Weekend Forecast: Previewing and predicting the top high school basketball games

Benet’s Daniel Pauliukonis (24) shoots against Thornton.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Last weekend there were a whopping 10 games played between ranked teams. This Weekend Forecast is a little less volatile with few ranked teams going head-to-head. But there will be a massive showdown Sunday night in the south suburbs –– and several other intriguing matchups.

Last week: 7-5

Overall: 27-14

Friday

No. 16 New Trier (20-4) at Glenbrook South (17-4)

As it relates to the Central Suburban League South race, it’s a must-win situation with Glenbrook North sitting at the top without a league loss. New Trier is one game back while Glenbrook South sits two games back but has already played GBN twice. 

New Trier’s firepower is its perimeter shooting. The Trevians can look like a legitimate top 25 team when it’s making shots. The question is can they beat good, quality teams if they don’t shoot it particularly well? Throw in some youth and it’s a team where, despite its impressive record, there remains some uncertainty. 

How will New Trier contend with powerful 6-7 Nick Taylor around the basket and on the glass? Together, Taylor, shooter Nate Kasher and point guard Anestis Hadjistamoulou provide experience and make the Titans a threat each time they step on the floor. 

The pick: Glenbrook South 56, New Trier 52

Lake Zurich (15-4) at No. 9 Warren (20-4)

The first of two big weekend games for a Warren team that despite all the hoopla thus far finds itself in second place in the North Suburban Conference. Here is an opportunity for the Blue Devils to tighten things up with a home game against one of the leaders.

Rather quietly, Lake Zurich has piled up some wins and put themselves in position to make a run at a league title with January wins over both Lake Forest and Stevenson. The Bears are better than most people realize. Big man Anton Strelnikov has been one of the most productive players this season. The 6-8 junior is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game while connecting on 64 percent from the field. 

Senior Nick Popovic has provided steady support on the perimeter for Lake Zurich, and sophomore Kain Kretschmar continues to give the Bears a boost. 

The good news for Warren is that it has two games apiece with Lake Forest and Lake Zurich in coming weeks. So the Blue Devils control their own destiny as far as the conference race is concerned. Star freshman guard Jaxson Davis, productive 6-5 senior Alex Daniels and the Blue Devils bounce back from an overtime loss to Stevenson and get this one done at home. 

The pick: Warren 56, Lake Zurich 53

No. 4 Waubonsie Valley (20-0) at Metea Valley (16-7)

Metea has been hot of late. The Mustangs, led by Will Ashford, James Parker and Jake Nosek, have won six straight.

If you haven’t heard, Waubonsie Valley has been hot as well and one of the big stories of this 2023-24 season. It’s 20 straight wins and counting for the Warriors, who have a blossoming talent at point guard in junior Tyreek Coleman. 

Waubonsie is so due for a defeat; running the table is nearly impossible. It won’t be easy on the road, but … it’s not happening yet. 

The pick: Waubonsie Valley 53, Metea Valley 47

Saturday

Downers Grove South (15-7) at Leyden (18-4)

These two aren’t ranked and neither have played a daunting schedule, but they are in a fight for the top spot in the conference and enjoying breakthrough seasons. 

Who had Leyden as a potential 20-win team and being talked about in January? No, Downers Grove South isn’t the only vastly improved team in the West Suburban Gold. 

Leyden, led by unheralded 6-3 guard Drelyn Jones, sits one game back of DGS and needs this one to keep its hopes alive in a league race that also includes Proviso East. 

After a rough weekend where Downers Grove South lost to Proviso East and was walloped by Metamora, the Mustangs can regroup and take a big step forward in the league race. DGS, led by 6-7 Justin Sveiteris (13 ppg), Jalen House (12 ppg) and Keon Maggitt (9 ppg), keeps pace with Proviso East in the West Suburban Gold. 

The pick: Downers Grove South 61, Leyden 56

Palatine (17-6) at No. 9 Warren (20-4)

Big test for a Palatine team that is leading the Mid-Suburban League West but stumbled recently in a loss to Mundelein. Now it gets a shot at another North Suburban Conference team.

The Pirates are led by the senior tandem of Connor May and Tommy Elter, who does a little of everything with 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals a game. May, who has already surpassed 1,000 career points, continues to be one of the more productive players in the area. He is putting up 18.7 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.

Yes, Warren has revolved around the superior play of freshman Jaxson Davis and dependable senior Alex Daniels. Can the Blue Devils continue to find more support from the likes of Braylon Walker, Javerion Brooks, Jack Wolf and Immanuel Brown to help ease the load?

The pick: Warren 60, Palatine 54

No. 6 Benet (17-3) vs. Normal (20-3) at Glenbrook South

Normal makes yet another trip to the Chicago area — it’s third straight weekend –– and is playing its 11th game against a Chicago area program. The Ironmen are 7-3 in the previous 10 games. Their three losses have come to teams with a combined record of 55-6.

After falling to Thornton last weekend, Benet will once again face a team with enormous size in 6-10 Jaheem Webber and 6-8 Noah Cleveland. In a win over DePaul last Saturday, Cleveland rose to the occasion with a game-high 28 points. He’s a mismatch for the Redwings. 

The pick: Benet 59, Normal 54

No. 19 Loyola (19-4) vs. No. 7 Bloom (12-6) at New Trier

A unique battle we don’t get enough of between the north suburbs and the south suburbs. These two meet in the annual War on the Shore.  

Senior guard Miles Boland leads the way for the Ramblers. There are few players who do more to help their team win more than Boland, who is averaging 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.1 steals a game. That is filling a stat sheet. 

Bloom was beaten up a bit earlier this week, losing to Thornton 69-52. It was a rematch of a game where the Blazing Trojans came out on top back in early December. 

Loyola will need to keep Bloom off the offensive glass and limit transition baskets from a team that relies a lot on its overall balance. You want balance? How about five players — Elijah Lovemore (10 ppg), Payton Edwards (10 ppg), Jaden Clark (9 ppg), Santana Flowers (7 ppg) and Amare Pryor (7 ppg) — averaging between 7-10 points a game. But it’s Elijah Lovemore who sets the tone at point guard. The 6-3 junior is a pass-first point guard who is averaging close to eight assists a game. 

The pick: Bloom 47, Loyola 44

Sunday

No. 3 Thornton (19-2) vs. No. 2 Homewood-Flossmoor (19-2) at Thornwood

We have to wait until late Sunday for the Game of the Week, a south suburban showdown featuring two teams ranked in the top five. The two met in the Big Dipper final a month ago where H-F claimed a 53-52 win. 

H-F shot just 15 of 44 from the field — and only 2 of 13 from three — in the first meeting, yet still found a way to win with Bryce Heard and Carson Brownfield combining for 30 points. 

How the Vikings respond to suffering its first loss to an in-state team, an upset loss to Bradley-Bourbonnais earlier this week, will be another barometer of the growth of a team that hasn’t had to navigate setbacks. 

Thornton played perhaps its best all-around game last week in taking care of Benet with star Morez Johnson, aggressive defense and some hot shooting, particularly from senior veteran Isaiah Green. 

Flip a coin and know you’re going to get a down-to-the-wire finish. But beating Thornton twice in a season will be no small task. 

The pick: Thornton 60, Homewood-Flossmoor 58

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