The Leo Lions will be carrying an unfamiliar but welcome “burden” when they resume Catholic League basketball competition at home against Providence-St. Mel on Friday, Jan. 5.

A 7-5 record against one of the toughest schedules in the state and a second-place showing in the highly competitive Big Dipper holiday tournament earned the Lions a No. 18 ranking in the Chicago Sun-Times’ prep rankings for the Chicago area this week. Leo cracked the top 25 for the first time since the 2008-09 season, which ended with a fourth-place finish in the Class 1-A state tournament.

“We scheduled those tough games for a reason,” Coach Shawn Frison said. “We really believed the competition would make us stronger down the road.”

The two teams to whom Leo lost in the Washington Invitational over Thanksgiving are highly ranked in their respective states: Houston Math and Science Academy is No. 4 in Class 6-A in Texas, and Ben L. Smith is No. 4 in Class 3-A in North Carolina.

Plus the Catholic League did the Lions no scheduling favors; their three crossover opponents from the Blue Division—DePaul Prep, St. Joe’s and St. Rita—are a combined 29-14, and all three teams have been ranked for most of the season.

Leo is through with crossover games, so each of its remaining Catholic League opponents is from the Red Division, beginning with Providence-St. Mel. The Knights are 2-0 in conference play and 4-4 overall. They went 2-1 at the Quincy Thanksgiving tournament, lost to Uplift at the Proviso West holiday tournament and beat Mt. Carmel and Providence Catholic in CCL play.

The Lions’ Big Dipper performance featured wins over Michigan City, Bowman Academy and previously ranked Romeoville by a total of 56 points. Leo then gave Public League powerhouse Morgan Park all it wanted in the title game before falling 82-71. Senior Malcolm Bell and juniors Fred Cleveland and DeChaun Anderson were named to the All-Tournament team.

Providence-St. Mel is a triple-header, with the freshmen playing at 4 p.m., the sophomores at 5:30 and the varsity at 7.

The Lions are back in action on Sunday, Jan. 7, facing Rich Central in the Bob Hambric Shootout at 1:45 p.m. at Thornton Fractional North High School. Rich Central has a 7-6 record following a 1-3 showing at the Big Dipper. TF North is located at 755 Pulaski Road in Calumet City, Il.