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High school basketball state playoffs: Previewing and predicting Class 3A

A look at all the sectionals in the area.

Hillcrest’s Julius Rollins (0) controls the ball as Oak Forest’s Juan Avila defends.
Hillcrest’s Julius Rollins (0) controls the ball as Oak Forest’s Juan Avila defends.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

This could be the most competitive and deepest field of teams we’ve had in Class 3A since the inception of four-class basketball in 2007. We dig a little deeper in previewing the Class 3A sectionals across the Chicago area.

Hinsdale South sectional

The favorite: The team that finished second in the state last year in Class 3A is back at it again. Is this Bogan team as imposing and talented as last year’s team? Probably not. But the Bengals are once again a threat to win a state championship behind its relentless attacking style, fueled by the backcourt of Antione Bloxton and Darrion Jones, along with 6-5 wing Kyndall Davis. All three were a part of last year’s dream season and are March seasoned veterans.

Top contenders: We have two different basketball tales when it comes to the top two challengers to Bogan.

Hinsdale South, led by guard Billy Durkin and big man Aaron Tims, is the No. 2 seed with the glittery 28-3 record. With a school record win total, Hinsdale South now looks to make history by winning the program’s first-ever sectional title. Heck, there are only four regional championships in school history.

But the Hornets don’t have a single win over a ranked team and have played just one ranked team all season, losing to Bolingbrook. That leaves you wondering just how good this team is as it moves from the shallow end to the deep end of the big boy pool.

Meanwhile, Benet is the No. 3 seed with nine losses but boasts the winning pedigree and a brutally tough schedule that has prepared the Redwings well.

Coach Gene Heidkamp’s program has enjoyed a ton of success as a Class 4A school over the past decade. They value possessions, pass up a good shot to share the ball for a better shot and play defense. Now, behind 6-7 veteran big man Colin Crothers, Benet hopes to make a deep push in Class 3A after being upset by Lake Park in the regional last March.

Sleepers: Glenbard South, led by Brandon Malone, a transfer from St. Joseph, has piled up 24 wins but has yet to be tested by a ranked team all season. But the Raiders did make a deep postseason run last year, albeit in a much more winnable sectional, reaching a Class 3A super-sectional. The Raiders roll into regional play with a 13-game winning streak.

Quietly, Riverside-Brookfield, led by 6-4 wing Paul Zilinskas (18.2 ppg), has put together a 20-win season, while Hyde Park has a bonafide weapon in guard Jalen Houston and 16 wins while playing in the Public League’s rugged Red-South/Central.

Hinsdale South would have to travel to Kenwood for the regional, which is right in Hyde Park’s back yard. That’s not going to be an easy win for the Hornets, whether it faces Hyde Park or the host school Kenwood.

Difference-maker: Antione Bloxton of Bogan is a megawatt star and exactly the type of player who can lift a team in state tournament play. He’s an explosive scorer and brings confidence and an edge to the floor.

Storyline to follow: The unknown. It’s a sectional where the top four seeds have never faced one another and have very few common opponents.

Stat to know: How tough has Benet’s schedule been this season? That meat-grinder of a schedule includes 14 games against teams with 20-plus wins, 11 teams that have been ranked at one point this season and six No. 1 seeds this March.

Sectional semifinal picks: Bogan over Riverside-Brookfield; Benet over Hyde Park

Sectional pick: Bogan

Thornridge sectional

The favorite: With the vaunted three-pronged attack of Illinois recruit Adam Miller, Wake Forest signee Marcus Watson and talented Brandon Weston, Morgan Park is the team to beat.

The Mustangs want to play at their pace: fast and really fast. They want to make the game frenetic and put pressure on the opposition. And it’s worked for years. Maybe this hasn’t been a typical Morgan Park season, not with nine losses on the docket. But coach Nick Irvin’s program has been a 3A powerhouse for years, winning state titles in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018.

Top contenders: Oak Forest and Kankakee are similar in that they have put together terrific regular seasons, winning 26 and 24 games, respectively, but are both lacking the marquee win that can put them among the elite.

Oak Forest has major weapons in smooth shooting 6-6 Jayson Kent and 6-8 sophomore Robbie Avila. Kankakee is led by senior Lavell McIntosh and junior A.J. Storr.

Sleeper: Hillcrest has had an up-and-down season while playing one heck of a schedule. However, the junior-dominated but talented Hawks have beaten Homewood-Flossmoor and Oak Forest in recent weeks. Maybe this team that entered the season with so much promise has come together. The trio of 6-6 Julius Rollins, 6-6 Jakobi Heady and guard Mar’Keise Irving gives Hillcrest a chance in this sectional.

Difference-maker: Adam Miller of Morgan Park is a sniper from the outside who uses his size and skill on the perimeter to pour in points from all over the floor.

Storyline to follow: Can anyone knock off and upset the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds who will all be playing on their home floor in the regional? Yes, Oak Forest, Kankakee and HIllcrest all host regionals this week.

Stat to know: This has been a season to remember for Oak Forest, a program that’s been a steady winner under coach Matt Manzke –– his teams have averaged nearly 20 wins a year over the past seven seasons –– but this season it’s gone to another level.

The Bengals have enjoyed high-profile games at home, especially late in the season against Curie and Hillcrest. They’ve won 26 games and grabbed a share of a conference title. But there hasn’t been a regional championship at Oak Forest since the great 1986-87 team won regional and sectional titles before falling in Champaign in the Elite Eight.

