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Simulating the state basketball playoffs: How the Class 3A tournament could have played out

Peoria Notre Dame takes down East St. Louis in the fictional Class 3A state title game.

With the IHSA basketball playoffs ending early because of the coronavirus, it’s left to computer simulations to guess how things might have turned out. 
With the IHSA basketball playoffs ending early because of the coronavirus, it’s left to computer simulations to guess how things might have turned out. 
Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

The 2020 Illinois High School Association’s boys state basketball playoffs will never be completed. All the players and coaches were left stuck just steps from Peoria.

There’s nothing anyone can do about that. But a day after the cancellation I had an idea. Sports video games are huge. I regularly play a computer baseball simulation game called OOTP Baseball. Why couldn’t we do something like that for the state playoffs?

I asked around and found a few people willing to take on the task and ended up deciding to go with The Barking Crow.

The Barking Crow started in 2017 as All Things NIT, a farcical college basketball blog written by someone very bored at work. While it’s still primarily a farcical sports blog, it’s expanded to include legitimate statistical forecasting surrounding the College Football Playoff, the NCAA Tournament, and the NIT.

The Barking Crow used Aaron Britton’s (@NestoHoops) spreadsheets as data for the simulation. They are available on his website.

Obviously this is all totally fictional and made up and just for fun. So I made a few rules. I’m not going to mention any player names in the short write-ups. It doesn’t seem proper to have a high school kid’s name attached to something that he isn’t involved in. For that same reason I’m not going to use any of our pictures.

Just to be very clear: The IHSA has nothing to do with this. The schools and teams are not involved in any way. This is a completely fictional result based on data from the season.

Class 1A and Class 2A were released on Tuesday.

CLASS 3A

Sectional semifinal

Benet 74, Hinsdale South 62: The Hornets kept things extremely close for three quarters and Benet took control in the final three minutes to win and earn a trip to the sectional final against Bogan.

Sectional finals

Bogan 58, Benet 46: Bogan entered as a 6.5 point favorite according to the computer. The Bengals dominated the third quarter to win it.

Morgan Park 83, Kankakee 62: Both teams started very slowly. There wasn’t even a field goal in this one until nearly three minutes in. The Kays led 15-12 after one quarter. Morgan Park led 38-35 at halftime and totally dominated the final two quarters to set up a super sectional showdown with Red-South/Central rival Bogan.

Lincoln 67, Springfield Lanphier 55: Almost everyone expected the Railsplitters to win this one and eventually wind up in Peoria. Even the computer had Lincoln as a 5.5 point favorite in the pregame spread. Lincoln jumped out to a 23-7 lead at home and never looked back.

East St. Louis 74, Glenwood 51: The Flyers had this game in the bag at halftime, leading 45-31. They will face Lincoln in the super sectional.

St. Ignatius 73, Fenwick 64: The Cinderella story continues in the simulation. No one expected Iggy to knock off DePaul Prep in the sectional semi. And even though the Wolfpack beat Fenwick late in the regular season, the Friars entered this game as a two-point favorite (and probably an even bigger favorite according to most experts). But St. Ignatius did it again. The Wolfpack led 24-21 at halftime and took control in the third quarter.

Niles Notre Dame 72, St. Viator 64: This was a battle for most of the game. The Lions, heavy underdogs, even led 46-45 late in the third quarter. But the Dons pulled out the win to set up a super sectional matchup against St. Ignatius.

Peoria Notre Dame 58, Peoria Manual 57: Manual clearly finished the season playing a lot better than when I saw them in Pontiac back in December. And the computer agrees. The Rams led 51-50 with 3:25 to play but Peoria Notre Dame squeaked out the win. Remember how close this one was as you read on.

Wauconda 65, Hampshire 63: Joe Henricksen and I talked about how excited we would have been for this game on this week’s No Shot Clock. Whichever team won would make history with its first sectional title. This was the most back and forth game so far in the simulation, at least for three quarters. Wauconda led 17-14 after the first quarter. Hampshire was up 31-27 at halftime. Then the Bulldogs held a 50-47 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. That lead held up. The Whip-Purs hit a three at the buzzer to wind up losing by two points.

Super Sectionals

Morgan Park 77, Bogan 62: First off, this would be a really weird game to see at the Sears Centre. I didn’t actually pay much attention to that when all the sites were released. I wonder what the crowd would have been like if this game actually materialized in real life (which was pretty likely). The computer only had Morgan Park as a two-point favorite. Bogan led briefly in the second quarter but the Mustangs were ahead for almost all of the first half and led 32-29 at the break. Morgan Park closed strong in the fourth quarter to earn a trip to Peoria.

East St. Louis 58, Lincoln 49: Most experts would have pegged Lincoln as the favorite in this game but the computer had it as a pick ‘em. The Railsplitters built a 30-23 lead by halftime. East St. Louis cut it to six points after three quarters. The Flyers took the lead for good on a three-pointer with 3:59 to play. They held Lincoln scoreless for the final four minutes of the game.

Niles Notre Dame 76, St. Ignatius 63: The Cinderella run ends at the hands of the state championship favorites. The Dons led by 10 points at halftime and remained in control throughout.

Peoria Notre Dame 57, Wauconda 49: The Bulldogs’ magical playoff run ends here but they held strong in this one, remaining within six to eight points throughout.

State finals

Semifinal: East St. Louis 76, Morgan Park 57

The computer had Morgan Park has a six-point favorite. That’s probably what most observers would have expected as well. But the Mustangs started ice-cold. Maybe we should give this computer some credit. That is something we’ve seen this season in real life. It looks like Morgan Park’s three-pointers were not falling early. The Flyers built a 24-6 lead in the first six minutes of the game. They led 41-21 at halftime and never allowed the Mustangs back in the game.

Semifinal: Peoria Notre Dame 48, Niles Notre Dame 36

As soon as I saw the brackets posted on the IHSA website I figured this game would happen. Kind of a reporter’s nightmare, with two Notre Dame’s playing and having to use the town names all the time. The Dons entered as a 2.5 point favorite but Peoria Notre Dame started well and led 29-21 at halftime. Niles Notre Dame was never able to crack into that lead and the Irish punched their ticket to the state title game.

Championship: Peoria Notre Dame 54, East St. Louis 49

The computer had East St. Louis as a one-point favorite heading in but Peoria Notre Dame, just as it did against Morgan Park, dominated the start. The Irish led 15-5 after one quarter and 29-16 at halftime. The Flyers cut Peoria Notre Dame’s lead to 51-45 with 3:03 left to play and then to just five points with 1:04 left to play but the Irish held on to win the state title.