The first few days of Class 4A and 3A regional play included several upsets and a few close calls for higher-seeded teams.
The carnage has left more double-digit seeds playing in regional championships this year than the past two seasons combined. A total of 11 teams seeded 10th or lower are still alive in the two largest classes.
Last year there were six double-digit seeds that advanced to a regional final. The year before there were only three.
Those teams pulling off regional semifinal upsets include: West Aurora (No. 14), Rich Central (No. 12), Naperville North (No. 11), Plainfield Central (No. 11), Prospect (No. 11), Thornwood (No. 11), T.F. North (No. 10), Kenwood (No. 10), Romeoville (No. 10), Fremd (No. 10) and Maine West (No. 10).
Now the stakes have been raised. Can any of these double-digit seeds extend their season into sectional play next week?
Here is a rundown of what to watch and look for in Friday night’s regional championship matchups across the Chicago area.
Best regional championship game: St. Charles East vs. St. Charles North
This should be fun. A rivalry game between two 20-plus win teams with a ton on the line in what should be the type of March atmosphere you would expect in the old, venerable Chesbrough Field House in Elgin.
Even better: The winner has a legitimate shot at making a deep playoff run that could end up in Peoria.
St. Charles North has won both matchups this season –– both by double figures –– with the latest being a 63-52 Valentine’s Day victory as sophomore Ethan Marlowe was the difference. The 6-6 sophomore scored 21 points in the win.
But it’s big man Connor Linke that sets the tone. The 6-9 LInke, who is headed to Bradley, provides a presence for St. Charles North not many teams possess as a defensive difference-maker around the basket. Linke, the backcourt of Christian Czerniak and Luke Scheffers, along with the healthy return of shooter Max Love, gives the North Stars an edge.
However, a very balanced St. Charles East team is red-hot and playing its best basketball with a 18-2 record since starting the season 6-5.
Trickiest regional spot for high-seeded team: Hinsdale South vs. Kenwood
This is not a game a No. 2 seed wants to play. But Hinsdale South will travel to the city to face a Kenwood team that has a couple of big factors in its favor: 1) The Broncos are sky high after knocking off rival Hyde Park in overtime on Wednesday, and 2) Coach Justin Bowen’s team will be playing the regional final in its own gym with a true home-court advantage.
Kenwood, a No. 10 seed, has had a very up-and-down season. The Broncos are just 11-15 after getting beat up in the state’s toughest conference. They may lack size but this is a scrappy, downhill team led by athletic scorer Roland McCoy. Rashad Anderson, a 6-4 sophomore, has stepped up and been a valuable weapon for the Broncos.
Best regional rivalry rematch: Evanston vs. New Trier
In what is one of the best rivalries in the state, Round III of this great Central Suburban League South clash takes on greater importance as the winner will end the loser’s season.
Powerful and heavily favored Evanston swept both games during the regular season, but the second one was tight –– a 49-43 Evanston win. The Wildkits, who are riding a current five-game win streak over the rival Trevians, have more firepower and postseason experience.
Most underrated regional rematch: Niles North vs. Schaumburg
There are 51 wins between Niles North and Schaumburg and a high-major player for each team. Sign me up.
Recent Maryland commit Aquan Smart leads a Niles North team with 24 points a game, while 6-8 junior Chris Hodges, who has committed to Wisconsin is the headliner for Schaumburg.
Regional title game with scariest double-digit seed: Maine West vs. Glenbrook South
Glenbrook South, the No. 2 seed with a school record 28 wins on the season, is a heavy favorite. Dom Martinelli evolved into a Player of the Year candidate as a senior while averaging 26 points a game and has been the focal point of the best two-year run in program history.
But as far as double-digit seeds remaining –– and there aren’t many left –– Maine West is an enticing one. These aren’t your Kevin Frey/Lucas Johnson-day Warriors; they’re under .500 and a massive underdog in this Central Suburban Leagues crossover.
However, coach Tom Prokopij’s team, fresh off a win over Max Christie and Rolling Meadows in the regional semifinal, has played some really good teams tough this season.
There was the one-point loss to York (28-4), a seven-point loss to Buffalo Grove (24-7) and an overtime defeat to Niles North (26-5) and surprising run to the semifinals of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic in December. And in that semifinal loss to powerful Notre Dame, Maine West led 24-17 at the half.
Maine West, led by Jared Pearson, is the basketball definition of pesky.
Most intriguing regional championship: Morgan Park vs. Tinley Park
This game has a chance to get a little lopsided. Morgan Park and its explosive personnel, featuring high-major prospects Adam Miller, Marcus Watson and Brandon Weston, can do that to a few teams.
The intrigue, however, is the presence of Tinley Park sophomore superstar A.J. Casey. The 6-8 Casey is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2022 in Illinois. In addition to putting up whopping numbers of all varieties for a player his size –– Casey is averaging 22 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.3 steals and 3.1 blocks a game –– he’s had a little taste of Morgan Park while playing at Simeon as a freshman.
Can Casey and his young teammates make this a game?
Best chance to make regional history: Oak Forest vs. Lemont
We don’t want to put too much pressure on Oak Forest. However, this is the specific game the Bengals faithful and this team have been waiting for all season.
The regional drought at Oak Forest is lengthy –– 33 years to be exact –– and this 28-win team has all the ingredients to make history, including the home court and the talented tandem of Jayson Kent, who scored 24 in the regional semifinal win, and 6-8 Robbie Avila.
Regional championship with the lowest seeds: West Aurora vs. Plainfield Central
There will be one double-digit seed moving on to a sectional semifinal next week.
Both West Aurora, a No. 14 seed, and Plainfield Central, a No. 11 seed, pulled off regional semifinal upsets. West Aurora took down third-seeded Waubonsie Valley while Plainfield Central knocked off sixth-seeded Lincoln-Way Central.
West Aurora, looking for its fourth straight regional championship, beat Plainfield Central by 18 points back in January.
Biggest regional underdog: Rich Central vs. Hillcrest
Everyone was anticipating a Hillcrest-Richards rematch –– Richards beat Hillcrest back in December –– but a 10-win Rich Central team stepped up and stunned Richards Wednesday night.
While the regional struggles of Richards continues –– the Bulldogs haven’t played in a regional title game since 2010 and haven’t won a regional championship since claiming a Class 3A state championship in 2008 –– Rich Central quietly won its third regional in four years.
But this 11-19 team will head into Friday night as a monster underdog. The Olympians have lost twice to Bloom by a combined 55 points. Thornton pounded Rich Central twice by a combined 43 points. Marian Catholic rocked them by 27.
The good news is Rich Central went 5-3 down the stretch and showed improvement. After losing to Kankakee by 34 points in early February, the Olympians lost to the Kays by just 10 in late February.