Henricksen: Things I think I thought about state finalists

SHARE Henricksen: Things I think I thought about state finalists
SHARE Henricksen: Things I think I thought about state finalists

There will be eight teams and their fan bases embarking on Peoria this weekend, all with one goal in mind: winning a state championship.

Being this close to accomplishing it – just two wins away – they better believe it.

Trekking back home with a trophy in tow is a guarantee (Man, I miss that total sense of urgency of the Elite Eight and having to win one more game to secure a trophy and be able to stay and play two more games on Saturday).

Here is what I’m pretty sure I thought about these state finalists when the season began –– I will try and be as completely honest as I can remember –– and what I think of them now.

Class 4A

Bolingbrook

What I thought then

I thought it was a preseason top 25 team –– in my preseason power rankings I had the Raiders at No. 16 –– that was capable of winning conference and regional championships and, if everything came together, could contend for a sectional title. I didn’t think it was a team capable of playing in Peoria for a trophy, though.

What I think now

It’s a team that once it got over the regional hump, there was a confidence injected into it in knowing it cleared a hurdle and would play the sectional in the comfort of its own gym. I believe the difference with this Bolingbrook team now in comparison to past teams –– or even this one a few months ago –– is that its star, Prentiss Nixon, is playing at an extremely high, consistent, dependable level. With Stevenson up next, I do think it’s a team that has maxed out.

Stevenson

What I thought then

I remember truly thinking and believing it was Simeon, Stevenson and everyone else when the season began. Even with all the big expectations, I was concerned about whether this team would be as strong defensively as last year’s team with some key role players, most notably Matt Morrissey and Cameron Green, having graduated or injured. But it was always a team destined to be playing in Peoria for a third straight year.

What I think now

Is this one of the all-time great teams in state history? No. But it’s more than deserving and of the same state championship quality as some other past champions. Having been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 all season, the Patriots have lived up to the expectations. This team was built and ready to make a state championship run and is two wins from doing it.

Geneva

What I thought then

I believed Geneva was one of the top handful of teams just outside my preseason top 25 power rankings. While I believed this was going to be a 20-plus win team, I did not think it would be as good as last year’s team that reached a sectional final. And I would not have ever projected it be to a 30-win team playing for win No. 31 in Peoria. I thought the lack of pure guard play and the early injury to returning guard Pace Temple (he missed the first 14 games of the season) would ultimately doom the Vikings against the very best teams.

What I think now

I think this is a team that not only has defied the critics but also all basketball common sense. The senior tandem of Pace Temple and Daniel Santacaterina are two gutty, tough-nosed guards. But they’re not of the pure point guard variety. Nonetheless, this team finds ways to win games, while there is a sense of confidence in knowing senior star Nate Navigato is there to lean on when the chips are down and the game is on the line.

Normal

What I thought then

After watching this team play in the summer –– and individually on the AAU circuit –– I thought it was one that could emerge as the best Class 4A team outside the Chicago area. I believed it was a team that could surpass last year’s group that lost 56-53 in the sectional final to Edwardsville. When the state tournament pairings and assignments were released, I thought Normal could reach a super-sectional, where it would then lose to Simeon.

What I think now

I believe Normal is the biggest threat to favorite Stevenson. It won’t be easy getting by Geneva and its enormous size, but Normal was so impressive in the super-sectional stunner over Simeon that it makes you wonder whether it’s a team that could stun again?

Class 3A

St. Joseph

What I thought then

I thought what basically everyone else did –– this was a state championship contender in Class 3A. The Chargers began the season ranked No. 5 in my preseason power rankings, due mostly to the belief junior Nick Rakocevic was poised for a breakout season.

What I think now

Even after a 27-win season that has led St. Joseph to Peoria for the first time since 1999, the Chargers are still a vulnerable team against just about anyone it plays. The talent is there to win a state championship, obviously, and it wouldn’t be a shocker whatsoever if the Chargers do behind the guard duo of Jordan Ash and Glynn Watson, along with 6-10 big man Nick Rakocevic.

Morgan Park

What I thought then

I didn’t think this Morgan Park team was going to be as good as either of the previous two state championship teams. Even with the best backcourt in the state in Marcus LoVett and Charlie Moore, the loss of Josh Cunningham was going to be significantly felt. But it was still the No. 5 team in my preseason power rankings and a legit state title contender.

What I think now

I still don’t think this Morgan Park team is as good as either of the previous two state championship team. But as expected, the Mustangs are right where I thought it would be –– in Peoria. And the backcourt of Marcus LoVett and Charlie Moore is potentially more potent and dynamic than I imagined it would be. As a result, Morgan Park has every reason to believe it can win a third straight state title.

Belleville Althoff

What I thought then

I thought this was the most talented Class 3A team outside the Chicago area and would be a serious threat to reach Peoria and win a state championship. I just wondered if the young talent would come together by March and whether it was a year too early for the Crusaders.

What I think now

After rolling to a 27-3 record and with a averaging victory margin in state tournament play of 21 points a game, there is no reason to think any differently. I believe Belleville Althoff, even though it lost to fellow state semifinalist St. Joseph 97-95 in double overtime in early February, is actually the favorite to win it all in Peoria this weekend.And with a nucleus that is made up of juniors and sophomores, I think this is a team that will be even better next season.

Rockford Lutheran

What I thought then

I remember thinking to myself last March while watching Lutheran in the 3A semifinals in Peoria, where it lost to Lincoln, “You know what? This team is going to be pretty darn good in 2014-2015 with so many of these players returning.” All year it was pretty much out of sight, out of mind when it came to the Crusaders, but a final regular season loss to Dixon, by the score of 58-37, told me it was time to write them off.

What I think now

I shouldn’t have written them off after one bad loss, even if it was the final game of the regular season. This team is what I originally thought it was –– a Peoria-bound 3A team due to experience, its three-point shooting ability and a soft road back to the state finals.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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