In league with title races
You already can feel basketball season inching toward the playoffs.
But we've still got time to savor the boys and girls conference races in DuPage County.
This week's edition of Eyes on Five looks at the current -- and future -- outlook for area conferences.
1. Handicapping the league races:
Several DuPage County girls teams are closing in on conference championships. Actually, one local team, Montini, already has clinched, going undefeated in the GCAC Red.
Glenbard West has a one-game lead on York heading into their West Suburban Silver matchup Friday in Elmhurst, so a Dukes win would bring them even. A Hilltoppers win won't clinch the conference, but it will give Glenbard West breathing room going into the final three games against Hinsdale Central, Downers Grove North and Oak Park-River Forest.
Glenbard South is undefeated in the Metro Suburban with a potentially deciding game against one-loss Riverside-Brookfield coming Tuesday in Glen Ellyn.
Benet is undefeated in the East Suburban Catholic but still has four games to play, the key game Feb. 7 at Marist.
Naperville Central was undefeated in the DuPage Valley Conference until Thursday night's loss at second-place Wheaton Warrenville South. The Tigers are just a game back now, but they need help.
2. The future (girls):
Tuesday's narrow Naperville North victory against Lake Park reminds us of how well-matched those two programs have been over the years. They always seem to have a good, close game, even if they weren't always found near the top of the DuPage Valley Conference.
Likewise, Wheaton North and Naperville Central have butted heads for years, in part because their games always seem to be so meaningful.
Last year the Falcons beat the Redhawks for the DVC title. This year the Redhawks' victory against Wheaton North was a signature win in their -- so far -- undefeated conference schedule. A final DVC game at Wheaton North looms for the Redhawks next weekend.
These are the kind of rivalries we'll miss when the DVC breaks up next year. Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South will leave to join Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North to form the DuKane Conference.
That's not to say the DKC will be easier for the departing DVC schools. Geneva is the defending Class 4A champion and state-ranked again this year. Batavia is young this season and always tough. While they aren't as strong as Geneva, nobody has taken the St. Charles schools for pushovers in recent years. The departing DVC girls teams will have their hands full in the DKC.
Meanwhile, Naperville Central won't be a lock to win the smaller DVC, even with both Wheaton schools out of its path. Naperville North has something brewing that should last a few years at least. Neuqua Valley has a basketball tradition, though it has taken a little dip the past two seasons. Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley are on the right path in their rebuilding efforts.
Glenbard South, which has basked in success in the Metro Suburban, moves to the Upstate Eight next year, where it will find new challenges. Still, though, the Raiders should have a good shot at a championship in its new league. Bartlett, South Elgin and West Aurora should compete with the Raiders at the top of the UEC next year.
3. The future (boys):
Throughout the fall we discussed what DuPage Valley Conference football will look like after this school year when Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South depart the league to form the DuKane Conference with current Upstate Eight members Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.
Let's not forget the shake-up's impact on basketball, specifically for remaining DVC members Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley.
According to Waubonsie Valley's Chris Neibch, the DVC's resource athletic director for boys basketball, next year's schedule won't look much different from the current one. A main reason is because it's much easier to schedule nonconference basketball games than football games.
DVC basketball teams still will play each other twice next season, creating an eight-game conference schedule. Because of the odd number of teams, one always will have a bye.
Next season the IHSA is mandating a maximum of 31 games played. Conference, nonconference, tournaments, shootouts...it doesn't matter. It's a flat 31 total games.
With only eight conference games, the DVC needs a whole bunch of schedule filling. Assuming four games in a Thanksgiving tournament and four in a December holiday tournament, that brings the total to 16 games.
Neibch said the DVC will not schedule games around Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, allowing each team to enter an MLK tournament and fill another four games. That'd be 20 games, assuming Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley remain in MLK events and Metea Valley and Naperville North decide to join one.
That leaves 11 nonconference games if anyone aims to reach the 31-game maximum. Shouldn't be too difficult.
Certainly not as difficult as football, but that's another story for another column.
4. What you wish for:
Speaking of the DuKane Conference...wow...that's going to be a very good boys basketball league.
Wheaton Warrenville South will graduate its entire starting lineup, but Glenbard North, Lake Park and Wheaton North all should be better based on their current rosters or the anticipated contributions from the lower levels.
The other four members -- Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North -- are coming from the River Division of the Upstate Eight, which is regarded as one of the best conferences in the suburbs.
Each of the four teams has a winning record led by Batavia's 18-4 mark. Of their 25 combined losses, 10 have come in the River. That means they've been beating up on each other, something they'll continue to do next season.
Because of the general parity among the eight schools, the DKC will be an immensely competitive league. In every sport.
Might as well start looking forward to all those great boys hoops games.
5. The stat:
When Benet defeated York 61-49 in a girls game on Tuesday night, it didn't just give the Redwings a 20-win season. It gave the Redwings eight straight 20-win seasons. In fact the Redwings have achieved the feat 18 times in the past 22 years.
Of course, that includes two state championship seasons also.
The Redwings are hardly alone among DuPage County girls. Montini has won at least 20 games in each of coach Jason Nichols' 18 seasons at the Lombard school. Naperville Central has won 20 or more three straight seasons.
Glenbard South is there this season. Wheaton Warrenville South made it eight of the last 11 seasons with Thursday night's win against Naperville Central.
And then there's Glenbard West. Three seasons ago the Hilltoppers won just three games. This year they are 20-3 after Tuesday's 71-55 victory against St. Francis.
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