Are we having fun? Those 16 teams still standing after those Class 3A and 4A sectional semifinal wins earlier this week sure are.
With only 16 teams still alive, it’s time to break down each every sectional championship game across the state.
Class 4A Sectionals
■ Belleville West (28-2) vs. Moline (23-7)
These two will travel a combined 290 miles to meet in the sectional final, where there will be a whole lot of maroon in the Pekin gym.
The Belleville West Maroons, led by the great E.J. Liddell (21 ppg, 8 rpg, 5.8 bpg), will be a heavy favorite. Belleville West, which features Wright State commit Malachi Smith (16 ppg), has yet to lose to a team from Illinois. But Belleville West will have to knock down some shots against Moline’s 1-2-2 zone defense.
Perhaps no team in state history has had to travel as much as the Moline Maroons have in these first two weeks of state tournament play. Coach Sean Taylor’s team traveled a combined 860 miles to win the regional, stunning state-ranked and top-seed Danville along the way. They traveled another 208 miles to beat neighboring rival Rock Island on Tuesday in Pekin.
Can the Maroons, led by 6-3 junior Deonte Billups, pull off another stunner?
Hoops Report pick: Belleville West 62, Moline 52
■ Bolingbrook (22-6) vs. West Aurora (24-4)
The expected sectional championship has materialized as top-seeded Bolingbrook tries to repeat against a West Aurora team that’s won 16 straight games.
There are certainties about Bolingbrook that stand out, including the speed and talent it has in the backcourt with Joseph Yesufu, Tyler Cochran and Kaleb Thornton. That trio inflicts a style that’s difficult to match up against. Thornton’s return from injury late in the season has put more pressure on opposing team’s defenses.
But more importantly, those players –– and this program –– have the luxury and experience of having played in so many big games over the past two seasons. That obviously paid dividends in surviving a double overtime win over Joliet Central in the semifinals.
While the 1-2 punch of uber-athletic Camron Donatlan and 6-5 Jared Crutcher grab the headlines, don’t underestimate the roles and production Ben Young, Damian Virgen and Traevon Brown play for the Blackhawks. VIrgen stepped up with 21 points in the sectional semifinal win over Lincoln-Way East while Young is a big body who can stretch a defense with his shooting.
Hoops Report pick: Bolingbrook 63, West Aurora 60
■ Larkin (22-8) vs. Rockford Jefferson (26-6)
A rematch of a game that took place over three months ago at Thanksgiving when Jefferson beat Larkin 69-58. This one will be more of a nailbiter.
It’s hard to believe this Larkin program had seasons of 5-23, 1-24, 1-26 and 4-23 not that long ago. Now they’ve won four regionals and 20-plus games for the fourth time in the last six years. But this would be the first sectional title since 2005.
Coach Deryn Carter has had his Royals playing their best basketball at the right time, both last year in reaching the sectional final and again this year. Larkin has had some puzzling scores throughout the year, yet the tandem of guard Anthony Lynch and 6-9 Jalen Shaw has this team on the cusp of a sectional championship.
Jefferson, which has set a school record with 26 wins on the year, has a dynamite trio that must be accounted for in Terry Ford, Quillin Dixon and My’Quion Garrett. All three are versatile scorers and capable of 20-point outbursts.
Hoops Report pick: Larkin 63, Jefferson 62
GLENBARD EAST SECTIONAL
■ Willowbrook (26-5) vs. Benet (26-4)
After upsetting top-seeded Naperville North in the sectional semifinals, Willowbrook is now one win from claiming the program’s first-ever sectional championship. This group has built a cohesiveness and chemistry that’s maybe as important as the personnel on the floor.
Ethan Schuemer, a 6-5 senior, has been the backbone for this team during what has been a record-breaking two-year run for the Warriors. Schuemer puts up 15 points and eight rebounds a game. But Matas Masys (12 ppg) is a perimeter shooting threat and sophomore Everett Stubblefield has sparked this team in the second half of the season with his speed, quickness and scoring ability.
Since losing twice at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, Benet has ripped off 17 consecutive wins. There is nothing fancy about the Redwings, who are steady, effective and fueled by senior David Buh (13.2 ppg) and sophomore big man Colin Crothers (10.4 ppg, 6 rpg).
Hoops Report pick: Benet 45, Willowbrook 43
LAKE ZURICH SECTIONAL
■ Lake Zurich (25-7) vs. Barrington (24-6)
Lake Zurich, the top seed in the sectional, was a City/Suburban Hoops Report preseason top 25 team. After finishing fourth in the North Suburban Conference during the regular season, the Bears are now showing why they were so highly thought of when the season began.
