As usual, high school basketball was rejuvenated by regional play. As usual, stars shined and the unexpected emerged.
As we march forward, here are five sectional storylines to follow this week.
Surviving the Maine East Sectional quagmire
There is no sectional in the state featuring four teams with more wins than the combined 97 victories the top four seeds –– Evanston, Niles North, New Trier and Loyola –– have compiled.
These four 20-plus win teams know one another well as eight of their combined 20 losses between them have come to one another.
Now the four will get the chance to slug it out at Maine East this week with a super-sectional berth on the line.
There are teams that thrive and are still alive without a bonafide superstar leading the way. But as the regional championship games showed, a star to lean on sure can help.
Libertyville’s Drew Peterson scored 20 straight points in the second half for the Wildcats and buried a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Conant in overtime. Terrence Shannon pumped in 42 points, including the game-winning three in the closing seconds, to lift Lincoln Park to an upset win over Oak Park.
Marist’s Morgan Taylor, Lincoln-Way East’s Sam Shafer, Willowbrook’s Ethan Schuemer and Niles North’s Damaria Franklin all did their thing as the leading men for their respective regional championship teams with big-time performances.
There will be key, pivotal moments in these sectional games this week that will scream for a player to take over. What star will step up with a clutch, carry-my-team performance in sectional action this week?
Catholic League uprising
Despite Fenwick’s upset regional final loss, the presence of the Chicago Catholic League in Class 3A and 4A sectionals –– and Providence St. Mel playing in a Class 1A super-sectional Tuesday –– is impressive.
How many of the seven remaining Catholic League teams can get through sectional play?
There are some tall tasks this week for a few of them, starting with Brother Rice, which will face the top-ranked team in the state, Simeon. Loyola will take on top-seeded Evanston in another Class 4A sectional semifinal, while St. Laurence plays Class 3A favorite Morgan Park.
St. Rita, which won its fourth regional title in the last five years, will battle Bogan, and De La Salle will play Farragut in Class 3A play.
The team with the best road ahead of it, however, remains DePaul Prep. The Rams made the jump from Class 2A to Class 3A this season and are favored to win the North Chicago Sectional.
There are some new and fresh faces playing sectional basketball this week.
Lincoln-Way East hasn’t been around all that long, but the Griffins will be making their first sectional appearance in program history after knocking off Romeoville in the regional final.
Led by Southern Illinois recruit Sam Shafer, a 6-6 space-the-floor shooter, Lincoln-Way East will now try to win its first sectional title in a Romeoville Sectional that includes West Aurora, Bolingbrook and Joliet Central.
Willowbrook won its first regional title since 2004 –– and only the fourth in program history. Can the Warriors claim their first-ever sectional championship?
Lake Zurich, a top seed in its own sectional, St. Rita and Lincoln Park are all vying for their first sectional championships.
Is the big favorite really vulnerable?
Some eyebrows were raised when the Simeon regional final score went final Friday night.
77-66? Over Crete-Monee? … Really?
Even our guy Michael O’Brien wrote in his Friday notebook, “So maybe the Wolverines aren’t a state championship lock after all.”
There was some minor regular season scuttlebutt when Simeon didn’t crush Dunbar leading up to the Curie showdown. Then Simeon beat up the Condors by nearly 20 points.
Don’t worry about Simeon getting through this sectional. You don’t have to dominate in March. Just win. And this is still clearly the team to beat and the same impressive team we all watched over the past three months.
Who will be the first to take out the top seeds?
Aside from the split up sub-sectionals, every single No. 1 and No. 2 seeded teams made it through regional play. So who will be the first to take down one of the top two seeds?
Before the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds were to meet in the sectional final on Friday, there are several who will be in a precarious position in the sectional semifinals.
The underdogs and double-digit seeds
Bartlett and Fremd are No. 12 and No. 10 seeds, respectively. Dundee-Crown is a No. 6 seed in an 11-seeded sub-sectional and had to play the Monday play-in regional game. Those are your three super underdogs in Class 4A heading into sectional week.
In Class 3A, Antioch is a No. 12 seed.
So the question is this: Can any of these four win a sectional game?
We’ll assign some odds to those four as to which one has the best opportunity to pull off yet another upset.
• Fremd: 8-1 odds
Fremd plays a beatable Barrington team, one it has already beaten once this season. However, that was with leading scorer Bryce Hopkins playing. The second matchup between the two, with the injured Hopkins sidelined, Barrington won 53-43 late in the season.
But even without Hopkins, Fremd is a team that’s been through this before, has a system and style it thrives playing, and has bounced back nicely after dropping its final three games in the regular season.
• Dundee-Crown: 12-1 odds
On paper, from a talent perspective, Rockford Jefferson is the superior team. But it’s still a vulnerable team, one that lost to Barrington and Batavia while both Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South, two Fox Valley Conference teams, played them tough in regional play last week.
Dundee-Crown, playing in a gym it’s familiar with at Jacobs, beat both Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South by similar margins last month in Fox Valley Conference play. So 6-7 Gabe Bergeron and the Chargers have a chance to make this one interesting.
• Bartlett: 25-1 odds
Hey, the Hawks were ranked 65th in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s mega-preseason top 80 rankings. And they’re feeling awfully good right now after beating two very solid teams in Batavia and Wheaton South to win a regional title.
But sectional semifinal foe Benet hasn’t lost since December, and it’s a program that’s been in this position a number of times.
• Antioch 40-1 odds
It’s Class 3A, so yes, anything can happen. But it’s not as if Antioch has beaten any giants along its tournament trail thus far. The Sequoits beat Roosevelt, Northside and CICS/Northtown and, as a result, are enjoying their third straight regional championship.
Antioch played the No. 2 seed in this sectional, North Chicago, twice this season and lost both games by a combined total of 59 points. Now it gets to play the top-seeded team, DePaul Prep.