The holiday season is like a bag full of gifts for the high school boys basketball fan. Here's how the tournament season shapes up for the local teams in the northern Fox Valley area.
At Elgin: The 34th Annual Elgin Tournament's 16-team field includes local entrants Dundee-Crown (5-1) and Larkin (4-4) along with the host Maroons (2-4).
The four-day tournament, which begins Monday and concludes with the championship game on Dec. 27 at 8 p.m., is headlined by 2006 champion Neuqua Valley (8-0), defending champion Batavia (5-1), Buffalo Grove (7-1) and Hoffman Estates (6-0).
Neuqua Valley has already knocked off highly regarded Morton and Bolingbrook. Batavia won its first 5 games before losing to Glenbard South last Friday. Buffalo Grove won its own Thanksgiving tournament and suffered its only loss to Prospect (7-1). Hoffman Estates will warm up for the tournament with a Saturday showdown at home against South Elgin (7-0).
Surprising Larkin opens the tournament against Glenbrook South (5-3) on Monday morning at 8:45 a.m. The Royals, whose tallest starter is 6-foot-3, will have to contend with 6-8 Notre Dame-bound power forward Jack Cooley.
Dundee-Crown opens the four-game tournament on Monday at 6:30 p.m. against Guilford (3-4), a new entrant to the tournament (Glenbard East is the other).
"Bringing in a team like Guilford only makes the field stronger from top to bottom," Chargers coach Lance Huber said. "If you come out of there with a couple of wins, you've played some good basketball. I like this tournament a lot. It seems like everybody's good."
Elgin's rotation has deepened with the return of four players, including two starters, from 5-game suspensions to start the season. The roster is now " 15 strong and we're looking good," according to coach Mike Sitter.
Elgin opens tournament play Monday night against Hoffman Estates (6-0) at 8 p.m.
"Your first goal is always to win the tournament," Sitter said. "We have a tough row to hoe starting off against Hoffman Estates. There are 10-minute stretches when we can play any team in the state and there are 10-minute stretches we can be beaten by any team in the state. We just have to put those good 10-minute stretches back to back to back and finish a game."
At Jacobs: The 18th Annual Jacobs Holiday Tournament is a five-day basketball extravaganza from sunup through well past sundown, beginning Saturday and concluding with the championship game on Dec. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Defending champion Jacobs (5-2) has won three straight games and is getting stronger with the continuing development of starting sophomore guards Nick Hofman and Mike Peterson.
Junior forward Mike Barch, who missed most of the summer and early season practices with injuries and an illness, is becoming a dynamic player for the Golden Eagles.
"We've finally had time to work together in practices with everyone being there," Jacobs coach Jim Hinkle said. "That flow of everyone working together and knowing what to do is beginning to come more naturally. We've been doing that now for a few days and I think it's really helping."
The Golden Eagles will open pool play against Marian Central (4-6) Saturday night before playing Wauconda (2-4) on Monday and Elk Grove (1-6) on Tuesday, all 7:30 p.m. tipoffs.
Bartlett (4-2), which lost in overtime to Warren last month, has won 4 straight games.
Jacobs was the site of point guard Marc Little's debut in a Hawks uniform last year. The senior returns as one of the top guards in the suburbs, averaging 29.7 points and 6 assists a game while shooting 60 percent from the field. He teams with junior shooting guard Luke Labedzki (18 ppg.) to form one of the top perimeter tandems in the area.
The Hawks hope to improve on last year's fifth-place tournament finish, helped by the recent addition to the roster of football tight end Greg Partyka (6-foot-3, 235 pounds).
Bartlett opens against pressure-oriented Prairie Ridge (5-3) on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., followed by pool play games against Cary-Grove (5-2) and St. Edward (4-3).
"We play three teams that present unique challenges," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "We've got a chance if we play good basketball to put a run together and hopefully face the top team from the other pool."
If Bartlett wins its pool, the Hawks would advance to next Friday's semifinals against either potent St. Charles North (3-4), Crystal Lake South (4-3), Mundelein (4-5) or Crystal Lake Central (1-7).
Cary-Grove (5-2) had won 5 in a row before Grayslake Central snapped that streak last Friday with a 58-55 victory.
"Our pool is a tough pool," Cary-Grove coach Ralph Schuetzle said. "I saw St. Ed's on film and they're tough with that matchup zone. Bartlett's good and PR is PR, so there's no easy games in there. We could play well or we could come up 0-3. It's hard to say. But we've gotten off to a good start. We just try to play smart, play hard and play together. I think we're a hard team to beat."
The Trojans will be back at full strength with the return of senior guard Mike Zasadil, who badly sprained an ankle in the season opener.
