HQ recruiting blogger Cody Westerlund's take on today's five-game lineup at the Shootout at the Hall, moved to Parkland College in Champaign:
Rantoul vs. Chicago Hope Academy, 12:15 p.m.
Storyline: Chicago Hope Academy coach Mike Edwards extolled the virtues of getting out of the city for a day and seeing a more disciplined style of basketball downstate, which he envisions helping his Eagles in postseason play. It was, after all, just a year ago when Hope Academy was blown out in a Class 1A sectional final by eventual state champion Newark, which protected the basketball about as carefully as the Secret Service does the president. "The game up in Chicago is a little more run-and-gun. I try to reel my guys in. I want them to play a more disciplined-type game," Edwards said. Good idea, Coach. Just one problem. Rantoul will want to run as much as you. Brett Frerichs' crew topped 80 points twice in its first three games, and its calling card is pressing and using the dribble-drive to take advantage of its good guard play and lack of size. "It should be fun," Edwards said upon learning about Rantoul.
Peoria Manual vs. Springfield Lanphier, 2 p.m.
Storyline: Both teams rely heavily on their backcourts, and with good reason — that's where the playmakers are. Manual is led by senior point guard Jeff White, a Loyola commit, and A.J. Riley, a junior combo guard who has received many looks from midmajors. Lanphier receives much of its production from senior Everett Clemons and sophomore Larry Austin Jr., who both rotate between the point and the wing. Clemons recently scored 40 points in an important conference win against Springfield Southeast, and Austin has fielded more high-major interest with a strong start. The backcourt that has its way will go a long way toward determining the winner of this game. That much was the case last year, when Manual rallied for a 65-58 win at the Assembly Hall behind a second-half press that caused fits for Lanphier. The Rams turned the ball over three times in that contest while forcing the Lions into 18 turnovers.
St. Thomas More vs. Urbana, 3:45 p.m.
Storyline: This matchup is about two local teams whose players are familiar with one another. Sabers big man Travis Whitley, for example, attended the Urbana school district in his younger days. It also is a battle for Twin City pride, with a mix of smaller private school vs. bigger public school flavor thrown in. "I've been hearing a little trash-talking behind the scenes, all in good fun," first-year Sabers coach James Kinney said.
Centennial vs. Chicago Curie, 5:30 p.m.
Storyline: To hear the coaches talk, you would think this game is David vs. Goliath. Curie's Michael Oliver couldn't be more ecstatic to see what his team can prove this season after it returned four starters and added a key transfer. Centennial's Tim Lavin talks like a man who is wary of how his youth will respond in its biggest game to date. Make no doubt about it, Curie will be the favorite, led by steady upperclassmen and the flashier Cliff Alexander. It will be worth your price of admission to see the 6-foot-9 sophomore big man dunk and alter the game with his defense in the lane, and he's the day's crown jewel that Illinois coach Bruce Weber will look at.
Crete-Monee vs. Niles Notre Dame, 7:15 p.m.
Storyline: Just how important is Michael Orris to Crete-Monee? Well, listen to his coach talk about the "ugly" play of the Warriors in the season's first three games, when the point guard and Illinois commit was out with a severely sprained ankle. "We were very disorganized. No one stepped up. We had no time to prepare for that," said Tom Cappel, in his first year at Crete-Monee. "That happened the day before the first day of the Thanksgiving tournament. I think we were really fortunate to win a couple games." The good news for Cappel — and Illini fans — is that Orris is expected to play this weekend, so he should be ready to go. When he gets to Champaign, watch how he makes the Warriors go. Orris is taking on a lot of responsibility for the Warriors this season, including stepping up as more of a scorer. He'll be tested against a Notre Dame team that may lack in experience but not talent; sophomore wing Duante Stephens will be a formidable foe on the outside, and sophomore Jon Johnson Jr. creates havoc in the paint on defense.