High school basketball state playoff preview: Lower seeds that will be a threat

The most dangerous seeds outside the top five.

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Farragut’s Derrick Clark (15), Malik Williams (13), Daniro Bolden (5), Charles Doyle (2) and Mikell Jones (11) return to the court during the game against North Lawndale.

Farragut’s Derrick Clark (15), Malik Williams (13), Daniro Bolden (5), Charles Doyle (2) and Mikell Jones (11) return to the court during the game against North Lawndale.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The top four seeds are what they are –– teams expected to win regional titles as the higher-seeded team.

The battle of No. 4 vs. No. 5 is typically an up-for-grabs regional final game.

So when the opening week of state tournament play in Class 3A and Class 4A wraps up next week, any one of five teams advancing to the sectional semis would be of no real surprise.

But what about those dangerous teams outside the top five seeds in each sectional?

Here we examine –– and rank in order –– the best, most dangerous seeds outside the top five.

1. Oak Park (No. 7 in Lyons Sectional)

There is no doubt the Huskies have not lived up to the preseason expectations in terms of their record and ranking. In their defense, however, this is a young team that’s been developing and a team that has dealt with injuries in the second half of the season.

But on paper this is the most talented No. 7 seed in Illinois with the likes of juniors Isaiah Barnes and Josh Smith. Those two combine for 36 points a game and are bonafide Division I talents. .

Can Oak Park, which has been tested by playing a quality schedule and still managed 17 wins on the year, put a scare into second-seeded Simeon in the regional final?

2. New Trier (No. 6 in Elk Grove Sectional)

Many people haven’t noticed how much better New Trier has played over the second half of the season. The Trevians were a pedestrian 6-7 in late December. They finished off the second half of the season with a 12-3 stretch, including a seven-game win streak they will ride into the regional.

Plus, New Trier has played a schedule that has prepared them for March, traveling to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and playing in the tough Central Suburban League South.

While it’s not an overly talented team, there is some toughness and cohesiveness with this team, led by underrated senior guard John Carragher (18 ppg).

Now, with a regional semifinal win, New Trier would get another crack at ending –– and ruining –– Evanston’s outstanding season prematurely in a regional final. As a result, Evanston will have to beat its rival a third time this season. Evanston has won both games this year against New Trier, but the last one was a a 49-43 battle.

3. Oak Lawn (No. 6 in Bloom Sectional)

The Spartans are an experienced, senior-dominated team with weapons, the type of weapons that can pull off a regional upset if shots are falling.

Highly-productive veteran Sami Osmani is a versatile 6-4 do-it-all who averages 19.7 points 4.6 rebounds and two assists a game. Senior guards Trey Ward (19.2 ppg, 47 percent three-point shooter) and David Reyes (7.3 ppg, 4 apg) are threats.

A No. 6 seed with a glitzy 23-7 record, Oak Lawn may not have the marquee win, but it’s a dangerous team. If it can take care of Marist –– at Marist in the regional semifinal –– third-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor would be waiting.

4. Farragut (No. 6 in St. Ignatius Sectional)

Poor DePaul Prep. The Rams are the No. 2 seed but because of regional hosting implications must play a higher seeded team, No. 6 Farragut, instead of No. 7 Clemente.

Plus, there is the back story. Farragut was denied its chance to play DePaul Prep in a Class 3A super-sectional last March. The Admirals led North Lawndale 56-50 with 41 seconds to play in the sectional championship before a brawl broke out and the game was called. The IHSA disqualified both teams.

With a regional win over Prosser next week, Farragut will gets its shot at DePaul.

You never really want to play Farragut (13-8), a team that’s big, typically competes and plays with toughness and a physicality. Remember, the Admirals played city champ Simeon tough in its last game, losing 54-50. Twins Mikell Jones (12 ppg, 9 rpg) and Mikqwon Jones (10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg), along with Charles Doyle (13.8 ppg), lead the way for coach Wolf Nelson’s team.

But DePaul Prep has a few things in its favor that Farragut must overcome: obvious talent, home court advantage and depth, something Farragut severely lacks.

5. St. Rita (No. 6 in Lyons Sectional)

The Mustangs have size and solid guard play to throw at third-seeded Young. They’ve played a competitive schedule and still managed to win 20 games on the year. And they’re hot, winning nine of their last 10 games.

Alec Millender offers a wealth of experience in the backcourt while Christian Henry, a rugged downhill finisher, has blossomed as a junior in the backcourt with Millender. The tandem of 6-8 Connor Servern and 6-6 Kevin Murney are a pair of versatile bigs.

All of it may not be enough to knock off Young and D.J. Steward in the Proviso West Regional, but it’s a team to take serious as a No. 6 seed.

6. Oswego East (No. 7 seed in Lockport Sectional)

There is the trio of Sam Schultz (12.7 ppg), who just recently committed to Division II Northern Michigan, Will Wolfe (11.6 ppg) and Jalen Tucker (9.4 ppg). There are the 20 wins on the year, the experience of winning a regional last season and Oswego East will be playing the regional on its home floor.

This won’t be a game Bolingbrook and star Darius Burford can afford to look past, even as the No. 2 seed in a very winnable sectional.

7. Hyde Park (No. 7 in Hinsdale South Sectional)

First, Hyde Park will have to get by a pesky Kenwood team with some talent in a regional semifinal game. That won’t be easy. So go ahead and add Kenwood, a No. 10 seed playing a regional on its home floor, to this list.

A win would give the Thunderbirds a shot at playing No. 2 seed Hinsdale South in its back yard in a regional championship.

Hyde Park has played all the big boys, losing to Simeon, Morgan Park, Curie and Bogan. But this is a prepared team that’s been through the meat grinder of the Public League, has managed to win 16 games and has a dynamic scoring guard in Jalen Houston.

8. Lyons (No. 8 in Lyons Sectional)

This is a team that must first get by No. 9 seed Proviso East in the regional semifinal. But with Grant Niego, a go-to player averaging 20 points a game and fresh off a 29-point outburst Tuesday night in a win over Willowbrook, the Lions are going to be a testy No. 8 seed for top-seed Curie.

Lyons (19-8), which began the season 3-4, has gone 14-3 down the stretch and has won six straight games heading into regional play.

9. Lake Forest (No. 8 in Prospect Sectional)

This is a gritty, well-coached team that has overachieved with 18 wins on the season. And if it can beat No. 9 seed Highland Park in the regional final, the Scouts get a rematch with top-seed Stevenson in the regional final.

Yes, Stevenson took care of Lake Forest in the season finale with a 46-31 win. But Lake Forest can believe. The Scouts beat the top seed before, stunning Stevenson 38-33 back in January.

10. Rolling Meadows (No. 7 in Elk Grove Sectional)

There may not be the marquee win among the 20 victories that grabs your attention and gives you hope that this young, developing Rolling Meadows team can make a run. But Max Christie better grab your attention if you’re Glenbrook South, the No. 2 seed in the sectional.

The 6-6 junior is a mega-star and these are the types of players who can wreck a bracket on any given night. Christie, who is averaging 25 points a game, has been an even better version of himself down the stretch of his junior season.

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