Following last Friday's convincing win at No. 16 Neuqua Valley, No. 4 Larkin faces another tough road test at No. 7 Benet Academy on Saturday.
The challenge facing Larkin (14-2) senior forwards Drew Jones (6-5), Brayden Royse (6-5) and freshman Christian Negron (6-5) is Benet 6-foot-9 center Sean O'Mara. Committed to Xavier, O'Mara scored 17 points last Friday in the Redwings' 61-56 win at No. 8 York (14-2).
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Like Benet (9-4), Larkin has played a tough nonconference schedule, including games against Morgan Park and Zion-Benton. However, the Royals have yet to face a big man as skilled as O'Mara.
"There are only two others in the entire state in his class, and one is going to Duke and one is going to Kansas," said Larkin coach Deryn Carter, referring to Kansas recruit Cliff Alexander of Curie and Duke-bound Jahil Okafor of Whitney Young. "We won't be able to stop him one on one. We'll have to do some things with tempo and things like that to limit his touches because once he gets started he's hard to stop. They are well coached and know what to do."
Benet knew exactly what to do last week when York's defense sagged on O'Hara in the first half. The Redwings passed the ball out to the perimeter and sank 8 of 10 attempts from 3-point range before halftime.
Win or lose, Benet is precisely the type of matchup Carter sought in the offseason to increase Larkin's schedule profile.
"I hope after Saturday night we're a better basketball team," Carter said. "That's the plan. It's a game that has very little importance as far as the regular season, but it could have implications for both teams as far as the playoffs are concerned. Our guys are excited to play such a quality opponent and one of the best teams in the state."
Rescheduled: The Jan. 7 nonconference matchup between Huntley and Fremd postponed by cold weather has been rescheduled. The Vikings (14-0), ranked No. 1 in this week's Daily Herald Top 20, visit No. 13 Huntley (9-4) on Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.
Barnett returns: Hampshire coach Bob Barnett sat out last Friday's home game against Grayslake North for precautionary reasons, but he was back on the sidelines Tuesday when the Whip-Purs welcomed Sycamore.
Barnett, 52, opted to rest Friday night after a dizzy spell during the school day caused him to consult his heart doctor. Barnett suffered two heart attacks in November, 2012. He returned within weeks and coached Hampshire to a share of its first division title since joining the Fox Valley Conference.
"I'm OK," Barnett said this week. "It was just a bad day and it progressively got worse. I always get dizzy when I stand up, but this was prolonged. I couldn't walk down the hallway without leaning on a railing and stopping. But I don't foresee it coming back."
Barnett joked he should have stayed sidelined for the Sycamore game. The Whip-Purs were beaten 67-57 by the visiting Spartans after leading 43-29.
Hampshire's next 6 games are against FVC Fox opponents, beginning with Saturday's matinee against Woodstock North at 2:30 p.m.
"We just have to put (Sycamore) behind us and get ready for Woodstock North," Barnett said. "We're coming into a stretch where we could run off some wins."
A QB on the court: Crystal Lake South guard Austin Rogers' court vision is nearly as impeccable as his field vision.
Also an all-area quarterback for the Gators last fall, Crystal Lake South's leading scorer was asked to play point guard in the second half of a 67-55 comeback win against visiting Jacobs on Wednesday night, due to a favorable matchup against a big man.
"We saw that they had a five on me, so we thought I'd bring the ball up and try to create for other kids to make shots," Rogers said. "Our role players stepped up and made 3s and pretty much got us a great win."
Seniors Collin Wagner and Caleb Johnson each sank a pair of 3-pointers during the comeback, which Rogers also had a lot to do with. The 6-foot-2 senior scored 21 of his game-high 31 points in the second half and dished 6 assists as the Gators rallied from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit to win by 12, catapulted by a 33-2 run.
"It's a players' game and those guys made shots to make it look pretty easy for Austin at times," CL South coach Matt LePage said. "He was just kind of quarterbacking the team in a way. Everything was in front of him and he just made the plays."
Noticeable improvement: One of the area's most improved players is Burlington Central 6-foot-9 senior Duncan Ozburn.
As a junior last year, the center scored 170 points in 24 games (7.1 ppg), grabbed 130 rebounds (5.4 avg) and finished with 48 blocks.
This season Ozburn already has 166 points (9.8 avg.) in 17 games for the Rockets (13-4) and has matched last season's 130 rebounds (7.6 avg.) His 59 blocks dwarf his 2012-13 total.
Kaneland coach Brian Johnson noted the difference in Ozburn last Saturday after he scored 10 points and snared 7 rebounds in a blowout victory over the Knights.
"He has gotten so much better since last year," Johnson said. "I mean, he has improved immensely. I haven't seen improvement like that in a kid at the schools I've been at. In just a year span he's gotten a lot better and hard to guard."