By the time holiday tournaments arrive most boys basketball teams have figured out what they have. Now it's time to show it, to compete for a little hardware against a diverse and largely unfamiliar group of opponents.
These are the tournaments where the 29 DuPage County teams will test their mettle before heading into the new year.
York: Dec. 26-30.
The field: Andrew, Batavia, Brother Rice, Conant, Downers Grove South, Elk Grove, Glenbard East, Highland Park, Hinsdale South, Lake Forest, Lyons Twp., Metea Valley, McHenry, Minooka, Naperville North, Nazareth, Oswego, Palatine, Providence, Riverside-Brookfield, Rolling Meadows, Sandburg, Schaumburg, St. Ignatius, St. Laurence, St. Patrick, Stagg, TF South, Timothy Christian, Waubonsie Valley, Wheaton North, York.
The defending champion: Conant.
The favorites: Batavia, Conant, Hinsdale South, Naperville North.
The scoop: Trying to pin down a 32-team tournament isn't easy, although Conant, St. Ignatius, Lake Forest and York have accounted for 12 of the last 15 titles, including each of the last six years. Seeding was done early, which allowed Batavia, Conant, Hinsdale South and St. Ignatius to snag the top four spots. Unbeaten Naperville North, though, looks like a strong candidate to emerge as the champion. If the Huskies win their first two games in the bottom fourth of the bracket, top-seeded Batavia could await. Intriguing first-round games include Wheaton North against Downers Grove South and Metea Valley against Glenbard East. In the same quadrant Hinsdale South sits with perhaps the tournament's best player in Iowa State-bound Zion Griffin.
Quotable: "The quality of the teams at York and the excitement of being part of a 32-team tournament is something our kids really love," said Naperville North coach Jeff Powers. "The different styles of play and the quality of coaches makes each game a chess match."
Glenbard West: Dec. 23, Dec. 26-28.
The field: Glenbard North, Glenbard South, Glenbard West, Hoffman Estates, Lake Park, Leyden, St. Francis, Willowbrook.
The defending champion: Willowbrook.
The favorite: Willowbrook.
The scoop: Everyone will be chasing defending champion Willowbrook. The Warriors' lone loss this season came on an overtime buzzer-beater at Proviso East. Other than that, Willowbrook (6-1) has rolled through the early part of its schedule. Repeating is a season goal for the Warriors, who return virtually their entire lineup including 6-foot-6 senior forward Ethan Schuemer, committed to St. Cloud State. They'll be heavy favorites in the White Pool that includes Glenbard North, St. Francis and Hoffman Estates. The Green Pool is wide open, although Lake Park -- if healthy -- is an interesting choice for the top spot. A critical game at the start of pool play is the Lancers against Glenbard West, which boasts standout junior wing Evan Taylor. Glenbard South and Leyden are poised to step up if Lake Park or the Hilltoppers stumble.
Quotable: "There's familiarity with a lot of the teams there," said Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins. "They're not conference games, but it feels like that because you know each other so well. It's a good environment and a good test for us."
IC Catholic Prep/Westmont: Dec. 26-29.
The field: Beecher, Christ the King, Eisenhower, Elmwood Park, Evergreen Park, Fenton, IC Catholic, Latin, Montini, Noble Hansberry, Perspectives Leadership, Perspectives MSA, Phoenix Military, St. Edward, Walther Christian, Westmont.
The defending champion: Evergreen Park.
The favorite: Montini.
The scoop: Both Westmont and St. Edward, 9-0 and 9-1 respectively entering Thursday, may own better records, but Montini (6-2) plays a tougher schedule, with wins over Chicago Catholic League foes Mt. Carmel and Bishop McNamara. Montini welcomes tourney newcomer Fenton in the first round of the Westmont bracket. Potentially Montini could face St. Edward's Alex Franklin, averaging 21 points, then Westmont in the semifinals. The Sentinels have rallied from behind in five wins, hard to handle because junior forward Caden Anderson heads five players averaging between 7 and 11 points. IC Catholic, hosting upper bracket and all Dec. 29 games, is on its own DuPage County island with contender Latin and defending champion Evergreen Park. The Knights saw a short skid end Wednesday when glue guy Alex Meurer rejoined fellow all-Metro Suburban Blue senior Kevin Cheng. ICCP won three tourney titles and St. Edward two before Evergreen Park crashed their party.
Quotable: "We have a really nice balance between city schools and suburban schools. We have (Class) 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A schools, so it's a nice mix of schools. I see it being very competitive in both brackets. I don't see any one team that's going to run away with it," said ICCP coach T.J. Tyrrell.
Pontiac: Dec. 28-30.
The field: Benet, Bloom, Bloomington, Curie, Danville, Joliet West, Lockport, Niles West, Oak Park-River Forest, Peoria Manual, Plainfield North, Pontiac, Simeon, St. Charles North, Warren, West Aurora.
