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Henricksen: Six state tournament storylines to follow this March

Fremd's Kyle Sliwa (4) gets a lay-up against Prospect. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Here are six storylines to follow as state tournament play in Class 4A and 3A tips off Monday.

1. How far can unbeaten Fremd ride this wave?

An unbeaten through the regular season is one thing, but an unbeaten playing in Peoria?

In the past 20 years we’ve only seen one team play in Peoria with the 0 on the far right in the won-loss column –– Proviso East in 2012. The Pirates lost in the state championship game to Simeon.

Alright, Fremd, the table is set.

The Vikings are a perfect 26-0 on the season and have beaten all of their biggest threats in the sectional at least once. Their potential super-sectional matchup, no matter who it is, will be very winnable. So the potential for this Fremd team to be 31-0 and playing in the state semifinals in a little over two weeks is very real.

2. Can the Public League win three state championships this year?

Since the four-class system began in 2008 the Chicago Public League has claimed multiple state championships in 2008 (North Lawndale in 2A and Marshall in 3A), 2013 (Morgan Park in 3A and Simeon in 4A) and 2014 (Morgan Park in 3A and Young in 4A).

This could be the year there are three state champions from Chicago.

We know Simeon, Curie and Young are all legitimate Class 4A state title contenders. No one will be surprised if any one of these three highly-ranked powers win a state championship.

Morgan Park is currently the top-ranked Class 3A team in Illinois and is certainly poised to take advantage of what is a weak 3A field this season.

After taking care of Uplift Friday night, Orr heads into a Class 2A sectional semifinal this week with the look of a potential state champ.

And little-known Hope Academy is a serious player in Class 1A. Hope Academy is the No. 4 ranked team in the state and hosts its own sectional this week.

3. Some more fresh, new blood this March?

Last year Curie and Lincoln-Way West were the newbies in Peoria, joining a group of Class 3A and 4A teams who had all recently made a trip to Peoria.

Curie broke through by winning the program’s first-ever sectional championship, making its first appearance in Peoria and ultimately bringing home a Class 4A state title. Lincoln-Way West, a school that opened its doors in 2009, also won its first sectional title and lost in the Class 3A title game.

This year? Take a look at some of the No. 1 sectional seeds across the Chicago area in Class 4A and 3A. There’s Jacobs, Wheaton South, Fremd and Fenwick.

What do they all have in common? It’s been quite some time since any of the four made a major impact in state tournament play in March. But each one has the seed, potential and path to be playing in Peoria.

Jacobs has never won a sectional championship in school history but is in position to do so behind star Cameron Krutwig.

For Wheaton South it’s been 36 years since the Tigers won a sectional title. The 1981 team (then called Wheaton Central) reached the Elite Eight and finished fourth in the state.

Fenwick won back-to-back sectional titles in the late 1990s, reaching the Elite Eight in Peoria behind Corey Maggette in 1998, but hasn’t won a sectional championship since.

Fremd was a power from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s under coach Mo Tharp. But the Vikings haven’t been to state or even won a sectional since finishing fourth in the state 24 years ago. That unassuming team, led by names like Mike Mangan, Steve McGrath and Chris Loughlin, wasn’t even ranked in the final AP state rankings in 1993.

4. Can Edwardsville’s Mark Smith take down Chicago area’s best?

This is certainly fast-forwarding a bit and Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo would certainly scoff at the idea of talking about his Tigers playing in a super-sectional before a regional game has even been played. But if we play this thing out …

The Thornwood Sectional is the deepest in the state and boasts the Chicago area’s No. 1 team, Simeon. The top six seeds all have 20-plus wins, there is a bracket-busting player in Thornton’s Alonzo Verge, Crete-Monee is a No. 10 seed with 18 wins, Hubbard is an unbeaten No. 13 seed, and we haven’t talked about or referenced teams like Stagg, H-F and Marian Catholic.

But you know who is expected to meet the Thornwood Sectional winner in the ISU Super in two weeks? Edwardsville (26-1), the No. 1 ranked team in Class 4A, and the red-hot Mark Smith, a stat-sheet stuffing 6-4 guard who has shot into national top 100 rankings and secured one high-major offer after another.

There are Chicago area basketball fans –– and those across the state –– anxious to see a player they’ve heard so much about over the past three months. Smith, after all, is averaging 21.8 points, 8.6 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game. But they won’t see him unless Edwardsville reaches Peoria, knocking off the Thornwood Sectional winner along the way.

5. Will anyone be able to break the must-have Division I players requirement to win a state title?

Fremd and Wheaton South are a combined 53-1 and ranked No. 5 and No. 7, respectively, in the most recent Class 4A AP state rankings. Neither one has a Division I prospect.

That little tidbit of information, the one regarding the roster being void of Division I players, is bad news if either team has state championship aspirations following what has been a remarkable regular season.

Without Division I talent, preferably two Division I players, you’re not going to win a state championship. The stats back it up.

Over the past 30 years every big school state champion, including the past nine years of 3A champs in the four-class system, has featured at least two future Division I players. The lone exception was Glenbrook North in 2005. And they had one special one in Jon Scheyer.

Will we ever see the day where a state champion in Class 3A or 4A wins a state championship without multiple Division I players –– or even just one?

6. As far as sleepers go, keep an eye on the No. 6 seeds. And here’s why…

The idea of true Cinderella stories in high school basketball in recent years –– I hate to break it to you –– is pretty non-existent. And by Cinderella story we’re talking teams with a No. 6 or higher seed attached to their name on the bracket.

We’re going to eliminate the No. 5 seed we generally all agree that No. 4 vs. No. 5 regional championship game is usually up for grabs. So our focus on the past six years are those teams seeded sixth and beyond.

If you’re a No. 6 seed in Class 3A or 4A, however, there is some good news. There have been just 12 teams seeded sixth or lower (in Class 3A and Class 4A) in the past six years who have advanced all the way to a sectional championship game. Of those 12 teams, seven have been No. 6 seeds.

It just so happens the City/Suburban Hoops Report really likes a pair of No. 6 seeds to potentially inflict some pain in the brackets this year: Lincoln-Way East and Bloom.

But there have only been two teams seeded outside the top five over the past five seasons who have won a sectional championship: Glenbard North in 2014 and West Aurora in 2015.

The biggest Cinderella story in the past six years was the 2011 Schaumburg team. The Saxons were the No. 15 seed and in the Monday regional play-in game. Schaumburg beat Glenbrook South, No. 2 seed Evanston, No. 7 seed New Trier and No. 11 seed Niles West in the sectional semis before falling to Niles North, 53-52, in the sectional championship.

Here’s a look at the 11 low-seeded teams that advanced the deepest into March over the past five seasons.

2016

• York (No. 6): Lost to Benet in sectional championship.

2015

• West Aurora (No. 6): Lost to Bolingbrook in super-sectional.

• Morton (No. 9): Lost to Riverside-Brookfield in sectional championship.

2014

• Glenbard North (No. 6): Lost to Benet in super-sectional.

• Homewood-Flossmoor (No. 6): Lost to Marian Catholic in sectional championship.

• Geneva (No. 6): Lost to Benet in sectional championship.

2013

• Perspectives Charter/Leadership (No. 6): Lost to Morgan Park in sectional championship.

• Carmel (No. 6): Lost to North Chicago in sectional championship.

2012

• Niles North (No. 7): Lost to Evanston in sectional championship.

• Marist (No. 7): Lost to Simeon in sectional championship.

• St. Francis (No. 8): Lost to Marshall in sectional championship.

2011

• Schaumburg (No. 15): Lost to Niles North in sectional championship.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport