Regional rewind: Upsets, buzzer-beaters and parity

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Notre Dame’s Mahorcic defends as the Dons play against Geneva in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, December 27, 2017. Allen Cunningham / for Chicago Sun~Times

The great parity we see in high school basketball this season, particularly in Class 4A, should not be mistaken with winning a state championship. Simeon’s odd score in the regional championship win over Crete-Monee not withstanding, this is the Wolverines state title to lose. Don’t let one result fool you.

But for the rest of the field of teams still standing as they head into sectional play?

There is a lot in common with all these teams, starting with the fact every team has identifiable flaws and very few have the type of talent that will overwhelm any opponent going forward. But the most important similarity among them all –– and if the regular season didn’t show you the regional scores should have –– is the majority of these teams really do have a realistic chance of playing in Peoria in less than two weeks.

Here is a quick regional rewind from Friday night as we head into sectional week and teams now just three wins away from reaching Peoria.

➤ Michael O’Brien covered it all here, but the Libertyville-Conant game proved to be the game of the night with the dramatic ending and the heroics of Drew Peterson. Individual stars simply have a way of making their presence felt in March, especially in a sectional where there wasn’t a single ranked team in the field when it began.

➤ Speaking of Conant, it’s been a couple of gut-wrenching ways to end stellar seasons for the Cougars. Losing on a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to Libertyville follows up the heartbreaking buzzer-beating defeat to Fremd in last year’s sectional.

➤ As I noted in my state tournament preview, there were two regional championship games –– both 4 vs. 5 seed games –– I believed would ultimately produce an unlikely sectional champ next week. I’ll stick with that after Loyola beat Maine South and Libertyville stunned Conant in regional title matchups.

Again, I like having the best player in a very winnable sectional, and that’s where Libertyville sits with Drew Peterson as it heads into a sectional with Lake Zurich, Barrington and Fremd. And the City/Suburban Hoops Report has been a fan of Loyola, a somewhat unheralded team. The matchups matter and the Ramblers can make things very difficult for the top three seeds in the Maine East Sectional.

➤ The Maine East Sectional is the toughest and deepest in the Chicago area, so it was impressive how each of the top four seeds really took care of business in what were challenging regional championship games.

Top-seeded Evanston put away Niles Notre Dame 66-51. Niles North took care of a very talented St. Viator team that won the East Suburban Catholic Conference and 24 games this season, 68-60. New Trier handled Prospect 53-35. No. 4 seed Loyola beat Maine South by 19 points, even after shooting an uncharacteristic 11 of 20 from the line.

➤ The best individual performance of the night came from Terrence Shannon of Lincoln Park, a vastly overlooked prospect still on the board in the Class of 2018. The 6-5 Shannon poured in 42 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, including a 28-foot buzzer-beating bomb, in an overtime upset win over Oak Park.

Now Lincoln Park gets Young in the sectional semifinal at Riverside-Brookfield, a team it beat 96-91 back in December.

➤ How about one last shout out to anyone listening –– the Hoops Report has tried so hard in this case to promote –– regarding Dusan Mahorcic of Niles Notre Dame? Mahorcic and the Dons fell to Evanston in the regional final Friday night, but the 6-9 senior finished with 28 points and 17 rebounds in the loss. Mahoric is too big, too mobile, too skilled and, now, too productive to be this overlooked as a prospect. I don’t know how your’e not excited about the potential Mahorcic brings to the table going forward and what he can become in two or three years.

➤ Outside the Chicago area, the biggest surprise score was this one: Moline 56, Danville 51.

Danville came into the game with a 26-2 record and ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 4A, boasted the electric Kendle Moore in the backcourt and was playing the regional final on its home floor. So, yes, call me shocked.

➤ Ranking the regional finals by biggest surprises:

1. Moline 56, Danville 51

2. Proviso East 83, Fenwick 70

3. Rich East 68, Hillcrest 65

4. Bartlett 45, Wheaton South 42

5. Rock Island 65, Normal West 57

➤ The City/Suburban Hoops Report has been a bigger believer than most when it comes to Lincoln-Way East. A Hoops Report preseason top 25 team when the season began, the Griffins claimed the program’s first-ever regional championship with a win over Romeoville. It was also an example of a go-to player coming up big as Sam Shafer, a Southern Illinois recruit, finished with 24 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

But a first for anything is special and this group is playing with house money after putting together the best season in the rather short history of the program.

