DuPage County boys basketball notes: Inconsistent Neuqua Valley trending up
With the holiday tournament season in the rearview mirror, the Neuqua Valley boys basketball heads into the second half of the season armed with momentum.
The Wildcats (12-3) had a solid showing in the 44th Annual Wildcat Hardwood Classic, hosted by Wheeling High School. Neuqua Valley closed out the highly competitive tourney with an impressive 67-64 win over Fremd in the third-place game. Luke Kinkade, an all-tourney selection, scored 24 points in the win.
Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said his team displayed some positives and a few negatives in the tourney.
"The team is up and down," Sutton said. "We change from minute to minute. Some minutes were good and some were terrible. Inconsistent play is a problem for us. The positive for the tournament is that we played three very good teams and that is how we improve.
"We have been pretty lucky to get several wins where we should have lost. Sometimes the ball just bounces the correct way. We have been lucky so far. We can't count on luck to save us in the new year. All of our players have stepped up for us this year. Each night it's someone different making exceptional plays. I guess that's why they call it teamwork."
The Wildcats, who have won their first three games in DuPage Valley Conference action, should benefit from closing out the regular season with the majority of their games at home.
"The goal is to get one percent better every day," Sutton said. "If we fail at this, the day was a failure."
Downers Grove South update:
The Mustangs (4-10) are ready to turn the corner on a new season in 2023. After playing a rugged schedule to build up his team for the stretch run, Downers Grove South coach Zach Miller said his young team is poised to make a run.
"I think when I was looking at our first 14 games, I knew it was going to be a gauntlet for our guys because we had Oswego East, Hinsdale Central, Naperville North and Lemont," he said. "We've played some really, really good teams early. Did I want to win a few more games? Yes, I did, but we learned a lot from those loses and playing that type of competition."
The Mustangs gained valuable insight, Miller said, into their potential by competing in the Jack Tosh tournament at York. Downers Grove South heads into a difficult two-day road stretch this weekend at Hinsdale Central and Wheaton North. Miller said his team's defense is a good sign for the second half.
"I think our best basketball is ahead, after Christmas time," he said. "Our defensive pressure is good. We hold teams down on that end. We don't play a style of offense. We get shots and a lot of possessions through the course of game for us, so that's a credit to our guys and their ability to defend on that end. They want to play defense, and take pride on that end."
Miller said several players are showing promise for his program, namely junior guard Jalen House.
"Jalen is the best athlete when he steps on the floor," Miller said. "He guards the opponent's best player and is starting to find his niche on the offensive end, where he's able to attack and play off other guys. His defense is starting to catapult his offense. We have to continue to grow and compete in practice. The Tosh was a good litmus test for us, to see where we are at and improve and attack our weaknesses in practices. I think we're starting to figure out our identity. We can really play defense, but now we've got to create more turnovers at a higher rate."
Wheaton Warrenville South update:
Don't look now, but Wheaton Warrenville South coach Mike Healy is back to his old tricks. The Tigers are among the top teams in Chicagoland -- again.
At 12-2, and coming off a solid showing at the State Farm Classic Holiday Classic to earn third-place, the Tigers are a team to watch in Class 4A. Healy's team-first brand of basketball has lifted the program toward another memorable season, as the Tigers rely on solid defense, teamwork, precision passing and rebounding to pile up victories.
Healy said he was pleased with how his team performed at the State Farm tourney, defeating Mesa (Ariz.) 58-42 in the third-place game. The Tigers lost 58-41 to eventual tourney champion and highly ranked Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
"I thought we did a great job of meeting challenges throughout the tournament," Healy said. "There were many times we could have folded but we never did. Braylen Meredith and Colin Moore have been so solid for us. They have been so consistent. Luca Carbonaro has continued to make strides and has been a huge asset for us."
Healy said his 2022-23 team embodies many of the positive traits of his more recent successful teams.
"I love our kids," he said. "They work hard. They play for each other and have been so resilient throughout the season. I'm really excited for the second half with this group."
IC Catholic Prep update:
The Knights (11-4) enter the second half with a nine-game winning streak after starting the season with two wins in their first four games. IC Catholic won the ICCP/Westmont Christmas Classic by notching wins over Reavis, Fenger, Evergreen Park and Taft (62-61).
"Our guys battled all tournament," IC Catholic coach T.J. Tyrrell said. "We had a slow start against Reavis, but battled back to take over the second half. Evergreen Park and Taft were tough games, but our guys stayed focused and earned a hard-fought championship."
Tyrrell said Dean O'Brien and Jake Gallagher have played well through the first two months of the season.
The Knights will need all that momentum this weekend, with St. Francis on Friday and York on Saturday.
"We have a big stretch ahead," Tyrrell said. "York will be coming to our gym for the first time in my career as a coach or player. What's encouraging is that each night we have a different guy stepping up. It has been a fun stretch. We need to stay hungry and focused."