The best week of high school basketball is here.
Elimination games Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and save for DuSable's surprise appearance opposite Simeon in an Argo Sectional semifinal, not a single mismatch among them.
With so many good games to analyze, I'll spare you a long intro and get to it.
No. 6 Oswego (28-2) vs. West Aurora (22-6), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: The West Aurora I saw at Pontiac, with Josh McAuley imposing his will on both ends of the floor, is capable of winning the second toughest sectional in the state and challenging Proviso East in a supersectional. The Blackhawks that lost three of their final five regular-season games are a stark contrast to the consistent excellence Oswego has exhibited. Led by four-year varsity guards Miles Simelton and Elliot McGaughy and their underrated teammates, the Panthers beat Proviso East in the first week of the season and never leveled off. They beat Homewood-Flossmoor, Stevenson and New Trier at the Proviso West Tournament, and their only losses are to Proviso East in the Proviso West semifinals and Naperville Central on Nov. 19.
Helfgot's pick: Oswego 68, West Aurora 61
No. 7 Benet (26-5) vs. No. 15 Neuqua Valley (28-2), 7:30 p.m. Wednesday: Don't be fooled by the records. Benet's came against arguably the toughest schedule of any team that does not travel the national circuit, while Neuqua faced just one ranked team all season. The well-schooled Wildcats beat No. 19 Larkin comfortably twice in February, but the lack of strong opponents could hurt them here. Benet was no match for No. 2 Young in the City-Suburban Showdown, but its other four losses could have gone the other way. Benet's defense and 6-9 junior Sean O'Mara will be the difference.
Helfgot's pick: Benet 57, Neuqua Valley 49
No. 4 Proviso East (26-3) vs. No. 20 Glenbard East (20-6), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Proviso East has a tendency to play up or down to its competition, which makes for dangerous living this time of year. Donnie Boyce believes people wrote his team off prematurely after losing to Oswego in the first week and then taking a shellacking from Lone Peak (Utah), and perhaps he has a point. The Pirates are undefeated in 2013, and their 74-65 victory over Proviso West in the regional final was only the second margin not to reach double digits. Glenbard East started even less impressively, losing to Glenbard West and Rockford Lutheran before a 1-2 showing at the Proviso West Tournament. The Rams also picked it up in the new year, sweeping West Aurora and going 13-1 to win the DuPage Valley Conference. Count on Glenbard East to show up and make Proviso play well to win.
Helfgot's pick: Proviso East 75, Glenbard East 69
York (22-7) vs. Oak Park (19-9), 7:30 p.m. Wednesday: They split their two West Suburban Gold meetings and finished in a tie for second behind Hinsdale Central. Oak Park won the more recent game, though both teams can look at the Huskies' 47-41 Feb. 15 victory as a reason for optimism. Oak Park for obvious reasons, and York can take comfort in knowing how unlikely it is Colorado State-bound guard David Cohn will score just eight points again. Oak Park also has a Division I-caliber guard in junior Erick Locke, who scored a game-high 19 in the last meeting. But it might take more than that to beat Cohn, 6-8 junior Frank Toohey and the rest of the Dukes again.
Helfgot's pick: York 59, Oak Park 55
Glenbrook North Sectional
No. 14 Maine South (28-3) vs. No. 16 Niles North (26-4), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: Though two Hawks found themselves in the emergency room afterward, Maine South survived the two-overtime throwdown with Niles North to record a 64-61 victory in the Central Suburban League championship game. The Vikings were only the second team this season to reach 60 on the Hawks, who were back to their stingy ways in allowing a total of 58 in their two regional victories. The notion that Niles North's hopes ended when Lorenzo Dillard encountered legal trouble and was kicked off the team in early February was incorrect. Malachi Nix has been unstoppable of late. The 5-foot-7 Nix's 39 points keyed North's 68-57 victory over Loyola in the regional final. Twenty against Maine South would be just as impressive, and perhaps enough to win the rematch. Maine South has developed quite a knack for winning close games, which this will almost certainly be.
Helfgot's pick: Maine South 50, Niles North 49
No. 12 Notre Dame (24-5) vs. No. 17 New Trier (26-5), 7:30 p.m. Wednesday: New Trier and its best player, Princeton-bound forward Steven Cook, have flown under the radar all season. An overtime loss to Maine South on Feb. 15 was all that stood between the Trevians and the CSL South title, while the 6-4 Cook is more athletic than most realize and a true force on both ends. I would imagine he will try to lock down Notre Dame's leading scorer, Matt Mooney, and force the Dons to go in a different direction. Cook will have to do more than neutralize Mooney, though; he'll have to clearly outplay him, because Notre Dame has better supporting players.
Helfgot's pick: Notre Dame 61, New Trier 58
No. 1 Simeon (25-3) vs. DuSable (14-10), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday: DuSable's surprise run through Brother Rice and St. Rita is a reminder of how much basketball talent resides in the city. Of course, nowhere is it more prevalent than at Simeon. By their own admission, the three-time defending 4A champions have not been as good as the sum of their parts this season. Truly great teams have players who fill specific roles, which hasn't happened because Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate and Kendall Pollard are all talented enough to be the best player on a good team. Don't underestimate Robert Smith's ability to reach his players. He's been demanding the extra pass, imploring his team of all-stars to pass up a decent shot so a teammate can have a better one. If the Wolverines play that way, nobody will beat them — certainly not DuSable.