The senior combination of Ryan Kutsor (15 ppg), who has scored over 1,000 career points, and Peter DiCerbo (13 ppg, 7.5 rpg), who does a little of everything and plays bigger than his 6-2 size, leads Lake Zurich. Junior point guard J.R. Cison, however, has been the missing ingredient since he transferred in from St. Viator.
Barrington, one win from its first sectional title since 2002, has been one of the season’s biggest surprises and boasts one of the more unheralded player around in Jason Boock (15 ppg). He can spread the floor with his shooting, attack the rim and create for others. There is also 6-8 Jack Reinhard (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg), a player with size and versatility.
Playing on its home floor, though, Lake Zurich gets over the hump, gets it done and wins the program’s first-ever sectional championship.
Hoops Report pick: Lake Zurich 58, Barrington 51
MAINE EAST SECTIONAL
■ Evanston (24-5) vs. New Trier (25-5)
Why not play one of the best high school rivalries in Illinois for all the marbles in the rugged Maine East Sectional?
The first two games of the Maine East Sectional have been wild. Evanston survived Loyola after giving up a 20-point lead while New Trier battled back from a 22-point, second half deficit to stun Niles North.
These two are so familiar with one another. Evanston beat New Trier 50-49 in overtime the first time these two met. But New Trier handled Evanston in the rematch, limiting the Wildkits to a season-low 40 points and 26 percent shooting
Aside from a six-minute stretch in the semifinals, coach Mike Ellis’ team was impressive in so many ways in beating Loyola, particularly defensively and with how it responded when surrendering the 20-point lead. The moment clearly wasn’t too big for a team with so much youth. The junior guard tandem of Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden can be potent offensively, while the speed and quickness the Wildkits possess can wreak havoc defensively and put pressure on opposing teams.
From an Xs and Os standpoint, this is maybe the most intriguing sectional game. Can New Trier and coach Andrew Kirkpatrick handle Evanston’s speed and pressure? Can Evanston manage the distinct size advantage New Trier has with 6-9 Ciaran Brayboy and 6-8 Spencer Boehm? Can the Wildkits speed the Trevians up? Can Evanston make enough perimeter shots against New Trier’s size, length and zone defense?
Hoops Report pick: Evanston 55, New Trier 53
■ Simeon (28-3) vs. Marist (27-4)
Mighty Simeon, the No. 1 ranked team everyone has anointed state champions already, beat Crete-Monee by 11 points and led Brother Rice by just two points at the half before winning by 15. People have raised eyebrows as a result. But they have yet to be in jeopardy of losing to an in-state team all season and win every game by double digits.
All Marist has done is win 27 games with effective team defense and the play of Morgan Taylor.
It’s tough to list all that Taylor has done for this team. The senior guard continues to live up to his regular season heroics, scoring 23 points in the sectional semifinal win over H-F. He averaged 23 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.5 steals a game. Simeon, however, has multiple defensive options it can throw at Taylor –– zone and man-to-man, big-bodied defender in Bacari Simmons or a smaller, quicker and peskier one in Kejuan Clements.
In addition to Taylor, Marist has received outstanding seasons from a pair of 6-4 athletes in David Daniels and Jack Ellison.
Sun-Times Player of the Year Talen Horton-Tucker (21.2 ppg) does so much to help Simeon, while Messiah Jones (17 ppg, 9 rpg) is a menace around the basket. Plus, Simeon has shown it can win many different ways.
Marist has put together a terrific season but lacks a couple of ingredients –– depth and perimeter shooting –– to pull off what would be a major upset.
Hoops Report pick: Simeon 61, Marist 49
■ Curie (26-4) vs. Young (25-7)
With all the many city showdowns this season between the few Public League powers in holiday tournaments, the city playoffs and super conference play, the Curie-Young sectional showdown has not been played. So, yes, there is something a little fresh with this particular matchup in this 2017-2018 season.
Young is the defending Class 4A state champs. Curie won a 4A state championship two years ago. So there are several players in this game who have been down a state championship road the past two seasons, including Young’s tandem of Javon Freeman and Xavier Castaneda and Curie’s brother combination of Treavon and Tyree Martin. Both of these teams have played in enough big games over the past two years to know what it will take to win this one.
