It's been exactly nine weeks since Schaumburg and Palatine last squared off on the hardwood.
And the head coaches of each team acknowledge how different their teams are since that Dec. 14 evening when the Saxons prevailed 53-43 at Palatine.
The growth of both teams will be on display when Palatine (15-11, 6-3) visits Schaumburg (15-9, 7-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday with the Mid-Suburban West title on the line.
"Certainly they're a much improved team since then, but we feel that we are, as well," said Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh, whose team has won five straight division games. "It's two really good teams."
Schaumburg clinched a share of the division with its 45-24 victory over Fremd last week, but Palatine kept its own title hopes alive with a 63-51 triumph over Barrington.
In order to represent the West in next Wednesday's MSL championship game at Prospect, the Pirates must beat the Saxons by 7 points or more.
Whomever wins will likely have dictated the pace of the game to their liking. Palatine would rather get up and down the floor and is one of the highest scoring teams in the area at 56.5 points per game. Schaumburg, on the other hand, prefers outworking teams in half-court sets and using a defense that yields just 42.6 points per game to its advantage.
"We have a style of play that we're comfortable with, and they have a style of play that they're comfortable with," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone, who is hoping to lead the Pirates to their first West crown since they shared it with Conant in 2005 and first title game appearance since 1996. "It's just a matter who can establish that and stay with it."
While defense has been the backbone of a Saxons squad that has won at least a share of the West the last three years, Millstone notes that Schaumburg is also quite capable of lighting up the scoreboard.
Stopping Kyle Bolger (15 ppg), who scored a game-high 14 points in the teams' first meeting, is crucial, but the Saxons also have experienced scoring threats in slasher Cole Reyes (11 ppg) and three-point specialist Jimmy Lundquist (10 ppg).
"The thing about Schaumburg is, as good as they are defensively and as deliberate as they are offensively, they also have the ability to put some points up, which they have done this year," Millstone said. "They can hurt you in a variety of ways."
Roosevelt Smart (18.5 ppg) poured in 23 points in the teams' first meeting. The sophomore has been on a tear lately with 25 points against Barrington and 28 points against Fremd. And he has plenty of help with fellow sophomore Chris Macahon (9.7 ppg) and Greg Grana (8.7 ppg) producing as well.
"I'm really impressed with their toughness," Walsh said. "They've overcome double-digit deficits the past two weeks. They've been down to really good Fremd and Barrington teams. They just don't stop playing."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.