Simulating the state basketball playoffs: How the Class 4A tournament could have played out

Collinsville beats Mundelein in fantastic fictional Class 4A state championship game.

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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 Crowstarted 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 1Aand Class 2A were released on Tuesday. All of the remaining 16 games in Class 3A were simulated on Wednesday.


Sectional finals

Joliet West 65, East Aurora 44: The Tomcats’ amazing Cinderella run comes to an end against Joliet West. The Tigers led early, had a 35-22 advantage and East Aurora never cut the lead to fewer than seven points.

Collinsville 64, Normal West 46: This was only close for a quarter. The Kahoks took control in the second quarter and cruised the rest of the way to set up a super sectional showdown against Joliet West at ISU.

Naperville Central 69, Lake Park 41: Check out that final. The computer had Lake Park as a one-point favorite but the simulation led to total destruction by Naperville Central. The Redhawks led 39-25 at halftime and there was a running clock in the fourth quarter, the first time we’ve seen that in the simulation in any of the four classes.

St. Charles North 67, Cary-Grove 55: The Trojans actually led for the first 13 minutes. St. Charles North closed the first half with a 14-0 run and led 38-36 at halftime. Cary-Grove chipped away a little bit in the second half and cut the lead to seven points with 3:05 left to play but that was as close as it would get. The North Stars will face Naperville Central in the super sectional.

Evanston 61, Loyola 55: Evanston was in control throughout the first half, leading 20-10 after the first quarter and 30-21 at halftime. The Ramblers made a charge midway through the third quarter and cut the deficit to four points. Evanston responded well, built another lead and were up by double digits most of the four quarter. Loyola scored five points in final 1:32 to tighten up the final score.

Mundelein 58, Stevenson 57: What a finish. Stevenson drained a three-pointer at the final buzzer. In my mind the Patriots and their fans are going nuts appealing for a foul that never comes. Things were back and forth until late in the first half when the Mustangs built a small lead. Stevenson stayed close but just couldn’t pull out a third win against Mundelein. It will be the Mustangs vs. Evanston in the super sectional.

Thornton 75, Marian Catholic 63: The Spartans led for the entire first half. Thornton didn’t take its first lead until the third quarter but then it never relinquished it. The fourth quarter looks odd, with neither team scoring for a two-minute stretch near the end. Perhaps a bunch of missed free throws. Marian Catholic was a 1.5 point favorite in this one. It’s the third consecutive upset in the sectional finals according to the computer.

Curie 82, Young 52: Wow. Total and complete domination by Curie. It was 37-19 at halftime and there was a running clock midway through the fourth quarter. The upsets end here and the Condors will face off with Thornton in the super sectional.

Super Sectionals

Collinsville 69, Joliet West 56: The Tigers’ amazing turnaround season ends. The game was a lot closer than the final indicates. Collinsville jumped out to a 20-11 lead in the first quarter but Joliet West tightened it to 34-32 by halftime. It was a three-point game for most of the third quarter and then the Kahoks stepped up and dominated the fourth quarter to advance to Peoria.

Naperville Central 46, St. Charles North 41: This result would have drove me nuts. Nothing on the planet makes me feel like I’ve done a lousy job as much as when a team I didn’t cover all season advances to Peoria. And that is exactly what the Redhawks did in the simulation. The game was very close the entire way. Naperville Central led 26-25 at halftime and 36-33 after three quarters. The North Stars trailed by just one point with 1:55 to play but the Redhawks hold on and will head to the state semifinals.

Mundelein 63, Evanston 51: In my mind this would be one heck of a fun game. Both teams play fast but Mundelein has a considerable size advantage. That may be why the Mustangs dominated. They led 21-10 after one quarter and 35-21 at halftime. It actually got a bit out of hand early in the fourth quarter with Mundelein leading by 21.

Curie 71, Thornton 48: The Condors dominate again. The first half was actually close, with Thornton trailing 30-25 at the break. A little 8-0 burst early in the third quarter started the damage and Curie rolled the rest of the way. The scores against Young and the Wildcats certainly make Curie look like heavy favorites in Peoria.

State Finals

Semifinal: Collinsville 51, Naperville Central 48

The Redhawks clearly belonged in Peoria. They led 25-24 at halftime and 44-38 after three quarters. That must have had the place buzzing. Naperville Central held the Kahoks scoreless for a three-minute stretch of the early fourth quarter and built a 47-40 lead with 3:24 to play. It looked like the Redhawks would play for the state title. And then Collinsville came alive. The Kahoks closed the game with an 11-1 run. They took the lead for good on a bucket with 1:39 to play. Naperville Central just fell apart at the end. The Redhawks scored just one field goal in the final 7:31.

Semifinal: Mundelein 76, Curie 56

The computer had Curie as a 7.5 point favorite. After blowout wins against Young and Thornton probably even more was expected. That wasn’t to be. The Mustangs never trailed. They led 28-26 at halftime and built a 56-42 lead after three quarters. The Condors couldn’t manage any kind of rally in the fourth quarter. It will be Collinsville vs. Mundelein in the state title game. That’s a rematch of the Collinsville Holiday Tournament final, which the Kahoks won.

Championship: Collinsville 61, Mundelein 56

The state title game was fun. Collinsville jumped out to a 17-12 first quarter lead but the Mustangs played well at the end of the half and led 31-30 after two quarters. Mundelein held a small advantage for most of the third quarter. The Kahoks made a bucket with 7:31 left to play to grab their first lead of the second half. Mundelein responded quickly and well, building a 51-45 lead with 6:03 to play. Things went back and forth for the next three minutes. It was anyone’s title to win. The state championship game was tied at 56 with 2:07 to play. The Kahoks broke the deadlock with a bucket at the 1:57 mark. Then they hit a free throw. And then another bucket with 30 seconds left and that was it. Collinsville held the Mustangs scoreless for the final 2:19 of the simulated season to win the state title.

Thanks for reading everyone.

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