While Curie will need offensive production on the perimeter from Marquise Walker, Maurice Commander, Demarco Graham and Dajuan Gordon, the Martin brothers will be critical for Curie, particularly on the defensive end as rim protectors against the driving and slashing of the Dolphins. Freeman, Castaneda, Tyler Beard and Myles Baker are at their best attacking the basket.
The difference-maker, however, could prove to be Freeman, who poured in 29 points in the sectional semifinal win over Lincoln Park. He’s been a star this season for the Dolphins.
Hoops Report pick: Young 66, Curie 64
Class 3A Sectionals
ST. LAURENCE SECTIONAL
■ Morgan Park (21-9) vs. Bogan (21-8)
An old Chicago Public League battle in the sectional final featuring two South Side teams very familiar with one another. They met way back in early December with Morgan Park pulling out a 76-72 win.
While this will be as heated and as intense as any sectional matchup across the state Friday night, there will be no intimidation on either side.
There are plenty of matchups to focus on as Morgan Park brings the big-named backcourt of Ayo Dosunmu and Adam Miller, while Bogan has the unheralded but productive Jordan Booker playing well and fellow junior Jeremiah Washington. Booker scored 29 in the sectional semifinal win over St. Rita.
Keep an eye on Morgan Park’s Cam Burrell, fresh off a big sectional semifinal with 29 points and 17 rebounds, and 6-7 Rashaun Agee of Bogan.
This is the sectional final we all imagined, and it promises to be a good one.
Hoops Report pick: Morgan Park 72, Bogan 68
LITTLE VILLAGE SECTIONAL
■ Farragut (17-10) vs. North Lawndale (17-10)
A couple of old Public League Red-West rivals meet, even though due to some technicalities the two never played each other during the regular season. After putting together up-and-down regular seasons, these two both take advantage of the new life Class 3A offers teams.
Both Farragut and North Lawndale rely heavily on a pair of players. Which one of those tandems comes up big here may decide who advances to a 3A super-sectional.
Farragut will ride the duo of junior Aaron Strong and sophomore Reggie Strong. These two carry a big offensive load for the Admirals as Aaron Strong averages 17.1 points and 7.2 rebounds while Reggie Strong puts up 14 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game.
North Lawndale has received a boost this season from guard Demetrius Douglas, who is one of the breakthrough juniors in the city. Douglas averaged 19.7 points and 4.3 assists a game. Rugged athlete David Forrest is another weapon at 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
Hoops Report pick: North Lawndale 59, Farragut 55
LA SALLE-PERU SECTIONAL
■ Sterling (23-9) vs. Metamora (19-11)
What’s left in the tank for a Sterling team that survived the quickness and pressure of Peoria Manual –– and three overtimes –– to win a 81-78 sectional semifinal? Granted, this Manual team was just 8-17, but it’s a Sterling team that is now one win from capturing its first sectional title in 10 years.
Sean Gingrich was the hero Tuesday night, scoring 26 points, but big 6-9 junior Aidan Shore is the one that creates a mismatch. Shore recorded a triple-double in the sectional win with 12 points, 18 rebounds and 12 blocks.
Although Metamora has fallen short against the toughest teams on its schedule, the Redbirds have tested themselves against the likes of Bloomington, Springfield Southeast, North Lawndale, Rock Island and Rockton-Hononegah. The Redbirds are led by 6-6 junior Collin Dietz and junior guard Payton Havens.
Hoops Report pick: Metamora 55, Sterling 50
■ Marian Catholic (23-5) vs. Kankakee (21-6)
A sectional title bout featuring a team no one has talked enough about and a team that’s popped up out of nowhere.
People forget where the Marian Catholic program was before Mike Taylor took over nearly 15 years ago. There was one regional championship and one 20-win season in school history. And now? The Spartans are on the verge of winning their third sectional title after claiming their sixth regional championship under Taylor, a coach who has averaged 22 wins a year over the past six seasons.
The young backcourt of Malik Tidwell and Ahron Ulis has propelled this team. Tidwell, an offensive-minded 5-10 junior guard, averages 18.3 points a game and is shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc with 55 threes made. Ulis, a 5-11 sophomore guard, averages 13 points and four assists a game. Chris White, a 6-6 junior, gives Marian some size, a shot blocker (76 blocks) and another double-digit scorer at 10.4 points a game.
When coach Chris Pickett arrived at Kankakee this year after a successful run at Vocational, Kankakee had suffered through 14 straight losing seasons. Now the Kays have gone 11-2 and are playing their best basketball of the season.
