more important how we finish. I'll be happy as long as we keep getting better. I don't want to predict how we'll do as far as numbers of wins. I'm not sure. I just want to see our energy and our execution improving each game. Especially the execution part."
Coal City (6-0) is the No. 3 seed, followed by Kaneland (4-2) and Genoa-Kingston (8-2).
At Wheeling: Streamwood (1-7) aims for improvement at the Hardwood Classic. The Sabres open play in the 16-team tournament on Monday at 8:45 p.m. against Naperville Central, the No. 10 team in the Daily Herald Top 20.
AT IC Catholic Prep/Westmont: St. Edward (9-1) aims for its second tournament title of the season. The Green Wave finished second last season after falling to IC Catholic Prep in the title game.
At DeKalb: Hampshire (3-4) hopes to improve on last year's third-place finish when it opens play at the 86th Annual Chuck Dayton Tournament Saturday with a split doubleheader. Senior guard Ryan Cork and the Whip-Purs face Hinsdale South at 3 p.m. and Geneseo at 7:30 p.m.
At Marengo: Class 1A Westminster Christian (5-3) relishes this annual opportunity to face bigger schools, and there are more of them this year as the tournament expands from eight to 12 teams. The Warriors open play at the E.C. Nichols Tournament with a Saturday doubleheader. They play host Marengo at 9 a.m. and return to face Wauconda at 6 p.m.
At Alden-Hebron: Harvest Christian Academy senior John Vislisel (2.5 ppg) leads the Lions (2-6) into tournament action Dec. 27-30.