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Henricksen: Bracket breakdown and state tournament picks

There are some teams that appear to be on the fast track to Peoria. There are others who face plenty of bumps in the road. The City/Suburban Hoops Report breaks down what’s in store for the next three weeks in high school basketball.

The original March Madness is here.

Team to beat in Class 4A: Simeon

Last week’s run through Morgan Park, Evanston and Kenwood in three consecutive days pushed Simeon past the glut of Class 4A contenders. The Wolverines are getting big and timely production from its three big-named players: Zach Norvell, Josh Thomas and junior point guard Evan Gilyard.

Top state title contenders in 4A

Curie and Kenwood have gone back and forth in three games played this year and are on a collision course to meet a fourth time in the Riverside-Brookfield title game. Both teams are most effective when they push tempo and use their athletic ability and depth to beat teams down the floor. The Kenwood-Curie winner –– if it indeed does materialize –– will certainly have the capability to win three more games and a state championship.

Team to beat in Class 3A: Belleville Althoff

The spectacularly talented and balanced Belleville Althoff, with multiple Division I prospects and one of the state’s best players in junior Jordan Goodwin, is the favorite. This team is built to win a state championship after finishing second a year ago.

Top state title contenders in 3A

There are a surplus of teams in Class 3A with sparkling records. And the likes of Dixon, Galesburg, Peoria Manual, Rockford Boylan, Bogan, Centralia, North Lawndale, Springfield Lanphier, Metamora, Bloomington and St. Joseph is a lengthy and impressive one. But the top two challengers to Althoff standing above the rest are Morgan Park and Fenwick.

With apologies to all the aforementioned teams, the schedules Morgan Park and Fenwick have played have prepared them for what’s ahead. They’ve faced rigorous schedules while still compiling 22-3 and 25-2 records, respectively. You know what else they have? Dynamic senior lead guards in Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore and Fenwick’s Mike Smith.

FREMD SECTIONAL

Put the top four seeds in a hat and draw one out. That’s how wide open this sectional field is among the top teams, a few of which will get tested in regional games. … The top two seeds, No. 1 Conant and No. 2 Fremd, have split two games this season. Conant junior guard Jimmy Sotos is certainly one to watch. He’s the MSL West Player of the Year and is the type of poised guard you win with in March. … Fremd is hot. The Vikings have won eight straight, holding all eight opponents to fewer than 47 points. … Keep an eye on Lake Zurich out of the North Suburban Lake. The third-seeded Bears have the valuable Nick Penny at point guard and the incentive of trying to capture the program’s first-ever sectional championship. … With an East Suburban Catholic Conference slate behind them, St. Viator is battle tested and a more-than-ready No. 4 seed.

Hoops Report pick: Lake Zurich over Conant

ROCKFORD SECTIONAL

You want a dangerous team in March who hasn’t been talked about enough? DeKalb. The Barbs (24-4) have a difference-maker in Mike Pollack, a sweet shooting 6-3 senior, are well coached and play in a very winnable sectional. We’re talking first sectional title in nearly 50 years for DeKalb. … While we’re on the topic of overlooked, Prairie Ridge heads into March with a 23-3 record. Can the balanced Wolves hold off the Upstate Eight Conference trio of Batavia, Geneva and an improved St. Charles East, who will have the regional on its home floor?

Hoops Report pick: DeKalb over Geneva

GLENBROOK SOUTH SECTIONAL

A month ago it appeared Evanston, led by junior star Nojel Eastern, was a big favorite in this sectional. The Wildkits, however, dropped its final three games of the regular season, albeit against teams –– Maine South, Simeon and Deerfield –– with a combined record of 69-15. It’s now a question mark whether the top seed can make it out of this sectional. … The little team that could –– Deerfield –– is feeling very good after winning 25 games and beating Evanston last week. Under-appreciated point guard Jordan Baum makes this team go and, most importantly, makes those around him better. It’s a team that has jelled, built confidence and is playing so well together at the right time. … The defending state champs, Stevenson, have a different look than a year ago, obviously. But more importantly it has a much different look than two months ago when the Pats looked a bit lost at times. The Patriots are led by Justin Smith, a dynamic talent when he’s at his best. This team has the look of a serious sectional title contender. … Niles Notre Dame is as dangerous of a No. 4 seed as you’ll find. Coach Tom Les has size, length, experience and a variety of impressive parts. If the Dons are all on the same page heading into March, the first sectional title since 1997 could be on the horizon. … With No. 5 New Trier, No. 6 Maine South and a host of other quality teams among the top 10-12 teams, this is a deep sectional with plenty of upset capabilities.