The defending champion: Simeon.
The favorites: Curie, Simeon.
The scoop: Few holiday tournaments are as entertaining as Pontiac. You've got city powers like Curie and Simeon, out-of-area powers like Bloomington and Danville, and then the dark horses. That list is long, and it includes Benet, Oak Park, St. Charles North and West Aurora. Benet was the runner-up in two of the last three years, but the road is never easy. If the Redwings get past Manual in the opening round, fourth-seeded Danville likely awaits. And then probably top-seeded Simeon, a familiar foe for Benet.
Quotable: "Every year it's one of the best tournaments in the state," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "We always look forward to playing at Pontiac, but we'll have to play very well to compete there. It's tough advancing through that bracket."
Bloomington/Normal (Large School): Dec. 27-30.
The field: Chatham Glenwood, Hononegah, Joliet Central, Mahomet-Seymour, Metamora, Normal Community, Normal University High, North Chicago, North Lawndale, Plainfield South, Rock Island, Rockford Lutheran, Springfield, Thornwood, Wheaton Warrenville South, Zion-Benton.
The defending champion: Joliet Central.
The favorites: Joliet Central, WW South.
The scoop: For the second straight year, WW South enters the tournament unbeaten. This time the Tigers are the top seed. No DuPage County team has played better defense, and the Tigers will need it to win the title. They've allowed an average of only 35 points in eight games. Like last year Joliet Central -- the team that handed WW South its only regular-season loss in last year's final -- looms in the opposite side of the bracket. Joliet Central is the third seed behind North Lawndale. Rock Island and Normal Community are the fourth and fifth seeds in WW South's half of the bracket.
Quotable: "The tournament is a great experience for our team," said WW South coach Mike Healy. "The field this year is probably as balanced as it's ever been. Every team has some quality wins, so we'll have to play well to have any type of success."
DeKalb: Dec. 27-30.
The field: ACE Tech, Belvidere North, Chicago Vocational, DeKalb, Douglass, Hampshire, Harlem, Huntley, Lemont, Marmion, Mundelein, Naperville Central, Ridgewood, Schurz, South Elgin, West Chicago.
The defending champion: Geneva.
The favorite: South Elgin.
The scoop: Last year's runner-up, South Elgin drew the No. 1 seed with a 5-0 record at the time, but it's a tossup with No. 2 Naperville Central. Moving from the Wheeling Hardwood Classic after playing there for Redhawks coach Pete Kramer's 15 years on varsity and 12 years as sophomore coach -- and swapping spots with defending DeKalb champion Geneva -- point guard Tyler O'Brien and 6-8 Northern Michigan recruit Ben Wolf each average about 16 points. No. 4 DeKalb and No. 5 Mundelein challenge South Elgin in the upper bracket with No. 3 Schurz in the bottom eight. In the second round of the state's longest continuous holiday tournament at 90 years, potentially the Redhawks could face Jason Gimre, Sam Ricci and No. 8 seed West Chicago. Early in Kramer's varsity coaching career, Wildcats coach Bill Recchia was Kramer's sophomore coach.
Quotable: "This is a big step for us," Kramer said of moving to the Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic. "It was a hard decision because it's been kind of a tradition. It was just time to do something different."
East Aurora: Dec. 26-29.
The field: Argo, Aurora Central Catholic, East Aurora, Joliet Catholic, Neuqua Valley, Oswego East, Plainfield Central, Wells.
The defending champion: Joliet Catholic.
Hinsdale Central: Dec. 27-30.
The field: Bolingbrook, Crete-Monee, DePaul, Glenbrook North, Hinsdale Central, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln Park, Maine South, Marian Catholic, Richards, Rockford Auburn, Stevenson, St. Charles East, St. Rita, Urban Prep/Englewood, Westinghouse.
The defending champion: Bolingbrook.
Jacobs: Dec. 22-23, Dec. 26-28.
The field: Addison Trail, Barrington, Bartlett, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South, Dixon, Grant, Jacobs, Johnsburg, Kennedy, Lakes, Marian Central, Payton, Prairie Ridge, Rockford Jefferson, Streamwood.
The defending champion: Jacobs.
Plano: Dec. 26-30.
The field: Burlington Central, Clemente, Crane, Coal City, Harlan, Hinckley-Big Rock, Hubbard, IMSA, Kaneland, King, LaSalle-Peru, Lisle, Mendota, Morris, Newark, Northridge Prep, Ottawa, Peoria Notre Dame, Plano, Sandwich, Streator, Wilmington, Yorkville, Yorkville Christian.
The defending champion: Ottawa.
Proviso West: Dec. 27-30.
The field: Bogan, Downers Grove North, Fenwick, Hillcrest, Kenwood, Larkin, Longwood, Morton, New Trier, Orr, Providence-St. Mel, Proviso East, Proviso West, St. Joseph, Uplift, Whitney Young.
The defending champion: Whitney Young.