Final week storylines to watch

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By Joe Henricksen

• Arguably the biggest storyline this week surrounds the best team in the state and its continued success and domination. Simeon, the favorite in Class 4A, would claim a sixth state championship with three more wins. That would surpass Peoria Manual’s five state titles for the most in state history. A title would also give Simeon three straight championships, which would put it in position to match Manual’s four-peat in the 1990s. In addition, coach Rob Smith would become the first coach in state history with five titles. Coach Bennie Lewis of East St. Louis (Lincoln) won four state championships.

• Will the highly-anticipated state final showdown between Proviso East and Simeon materialize? It’s the game so many want to see, but there is plenty of work to be done. A Proviso East-Warren rematch in the semifinals, a game that took place in late February that saw Proviso East prevail in a good one, is pretty tantalizing.

• Chuck Ramsey’s Warren farewell tour is in its final week. Ramsey is one of the state’s elite coaches. His team finished second in the state last year and is favored in Tuesday’s supersectional against Rockford Auburn. What better way for one of the best–and often underrated–high school coaches in the state to finish off a highly-successful run at Warren then a trip to Peoria.

• After watching 16 sectional finals last Friday night in Class 4A and 3A with only two games decided by a single possession, the question is will fans be treated to better matchups on supersectional Tuesday? Hopefully. There wasn’t a single Class 4A sectional final decided by less than 8 points. If you take out the two one-possession games in 3A, the average victory margin remaining in the other 14 sectional title games played Friday night was 18 points. Those are hardly the type of matchups you hope to see when the final 32 teams in the state are facing off.

• With DuSable playing in a 3A supersectional, there is a chance the state tournament could have its biggest out-of-nowhere team in Peoria since Johnsburg showed up in Carver Arena in 2003. But getting past Hillcrest Tuesday night will be a steeper test than beating Perspectives, Dunbar or even St. Ignatius.

• Even if there isn’t an out-of-nowhere team like DuSable that reaches Peoria, what team is capable of pulling off a supersectional upset? There are several heavy favorites. West Aurora is playing better than it has at any point in the season, but the way Proviso East dismantled Schaumburg in a true road game last Friday night was eye-opening.

• The biggest underdog Tuesday night is clearly Evanston. The Wildkits play hard and Mike Ellis is one of the state’s best coaches, but it’s hard to imagine Evanston hanging with Simeon in this one.

• Although the DuPage Valley Conference doesn’t get a whole lot of pub in basketball–it’s one of the premier football leagues in the state–this is the second straight year a DVC team has moved on to a supersectional. Glenbard East finished third in the state last year, and West Aurora advanced with a sectional title win over Metea Valley this year.

• The south suburban representative has had problems in the supersectional the past two years, with Homewood-Flossmoor losing in the super in 2010 and Crete-Monee getting upset by Normal last year. Bloom hopes to end that trend. The Blazing Trojans, led by point guard Donald Moore, will head to the ISU Super favored in a matchup with Edwardsville.

• Has there ever been two south suburban teams downstate together in the big schools state tournament? That could very well happen if Bloom (Chicago Heights) and Hillcrest (Country Club Hills) both win their supersectional games Tuesday.

• Marshall and North Chicago, who square off in the Hoffman Estates supersectional, met in the supersectional just four years ago. That 2008 supersectional ended badly for North Chicago, which lost to the Commandos 84-54. The good news for North Chicago? This North Chicago team is better than that 2008 WarHawk team, while this year’s Marshall team is not the powerhouse from 2008 that won a 3A state title behind Ryan Hare and Darius Smith.

• Probably the best team in Illinois no one is talking about–at least in the Chicago area–is Peoria Central. The Hoops Report caught Central twice in the second half of the season and was impressed, even if coach Dan Ruffin may not have one of the state’s marquee players. Peoria is physically strong, big and athletic for a high school team. Central survived an overtime thriller over Washington in the sectional title game, while beating Springfield Lanphier, Washington, St. Joseph and Peoria Manual in the second half of the season. The Lions, who have not made much noise since the Shaun Livingston-led Lions won back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004, will be a big favorite over Rockford East in the supersectional.

• Rockford Auburn makes its second straight trip to a Class 4A supersectional . Auburn fell to Glenbard East in the super last March and will be an underdog Tuesday night against Warren. But there isn’t a player in the state who makes those around him better and puts his teammates in a position to succeed more than Auburn’s Fred Van Vleet. The Wichita State-bound point guard is a star, a catalyst. More importantly, however, Van Vleet makes Auburn a better team than it appears on paper and more dangerous than what you see at first glance.

• Rockford Boylan has made seven trips to state in the last 25 years. Rockford Lutheran was a factor in small school basketball with three trips in the 1990s and a third-place finish in Class 2A last week. Rockford Jefferson finished fourth in the state in 2005. Rockford Guilford was a state runner-up to King in 1993. But Rockford Auburn hasn’t made a trip to state since a Class AA quarterfinal berth in 1975.

• The absolute worst part of the four-class system and the damage it has done to the final weekend of play in Peoria for fans, is the fact a quarter of the games played (2 of the 8) are meaningless and boring. It’s bad enough to have one third-place game; now we have two to sit through in Peoria.

Hoops Report’s Supersectional Picks

Class 4A

Proviso East over West Aurora

Warren over Rockford Auburn

Bloom over Edwardsville

Simeon over Evanston

Class 3A

Springfield Lanphier over East St. Louis

Marshall over North Chicago

Hillcrest over DuSable

Peoria Central over Rockford East

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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