It's time to put those holiday tournament lessons to good use.
St. Charles North (11-2), fresh off winning the consolation championship at the ultracompetitive Pontiac Holiday Tournament, faces a back-to-back weekend as challenging as any bracket sequence.
First up? A Friday night showdown at the only Upstate Eight River team hotter than the North Stars: Geneva (13-0). The division co-leaders enter with 3-0 records.
The sledding is no easier Saturday when rival St. Charles East (10-4, 3-1) visits at 6 p.m. The North Stars and Saints split two earlier meetings, both decided in the final seconds.
"We go down (to Pontiac) for many reasons but one of them is to prepare yourself for games like we have Friday and Saturday," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "I feel like two of the biggest games, if not the biggest games in the suburbs, are Friday and Saturday and we just happen to be in both of them."
Geneva last week rolled to the title at the 89th Annual Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic at DeKalb. Led by tournament MVP Cole Navigato and all-tournament pick Matthew Johnston, the Vikings defeated Grayslake Central (6-7), Lemont (7-7), Marmion (2-11) and South Elgin (7-4) by a 24-point average and outscored them 250-154.
Meanwhile, the North Stars went 3-1 at Pontiac. After losing the opener 55-48 to highly regarded Oak Park-River Forest (10-3), they posted consecutive 2-point wins over Plainfield North (1-9), Peoria Manual (5-3) and Lockport (8-6).
Led by 6-foot-5 junior Kyle King and 5-10 senior guard Anthony Delisi, North's success lies in team play.
"The thing we found remarkable about them in scouting them is they play so well together," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "Sometimes you see them bringing players off the bench and they're seamless. It's not like you see a huge difference or drop off when they do their subbing. It's going to be one of those games where I think we have some matchup issues with them and vice versa. It's really going to come down to who can execute their offense and who's going to make fewer mistakes."
Geneva is known around the UEC as a fundamentally sound team that doesn't beat itself, which partly explains why the Vikings limit opponents to 41.9 points per game while scoring 60.5. Their scoring average will be tested against the North Stars, who limit opponents to 48.2 ppg and have not allowed more than 59 points in a game.
"They are so disciplined and they run their stuff so well," Poulin said of the Vikings. "They're difficult to beat. They present a challenge in their execution in the half court in that they don't overextend themselves and beat themselves defensively. They try to force you to take contested shots and they try to get real high-percentage shots on their end. That's a winning formula for them."
Geneva's 13-0 start is among the best in school history but not a record. According to Ralston, the Vikings need 2 more wins to tie the 1958-59 team, which opened the season 15-0. Geneva could match that mark with a win against St. Charles North followed by a win Tuesday against visiting Elgin (8-5, 1-3).
Fly, Golden Eagles, fly: Jacobs (12-0), the Daily Herald's top-ranked boys basketball team, finished 2016 on a high note by prevailing at its own tournament for the first time since 2008.
Loyola-bound Cameron Krutwig continues to enjoy a monster season. The 6-foot-9 senior led Jacobs to a 61-49 championship-game victory over Prairie Ridge with 21 points, 19 rebounds and 7 blocks.
Krutwig enters 2017 averaging 15.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, all team highs.
Other notable holiday performances: Burlington Central (11-1) placed third at the 54th Annual Plano Christmas Classic, paced by leading scorer Zach Schutta. The junior guard scored 17.3 points per game during the tournament, slightly below his 18.1 ppg average. The Rockets entered as the top seed but fell in a semifinal to fourth-seeded Newark (10-2) ... Larkin (7-7) split 4 games at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament to finish sixth ... Elgin (8-5) won the consolation championship at the E.C. Nichols Tournament at Marengo. After dropping the opener against Antioch 63-57, the Maroons won 3 straight, capped by a 59-41 victory over Crystal Lake Central ... Batavia (7-7) lost its first game at York's Jack Tosh Holiday Classic to St. Ignatius on a 24-foot, running bank shot at the buzzer, but the Bulldogs rallied to reach the consolation championship with wins over York, T.F. South and Waubonsie Valley. Rolling Meadows clipped Batavia 49-35 in the consolation title game ... St. Edward (8-8) took third at the Westmont/IC Catholic Prep Tournament. Senior Kelvin Cortez-Harvey scored 30 points to lead the Green Wave to a 67-62 comeback win over ICCP in the third-place game ... Aurora Central Catholic (10-3) showed it can play with the big boys by reaching the title game at East Aurora. Led by tournament MVP Brett Czerak (104 points in 4 games), the Chargers defeated Plainfield Central 68-62, Argo 53-38 and East Aurora 69-48 before falling 69-61 to Joliet Catholic for the title.