Batavia boys basketball coach Jim Nazos is a defensive-minded guy, so it comes as little surprises that he's pointing to that end of the floor as the Bulldogs' biggest room for improvement in the coming weeks.
"I think we have the ability to score," Nazos said. "What we've really got to do is take the next step defensively. To beat really good teams, we've got to be able to hang in a game when offensively we're not playing that well. That's got to be the next step for us. If we're not doing well offensively, well, we better be around it so when it happens, it's in distance to maybe get it at the end. It's not happening right now."
The Bulldogs also figure to take a step forward when Micah Coffey and Tucker Knox return to form. Both jumped in last week just days after completing their 14-game football journey that ended with a Class 6A state championship.
"They're not as good right now as they're going to be next week and even the following week, but they're two of our guys who I think understand the things we want to do defensively," Nazos said. " … They're going to get there because they understand what it takes to get to that spot.
"They're two good leaders for us and they're going to do nothing but get better, and we're going to get better."
St. Charles East was the first area team to get a look last week at Larkin freshman Christian Negron, a solidly built 6-foot-5 forward who could dunk as a middle-schooler.
Negron had nine rebounds and swatted a couple shots in Larkin's 82-65 win over East, and he figures to become even more of a force as he acclimates to high school basketball. Royals coach Deryn Carter said the more minutes for Negron, the better.
"We just want him playing, to be real honest," Carter said. "He's got a lot of athletic ability, he's got a lot of skill set. The more he can play, the more he can get out here and just kind of go with the flow, the better he's going to be.
"We don't have any role for him because we want him to just continue to improve every day."
St. Charles North (on Friday) and Batavia (on Saturday) will be the next Tri-Cities teams to get a look at Negron and Larkin, which lost its first game of the season, 84-82 in overtime, against Morgan Park on Saturday.
Carter considered Thursday's win over East a key building block early in the Royals' conference title defense.
"To win any game in conference is big but there are a couple teams in the league that are quote unquote favorites, and they're definitely one of them," Carter said. "So that was a big win for us, definitely."
A crew from the CBS news program 60 Minutes was on hand for Mooseheart's home opener last week against Hope Academy, part of an in-depth project focusing on South Sudanese transfer students Makur Puou, Akim Nyang and Mangisto Deng.
The show is planning to follow Mooseheart throughout the winter and air a piece after the season ends, according to Ramblers coach Ron Ahrens.
IN THE GROOVE
Nate Navigato, Geneva, Jr., F/G
What he did: Navigato scored a career-high 41 points on Saturday at the University of Illinois, 33 of those coming in the second half as Geneva rallied past Bloomington, 61-57.
The 41-point explosion made his 20 points in Friday's win over Batavia seem like a quiet night in comparison.
Mangisto Deng, Mooseheart, Sr., G
What he did: Deng scored 30 points in last week's home opener against Hope Academy, including 4 of 5 shooting from 3-point land. The 6-foot-7 wing added 10 rebounds and five steals in Mooseheart's 69-53 win.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
St. Charles North looks like it will be in the hunt near the top of the Upstate Eight Conference River.
Despite returning only one starter from last year's team, North continued its strong start to the season by opening conference play with wins against Streamwood and St. Charles East. Senior guard Alec Goetz scored 21 points in North's 68-58 win over the Saints on Saturday.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
Whether St. Francis or Wheaton Academy can assume early control in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue race.
The perennial contenders meet tonight in West Chicago for their first meeting of the season.
COACH SLY SAYS
What's more impressive for Mr. Navigato from Saturday's win over Bloomington, the 41 points or that 33 came in the second half?
In Sly's book, it's none of the above, but rather that Navigato put his team on his back and led the Vikings to an impressive comeback win against Bloomington.
Bodes well for Geneva that Navigato's monster game came in a Big Ten gym. The young man's obviously not afraid of a big stage, which could bode well for the Vikings these next couple seasons.