Crystal Lake South is led by seniors Steve Rogers and Eric Wilde (Army). Of the Gators' 4 victories, only 1 has come against a team with a wining record (Grayslake North, 4-3).
Rounding out the Jacobs field are Woodstock (0-7), Lindblom (4-4), Barrington (1-7) and Johnsburg (6-2).
At DeKalb: Burlington Central (3-2), Huntley (5-2) and Geneva (7-1) are in the field at the 81st Annual Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament, which begins Saturday and concludes with the championship game on Dec. 27.
Huntley possesses multiple scoring weapons, but the team fell into a team shooting slump over the past two weeks. The Red Raiders showed signs of breaking out of it with a 60-28 victory over Marengo on Tuesday, when they shot 15 of 24 in the second half.
In pool play Huntley will play Harlem (3-3), Chicago Military Academy-Bronzeville and Rochelle (2-5).
"I think it will be good for us because we'll see a few different styles," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "I know Harlem is a lot bigger than us. Rochelle likes to get up and down the floor, and they're more guard oriented like us. It'll be interesting to see how we play both of those teams."
Burlington Central plays the first game of the tournament against Rockford East (0-8) on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. The Rockets continue pool play on Monday against Chicago Vocational (8-2) at 3 p.m. and Tuesday against DeKalb (2-4) at 8:30 p.m.
Central has played only twice since Thanksgiving, winning both games against Genoa-Kingston and Stillman Valley. A month of practices have been spent honing a defense that has allowed 61.8 points per game.
"Defense was a big concern for us going into the year and it's proven to be a weak point for us so far," Rockets coach Chris Payne said. "But over the past couple of weeks I do think we've made some strides and we're getting better at that end of the floor. That's something that's going to have to get better as the year goes on for us to have a chance to reach some of the goals we have. I think we've gotten better since Thanksgiving."
At Marengo: Hampshire (2-3) and Westminster Christian (6-2) will play in the E.C. Nichols Tournament, which has a far-flung, eclectic field ranging from Chicago schools Hubbard (0-9) and Bogan (4-2) to Winnebago (6-0), Harvard (1-6) and Kaneland (2-3).
Hampshire faces pool play games against Winnebago on Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. and Harvard on Dec. 26 at 8:30 p.m.
The Whip-Purs received good news last week when returning guard Evan Brenner was cleared to play. He was playing quarterback for the football team in the playoffs when he partially tore cartilage in his knee. With the tear trimmed, the returning starter is back and adds depth to the Hampshire lineup. "I'm ready to go," Brenner said Sunday at the Daily Herald All-Area football recognition banquet in Hoffman Estates.
Westminster Christian (6-2) is hoping to repeat its success of last year, when the Warriors reached the championship game. Despite the graduation of some key players, Westminster is statistically identical defensively to the squad of a year ago, according to coach Bruce Firchau, though the offense is slightly behind last year's pace.
"I'm definitely pleased with the performance I've seen from our players," Firchau said. "We've got about eight or nine kids who can go out and play within our system."
At Wheeling: Streamwood (3-7) is coming off an upset victory over Maine East on Tuesday, which should boost the confidence of at team that has lost 6 games by less than 10 points against good competition. The Sabres face a tough matchup on Monday at 5:30 p.m. against Niles Notre Dame (6-1), which beat New Trier to win the New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament.
"I've seen them twice," Streamwood coach Tim Jones said. "They're not real big and they're not real athletic, but they play together and they have a really good point guard in Mike Gregorio. They're an excellent ballclub, so we have our work cut out for us."
Gregorio scored 25 points against New Trier.
Loyola Academy (4-4), and Naperville Central (7-1) should compete with Notre Dame for the tournament title.
At York: Surging South Elgin (7-0) is the top seed at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic, followed by St. Ignatius (6-2), Riverside-Brookfield (7-0) and Conant (5-1). The tournament takes place Dec. 26-27, 28-29 in Elmhurst.
South Elgin beat Naperville Central and Northwestern-bound Drew Crawford 49-45 to win the Fenton Chuck Mitchell Thanksgiving Tournament. A good field at York presents another challenge for the Storm, who play at Hoffman Estates (6-0) in a nonconference tournament tuneup on Saturday.
"It's a notch up, big time," South Elgin coach Chaz Taft said of the competition. "Every team is well coached and you have to prepare for each game. It's going to be interesting to see where our team is."
South Elgin opens the tournament against Palatine (1-6) on Dec. 26 at 2:30 p.m. and will next play the winner or loser of Oswego (4-3) vs. Willowbrook (5-2).