Henricksen: Intriguing March storylines to follow

SHARE Henricksen: Intriguing March storylines to follow

There are dozens and dozens of storylines to follow this March. Here are 11 story lines to follow over the next couple of weeks.

1. Jalen Brunson’s legacy

He led his team to Peoria in each of the past two seasons, finishing second in 2013 and third last year. He has just over 2,500 career points and will finish his career as one of the top 20 scorers in state history. He reached the rare 100-victory plateau as a player, is a McDonald’s All-American and a gold medal winner for Team USA. Stevenson star guard Jalen Brunson should go down as one of the finest and most accomplished players this state has ever produced.

As you can see, the four-year résumé is elite. But the final –– and biggest, most important –– piece is still missing: state champion.

Whether it’s Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Derrick Rose, Shaun Livingston, Jon Scheyer, Jamie Brandon, Quentin Richardson, Marcus Liberty, LaPhonso Ellis, Bruce Douglas, Russell Cross, Quinn Buckner or any number of other all-time greats who have played their prep ball in this state, they all won a state championship.

It’s time Brunson joins that special and memorable list.

2. St. Rita baskeball’s watershed moment

Winning 21 games and a regional championship last year for the first time in over a decade was pretty special for St. Rita basketball. The four straight Catholic League South championships was pretty nice, too.

But since coach Gary DeCesare was hired as coach and mega-star Charles Matthews walked through the doors as a freshman, the program has been waiting for its watershed moment. As a No. 2 seed in the Eisenhower Sectional –– a No. 2 seed that knows it can can beat the No. 1 seed –– that moment might be here.

With all the success St. Rita has had in football, baseball and wrestling over the, the boys basketball program has never won a sectional championship. If the Mustangs their first here, a state title will be within their grasp.

3. Legendary coach’s shot at No. 2

The all-time winningest coach in state history, St. Joseph’s Gene Pingatore, has done it all. For starters he has 30 regional championships, along with 11 sectional titles. He has taken seven different teams to state and is approaching 1,000 career victories. But to show how difficult it is to win a state championship, one of the greatest coaches of all time has just one.

Pingatore has had several opportunities and close calls, before and after winning his lone state title in 1999. But this year might be his best chance since going 32-1 and beating Warren on the final night of the season in Peoria 16 years ago. The Evan Turner-Demetri McCamey team may have been better, but a fella named Derrick Rose stood in St. Joe’s way in 2007.

4. A “first” for someone in Bolingbrook Sectional

You look at the top four seeds in the Bolingbrook Sectional –– Neuqua Valley, Bolingbrook, Plainfield North and Providence –– and there’s a big ’ol carrot out there for each of these programs.

If Neuqua Valley can live up to its No. 1 seed, the Wildcats will then be one win away from making its first trip to Peoria. And that’s about all that’s missing from a program that in its 17-year existence has won 20 or more games 13 times, averaged 22 wins a year, won numerous conference titles, seven regionals and a pair of sectional championships.

If second-seeded Bolingbrook wins the sectional it will be the first sectional championship in 30 years, which is just a few years more recent than No. 4 seed Providence’s last sectional title. The Celtics were a Class A power in the late 1970s and early 1980s but haven’t won a sectional since.

With the 2006-2007 season being Plainfield North’s first varsity basketball season, you’ll have to excuse the Tigers for having a short list of March accomplishments. But the No. 3 seed has scoring guard Trevor Stumpe and is a real threat to win the program’s first-ever sectional championship.

5. Rare three-peat chance for Morgan Park

There have been several repeat state champions in the great and grand history of high school basketball in Illinois. But there have only been three programs who have won back-to-back-to-back state championships. And they are are mighty threesome: Simeon (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), Peoria Manual (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997) and East St. Louis Lincoln (1987, 1988, 1989). Morgan Park has a realistic chance of winning a third consecutive state title in Class 3A to join that very short list.

6. Can these two No. 1 seeds break through?

Every top sectional seed in Class 4A and 3A have a sectional plaque in their trophy case, with the exception of two: Vernon Hills and Riverside-Brookfield. Can these No. 1 seeds get over the hump?

Vernon Hills has won a school record 25 games, finished 12-0 in the North Suburban Prairie, will play both sectional games at home if it can get through the regional, and faces a 3A sectional field that doesn’t have a single team ranked in the final regular season Top 25.

Riverside-Brookfield has been one of the more consistent and underrated winning programs in the Chicago area over the past seven years. In that time the Bulldogs have dominated their conference and won nearly 23 game a year. With a couple of regional wins, R-B will set the school record for most wins at 26.

But it’s a program that’s never won a sectional championship and is now in prime position to do so. However, it’s not going to be easy in a deep and balanced sectional, starting with a tough regional championship game, likely against Oak Park-River Forest.

7. Getting through the area’s most competitive, intriguing regional

We’re not going to argue over which regional is the toughest. We’re going to dissect what is the most competitive and intriguing regional, which is the five-team field at Geneva. Maybe the Geneva Regional is the strongest, but with the natural rivals, conference foes, star players and an average win total among the five teams of 20 wins this season, it’s going to be a fun four games as Geneva (25-3) hosts neighboring conference rivals Batavia (15-14), St. Charles East (23-3) and St. Charles North (18-8), along with Northern Illinois Big 12 East champ DeKalb (21-7).

8. Is Bogan ready to crash the Public League party in Peoria?

The list of city powers who have been major players in state tournament play over the past two decades is rather lengthy. Yes, it’s more than just Simeon, Young and Morgan Park winning state championships. You don’t have to go too far down the IHSA history books to find a Marshall, Orr, Farragut, Westinghouse, North Lawndale, Crane or Von Steuben playing on the big stage in Peoria.

Curie was capable, even expected, of breaking through last year with mighty Cliff Alexander. But the Condor train derailed quickly amid controversy and eligibility issues.

Now it’s Bogan’s turn. The Bengals have been jabbing and throwing punches at Simeon and Morgan Park in the Public League’s Red-South for the past few years, even landing a blow or two. Last year the Bengals lost a crusher to Morgan Park, 68-67, in the super-sectional. Bogan, fresh off a city championship, can make a major statement with five more wins and a trip to Peoria. It would be the spotlight coach Arthur Goodwin has been waiting fo

9. Will third time be the charm?

Oh, Lake Forest wants another crack at it. The competitive nature of a team that’s gone 25-2 this season and done everything but beat Stevenson is aching for it. And with three wins the Scouts will very likely get it in the championship game of the Waukegan Sectional. But imagine, with a loss in that game, the frustration of playing a magnificent four months of basketball and losing to conference foe Stevenson three times –– and it being the only three losses Lake Forest suffered all season long? Evan Boudreaux and Company will welcome the opportunity.

10. Robert Smith adding to record-breaking mark

If Simeon wins the program’s eighth state championship this year, it would be No. 7 for coach Robert Smith. That coaching record right there –– seven state championships? –– is going to be one very difficult record for any coach to ever break.

11. Matt Rafferty’s return and Hinsdale Central’s chances

I’m a sucker for a feel-good story and this is one to follow. A month ago Matt Rafferty’s career at Hinsdale Central looked in doubt after being sidelined with a broken hand. And with the loss of Rafferty, the March fortunes for the Red Devils went south quickly. For a player who has meant so much to this program over the past four years, it was great news (for everyone other than Hinsdale Central sectional foes) to see Rafferty return last week. Now Rafferty and the Red Devils are back to dreaming big.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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