Hillcrest's 24 consecutive conference championships might be the most impressive such streak in the Chicago area.
At 8-0 in South Suburban play, the Hawks (14-5) could be well on their way to 25.
But like last season, when Lemont rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to upend Hillcrest 58-57 on Feb. 24 and earn a share of the title, the rest of the league is not clearly inferior.
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Hillcrest High School, 17401 Crawford Avenue, Country Club Hills, IL 60478, USA
Thornton Fractional North High School, 755 Pulaski Road, Calumet City, IL 60409, USA
Lemont High School, Illinois and Michigan Canal, 800 Porter Street, Lemont, IL 60439, USA
Palatine High School, 1111 North Rohlwing Road, Palatine, IL 60074, USA
Lemont (17-2, 7-1) is a factor once again behind Lithuanian lefty guard Juozas Balciunas, and the somewhat surprising success of T.F. North (15-5, 8-0) is making it a three-horse race.
Crossover games count in the South Suburban standings, and the three teams have yet to meet one another.
T.F. North, which had No. 5 North Chicago on the ropes Monday in its 59-57 loss at Young, will host Hillcrest with first place on the line Friday night.
The disciplined style coach Tim Bankston learned playing for former Simeon coach Bob Hambric has served the Meteors well against the better teams on their schedule.
They beat Bogan and No. 6 Benet in December and came up just short against Marshall and Farragut.
The schedule favors T.F. North in the race, as its game with Lemont is also in Calumet City on Feb. 8.
Lemont and Hillcrest will square off in Country Club Hills on Feb. 22.
Palatine in thick of it: One season after winning just three games, Palatine coach Eric Millstone has his Pirates in the thick of the Mid-Suburban East race.
The best part for the Pirates is their youth. Roosevelt Smart, the top prospect and perhaps the best player in the MSL, is a sophomore.
So is point guard Chris Macahon. Dondre Watson, their 3-point shooter, is a junior.
Palatine's 12-10 record reflects a tough nonconference schedule that includes a victory over St. Ignatius and competitive losses to York and Riverside-
Brookfield, and its 4-2 league record puts it in a tie with Schaumburg and Fremd in the East.
Conant and Barrington are right behind at 3-3 in a race that figures to go down to the wire. MSL teams play division foes twice.
Palatine lost to Schaumburg and Fremd on the road the first time through the league. If they can hold serve at home, the Pirates could be one of the biggest surprise stories of the season.