A preview of every Class 4A sectional championship game across the state.
■ Riverside-Brookfield Sectional
Kenwood (22-4) vs. Curie (24-5)
No sectional final matches up two better teams. Throw in a lot of recent history with three intense, high-profile games between these two already in the books, and there will be plenty of drama heading into this Friday showdown.
Kenwood won two of the three, beating Curie 52-51 and 60-57; Curie’s 77-76 win came at Kenwood. If you’ve been keeping track, the three game score looks like this: Kenwood 188, Curie 185. Expect more of the same.
Curie is trying to get over a huge roadblock in the stellar program’s history –– winning a sectional title. It’s been elusive. But to do so it must eventually get past the persistent problem of slow starts in games.
This one could come down to what senior –– Curie’s Devin Gage or Kenwood’s Nick Robinson –– will be able to step up at crunch time in what should surely be another down-to-the-wire finish. Although this one really is a flip of the coin, the Hoops Report had Curie ranked higher than most in the preseason and picked them to reach Peoria two weeks ago.
Hoops Report pick: Curie 67, Kenwood 66
■ Glenbrook South Sectional
Notre Dame (24-6) vs. Deerfield (28-3)
After a struggle at times during the regular season it appears Notre Dame is living up to the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s preseason hype, where the Dons were ranked among the top 10 teams back in November. Notre Dame has size, length and versatility at both ends of the floor. That size, led by 6-7 Anthony D’Avanzo and 6-5 Ammar Becar, could pose a problem for Deerfield. The guard play for the Dons has been steady and productive of late.
It’s been quite a stretch for red-hot Deerfield, which has taken down Evanston, beaten Lake Forest at the buzzer to win the regional and knocked off the defending state champs, Stevenson, in the sectional semifinals. Those three wins by a combined five points shows the type of leadership and moxie this team has and the type confidence coach Dan McKendrick’s team is playing with. Jordan Baum at point guard is an absolute rock.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has raved about the chemistry and this sum is greater than its parts Deerfield team. But it also picked the fourth-seeded Dons to win this sectional when state tournament play began, so it’s not changing it up now.
Hoops Report pick: Notre Dame 62, Deerfield 59
■ Rockford Sectional
Rockford Auburn (23-6) vs. St. Charles East (18-12)
Regional wins over Upstate Eight River rivals Batavia and Geneva has re-fueled this St. Charles East team. The 18-12 record is not indicative of how well coach Pat Woods’ team is playing right now. The Saints, led by guard guard Evan DiLeonardi (10.5 ppg, 4 apg), 6-5 sophomore Justin Hardy (12 ppg, 5 rpg) and a host of three-point threats, are healthy and brimming with confidence.
Auburn pushes tempo, scores points and leans on seniors en route to 23 wins on the year. Trayvon Taylor brings energy and production, averaging 19.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game, while Juwane Parchman is a Division I football prospect who brings athleticism and toughness.
Hoops Report pick: St. Charles East 71, Rockford Auburn 68
■ Fremd Sectional
Lake Zurich (24-9) vs. Conant (22-6)
There is a similar reason to really like both of these teams: guard play. Lake Zurich has Nick Penny, a clutch lead guard who means more to a team than just his stats. Conant has underrated junior point guard Jimmy Sotos, the Mid-Suburban League West Player of the Year.
Conant, which has won 13 of its last 15 games, plays a stingy zone defense that still can put pressure on an opponent, contesting shots and limiting second-chance scoring opportunities with its size and length inside. In their current six-game win streak the Cougars are allowing just 36 points a game. While Sotos is the catalyst, the size Conant throws at you in 6-9 Ryan Davis, 6-8 Michael Downing and 6-7 Chima Oduocha can be a difference-maker.
Lake Zurich didn’t finish the regular season strong, going 5-5 down the stretch. But the Bears have played a competitive schedule. Penny and senior Nick Meyer, a standout at both ends of the floor, lead a team that has played a North Suburban Lake schedule and non-conference foes Springfield Lanphier, North Lawndale and Niles North.