Hoops Report pick: Niles Notre Dame over Stevenson

RIVERSIDE-BROOKFIELD SECTIONAL

At first glance, this sectional is all about two teams who have garnered a lot of headlines this year: Curie and Kenwood. They are deserving. These are two legit 4A state title contenders and the two most talented teams in this field. Picking one over the other after what we’ve watched this season is like choosing your favorite child. Both have a lot to prove in the postseason with both believing this is their year. … Curie must get the take-charge version of Devin Gage and an assertive Elijah Joiner if it wants to win the program’s first-ever sectional title. … Kenwood has outstanding depth, perimeter shooting and a player in Nick Robinson, a versatile 6-5 forward, who is starting to become a true, go-to type. If the guard play remains steady and bold at crunch time of tight games, Kenwood will win this sectional. … Riverside-Brookfield is a scary sectional foe for anyone. Though it’s been another stellar season, it’s a season that’s been defined by the big games they’ve almost won rather than the big games they’ve actually won. The Bulldogs, led by guards Daniko Jackson and junior Jalen Clanton, have talent and the experience of having reached the super-sectional a year ago. Plus, R-B will be playing on its home floor in front of what would be a raucous home crowd. The Bulldogs, however, could have their hands full in a regional final with either Proviso East or St. Ignatius on the road. … Then there is Young waiting in the weeds, a team with talent, albeit young talent, and ready to play the role of spoiler. The Dolphins can play with anyone in this sectional when perimeter shots are falling. … If there is a team outside of the top four seeds that could make a run it might be Proviso East. Senior Antonio Williams is an electric player, but the No. 6 seed Pirates have a tough road playing at St. Ignatius and having to beat R-B.

Hoops Report pick: Curie over Kenwood

BLOOM SECTIONAL

This is going to be a fun one, maybe the most entertaining sectional in all of 4A. There are dangerous potholes throughout this sectional bracket. Plus, the big, bad city power tries to fight its way through the south suburbs. Fresh off a Public League championship, Simeon is hot and the team to beat. After a two-year Peoria absence, the Wolverines are hungry to get back. They have obvious talent, depth and Zach Norvell has developed into a go-to player over the course of his senior year. … The south suburbs, though, is full of surprising, upstart teams with some breakout senior performers leading the way, starting with Sam Taylor and Thornton, a No. 2 seed. … Simeon’s first test could come against No. 4 seed Marian Catholic, which has some size to throw at the Wolverines and will have a strong fan following playing in Chicago Heights. … Homewood-Flossmoor has been a forgotten team, despite winning 12 of its last 13 games and several marquee wins on the year. The Vikings, led by senior Kendric Pryor, have knocked off Marian Catholic, Stevenson, Joliet West and Hillcrest twice. … No one wants to play Bloom right now. The Blazing Trojans, a No. 7 seed, have one of the hottest players going in 6-4 senior Jamal Parks. But before Bloom can play on its home floor in the sectional, it must go to Harvey and beat Thornton –– for the second time in less than a month.

Hoops Report pick: Simeon over H-F

EAST AURORA SECTIONAL

This might be as wide open as this sectional has been, though it was just last year when the top three seeds all lost in the regional and a No. 6 seed won the sectional. There are dangerous double-digit seeds and very capable teams outside the top four who can make a run. … Top-seeded Benet has been better than anyone expected, playing a rugged schedule and still winning 25 games. It’s a team that plays with purpose and has more offensive punch than people realize. Coach Gene Heidkamp’s team also has considerable balance with Jason Malonga, James Dockery, Dan Sobolewski, Jack Nolan and Liam Lyman sharing the load. … Even with the success it has had, Glenbard West has been pushed to the side by some. But the Hilltoppers know how to win –– they are 23-3, after all–– and have the type of player who can carry you in big games. That’s how good Justin Pierce has been, putting up 24.8 points a game with seven 30-plus point games this season. But interestingly –– maybe unfortunately? –– the three teams Glenbard West lost to this season are all in its regional. That’s a bizarre distinction. … Don’t overlook Naperville North as a true sectional champion possibility –– that is if the Huskies can get past some of their regional demons of past years. Forget about being a year away; North has won 13 of its last 14 games. … If No. 4 seed Hinsdale South can get by Downers Grove South, an up and down but dangerously talented No. 5 seed, 6-10 Northwestern recruit Barret Benson could pose a big obstacle for a size-challenged Benet team.

