Players, coaches and fans are so close they can taste it. With three-plus months in the books and state tournament brackets whittled down to 16 teams in Class 3A and 4A, Peoria and the State Finals are one supersectional win away. Here is the best of Super Tuesday in Illinois prep basketball.
Best super-sectional matchup
What’s not to like in the Chicago State Super?
There is a prohibitive favorite in Stevenson and a true underdog in Riverside-Brookfield, which is making its first-ever supersectional appearance. There is star power in Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and an exciting, balanced R-B offensive attack, featuring Sam Johnson (18 points per game), Daniko Jackson (11), Jalen Clanton (13) and Mark Smith (11).
Brunson’s quest to add to his star-studded legacy and lead Stevenson to its first state title after two previous trips to Peoria is the biggest individual storyline.
But how about the newbies? Riverside-Brookfield and Lake Park just won their first sectional championships in school history. St. Patrick and Bolingbrook have never reached state. Geneva hasn’t been there since 1963. Which one, if any, can break through to Peoria?
A pair of legendary coaches are on the cusp of returning to the State Finals. West Aurora’s Gordie Kerkman and St. Joseph’s Gene Pingatore have a combined 1,700-plus wins between them. Pingatore hasn’t been back to Peoria since winning his only state title in 1999, while it’s been nearly a decade since Kerkman’s last trip.
Best of the low-seeded teams
When it comes to seeds, West Aurora is the only low seed still alive, winning the East Aurora Sectional as a No. 6 seed. In fact, every team remaining in 4A is either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed except the Blackhawks.
With a win over Bolingbrook on Tuesday night, West Aurora would be the lowest seeded 4A team to reach Peoria since the inception of the four-class system in 2008 and the lowest sectional seed to make it to Peoria since No. 5 seed Glenbrook North in 2003.
Best individual matchup
With the way Bolingbrook’s Prentiss Nixon and West Aurora’s Roland Griffin carried their teams in sectional play, it should be a fun supersectional at Hinsdale Central from an individual player standpoint.
Nixon, a Colorado State recruit, took his game to another level in leading the Raiders to its first sectional championship in 30 years. The scoring guard scored 30 in the sectional semifinal win over Plainfield East and then poured in 32 points in beating Neuqua Valley in the sectional final.
West Aurora leaned heavily on Griffin, and the 6-6 forward headed to Illinois State responded. He scored 24 in a win over York and then went for 31 points and 11 rebounds while holding Hinsdale Central star Matt Rafferty in check in the title game.
Best unsung star
Throughout this state tournament run, it’s been more than just numbers for Geneva’s Nate Navigato. The Buffalo recruit is averaging 25.5 points this postseason. But even more impressive has been the amount of momentum-changing shots and plays he’s made in taking over games when it’s mattered most.
Best of the unsung players
Here’s a starting five of unsung players to watch in Tuesday’s super-sectional games: Bolingbrook’s Broderic Thomas; Riverside-Brookfield’s Daniko Jackson; Simeon’s Isaiah Moss; Lake Park’s Marcus McDaniel; Hillcrest’s Taylor Adway.
Best team for the occasion
St. Joseph is the favorite. But having to play St. Patrick in the super-sectional on St. Patrick’s Day? That just feels like a six-point disadvantage already for coach Gene Pingatore’s Chargers. Plus, behind guard Nick Coleman, the Shamrocks are playing extremely well.