Two of the top boys basketball teams from the far western suburbs -- St. Charles North (8-1) and West Aurora (7-2) -- are among the 16 squads that comprise one of the toughest holiday tournament fields in Illinois.
Pontiac boasts defending Class 4A state champion Curie (9-0), the state's top-ranked team, and 2015-16 runner-up Benet Academy (7-2). Curie defeated Benet 65-59 for the state title last March.
The field includes three more ranked Class 4A teams: No. 2 Simeon (6-0), No. 6 Joliet West (9-0) and No. 10 Danville (5-2). USA Today's Super 25 national poll puts Simeon ninth and Curie 11th.
Two other entrants are ranked in the latest Class 3A poll: No. 2 Bloomington (8-0) and No. 3 Peoria Manual (4-3).
The top eight teams entered at Pontiac sported a 63-6 combined record through Monday.
"That's why you go there, to play the best," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "And that's what you get. It's always a pretty impressive collection of teams, especially this year. Everyone in that tournament is playing well right now."
Land mines litter the landscape. If St. Charles North wins its opening-round matchup against highly regarded Oak Park-River Forest (9-1) on Dec. 28 at 9 a.m., it likely draws a second-round date with Simeon. The Wolverines open the tournament against Plainfield North (1-7) immediately after St. Charles North faces OP-RF.
West Aurora's road is no easier. If the Blackhawks manage to win their opening-round matchup against athletic Danville, they would likely face Curie.
"You're not always going to see that many strong programs and teams in one tournament," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said.
Fans got a mini preview of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament last Saturday when St. Charles North defeated West Aurora 55-42 in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover.
Johnson said the experience of playing in such a prestigious tournament against high-caliber competition can only make the Blackhawks better down the road.
"It's great competition," he said. "They pack the gym and it feels like you're basically playing in Peoria. And it's unbelievable how they treat you. It's such a well-run tournament. It's exciting to be there and have the chance to play against some really good competition."
At DeKalb: Geneva (9-0) was named the No. 1 seed at the 89th Chuck Dayton Tournament, where host DeKalb (6-2) is the defending champion.
Also competing are South Elgin (4-3), Huntley (3-5), Hampshire (2-6) and Marmion (0-8).
The tournament runs four straight days from Dec. 27-30. Geneva opens against Grayslake Central (4-5) on Dec. 27 at 3:15 p.m.
"It's nice to have the honor of being the No. 1 seed but you still have to play the games," Vikings coach Phil Ralston said. "We could match up against four very competitive teams. With four games in four days, it's about how quickly can you prepare and accentuate your strengths against other teams' weaknesses."
Rounding out the top four seeds are Ridgewood (7-2), Schurz (7-2) and West Chicago (7-2).
At Proviso West: When Larkin accepted this invitation it was thought the popular four-day tournament would provide a showcase for Loyola-bound senior Christian Negron. However, his September ACL injury changed the trajectory of the Royals' season.
Larkin (5-5) seeks an identity. Is it the team that faltered defensively in stretches in losing 3 straight close games to Ridgewood, Geneva and St. Charles East? Or is it the team that ended that skid by throttling rival Elgin 70-47?
The Royals attempt to answer those questions, beginning with their opening-round matchup against St. Joseph (5-4) on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m.
The field includes top-ranked Class 3A team Morgan Park (6-1) and No. 4 Fenwick (8-0), Hillcrest (7-3), Whitney Young (5-2) and New Trier (6-4).
At Hinsdale Central: St. Charles East (7-2) enters this four-day tournament (Dec. 27-30) with an eye toward the season's second half.
"We'll use it as a way to prep for conference and the state playoffs," Saints coach Pat Woods said. "It will be a challenge night in and night out. There are a lot of top teams there."
The Saints get things started with a matchup against Lincoln Park (6-4) on Dec. 27 at 9:30 a.m.