More importantly, Kankakee has its first 20-win season in 18 years and is one win away from the program’s first sectional championship in 58 years. It’s been quite a success story, which included only the second regional title in 20 years.
Corey Tharpe is a scoring threat with his perimeter shooting, but it’s 6-9 junior T.J. Wicks who will need to impact this game greatly for Kankakee to pull off the upset.
Hoops Report pick: Marian Catholic 54, Kankakee 47
■ Marion (21-11) vs. East St. Louis (16-10)
First-year coach Mark Chambers, who took over the program in January, has the East Side Flyers rolling after going into Centralia and beating the host Orphans in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal. East St. Louis was 8-9 in the middle of January; they’ve gone 8-1 since.
Terrence Hargrove, Jr., is one of the top talents in the state. The 6-3 junior is a difference-maker and scored 18 points in the semifinal win while senior Joe Reece added 16. Hargrove and Reece average 18.2 points and 15.6 points, respectively.
After a miraculous comeback and final 13-0 run to stun Carbondale in the regional final, 61-59, Marion rode that momentum to another postseason win Tuesday, beating Columbia 49-41 in the sectional semifinal. But Marion, led by Justin Saddoris, has yet to play East St. Louis this season.
The winner heads to the Springfield Super to face the winner of the Southeast-Lanphier showdown.
Hoops Report pick: East St. Louis 62, Marion 58
DECATUR EISENHOWER SECTIONAL
■ Springfield Lanphier (27-4) vs. Springfield Southeast (27-3)
Too bad this one wasn’t in Springfield where this rivalry game belongs. But they’ll make the trip to Decatur, play on a neutral floor and go at it for a third time this season. Southeast has won both meetings this season, knocking off Lanphier 47-41 in January and walloping the Lions 72-51 in late February.
Southeast is a year ahead of schedule in its quest to reach state for the first time in the school’s 50-year history. Anthony Fairlee is a highly entertaining junior, a dynamic athlete and a player who has emerged as a Division I prospect. Senior Kobe Medley and a host of juniors –– Terrion Murdix, Stephen Sims and 6-6 Michael Taylor –– all chip in.
Lanphier, though, is the seasoned team with March success under its belt. Cardell McGee is the star. The senior was instrumental in helping the Lions to a fourth-place finish in Class 3A last season and is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game this season. But there is a balance with this team as James Jones (13 ppg), Karl Wright (8 ppg, 9 rpg, 6.5 bpg) and promising sophomore P.J. Edwards all contribute.
Beating a talented team like Lanphier for a third time is going to be tough.
Hoops Report: Lanphier 56, Southeast 55
NORTH CHICAGO SECTIONAL
■ DePaul Prep (24-6) vs. North Chicago (20-8)
This just in: Perry Cowan is really, really good. The top-seeded sectional team, DePaul Prep, has the sectional’s best, most efficient player in Cowan. The junior has done it all for the Rams, averaging 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, three assists and two steals a game. Plus, he’s shooting it at a high rate from the field and has already surpassed 1,000 career points.
With Cowan, the emergence of junior guard Raheem Anthony and bruising 6-6 Pavle Pantovic inside, coach Tom Kleinschmidt has a team poised and ready to reach Peoria.
But it must first get by this tricky matchup with a North Chicago team that loves to get up and down the floor and is capable of putting points on the board.
North Chicago has the home floor, which is typically a challenging environment for any opposing team to play in, and a shooter in 5-11 senior Tyrek Cooper who can change the complexion of a game. Cooper scored 23 points in the sectional semifinal win and is a bonafide scoring weapon. But the Warhawks also had Raeshaun Samoa, Dashawn Gales and Pierce Coleman all in double figures in the sectional win, so there are scoring options for the Warhawks.
Hoops Report pick: DePaul Prep 58, North Chicago 52
WOODSTOCK NORTH SECTIONAL
■ Burlington Central (28-3) vs. Rockford Boylan (21-10)
While Rockford Boylan is the bigger basketball name and the slight favorite even with 10 losses, there is a 1-2 punch at Burlington Central no one outside of the Kishwaukee Conference has talked enough about.
Senior Zach Schutta and junior Patrick Mayfield have put together impressive seasons. Schutta is averaging over 19 points a game and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. Mayfield, who is averaging 17 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and nearly two assists a game, is a versatile scorer.
Burlington Central has now won 26, 26 and 28 games in the last three seasons. The Rockets, however, have never won a sectional championship in school history. They break through and pull off a mild upset.
Hoops Report pick: Burlington Central 57, Rockford Boylan 54