It’s a little hard to believe where we are at in the season. Is the season really down to just two weeks?
After taking a close look at the top stories yesterday in Class 1A and 2A, it’s time to size up what went down last week in regional play in Class 3A and 4A.
Donnie Boyce is back: Yes, that was coach Donnie Boyce on the bench for Proviso East in last week’s regional.
The embattled coach recently won his appeal after being relieved of his coaching duties by the school board 14 months ago. Boyce was cleared of any charges stemming from an incident he had as a campus security guard in December of 2014, where he broke up a fight between two female students. He reapplied for his coaching position this past fall and was recently reinstated.
He had a total of five practices with his team before leading the Pirates to a regional championship as a No. 6 seed.
“I was worried about them [players] still understanding the core values we had and the way we want to play,” said Boyce of his return so late in the season. “The timing isn’t ideal, but our core players here have been around and are used to my voice. Plus, it’s the playoffs, so it’s a new season for everyone.”
The imprint of Tai Streets: Thornton is 24-3, captured a conference championship and is headed to the sectional semifinals. For a team that was unranked and completely overlooked when the season began, that is impressive.
Sometimes it’s a matter of a team being much better than you thought; other times it’s a matter of a team overachieving. I’ll take the latter with Thornton.
This is not a team boasting an abundance of overall talent. The backcourt of Sam Taylor and Pat Rucker has been terrific, and their pieces seem to fit. But what strikes you most about Thornton, more than anything else, is simply how hard the Wildcats play.
They are scrappy and relentless. They fly around the ball defensively and will get down and dirty, trapping opponents, diving and hustling after loose balls and turning teams over. That’s a direct reflection of first-year coach Tai Streets, who clearly has left his intense imprint on this team with the way he expects them to play.
Conference count: Although it’s not much of a surprise, the state’s best conference lived up to its hype. The Public League’s Red-South will have four teams playing in the sectional as Simeon, Morgan Park, Bogan and Vocational all won regional championships.
The East Suburban Catholic Conference, which had five teams with 20 or more victories this season, still has four teams alive –– Benet, Marian Catholic, Notre Dame and St. Patrick.
Dominating Cameron Krutwig: So often you envision a point guard to be the player who makes those around him better and the one who can control the game with the ball in his hands. Jacobs big man Cameron Krutwig, a highly-productive 6-8 junior, does the exact same.
Krutwig was sensational when the City/Suburban Hoops Report took in Jacobs’ regional semifinal win over Larkin and junior star Christian Negron. He then helped Jacobs to an upset win over DeKalb to claim a regional championship Friday night.
Like a highly valuable point guard, Krutwig is more than numbers. He’s a constant presence as a low-post scorer, rebounder and, especially, as a terrific passing big man. Krutwig’s feel is off the charts. He’s patient in the post when he needs to be, and he’s quick on the block when he needs to be. Krutwig is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Krutwig, who has been among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the junior class for the past year, headed into the postseason averaging 17.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2.4 assists a game. Those numbers speak for themselves, sure, but his poise, presence and ability go beyond numbers.
A feel-good story in Minooka: The much-maligned Lockport Sectional, where there was only one ranked team when the postseason began, is churning out one of the best feel-good stories of the season. With a win over Bolingbrook last Friday, Minooka won its first regional championship in nearly 40 years. That’s roughly four decades, if you’re counting.
Minooka might not pass the look test. Do you think they care? The Indians control tempo on offense, play with some grit and toughness defensively, and they have a true gamer in senior Joe Butler.
Now Minooka’s dream season moves on to sectional play where it will get conference foe Oswego, a team it has already beaten twice this season. But the last meeting two weeks ago between these two was a 45-43 win in overtime for Minooka.
Other regional week thoughts …
➥ There is only one Class 4A sectional where the seeds held up: Glenbrook South. That’s where No. 1 Evanston will meet No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 2 Deerfield plays No. 3 seed Stevenson.
➥ While the Thornton-Bloom overtime thriller met my basketball needs in March –– two old south suburban foes squaring off in a great gym and in front of some passionate fans –– I would have loved to have made the trek to Washington in the central part of the state. I’m sure the sold out gym at Washington, where the host school faced Peoria Manual, was as electric as I imagine it to be.
➥ What a second half of the season Jamal Parks of Bloom put together. Parks was a different player over the final two months of the season and, as a result, Bloom turned its season around. He nearly led the Blazing Trojans to an upset win over Thornton in the regional final on Friday night, finishing with 23 points.
