How about a few top five lists to prepare you for the Class 3A and Class 4A state finals in Peoria this weekend?
Top Five Teams
A complete list of the top five –– and the ranking all eight teams in Peoria this weekend –– can be found here.
Top Five Players
■ Devin Gage, Curie
The DePaul recruit has been huge for the Condors when they’ve needed him, taking over late in big games.
■ Jordan Goodwin, Belleville Althoff
Fans in Peoria fell for Goodwin last year in Peoria. Remember his 18-point, 14-rebound, nine-assist game in last year’s semifinal win over Morgan Park as a sophomore? He’s even better now.
■ Zach Norvell, Simeon
The 6-5 guard is a City/Suburban Hoops Report favorite for the way he plays. Norvell, a Gonzaga recruit, is calm and composed, respects the game and opponents while producing at a high level.
■ Nick Rakocevic, St. Joseph
A true difference-maker and matchup nightmare with his size and talent, putting up 19.7 points and 14.5 rebounds a game.
■ Da’Monte Williams, Peoria Manual
With size, length and athleticism at the guard position, Williams has a dynamic game and is a super talent when he’s locked in and assertive.
Five who are ready to open eyes
■ Romon Douglas-Watkins, Peoria Manual
While his teammate, Da’Monte Williams, gets the hype and attention, the 6-5 junior just produces. He leads his team in scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg) and is among the top 25 prospects in the Class of 2017.
■ Tarkus Ferguson, Belleville Althoff
The 6-3 athletic guard is a real talent and could prove to be a heck of a piece for UIC in the future. He fills a stat sheet for a star-laden team, averaging 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3 assists a game.
■ Evan Gilyard, Simeon
The 5-9 point guard has put together a terrific, breakout junior season and is an ignitor for the Wolverines. Now he gets to do it on the biggest stage.
■ Elijah Joiner, Curie
Likely the least known player and most unheralded in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s list of top 10 prospects in the junior class. The 6-2 guard averages 11 points a game and is rounding himself into a complete player.
■ Marco Pettinato, Lincoln-Way West
Five bold predictions
■ Fans will fall for Marco Pettinato
He’s the best player in Peoria this weekend no one knows a thing about. Lincoln-Way West’s Marco Pettinato is a fun one to watch. He brings the type of bravado you like and appreciate, not the type that turns you off. The 6-2 junior is tough, physical, competes, plays bigger than his size and produces in a big way with 20 points a game.
■ There won’t be one upset
March Madness always generates an upset. Here is what would constitute an upset in Peoria this weekend: Rockford Auburn over Curie; Benet over Simeon; Lincoln-Way West over Peoria Manual; and St. Joseph over Belleville Althoff. This bold prediction says none of them will happen.
■ The favorites will win
Ok, so saying the favorites will win isn’t exactly a bold prediction. However, in a season marked by parity, shouldn’t it be a surprise to see the two favored teams when March began winning state championships in 3A and 4A? That’s what will happen on Saturday when Belleville Althoff and Simeon are crowned champions. And if you’re counting, that will be eight state championships for Simeon, which would add to the program’s record total.
■ Class 4A title game crowd will be minuscule
If the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s predicted 4A state championship materializes –– Simeon vs. Curie –– the title game crowd will be the smallest its been in years. Without a strong fan base from either team, a likely enticing 3A championship game being played during the afternoon, a lack of interest in seeing two Public League teams play one another, and no huge names (Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, Cliff Alexander, etc.) in the title game, the crowd could potentially be dismal.
■ This year’s state runner-up teams, Peoria Manual and Curie, will be preseason No. 1 next year
After making it to the last day of the 2015-2016 season but falling short, Peoria Manual and Curie will open next season as the preseason No. 1 teams in Illinois in 3A and 4A, respectively.
Manual will return its top three scorers and four starters, including Illinois recruit Da’Monte Williams, Romon Douglas-Watkins, A.J. Youngman and Neshawn Brooks.
Curie will lose Devin Gage to graduation, but the Condors are loaded. Elijah Joiner, one of the top 10 prospects in the Class of 2017, headlines a talented group of six key players who will be returning.
Top Five storylines
■ Can the Cinderella run continue?
There are some big dogs in the 3A field. Belleville Althoff is the No. 1 ranked team in the state. Peoria Manual is a perennial power program with state championships. St. Joseph is the defending state champs and are coached by legendary Gene Pingatore. Then there is Lincoln-Way West.
So far, no moment has seemed too big in March for a Lincoln-Way West team no one expected to be playing in Peoria. The Warriors have earned their way to Peoria, upsetting Hillcrest in the sectional final and then stunning mighty Morgan Park in the super-sectional.
■ The race for top prospect in the Class of 2017
The City/Suburban Hoops Report has had two players atop the Class of 2017 player rankings for some time now. And they are both playing in Peoria, so enjoy them. Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin and Peoria Manual’s Da’Monte Williams are the top two prospects in the junior class. With a win Friday afternoon, the two would face one another in the 3A championship on Saturday.
■ Benet’s five vs. Simeon’s five
Any fan should enjoy the pure basketball intrigue in this one. Simeon and the endless list of Division I prospects facing a Benet team without a single Division I prospect in a state semifinal. All eyes will be on the talent differential and how Benet manages to compete against a team that’s bigger, deeper and better.
■ Can Nick Rakocevic and St. Joseph repeat?
What a two-year odyssey it’s been for Nick Rakocevic and St. Joseph. And what a way to end a stellar senior season and career if Rakocevic can somehow win a second straight state championship. The top unsigned senior in Illinois and the Chargers are two wins away from a repeat.
■ The power and dominance of Simeon
While some simply get tired of it, you do begin to take Simeon’s success for granted. Yes, the top talent flocks to coach Robert Smith’s program. Yes, it’s a nationally recognized name in high school basketball that has churned out Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. But regardless of the personnel advantages, the numbers and accomplishments are pretty eye-popping.
If Simeon lives up to its favorite status this weekend and wins a 4A state championship, it would give the Wolverines an unprecedented eighth state title. There was also a state runner-up finish in 2008. With two wins this weekend, Smith will have compiled a 12-year coaching record of 343-50.
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