By: Luke Drase
It’s hard to believe, but conference play is already upon us.
With only Thanksgiving tournaments to go off of, we set out to complete the unenviable task of trying to predict where the six teams in the CSL South will fall this season.
Of the six teams in the conference, four were listed in the Sun-Times’ preseason area rankings with Evanston coming in at 32, Maine South at 29, New Trier at 22, and Niles North all the way up at number 6.
To put it bluntly, the CSL South is going to be absolutely brutal.
With respect to Niles West and Glenbrook South, the CSL South will be a four horse race this season and any one of those ranked teams have the ability to take home the CSL crown, with some coaches from around believing that a 7-3 or even 6-4 record may be able to win the league.
Now with all that being said, we still have a job to do here Illinois Preps Insider and frankly, saying that one of four teams could win the league doesn’t make for an interesting article.
So without further ado here are our “expert” predictions.
1. Niles North
The addition of Niles North to the CSL South last year has really helped the CSL South become a premier suburban conference.
Under coach Glenn Olson, the Vikings have become one of the best teams in the northern suburbs over the past 8 years with, three regional championships, a sectional title and two CSL North titles to their name.
Niles North hasn’t won a share of the conference title since 2013, when they went 10-0 in the CSL North, but the Vikings seem to have all the pieces to be contenders.
The trio of Damaria Franklin, Jamal Stephenson, and Dravon Claybourn all return for their senior season, and they will be joined by key role players in Julius Francellno, Dailen Suddith and Aquan Smart.
One player to keep an eye out for is senior Demarion Bariffe-Smith. Smith has had a breakout senior season thus far, shooting over 70% from the field with his size and athleticism creating a matchup nightmare for both guards and bigs. Not bad for a team’s fourth or fifth option.
If Niles North can remain patient on offense and avoid playing hero ball when things are not going their way, it can be a very special season for coach Olson’s squad.
It really is so hard to bet against Evanston.
The Wildkits lost so much from last years graduating class, and there will be some growing pains throughout the season, but there is still a ton of talent on a very young Evanston squad.
Junior Lance Jones is the real deal, and fellow junior Jaheim Holden has the ability to go off on any given night. Freshman sharp shooter Blake Peters is an interesting prospect as well, and looked very composed for his age.
Defensively, Evanston has lost a lot of length, but they are still just as quick and get after the ball. Jones and Ryan Bost are two of the best on ball defenders in the league, and will give opposing guards fits.
The one issue that Evanston has right now is a lack of depth. Evanston has quite a few intriguing freshman, and the Wildkits success may depend on whether or not one of them can take a big step forward this season.
3. Maine South
Year in and year out, Maine South and coach Tony Lavorato produce such solid teams. Last year, the Hawks played most of the season without Tommy Gardiner and they still managed to come away with 17 wins.
This time around, Gardiner is back and he is joined by a supporting cast who had to step up his absence, including Fillip Bulatovic, Grant Miller, and Michael George who all upped their scoring presence in Gardiner’s absence.
But like years past, the Hawks will hang their hat on a tough, physical brand of defense. Not only do Maine South always have a physically imposing presence, but they are also deceivingly athletic and are able to keep up up with teams like Niles North and Evanston.
4. New Trier
It was a painfully difficult decision to drop New Trier down to fourth, but unfortunately for the Trevians someone had to.
New Trier is an extremely talented team with a huge front line of 6’9″ Ciaran Brayboy, 6’7″ Spencer Boehm and 6’5″ Griffin Ryan, all of whom can create matchup problems for opposing teams.
The Trevians also return a three year starter in Andrew Fitzpatrick and the extremely tough Brian Conaghan. With the impressive front line and improved backcourt, New Trier should easily surpass their 15 wins from last season.
The problem with New Trier lies with bad matchups within the conference. The CSL South’s top players are all long, rangy athletes like a Lance Jones or a Damaria Franklin who can score inside and out, which can cause problems for New Trier’s bigs defensively.
5. Glenbrook South
GBS is going through a similar phase Niles North did a couple of years ago, having to throw a lot of young players into the fire early and often.
The Titans will also be under a new head coach Phil Ralston, arriving at Glenview after two successful stints at Grant and Geneva.
Despite the youth, GBS will return a lot of minutes. Jimmy McMahon and Gavin Morse both saw significant playing time last year as sophomores as did Dom Martinelli as a Freshman.
GBS is still a couple of years away, and in a loaded CSL South, the Titans will struggle to win against any of ‘The big four.”
6. Niles West
Like GBS, Niles West will go as far as their young talent can take them as new head coach Mike Wasielewski, who previously worked as an assistant at Stevenson, will have a very tough task in his first year for the Wolves.
Leading the way for Niles West will be senior Clyde Singleton and junior Kevin Guillaume. The Wolves have a ton of interesting pieces in their junior class along with Guillaume, including James Lorenzo, Richard Noparstak and Emil Comor.
Although they may be predicted last, keep an eye out for their two games against Niles North. Niles West seems to have an innate ability to pull off some pretty remarkable upsets against the Vikings, so don’t be surprised if they give the number six team in the area a run for their money.
Above all, it should be a thrilling season in the CSL South