O’Brien: The state finals preview

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Two state championship trophies will be handed out this weekend in Peoria. Here’s a look at the the Class 3A and Class 4A state semifinals.

Class 3A semifinal: Lincoln-Way West (21-9) vs. Peoria Manual, 12:15 p.m

Fast fact: Peoria Manual junior Da’Monte Williams, an Illinois recruit, is the son of former Manual and Illini standout Frank Williams. He is the tournament’s biggest star attraction.

Player to watch: Lincoln-Way West’s Marco Pettinato. The junior is the driving force of the state tournament’s Cinderella story. He scored 22 points in the upset of Morgan Park on Tuesday. The Warriors were amazingly poised in the Morgan Park win. If they can carry that confidence (and red-hot shooting) into Carver Arena they can pull of their third consecutive upset.

What to watch: If Peoria Manual sharpshooter A.J. Youngman hits a three-pointer early, look out. He’s a cocky, exciting player that will pull up and shoot the three from anywhere on the floor. When he gets hot he looks totally unstoppable and can change the game.

Class 3A semifinal: St. Joseph (25-8) vs. Belleville Althoff, 2 p.m.

Fast fact: The Crusaders return all five starters from the team that lost to St. Joseph in the Class 3A title game last season. The Chargers return just two players, Nick Rakocevic and Lavon Thomas.

Player to watch: Belleville Althoff junior Jordan Goodwin might be the best player in the state. He’s certainly in the conversation with Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore, Simeon’s Zach Norvell and Rakocevic. He was the breakout star of last year’s state tournament and was tremendous this season, averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds.

What to watch: Althoff is the state’s best team. It’s easy to see the Crusaders cruising through both games this weekend and claiming the state title that has seemingly been theirs since March. St. Joseph’s young guards stand in the way. Rakocevic will likely be great, but the game will hinge on freshman point guard Marquise Walker, sophomore guard Ahmad Muhammad and junior Armone Elem. All three played very well in upset wins over Fenwick and North Lawndale, but this will be a significant step up in class and setting.

Class 4A semifinal: Rockford Auburn vs. Curie (26-5), 6:30 p.m.

Fast fact: Rockford Auburn is averaging 26 wins over the past six seasons. Knights coach Bryan Ott has built a juggernaut of a program. The resume this year isn’t super impressive though, and it is difficult to see Auburn hanging with the Condors.

Player to watch: Landers Nolley II. The transfer from Georgia has become more and more a part of Curie’s offense as every month has passed. He led the Condors with 17 points in the supersectional win over Notre Dame on Tuesday. The sophomore is polished and poised and has quietly become a star player.

What to watch: Will the moment get to Curie? The Condors have never been to Peoria before and that brings challenges. The team was extremely emotional after winning on Tuesday, maybe too much so, the job isn’t done. Curie is a big favorite to beat Auburn and should be able to give Simeon a good challenge in the title game.

Class 4A semifinal: Simeon (29-3) vs. Benet (30-3), 8:15 p.m.

Fast fact: Simeon has nine players that are likely to play Division I college basketball and all 15 players will play college at some level. None of the Benet players will play DI ball.

Player to watch: Every Redwing that shoots a three-pointer. If Benet isn’t shooting well from outside they are in deep, deep trouble.

What to watch: Can Benet keep the game close? This could be a blowout. The Redwings have impressive wins over Notre Dame and Fenwick this season, but nothing they’ve done has demonstrated they have what it takes to compete with Simeon.

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