Others in the field include 2015-16 Class 4A quarterfinalist Rockford Auburn (6-4), Bolingbrook (6-0), Westinghouse (4-5), Stevenson (7-1) and Homewood-Flossmoor (7-1).
At Plano: Coming off the best season in school history, undefeated Burlington Central (7-0) is the top seed at the 54th Annual Plano Christmas Classic.
"The way they seeded it just shows the other coaches value our schedule and our record," Central coach Brett Porto said. "From here on out we have to take care of business as a team."
The Rockets were the No. 2 seed at Plano last season and finished fourth. They open tournament play on Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. against the winner of a Dec. 26 game between Coal City and John Hope.
Rounding out the top four seeds are No. 2 Northridge Prep (6-1), No. 3 Plano (6-2) and No. 4 Newark (6-1), the latter ranked No. 8 in Class 1A.
Kaneland (3-4) also earned a first-round bye after nabbing the No. 8 seed. The Knights open the tournament on Dec. 27 at 12:30 p.m. against the winner of a Dec. 26 matchup between Yorkville (3-4) and Yorkville Christian (0-7).
At York: Batavia (4-5) has been competitive thus far but hasn't been able to close out late leads. The Bulldogs surrendered fourth-quarter leads in all 5 of their losses.
They'll look for improvement at the 43rd Jack Tosh Holiday Classic in Elmhurst. Batavia begins play in the five-day, 32-team bracketed extravaganza (Dec. 26-30) with a first-round game against St. Ignatius (4-6) on Dec. 26 at 6:30 p.m.
The field includes St. Patrick (8-1), Brother Rice (8-2), Naperville North (5-3), De La Salle (7-1), Metea Valley (3-7) and Riverside-Brookfield (4-4).
At Marengo: Two Elgin schools are set to compete in the E.C. Nichols Tournament: Class 4A Elgin (5-4) and Class 1A Harvest Christian Academy (10-2).
The Maroons and Lions would meet in a semifinal if each wins its first 2 games. Elgin opens the 16-team tournament against Antioch (2-5) on Dec. 22 at noon. Harvest Christian begins play against North Boone (1-6) on Dec. 22 at 3 p.m.
At Bloomington: Aurora Christian (6-2) is among the 16 schools entered in the small-school boys division of the 64-team, coed State Farm Classic.
The Eagles enter on the heels of consecutive wins over Mooseheart and Lisle. Their first game at the four-day event (Dec. 27-30) is against Champaign St. Thomas More at the Shirk Center on Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m.
At ICCP/Westmont: Elgin private schools St. Edward (4-7) and Westminster Christian (5-2) are among the 16 teams entered in this four-day, bracketed tournament (Dec. 26-29).
St. Edward plays its first 3 games at Westmont. The Green Wave and Chicago Latin (4-2) square off Dec. 26 at 3 p.m. The final day of competition is hosted by IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst
Westminster Christian plays all 4 tournament games at ICCP. The Warriors tip off against Phoenix Military Academy (5-1) on Dec. 26 at 6 p.m.
At Wheeling: Dundee-Crown (2-7) returns to the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, which will be held for the 38th time between Dec. 27-30.
The Chargers conclude the first day of tournament play with a matchup against Niles Notre Dame (8-2) at 8:45 p.m.
Others in the Wheeling field include Fremd (9-0), Deerfield (5-3), Libertyville (5-5), Waukegan (6-3), Prospect (7-3) and Naperville Central (3-7).
At East Aurora: Aurora Central Catholic (5-2) tries to win its second tournament of the season. The Chargers prevailed at Aurora Christian's Burney Wilkie Tournament earlier this month.
Paced by leading scorer Brett Czerak, ACC will compete in pool games against Plainfield Central (0-8) on Dec. 26 at 5:45 p.m., Argo (0-10) on Dec. 27 at 5:45 p.m. and East Aurora (0-9) on Dec. 28 at 7:15 p.m.
The tournament finals take place Dec. 29.
Editor's note: All records through Monday, Dec. 19.