Henricksen: Historical look at Chicago area unbeaten teams

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Crane High School basketball coach Anthony Longstreet with his returning seniors and the starting five ( l to r) Florentino Valencia, Tremel Gilot, Javnale Tidwell, Carl Marshall and Lorenzo Thompson.( Photo by Bob Black/Sun-Times)

I’m sorry, but I can’t get enough of this unbeaten storyline.

First, an unbeaten team this late in the season is a pretty sexy basketball story.

Second, the fact it’s a fairly rare occurrence and we have four unbeaten teams still standing, including three that are ranked among the best in Illinois, is tantalizing as we head towards the final week of the regular season.

But I also can’t get over this uneasy feeling that an unbeaten or two might go down before regional play hits. After all, life as an unbeaten usually doesn’t last very long, so we are in some foreign territory with four unblemished records as we move closer to March.

The last team to finish the regular season unbeaten in the Chicago area was Fremd in 2013-2014.

Somewhat surprisingly, there hasn’t been an unbeaten big school state champion since the 1993 King team ran the table. (Are you listening Bolingbrook?). Seneca won a Class 2A title in 2006 with a 35-0 record.

There was actually quite a run on small school unbeaten teams in the 1980s, with Lawrenceville (1982 and 1983), McLeansboro (1984) and Teutopolis (1985) all going unbeaten while winning four straight Class A state championships.

But the Chicago area simply hasn’t had many unbeaten teams over the decades. How rare are unbeaten teams in the Chicago area? There have only been 18 teams to finish the regular season with a perfect record since 1980 –– and only four since 2000.

However, up to this point it’s been quite a run for the locals. Bolingbrook, Fremd, Geneva and a much-less-talked-about Hubbard have all been perfect thus far.

As these four unbeaten teams head into the final week of regular season play, it’s time to take a look at how the unbeaten teams have fared over the years once the season turned to the win-or-go-home situations they all faced in March.

Here is a look back at those 18 Chicago area unbeaten teams and how it ended for each one.

▪Fremd (2013-2014)

End result: Lost in sectional championship

Did you already forget about the last Fremd team to go unbeaten? You shouldn’t have –– it was just it was just three seasons ago. While the regular-season schedule may not have had the potential potholes other top teams faced, the Mid-Suburban League champs won a regional and reached the sectional championship, where it lost to Stevenson 63-48 to finish 28-1.

▪Proviso East (2011-2012)

End result: Lost in state championship

The Pirates rolled through the regular season, winning the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and finished with a perfect 26-0 record. The Pirates, led by senior Keith Carter and junior Sterling Brown, reached Peoria, where it lost to Simeon, 50-48, in the Class 4A state championship game.

▪Benet (2010-2011)

End result: Lost in sectional semifinal

In a classic late-season showdown with an unbeaten Simeon team at the UIC Pavilion, the Redwings won over everyone with a thrilling win. Behind big man Frank Kaminsky and point guard David Sobolewski, Benet finished the regular season 27-0. But the No. 1 team in the state was upset by Ryan Boatright and East Aurora in the sectional semifinals to finish 29-1.

▪Crane (2002-2003)

End result: Lost in regional championship

An all-senior starting lineup, featuring Lorenzo Thompson and Florentino Valencia, headed into the postseason with an unblemished 25-0 record. But in one of the bigger upsets in the past 15 years, St. Ignatius stunned Crane in the regional championship game and finished 26-1.

▪Westinghouse (1998-1999)

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (super-sectional)

The Warriors were fueled by the perimeter trio of senior David Bailey and juniors Martell Bailey and Cedrick Banks. The Public League champs finished the regular season 27-0 but fell one game short of reaching Peoria, getting walloped by King, 59-39, in the Public League final to finish 30-1.

▪Thornton (1996-1997)

End result: Lost in state semifinals

After a second straight unbeaten regular season, the Wildcats again reached the Elite Eight for the third straight season. The star-laden group of Antwaan Randle-El, Melvin Ely, Erik Herring and Napoleon Harris fell to their old March nemesis, Peoria Manual, which beat Thornton in the state semifinals as coach Rocky Hill’s team finished 32-1.

▪Thornton (1995-1996)

End result: Lost in state championship

A perfect regular season and a long tournament run left the Wildcats 31-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state heading into a classic state championship matchup with Peoria Manual. Thornton lost 57-51.

▪Joliet (1993-1994)

End result: Lost in state quarterfinals

After rolling through the regular season without a defeat, the Steelmen headed into the Elite Eight in Champaign 30-0 behind Gary Bell and Ty Calderwood. The dream ended in the quarterfinals with a 92-80 loss to Carbondale.

▪King (1993-1994)

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (super-sectional)

Coach Sonny Cox’s team finished the regular season 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state. The Jaguars, led by star guard Michael Hermon, lost a heartbreaker in the Sweet Sixteen to Westinghouse, 59-58.

▪King (1992-1993)

End result: Won Class AA state championship

A dominant King team manhandled foes all season, including in the postseason en route to a state championship and perfect 32-0 record.

▪Proviso East (1991-1992)

End result: Won Class AA state championship

A year after winning a Class AA state championship behind the Three Amigos –– Sherell Ford, Michael Finley and Donnie Boyce –– the Pirates went unbeaten. Coach Bill Hitt’s team then won a second straight title to finish 33-0 behind Kenny Davis and Jamal Robinson.

▪Nazareth Academy (1990-1991)

End result: Lost in sectional championship

This was a Cinderella story as Nazareth won its first-ever Private League title and entered state tournament play as the second smallest Class AA team in the state. All-stater Sean Pearson, who is now the head coach at Nazareth, led the Roadrunners to a 28-0 record before Proviso East ended Nazareth’s dream season in the sectional.

▪King (1989-1990)

End result: Won Class AA state championship

The state’s best player, Jamie Brandon, led a King team that was No. 1 from wire to wire. The Jaguars beat West Aurora and East St. Louis Lincoln to reach the Class AA final, where it knocked off Tom Kleinschmidt and Gordon Tech, 65-55, in the state championship to finish 32-0.

▪Simeon (1988-1989)

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (super-sectional)

Led by Deon Thomas and guard Cody Butler, Simeon rolled through the regular season with a 24-0 record. But awaiting the Wolverines in the city final was King. Junior Jamie Brandon led King to a 67-57 win over Simeon in the super-sectional.

▪Simeon (1985-1986)

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (super-sectional)

The Wolverines were the team to beat in the state and city after finishing the regular season 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state. However, Simeon had to face No. 3 ranked King, led by Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson, in the Sweet 16 and fell to the eventual state champs 49-46.

▪Proviso West (1984-1985)

End result: Lost in sectional championship

With the Chicago area Player of the Year, current Proviso West coach Michael Ingram, the Panthers were 25-0 and the No. 1 ranked team in the state heading into March. But Leyden pulled off a sectional upset.

▪Evanston (1983-1984)

End result: Lost in Class AA state championship

All-stater Everette Stephens led the Wildkits to a 25-0 regular season. After reaching the Elite in Champaign, the state’s top-ranked team beat Benton and St. Joseph to reach the state championship game with a 32-0 record. But Stephens and Company fell to Simeon and the late Ben Wilson, 53-47, in the title game.

▪Rich Central (1979-1980)

End result: Lost in super-sectional

The Olympians headed into the postseason with a perfect 25-0 record but ranked No. 2 in the state –– behind No. 1 Proviso East. But an unranked Downers Grove South upset Rich Central in the super-sectional, stunning the Olympians 54-52.

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