You love it when a player figures it all out. The 6-4 Parks played like a senior as he came so far with his assertiveness, consistency and production. He’s solidified himself as a low-Division I prospect in the eyes of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, but he would elevate his status with a couple of years of junior college if he chooses to go that route.
➥ It’s quite possible the best team I haven’t seen play this year is Prairie Ridge. Now the 24-3 Wolves, who have won 15 straight games, are off to Rockford to play St. Charles East in the sectional semifinals. But talking with a couple of basketball people I know and respect, they say Prairie Ridge, despite piling up wins against a rather soft schedule, is legit. Prairie Ridge presses, traps, forces turnovers and has a real chance to reach Peoria playing in a winnable sectional and super-sectional.
➥ There wasn’t a more dramatic regional win than Deerfield’s 50-49 stunner over Lake Forest. Jeremy Sernick drilled a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. That’s the same Jeremy Sernick who made the game-winning shot to beat Evanston in the Central Suburban League championship game a week ago. That mojo Deerfield built during the regular season has carried over into March.
Deerfield, with its 27-3 record, is now one game from tying the school record for most wins in a season. Who would have thought that when the season began?
➥ The Class 3A Ridgewood Sectional is certainly missing some pizzazz. There isn’t a single team in the sectional that’s been ranked at any point this season. But St. Patrick’s two regional wins by a combined 87 points sure gives you the feeling the 15-14 Shamrocks can get to the super-sectional.
Numbers don’t always tell the story, but St. Patrick beat Wauconda 87-44 in the regional final Friday night. Now St. Pat’s meets Antioch, which lost to Wauconda 52-31 back in December. Antioch did come back to beat Wauconda in late January but is still just 12-15 on the season.
➥ Maybe some of us, including yours truly, should have thought back to York’s holiday tournament run last December before making regional picks. That’s when the Dukes surprised everyone by going 5-0 at Christmas to win its own holiday tournament, beating Naperville North in the championship game. But York’s 2-5 record down the stretch of the regular season was what stood out. Didn’t matter. York did it again, upsetting No. 3 seed Naperville North to claim a regional championship.
➥ Joliet West vs. Joliet Central. In a sectional semifinal. In Lockport. … Hmmmm, that sounds interesting.
➥ No one has been talking much about Champaign Central in Class 3A. But the Maroons are healthy, boast talented sophomore Tim Finke and they haven’t lost since falling to Kenwood in January. Champaign Central meets Springfield Lanphier in what should be a good sectional semifinal in Taylorville.
➥ I knew there was a reason I labeled Hoffman Estates one of the most improved teams when the season tipped off back in November. The majority of its team returned, including Jorden Thornton, who has the potential to be a wrecking ball on the offensive end. But that 11-17 regular-season record certainly didn’t show it.
However, three regional wins, including wins over No. 4 seed St. Viator and No. 5 seed Grayslake North, sets up a hometown showdown with Conant in a sectional semifinal at Fremd. Thornton is fresh off a career high 36 points in the regional title win, but will face a Conant team that beat Hoffman twice in the regular season.
➥ I went back and forth a week ago as to who would make it out of the Hoffman Estates Super in Class 4A. Both the Rockford and Fremd sectionals lacked a dominating team and were wide open. Ultimately, I picked DeKalb. The Barbs lost a tough one, falling to Jacobs in the regional final.
My re-do pick? Lake Zurich? Prairie Ridge? A re-charged St. Charles East? Cameron Krutwig and Jacobs? One of the MSL West teams, Conant or Fremd? Since my original pick was DeKalb over Lake Zurich in the super-sectional, I’ll go Lake Zurich. But why do I have this feeling Prairie Ridge is going to be the Cinderella story playing in Peoria? No one has talked about this team all year, yet they sit here with 24 wins and a recent 19-point win over Jacobs.
➥There is a bright, immediate future for Naperville North, which returns the bulk of its 23-win, DuPage Valley Conference championship team. The downer, however, is the Huskies head into the offseason with past and present regional demons hanging over their head, including the most recent upset loss as a No. 3 seed to York. Regardless, this team will be favored to repeat in the DVC and looks the part of a preseason top 25 team next season.
➥ Maybe the 16-15 record St. Laurence put together doesn’t resonate much with the average fan. But coach Jim Maley has this program pointing the right direction and a different mindset instilled after a 4-10 start to the season. This group can hang its hat on the fact it won the most games and had the first winning season at St. Laurence since the 2006-2007 season.
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