Henricksen: 13 reasons to be interested in state finals

SHARE Henricksen: 13 reasons to be interested in state finals
SHARE Henricksen: 13 reasons to be interested in state finals

To get you ready for the final weekend of the high school basketball season, here are 13 reasons to get excited about the Class 4A and 3A finals in Peoria.

1. Jalen Brunson. Remember his record-breaking 56-point semifinal game a year ago? Don’t go in expecting a repeat of that memorable night, but he’s the best player in the state with an opportunity to play on the biggest stage and on the final night of the season. The Villanova-bound point guard is a special talent who, with a state title this weekend, would cap off his career as one of the most successful and decorated players in state history.

2. A coaching icon. St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore is an Illinois high school basketball institution. He’s respected, extremely well liked and is the all-time leader in coaching wins in state history with 960. How about this: Pingatore has 307 more wins than the other Class 3A semifinal coaches have combined.

3. The best unsigned senior. Not only is Morgan Park’s Marcus LoVett the best available player in Illinois in the Class of 2015, he’s an absolute blast to watch with the ball in his hands. LoVett is near-impossible for perimeter defenders to contain in the halfcourt and devastating in transition.

4. Big men who can shoot. You want to watch a big with a pretty release and feathery touch from the three-point line? Don’t miss the Normal-Geneva semifinal. Normal’s 6-8 Tyler Seibring, who is headed to Elon, and Geneva’s 6-7 Nate Navigato, a Buffalo recruit, are two of the best shooters you’ll see in Peoria this weekend. The 6-8 Seibring has made 59 three-pointers and shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc, while the 6-7 Navigato has knocked down 73 threes while shooting 42 percent.

5. Best backcourt in Illinois. That’s what the Morgan Park duo of Charlie Moore and LoVett have earned with their dazzling play and production over the past three-plus months. But you know who would love a crack at them? Future Big Ten guards Glynn Watson (Nebraska) and Jordan Ash (Northwestern) in the state championship game.

6. The future of 3A. Belleville Althoff is in Peoria to win this thing. But take a look at that roster. It screams three-year run with two juniors and three sophomores making up the top five scorers.

7. The most productive sophomore in Illinois. When it comes to pure production, no sophomore in Illinois has put up the numbers in his first two years of varsity basketball as Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin. He’s already surpassed 1,000 career points. After a terrific freshman season a year ago, the physical and burly 6-3 Goodwin is now averaging 19.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game while getting to the line a whopping 230 times. That’s 36 more times than any other player playing in Peoria, including Jalen Brunson’s 194 free-throw attempts.

8. Nick Rakocevic. Is the 6-10 junior the best prospect in the Class of 2016? Take a look for yourself this weekend. In what is considered a weak class in Illinois, there are a few prospects in the junior class who have pushed Rakocevic for the top spot over the past few months.

9. Rockford Lutheran’s three-point shooting.People always fall in love with the three-point shooting team. And Rockford Lutheran can put them up. With 260 made threes on the season, the Crusaders have hit more triples than any 3A or 4A team in Peoria this weekend. By comparison, their semifinal opponent, St. Joseph, has made 105 on the season. Coach Tom Guse has three players who have connected on 40 or more this season, led by senior Joe Kellen with 76 threes.

10. Three terrific tandems. The Batman and Robin analogies can be thrown around liberally this weekend. Whether it’s Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore and Marcus LoVett, St. Joseph’s Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash or Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw, these future Division I players are all exceptional talents paired together for your enjoyment.

11. No city powers in 4A.The Derrick Roses, the Jabari Parkers, the Jahlil Okafors and all the talent those mega-stars played with over the years was more than just interesting for fans. But there is almost a relief from both teams and fans to have a Young-less and Simeon-free weekend in Peoria. It has brought a bit of freshness to this 4A field. Since Richards won a 4A title in the first year of four-class basketball in 2008, Simeon and Whitney Young have won every 4A title since. And get this? There has been a Simeon (7 times) or Young (3 times) – sometimes both – playing in a state championship game in Peoria every year, in either 4A or 3A, since 2005.

12. Some new blood.Following up No. 11, fans get a bit of the unknown this year. Benet Academy was the lone team last year in the state finals that had not made a recent visit to state, ending a 31-year drought since its last appearance. This year, though, Geneva is here for the first time since 1963, while both Bolingbrook and Belleville Althoff will making their first-ever trip to state. That’s cool and fun.

13. The last ride for Peoria as host. No, that’s not a fact. But we will all find out Saturday afternoon when the IHSA awards a contract to either Peoria, Champaign or Hoffman Estates to host the boys basketball state finals for the next five years. That should make for an interesting weekend debate and Saturday conversation. But could this be the end of a two-decade run of playing in Peoria? The city really has done a good job of hosting this event.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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