Plenty of good to be found in 1st half of boys basketball season

Updated 1/7/2019 7:44 PM

Cover high school sports for a living and you get the same question from the barber, from the dental hygienist, from the kid bagging groceries.

"Which teams are good this year?"

Those who follow boys basketball closely have a pretty good sense which teams should be competitive heading into a given season based on the number and quality of returning players.

Still, it's impossible to know for sure until they start to compete. Kids grow up. Quickly. A player who was a nonfactor last year might have sprouted five inches and added 25 pounds, developed a jump shot, improved his dribble to the left. Thousands of factors can shift the landscape.

Basketball teams sometimes come together quickly in December as offseason work is rewarded with positive results, leading to more confidence, leading to more positive results

Every season takes on a life of its own. That's the beauty of it.

So, which Fox Valley area teams are good this year now that we've had half a season to evaluate?

Several, actually.

Let's take a look at what lies ahead for some of the squads enjoying success through the prism of what we've learned through the season's first half.

One of the most interesting storylines thus far belongs to Geneva (15-0, 4-0), undefeated into January for the second time in three seasons. Led by all-area point guard Jack McDonald and 6-foot-5 all-area shooting guard Mitch Mascari, the Vikings figured to be pretty good. They are.

Geneva won the Crystal Lake Central Thanksgiving Tournament for starters. That included a 23-point, title-game win against host CL Central (11-4), which sits atop a very competitive Fox Valley Conference at 5-0.

The Vikings opened DuKane Conference play with a 3-point win at Wheaton Warrenville South (11-4, 3-2) and followed with road wins at St. Charles East (10-7, 3-2) and Batavia (7-7, 2-3).

They prevailed at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, defeating Niles North (9-5), St. Viator (14-2) and Fremd (11-3), the Mid-Suburban West leader.

Geneva gave itself another leg up in conference play last Friday when Mascari nailed a 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to deliver a 66-65 win over Wheaton North (9-7, 4-1).

It will be interesting to see where the Vikings are assigned within the Bartlett sectional, which has regional sites at Metea Valley, DeKalb, Downers Grove South and Glenbard West. Two years ago, they were the No. 2 seed after a 26-0 start but were upset by No. 10 Hinsdale South in a regional final, 44-41.

Last year, they entered as the No. 8 seed and lost 64-51 to No. 1 Naperville North in a regional final.

Sectional coaches will decide in the second week of February whether the top Bartlett sectional seed goes to Geneva, Benet Academy (13-3) or another team.

Meanwhile, West Aurora (14-3, 7-0) is rounding into a force, as expected.

Transfer Marquise Walker now has half a season under his belt and the results are promising. The talented senior guard scored 19 points against state-ranked Danville at Pontiac two weeks ago, while senior point guard Trae Brown had 15 points and senior Moshe Rogers added 10.

The Upstate Eight Conference leaders improved to 7-0 in league play last Friday with a win against Streamwood and extended their winning streak to 5 with a 2-point win against DeKalb (8-7) on Saturday.

The Blackhawks have the inside track to the UEC title, thanks to earlier road wins at second-place South Elgin (12-5, 6-1) and third-place Glenbard South (10-3, 5-1).

West Aurora will battle it out in the East Aurora sectional against the likes of Waubonsie Valley (13-2) and Oswego East (11-3). The winner, though, likely draws the unenviable task of an ISU supersectional date against defending state champion Belleville West (17-0) and reigning Mr. Basketball in Illinois, E.J. Liddell.

Just to update everyone, Liddell is still very much Liddell. On Saturday, the 6-foot-7 Ohio State recruit threw an alley-oop pass to himself off the backboard in a win over Vashon (Mo.) at the Highland (Ill.) Shootout, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His Maroons have won 32 straight, including a Class 4A semifinal win against Larkin last March.

Locally, the Cary-Grove basketball program is making inroads at a school known for football success.

The Trojans were expected to be tough with the return of 6-foot-6 junior Frank Jakubicek, who has an offer from DePaul, and dynamic junior scoring guard Beau Frericks.

That 1-2 punch has been supported by an assortment of athletic, well-rounded players. The mix was enough for Cary-Grove to win the Hinkle Holiday Tournament at Jacobs. The Trojans defeated Barrington 58-51 in a semifinal and upended Waubonsie Valley 55-50 in the title game.

However, they might not factor in the FVC race after Friday's loss at Hampshire (10-5, 5-1), which dropped them to 3-3 in league play. Hampshire, Dundee-Crown (12-3, 4-2) and Huntley (9-5, 4-2) now stand between fifth-place Cary-Grove and first-place Crystal Lake Central.

Nevertheless, the Trojans can look forward to a high seed in what looks to be a wide-open subsectional that also includes D-C, Hampshire, Huntley, Jacobs (8-9), Elgin (5-10), Larkin (7-11), Streamwood (7-10), St. Charles North (6-8) and regional hosts South Elgin and St. Charles East.

In Class 3A, Burlington Central (10-4) again looks strong on the heels of last year's sectional final appearance. Led by senior Patrick Mayfield (27.8 points, 7.7 rebounds), the Rockets are 1-0 in their final Kishwaukee River Conference season with 2 games to come against both Johnsburg (7-5, 2-0) and Woodstock North (7-6, 1-0).

Central is assigned to the same subsectional as Glenbard South, the team that denied the Rockets regional titles in 2016 and 2017.

On the small school scene, Aurora Christian (14-3) is thriving with junior Will Wolfe leading the way. At the State Farm Classic in Bloomington, the Eagles faced their best competition in losses to Quincy Notre Dame (48-45) and Providence St. Mel (71-52).

The Eagles will spend the second half battling for the top spot in their new conference -- the Metro Suburban Blue -- against Riverside-Brookfield (12-3, 4-0) and Chicago Christian (14-3, 2-0).

Due partly to a Class 1A sectional final appearance last season, Aurora Christian was bumped to Class 2A this season. The Eagles are assigned to the same subsectional as St. Edward (10-8).

How will it all play out? It's impossible to say. Every season takes on a life of its own.

That's the beauty of it.

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