Hoops Report pick: Benet over Naperville North

LOCKPORT SECTIONAL

The land of opportunity for the top two seeds. Minooka, which has never won a sectional title in school history, is the No. 1 seed. Lincoln-Way Central is in position to win its first sectional championship in 15 years. … Minooka doesn’t have the eye-opening win you would expect a top seed to have, but it plays well together, controls tempo and is capable of winning any game in this sectional with unheralded Joe Butler leading the way. … This is Lincoln-Way Central’s first winning season since 2004, a season which includes a huge, confidence-building win over Thornton and a regular season finale win over Lincoln-Way West. … While it hasn’t all come together for Joliet West, on paper it’s the most talented team in this sectional. There is speed, athleticism and depth. Plus, the third-seeded Tigers are well prepared having played a very competitive schedule. Now it’s a matter of whether this team is all on the same page and can put together two weeks of focused basketball. If that happens, and the talented group of juniors rise to the occasion, Joliet West has plenty of firepower to win this sectional. … No. 4 seed Oswego has a pair of seniors in guard Malique Ross and 6-7 Brice Robinson to lean on, but the Panthers scuffled down the stretch. … Bolingbrook is a super sleeper as a No. 8 seed, though it would require a road win over the No. 1 seed in the regional final to make a deep push. The young talent, led by junior Nana Akenton, experienced a revival and gained confidence down the home stretch. … Can the junior tandem of John Conant and Josh Strama propel No. 5 seed Stagg to a regional championship?

Hoops Report pick: Joliet West over Bolingbrook

And a quick look at a few of the Class 3A sectionals in the Chicago area …

ST. LAURENCE SECTIONAL

Seeking its fourth straight trip to Peoria, Morgan Park is the favorite. The Mustangs, led by Memphis-bound scoring point guard Charlie Moore, always stay true to their roots. And they will certainly rev up the engine in March with coach Nick Irvin’s in-your-face, frenetic style. Morgan Park will likely encounter a third matchup of the season with Bogan. … You better believe the No. 2 seed, Bogan, has had enough of Red-South rival Morgan Park, the team that has knocked coach Arthur Goodwin’s Bengals out of the postseason each of the past two years. It’s one last shot for seniors James Jones and Bryce Barnes. … A Hyde ParkMt. Carmel regional final would bring together a few of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s most overlooked players: Hyde Park’s Tajuan Agee and Mt. Carmel’s Christian Peevy and Jake Rhode. It’s also a fun South Side battle between Public League and Catholic League. … Don’t discount Vocational. The No. 3 seed is capable of reaching the final.

Hoops Report pick: Morgan Park over Bogan

STREATOR SECTIONAL

With Marcus Garrett turning into a force this season as a junior, along with the arrival of freshman Isaac Stanback and a team that has bought into playing hard and unselfish, Hillcrest coach Don Houston has a sectional favorite. Even with this young team, the Hawks are in position to win a second straight sectional title and fifth in seven years. … You want an early bump in the road for Hillcrest? Try Rich South in the regional final. The 17-win Stars are that under-the-radar team who, with one big upset, suddenly finds itself playing deep into March. Rich South fell to Hillcrest 45-42 back in January, so it knows it can play with the Hawks. … You would think last year’s regional championship and sectional appearance would pay dividends for Lincoln-Way West this season. With senior Jon Marotta and junior do-it-all Marco Pettinato, the Warriors will be hungry for more. … Joliet Catholic has won 21 games and boasts East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year Jalen Jackson. But the Hilltoppers are 1-4 against their five toughest opponents, beating Niles Notre Dame but losing to Marian Catholic, Benet, Minooka and Marist. There is a potential local showdown brewing for JCA if it can reach a regional final, where it would likely face Lincoln-Way West.

Hoops Report pick: Hillcrest over Lincoln-Way West

WESTINGHOUSE SECTIONAL

With the way Fenwick has dissected and carved up opponents in the second half of the season with beautiful ball movement and sharing the basketball, there’s no easy way to defend the Friars. Life is difficult for opponents when point guard Mike Smith is doing his thing. There isn’t much size, but 6-4 junior Jamal Nixon continues to provide a lot of glue and gets a lot of the dirty work done. … North Lawndale has speed and athleticism. But the Phoenix also have underrated talent with multiple weapons. This is a team that can give Fenwick all it can handle if North Lawndale can navigate through a difficult sectional road. … St. Joseph will go as far as 6-11 senior Nick Rakocevic can take them. It’s a big burden, but he’s capable of carrying the Chargers. Rakocevic is a consistent and productive force who, at times, has had to carry a youthful team.

THE PICKS …

Class 4A Super Picks

• DeKalb over Lake Zurich

• Curie over Niles Notre Dame

• Simeon over Edwardsville

• Benet Academy over Joliet West

Class 4A State Championship Pick: Simeon over Curie

Class 3A Super Picks

• Morgan Park over Hillcrest

• Peoria Manual over Rockford Boylan

• Fenwick over North Chicago

• Belleville Althoff over Springfield Lanphier

Class 3A State Championship Pick: Belleville Althoff over Morgan Park

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport