It's one of the most important weekends for Glenbard North's boys basketball program in decades.
For now the Panthers have their minds on only half of it.
As the DuPage Valley Conference restarts its schedule, the league jumps right in with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. For Glenbard North (9-2, 3-0) that means facing two other front-runners: West Aurora and Naperville Central.
If the Panthers sweep the Blackhawks (8-3, 3-0) at home and the Redhawks (8-4, 2-1) in Naperville this weekend, they'll be in prime shape to vie for their first DVC title since 1991.
The Panthers, however, won't even begin thinking about Saturday's game at Naperville Central until they're clear of West Aurora.
"It's a huge weekend for us," said Glenbard North coach Joe Larson. "But there's no way we're looking past West Aurora right now. We have to take them one at a time."
Glenbard North is on a roll following a third-place finish in the Elgin Holiday Tournament. Senior forward Chip Flanigan stands among the area's leading scorers at 21.5 points a game, joining Jeremiah Fleming and Kendall Holbert as double-digit scorers. Justin Jackson isn't far behind with a 9.6 average.
The Panthers suffered a tough loss in the season's first game when Pasquale Fiduccia went down with a broken wrist, but players like Fleming -- who's knocked down 38 3-pointers -- and Robert Collier have stepped up to help fill the void.
Larson's hopeful Fiduccia can begin shooting again in February. His return would bolster the lineup beyond the contributions of Brett Gasiorowski and Eric Jones off the bench heading into the stretch run of the regular season.
The Panthers need as many contributions as they can get heading into this key weekend.
"We've done well, but we feel we could be even better," Larson said. "We're looking forward to this weekend."
If one team has grown tired of bus rides, it's Lake Park.
The first half of the season was filled with road games or games on neutral courts, and that could have been disastrous for a young team trying to gain traction in its first year in the DuPage Valley Conference.
One of the Lancers' 17 games this season has been at home, a list that includes four games at Fenton's Thanksgiving tournament and four games at Wheeling's holiday tournament. Lake Park's lone home game was a 66-40 victory over McHenry on Dec. 14.
"It's weird, I've never seen anything like it," said Lancers coach Josh Virostko. "With high school kids, though, sometimes I think it's better because it can be hard playing in front of your peers. It's a little bit more pressure."
Lake Park's first five DVC games are on the road, including this weekend's matchups at Naperville North and Wheaton Warrenville South. The good news is the Lancers have survived it all to achieve an 11-6 record.
Their top four scorers average between 7 and 9 points a game. Sean Moore is the only senior among that group. Sophomore Michael Karas averages 8.2 points.
After this weekend Lake Park plays seven straight home games leading up to its final two DVC games on the road at Glenbard East and West Aurora.
"If we're OK by the time we hit those home games, I'll be happy," Virostko said. "Hopefully we're in decent shape, and then who knows?"
Fun while it lasted:
York's string of 12 straight victories to start the season came to an end with a loss to Lake Forest in the title game of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
The Dukes bounced back with a win over Quincy to raise their record to 13-1 heading into Friday's intriguing nonconference home game against Benet (8-4).
"We've played a good schedule, so it's definitely a strong start for us," said York coach Vince Doran. "I actually was real happy with the Lake Forest game. We didn't play well, but the effort was great."
Expectations for the Dukes were high heading into the season despite the graduation of leading scorer David Cohn, now playing at Colorado State. Returning 6-foot-8 Air Force-bound center Frank Toohey was a known strength, but it took the emergence of many to achieve that 12-game winning streak.
Stanley Roberts, Charlie Rose and Jack Heinle all returned vast experience from last year. The Dukes have slowed things down a bit with Cohn gone. The focus shifted more to a half-court game, but it's remained a winning formula.
"I think people may be surprised at how well we've played together," Doran said. "We don't have that one player who can go off like David. We've got a lot of good players who make a great team."
York still has significant challenges ahead in its drive for a West Suburban Silver title. Three of the Dukes' four conference games have been at home thus far, meaning many road tests remain.
With the start they've enjoyed, the Dukes won't be sneaking up on anyone in the next two months.
"It's going to be tough," Doran said. "These are the games that'll make us a good team in March."
Waubonsie Valley was among many teams that benefitted from the holiday tournament season. After falling to Gordon Tech by 2 points in the Warriors' opener at York, Waubonsie won four straight games to capture the consolation title.
Waubonsie Valley (9-6) did it by spreading the ball around.
"I think in five games we were close to 58 assists as a team total," said Warriors coach Chaz Taft.
Nick Karkazis was in charge of sharing the wealth. The senior point guard earned all-tournament honors at York, and his 9 assists helped younger brother Chris score 24 points with five 3-pointers in a 66-39 win over Ridgewood.
"He just controlled the game," Taft said of Nick Karkazis. "He did a great job defensively of controlling the game, controlling the other teams' point guard, and getting us in our offense."
Again, though, big points by individuals was not what tickled Taft. Waubonsie's last three games at York were all defensive grinders, with Jay DeHaan and Jack Cordes leading the team in scoring the last two games, respectively, with 14 points.
"We have guys that can score, but we need to be balanced," Taft said. "We've had games this year when guys are going for 29 and 27 (points) and we lose the game, so I always, constantly, try telling them we need more balanced scoring."
Konchar and then some:
It's a given that West Chicago senior guard John Konchar will get his points. Setting the program's single-game scoring record of 49 against South Elgin on Dec. 19, his low total this season has been 17, which he's scored on three occasions. The 6-foot-4 Konchar averages 29.4 points to go with 14.3 rebounds a game.
In basketball it takes at least five to tango, so what pleased West Chicago coach Bill Recchia was the senior leadership of players like Konchar, guards Mitch Henke and Ryan Orr and center Ethan Doell to help earn a third-place finish at the DeKalb Chuck Dayton Tournament.
Recchia mentioned the maturity his squad has taken in establishing control of the tempo of play and understanding of game situations.
Though Recchia said the offensive system is designed for each player, not just Konchar, to get his points and shots, he appreciated their ability to let the game come to them.
"Coming down and not firing up the first shot you see and maybe taking a look at the clock, taking a look at the scoreboard and understanding what needs to be done at that situation," Recchia said. "It's so satisfying when you see that maturity in a basketball team."
West Chicago brings a record of 9-6 overall and 2-3 in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division, chasing the likes of Neuqua Valley in the conference, with a game against 2-3 Waubonsie Valley on Friday.
Konchar and a player like sophomore swingman Mikey Bibbs, who is averaging 14.8 points, can lead the Wildcats to the precipice but it'll be a group effort that dictates overall success.
"To have a group of players like this -- every single one has each other's backs -- it's such an enjoyable group to be around because of that," Recchia said.
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