Hoops Report pick: Lake Zurich 45, Conant 44
■ Bloom Sectional
Thornton (25-3) vs. Simeon (27-3)
A couple of historical basketball names meet in this sectional final, which pits the top two seeds. This great Thornton ride becomes magical with a win over top-ranked Simeon, the 4A favorite. Will Thornton’s over-the-top energy and hustle be enough against a bigger, more talented and favored Simeon? Guards Sam Taylor and Patrick Rucker will need to be special and efficient.
Simeon received a fight and scare from Marian Catholic in the semis and passed a big test in a tough environment. But Thornton doesn’t have the type of size and length Marian possesses. Coach Robert Smith’s seniors, Zach Norvell and Josh Thomas, have been the backbone, while the young talent has been nurtured and is now blossoming at the ideal time.
Hoops Report pick: Simeon 67, Thornton 59
■ Collinsville Sectional
Alton (16-10) vs. East Moline United (23-6)
How juiced are these two teams heading into this sectional championship game after the ride they’ve taken to get to this point?
Since returning from some eligibility issues in February, junior guard Maurice Edwards has taken off and carried Alton. The junior guard has led Alton in scoring in the five games since his return, including a huge upset win over top-seed Edwardsville. He hit a buzzer-beater to knock off Chatham-Glenwood in the regional. Pairing up Edwards with senior Marcus Latham and Alton looks a whole lot more dangerous than the 12-9 team it was a month ago.
United Township is fresh off an exhilarating and dramatic 55-54 sectional win over rival Rock Island in front of 5,200 fans in a sold out Wharton Field House.
It’s been quite a return to the Quad Cities for coach Ryan Webber, the former coach at Warren. Webber, with the help of senior guard Jacob Meeske and junior guard Traveon Buchanan, has led United Twp. to its best season in nearly 20 years.
Now UT must travel 240 miles to face a red-hot Alton team in Collinsville.
Hoops Report pick: Alton 52, United Twp. 50
■ East Aurora Sectional
Benet (28-3) vs. York (20-12)
Top-seeded Benet brings a lot to the table, starting with a win total of 28 while playing a very tough schedule. This is a team that handed 3A power Fenwick one of its two losses on the season. Benet, riding a 13-game win streak, has shown the ability to close out close games. And while the Redwings may not have the big name, they do have multiple scorers and balance offensively in Jason Malonga, Dan Sobolewski, James Dockery, Liam Lyman and Jack Nolan.
York does its thing the way it knows how and has put together two hot stretches at the right time. The Dukes rattled off five straight wins to win their own holiday tournament in December and have now caught fire again. Coach Vince Doran’s team has shown an ability to win big games. More importantly, York creates problems for others out of habit, whether it’s patience and balance on offense or its active zone defense that takes opponents out of its comfort zone.
Benet has more scoring weapons than York, along with the type of outside shooting potential that can alleviate some of the issues York’s zone and defensive stopper Ryan Camp has given foes.
Hoops Report pick: Benet 47, York 41
■ Lockport Sectional
Oswego (19-9) vs. Joliet West (20-9)
A pair of teams who have had their share of ups and downs during the regular season. Oswego lost its last three regular season games. Joliet West had a stretch in the middle of the year where it lost four of seven games. None of that matters now after three postseason wins for each.
Oswego has persevered through injuries this year and has a pair of seniors –– size and versatility in 6-7 Brice Robinson and playmaking ability in guard Malique Ross –– who produce and you can rely on in March.
Joliet West may be young, but it’s a team that on paper is the most talented team in this sectional and doesn’t need to wait until next year to think about getting to Peoria. The quickness, athleticism and depth Joliet West can bring in 6-5 junior Trevian Bell, junior point guard Teyvion Kirk, 6-5 Tabyous Casteberry and 6-4 Elijah Ward gives it the edge.
Hoops Report pick: Joliet West 52, Oswego 47
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