Sectional semifinal picks: Morgan Park over Hillcrest; Oak Forest over Kankakee

Sectional pick: Morgan Park

St. Ignatius sectional

The favorites: All eyes are on Fenwick and DePaul Prep, the two Catholic League foes who are expected to meet in the sectional championship. They met just before seeding time with Fenwick pulling out 51-48 win on the road.

With Louisville recruit Bryce Hopkins, along with emerging sophomore star Trey Pettigrew, Fenwick has a pair of players opponents must individually game-plan for. They combine to average 40 points a game between them.

The question all season has been how well does Fenwick defend? The Friars have been better down the stretch after some faulty defensive performances this season.

It’s DePaul Prep that can really get after you on the defensive end. The Rams can force you into turnovers and turn that defense into offense with trustworthy guards, which is critical for March success.

DePaul Prep has some experience back from last year’s team that reached Peoria, along with the continued improved play of some younger players in the program.

TY Johnson has emerged as a star in the backcourt, Lance Mosley is a perimeter shooting threat and Rasheed Bello is the unsung player who can impact at both ends of the floor. Keep an eye on 6-8 junior Brian Matthews, a true big man who seems to impact more and more by the week.

Top contenders and sleepers: With Fenwick and DePaul Prep clearly the top two teams in the sectional, we will go ahead and combine the remaining contenders and sleepers together into one category. Take your pick among a group that includes North Lawndale, Farragut, St. Ignatius and Westinghouse.

Difference-maker: Matching up with Fenwick’s Bryce Hopkins is a tough proposition for any team. The 6-6 junior is a load, putting up monster numbers and creating mismatch problems with his size and skill.

Storyline to follow: Everyone is anticipating a Chicago Catholic League rematch in the sectional title game. Fenwick went on the road and beat DePaul 51-48 in February. Another Catholic League clash would be fun. Will it materialize?

Stat to know: Farragut coach Wolf Nelson, whose team is the No. 6 seed in the sectional, has more years experience as a head coach than the coaches of the top five teams combined.

Nelson, who has over 500 career wins, has been the head coach at Farragut for three decades. DePaul Prep’s Tom Kleinschmidt is the next most veteran coach with nine years of head coaching experience. St. Ignatius’ Matt Monroe has four years, Westinghouse’s Rafie Fields has three years, and both Fenwick’s Staunton Peck and North Lawndale’s Carlos Tolliver have two years experience.

While the 59-year-old Nelson has 30 years of head coaching experience, the coaches of the top five seeds have a combined 20 years.

Sectional semifinal picks: Fenwick over North Lawndale; DePaul Prep over St. Ignatius

Sectional pick: DePaul Prep

Grayslake North sectional

The favorite: There is Niles Notre Dame and everyone else. When this Notre Dame team is at its best, there is no team in Class 3A that the Dons can’t beat.

And forget about this team being a year away. Can anyone contend with a team that features three juniors who are all ranked among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2021?

Louis Lesmond, Anthony Sayles and Troy D’Amico are a special trio of players for the Dons who help run a beautifully balanced offense that succeeds inside and out.

But what makes Notre Dame even more appealing is the schedule coach Kevin Clancy put together to prepare his team for this moment. Notre Dame has faced four of the city giants, beating Morgan Park and Bogan while losing to Simeon and Curie. And, oh, they’ve played DePaul Prep, Glenbrook South, Loyola, Evanston, Benet, Marian Catholic and Fenwick. That’s a killer schedule.

Top contender: There is no way Notre Dame wants to play St. Patrick, the No. 2 seed, in a rivalry rematch in March. St. Pat’s has nothing to lose if these two were to meet in the sectional championship. The Shamrocks have the potential to put together a hot shooting night and pull off a stunner, so keep an eye on guard Dominic Galata (14.7 ppg, 4.6 apg) if that matchup develops. Notre Dame handled St. Patrick by 15 points the first go-around.

Sleepers: St. Viator has won 19 games and has high-scoring Connor Kochera (24 ppg) to lean on at crunch time. Carmel, the No. 4 seed, has star guard Khimari Wilson and owns a win over No. 5 seed Deerfield. However, Deerfield is 11-3 down the stretch after an 8-7 start to the season.

Difference-makers: Notre Dame’s trio of 6-6 Troy D’Amico (15.6 ppg), athletic guard Anthony Sayles (13.6 ppg) and 6-5 Louis Lesmond (16.5 ppg) is not only special but extremely efficient. They share the ball, play within the offense and each offers a variety of pluses and ways to score that makes Notre Dame so difficult to defend.

Storyline to follow: Maybe it’s because Notre Dame came into the season with so much fanfare and, up to this point, has lived up to it all. But the Dons enter state tournament play with expectations as high as ever, especially for a program that has just two sectional championships in program history.

Coach Tom Les led the Dons to a sectional title four years ago, and the 1996-97 team under coach Denny Zelasko made a Class AA state quarterfinals appearance. Current coach Kevin Clancy was the second leading scorer on that team.

Stat to know: One. That’s the number of IHSA State Finals basketball appearances there have been from the top eight sectional seeds in history. Notre Dame’s 1996-97 appearance in the Elite Eight was the only time any of the top eight teams in this sectional reached the state finals.

The postseason futility extends to sectional championships as the top eight teams have a combined 12 sectional titles in their combined history.

Sectional semifinal picks: Notre Dame over Deerfield; St. Patrick over St. Viator

Sectional pick: Notre Dame