➤ West Aurora isn’t going to wow you with off-the-charts individual basketball talent. But coach Brian Johnson’s team just really seems to be locked in at the right time. The Blackhawks haven’t lost in over two months with 15 consecutive wins. Their role players make enough shots and their top two players, 6-5 Jared Crutcher and guard Camron Donatlan, make plays with their athleticism at the rim. After disposing of Andrew in the regional final, West Aurora will face Lincoln-Way East in the sectional semifinal Wednesday.

➤ Who put their trust in Proviso East in this week’s regional? Raise your hand. The Pirates have talent, but they’ve battled inconsistency all season and have had a difficult time beating top teams. So the decisive 83-70 win over Fenwick was a surprise. But when a career night happens as it did with Proviso East’s Trevor Moore, who scored 37 points in the win, a lot can change in one night.

➤ After winning a combined 48 games over the past two seasons and a conference championship last season and compiling the two winningest seasons in program history, there was something missing with Willowbrook basketball: postseason success.

When Alonzo Verge burst on the scene a few years ago as a sophomore at Willowbrook, the Warriors were upset in the regional, due mostly to Verge being suspended and not playing in the regional loss. Last year as a No. 5 seed and 24-win team, Willowbrook was stunned by Addison Trail, the No. 12 seed, in the regional semis.

But coach Chris Perkins’ team got over the hump Friday night, beating Hinsdale South and star Zion Griffin 61-56.

While Ethan Schuemer (15.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg), the program’s lone 1,000 point career scorer, has been the focal point in this renaissance –– he was a monster in the regional final with 26 points and 13 rebounds –– don’t underestimate the heavy contributions of Matas Masys. The junior guard has been a varsity mainstay for three years, can stretch a defense with his shooting and is averaging 12.3 points a game on the year.

➤ Do we have our 4A Cinderella team? Bartlett will take the label and run with it after winning three regional games as a No. 12 seed. The Hawks beat, as expected, Glenbard North, and then upset Batavia and Wheaton-Warrenville South. Little-known Tomas Vikonis, a 6-2 senior guard, has elevated this team. Now, can Bartlett now take down No. 2 seed Benet?

➤ Dundee-Crown was sitting with a 7-11 record at one point this season. After upsetting both St. Charles East and Jacobs in the regional the Chargers are now 17-12 and headed to their first sectional game since 2009. Jacobs beat Dundee-Crown twice during the regular season, including a 51-42 win in the regular-season finale. Jacobs played without leading scorer Ryan Phillips, who has been out with a broken bone in his hand.

➤ I believed Fremd was dead. The Vikings lost leading scorer Bryce Hopkins to injury and finished the season with four straight losses. So it’s time to give a whole lot of credit to coach Bob Widlowski and this group for persevering, upsetting Stevenson and winning the program’s fourth regional championship in the last five years.

➤ What in the world happened down at Bradley-Bourbonnais? Brother Rice, a team that lost to Kenwood in December, not only turned the tables but burned them down in walloping Kenwood in the rematch, 78-39, to claim its second straight regional championship. What the heck … Bring on Simeon!

➤ Antioch has made a habit of being the sub-500 team to win a regional. The Sequiots won their third straight regional championship after finishing seventh in the Northern Lake County and ending the regular season with 11 wins. Antioch finished last season 13-17 and 14-16 the year before while claiming regional titles.

➤ Poor Bloomington and Normal West. These two were state-ranked, seeded high and had a combined 41 wins on the season. Both had to make the long trek to Rock Island, no easy place to play, and play regional games. Bloomington lost in the semifinals to Rock Island and Normal West fell to the Rocks in the final.

Now for some more crazy sectional travel news …

The Pekin Sectional will play host to four teams next week who will all have 100-plus minute drives: Belleville West, Quincy, Rock Island and Moline. The two Quad Cities schools, Rock Island and Moline, are six miles apart and will now travel a little over 100 miles to play one another this week.

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

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