Hinkle Holiday Classic boasts a balanced field
The 2015 Hinkle Holiday Classic is up for grabs and the home team is targeting the title.Reconfigured Jacobs, which replaced a pair of graduated all-area guards with two productive sophomores, on Saturday begins the quest to win its own tournament for the first time since it won three straight titles between 2006-08.Defending champion Larkin (5-3) is playing in a showcase event in Missouri this weekend. The Royals also accepted an invitation to compete at the Proviso West Tournament, which begins on Dec. 26, the same day the Hinkle Holiday Classic concludes.“Even if Larkin were here, I think we’d have a real good shot at it,” Jacobs coach Jim Roberts said. “I think this tournament is wide open with a lot of solid teams.”Jacobs has won 8 of its first 9 games, led by 6-foot-8 junior Cameron Krutwig, who averages 17.8 points, 13.1 rebounds 2.9 blocks and 2.7 assists per game. The Golden Eagles enter the tournament on the heels of road wins at McHenry, Huntley and Barrington.The emergence of sophomore guards Ryan Phillips (6-3) and Nik Balkcom (6-2) has eased the pain of graduating all-area guards Chrishawn Orange (Augustana) and Kenton Mack (Northern Michigan).Phillips is second to Krutwig with 13.7 ppg. Already a multidimensional scoring threat, his drives have resulted in 28 free-throw attempts, of which he has drained 19 (68 percent). Also a deep threat, he shoots 36 percent from 3-point range (18 of 50).Balkcom has been playing starter’s minutes despite coming off the bench behind starting point guard Adam Kale, a 5-9 junior. Kale averages 5 points, Balkcom 6.8.The Golden Eagles open the tournament against Bartlett (4-3) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Hawks ended Jacobs’ season last March with a regional semifinal victory at Bartlett.Jacobs and Bartlett could again meet in the playoffs this season. Of the 12 teams assigned to sub-sectional A of the Rock Valley College sectional, nine are members of the Upstate Eight Conference, including Bartlett.“Our subsectional is basically all Upstate Eight teams,” Roberts said. “We need to play those guys as often as we can, so this is a good opportunity.”Everybody into the pool(s): Besides Jacobs and Bartlett, Pool I at the Hinkle Holiday Classic includes Johnsburg (4-3) and Rockford Jefferson (4-3).Pool II is a tossup between Barrington (5-4), Crystal Lake South (5-3), Lakes (3-4) and Corliss (3-4).Marian Central (6-1) and leading scorer Adam Pischke are assigned to Pool III along with Zion-Benton (3-1), which won the Hinkle Classic in 2013 and defeated Jacobs in the third-place game last December. Rounding out the pool are Cary-Grove (2-6) and Grant (3-4)Pool IV is among the most balanced with South Elgin (4-4), veteran-laden Prairie Ridge (6-1), Rockford Boylan (4-0) and Huntley (4-3). At Proviso West: Larkin and leading scorer/rebounder Christian Negron will compete at the prestigious Proviso West Tournament after winning the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs last year.Larkin opens the proceedings at Proviso West with a rise-and-shine tipoff against Hillcrest on Dec. 26 at 9:30 a.m.The Royals seek their third December tournament title in four seasons. Larkin won the Elgin Holiday Tournament in 2012. First, they play two games in Missouri this weekend.“We have our next 5 or 6 games against high-level competition,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves before the new year ... we’re going to get challenged with some athletes and we’re going to be challenged by some big-time players. We’ll see how we respond.”At Pontiac: West Aurora (3-4) and St. Charles North (2-4) face top competition in their respective opening-round games of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, first contested in 1926.