It's never too early to look ahead to the playoffs.
With the seeding dates just more than two weeks away for Class 1A and Class 2A, three weeks for Class 3A and Class 4A, time is running out for teams to make a good impression. Most teams will try to make that good impression against conference competition. A select few also will get to show what they can do against top competition this weekend at the McDonald's Shootout.
On Monday we learned the Class 4A supersectional between the Addison Trail sectional winner and the Crystal Lake South sectional winner will be played at Judson College in Elgin. Wheaton Warrenville South, ranked No. 2 in the Daily Herald Top 20 and a good bet to get a top seed at Addison Trail, could earn another trip to that area again, a year after losing to Huntley at the Dundee-Crown supersectional.
The big-school regionals start Feb. 17, just more than a month away. The supersectional is March 3.
Before that happens, however, the Tigers (16-2) face a 6 p.m. Saturday showdown against No. 5 Prospect (14-3) at the McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook.
Also at Willowbrook on Saturday in games that could help them make their case for a good seed, Wheaton North faces Hillcrest (noon) and Benet will test itself against Indiana power Oregon-Davis (1:30 p.m.). On Monday Willowbrook starts the day against Providence (9 a.m.), Montini plays Bolingbrook (4:30 p.m.) and Neuqua Valley meets Trinity (7:30 p.m.).
At 5-13 Naperville Central already has more losses than Redhawks teams typically suffer. The Redhawks are approaching this unusual season the right way, however.
"We have really good moments and we have not-so-hot moments," senior Katie Moran said, "but we're really trying to improve every single game."
And they are. Veteran coach Andy Nussbaum is happy with what he's seen lately.
"Things are getting better," he said after Saturday's DuPage Valley Conference win against Glenbard North. "Things are kind of on the upswing. Now we're playing good."
Naperville Central has earned that record against a typically tough schedule.
"When you're up at Dundee(-Crown's holiday tournament) playing Maine South and St. Charles North in the loser's bracket, and Buffalo Grove," Nussbaum pointed out. "We played Marian Catholic, we played Batavia, we played Wheaton South. Those are all very good teams, and other than the Marian game we haven't really been completely blown out. If we just keep getting better I think we can make good things happen at the end of the season."
But before they look to the end of the season, the Redhawks must focus on their next game.
"Now we have probably the most hostile place in the DVC to go to on Thursday night," Nussbaum said. "We're going to Wheaton North, so we'll find out how much better we're really getting."
Close, but not quite:
Glenbard North could use a break, any break.
"We're struggling," Panthers coach John Chamberlain said after losing at Naperville Central on Saturday. "We lost this one by 7. We're now 0-5 in (the DuPage Valley Conference) by a total of 20 points. ... So we're struggling just to get over the hump and get a win. We're very competitive, knocking on the door. We're just not getting over the hump."
For a team that's working to jump into the top half of the conference, part of the problem is just learning how to win.
"Absolutely," Chamberlain said.
The Panthers have a very good building block in sophomore Jennifer Deegan, a 5-foot-11 guard. Chamberlain puts the basketball in her hands every chance he gets.
"She is our offensive mainstay. She's been getting better and better and more assertive and aggressive," he said after Deegan scored 22 against the Redhawks.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz