Can undefeated Glenbard West run the table?

A look back at all the undefeated high school basketball teams since 1980.

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Glenbard West’s Ryan Renfro signs an autograph after the Hilltoppers defeat St. Charles North.

Glenbard West’s Ryan Renfro signs an autograph after the Hilltoppers defeat St. Charles North.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The biggest story in high school basketball this season has been Glenbard West. The 25-0 Hilltoppers gain more admirers by the week and more chapters are added to the story. 

As they roll through the season without a loss, the hype surrounding this team grows, along with a brighter spotlight and growing pressure to handle it all.

With just a couple of weeks left to play before the postseason, being an unbeaten team becomes a story of its own — at least to those on the outside of the Glenbard West program.

Somewhat surprisingly, there hasn’t been an unbeaten big school state champion since the 1993 King team ran the table.

So as an unbeaten, top-ranked team, Glenbard West remains on track to make history and become the first big school state champ without a loss in nearly 30 years.

How rare are unbeaten teams in the Chicago area? There have only been 19 big school (Class 4, Class 3 or AA) teams in the area to finish the regular season with a perfect record since 1980 — and only five since 2000.

Taking it a step further, just two of those 19 teams went on to capture a state championship. Those odds aren’t very good for the unbeaten Hilltoppers if they can maintain that unblemished record.

Glenbard West hasn’t quite finished the regular season undefeated yet. The Hilltoppers face a monstrous test against nationally-ranked Sierra Canyon, California. which features LeBron James’ son Bronny and Amari Bailey, the Chicago native considered the No. 2 player in the country.

In a little over four weeks from now we’ll know if Glenbard West can add its name to a short, illustrious list of unbeaten state champions. 

Here’s a look at 19 big school teams that finished the regular season unbeaten since 1980 and how they fared in the postseason:

2017 Fremd

End result: Lost in state semifinals

Just three years after the Vikings lost as an unbeaten team in a 2014 sectional championship game, coach Bob Widlowski’s program did it again. Only this time the Vikings made it all the way to the state semifinals in Peoria, thanks to Kyle Sliwa’s 30-foot buzzer-beater to knock off Conant in the sectional final. 

Fremd then found a way in the super-sectional for another dramatic win, edging Jacobs and all-stater Cameron Krutwig, before losing to Young 53-47 in the state semifinals. The Vikings finished 30-1.

2014 Fremd

End result: Lost in sectional championship

While the regular-season schedule may not have had the potential potholes other top teams faced, the Mid-Suburban League champs won a regional and reached the sectional championship, where it lost to Stevenson 63-48 to finish 28-1.

2012 Proviso East

End result: Lost in state championship

The Pirates rolled through the regular season, winning the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and finished with a perfect 26-0 record. 

The Pirates, led by senior Keith Carter and junior Sterling Brown, reached the State Finals where it fell to Simeon, 50-48, in the Class 4A state championship game. That Simeon team featured the junior tandem of Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn. 

2011 Benet

End result: Lost in sectional semifinal

In a classic late-season showdown with an unbeaten Simeon team at the UIC Pavilion, the Redwings won over everyone with a thrilling win. Behind big man Frank Kaminsky and point guard David Sobolewski, Benet finished the regular season 27-0. But the No. 1 team in the state was upset by Ryan Boatright and East Aurora in the sectional semifinals to finish 29-1. 

2003 Crane

End result: Lost in regional championship

An all-senior starting lineup, featuring Lorenzo Thompson and Florentino Valencia, headed into the postseason with an unblemished 25-0 record. But in one of the bigger upsets in state history, St. Ignatius stunned Crane in the regional championship game and finished 26-1.

1999 Westinghouse

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (super-sectional)

The Warriors were fueled by the perimeter trio of senior David Bailey and juniors Martell Bailey and Cedrick Banks. The Public League champs finished the regular season 27-0 but fell one game short of reaching Peoria, getting walloped by King and big man Leon Smith, 59-39, in the Public League final to finish 30-1.

1997 Thornton

End result: Lost in state semifinals

After a second straight unbeaten regular season, the Wildcats again reached the Elite Eight for the third straight season. The star-laden group of Antwaan Randle-El, Melvin Ely, Erik Herring and Napoleon Harris fell to their old March nemesis, Peoria Manual, which beat Thornton in the state semifinals as coach Rocky Hill’s team finished 32-1.

1996 Thornton

End result: Lost in state championship

A perfect regular season and a long tournament run left the Wildcats 31-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state heading into a classic state championship matchup with Peoria Manual. Thornton, in the midst of a pretty magical and high-profile four-year run, lost 57-51.

1994 Joliet

End result: Lost in state quarterfinals

After rolling through the regular season without a defeat, the Steelmen headed into the Elite Eight in Champaign 30-0 behind Gary Bell and Ty Calderwood. The dream ended in the quarterfinals with a 92-80 loss to Carbondale. 

1994 King

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (supersectional)

Coach Sonny Cox’s team finished the regular season 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state. The Jaguars, led by star guard Michael Hermon, lost a heartbreaker in the Sweet Sixteen to Westinghouse, 59-58.

1993 King

End result: Won Class AA state championship

The last unbeaten big school state champion. A dominant King team manhandled foes all season, including in the postseason en route to a state championship and perfect 32-0 record. King won three games in Champaign by 28, 31 and 37 points. 

Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton were a pair of dominating 7-footers while DeWarren Stewart was the unsung hero. 

1992 Proviso East

End result: Won Class AA state championship

A year after winning a Class AA state championship behind the “Three Amigos” — Sherrell Ford, Michael Finley and Donnie Boyce — the Pirates went unbeaten. Coach Bill Hitt’s team won a second straight title to finish 33-0 behind Kenny Davis and Jamal Robinson. 

1991 Nazareth

End result: Lost in sectional championship

This was a true Cinderella story as Nazareth won its first-ever Private League title and entered state tournament play as the second smallest Class AA team in the state. It then beat coach Gene Pingatore’s St. Joseph team led by William Gates on the road in a regional championship that was featured in the film “Hoop Dreams.” 

Another dramatic moment, an overtime win over Oak Park in the sectional semifinals, followed. 

All-stater Sean Pearson, who is now the head coach at Nazareth, led the Roadrunners to a 28-0 record before an absolutely loaded Proviso East ended Nazareth’s dream season in the sectional. That Proviso East team featured the “Three Amigos” — Donnie Boyce, Michael Finley and Sherrell Ford — and went on to win a state championship. 

1990 King

End result: Won Class AA state championship

The state’s best player, Jamie Brandon, led a King team that was No. 1 from wire to wire and considered to be one of the all-time great teams in state history. The Jaguars beat West Aurora and East St. Louis Lincoln to reach the Class AA final, where it then knocked off Tom Kleinschmidt and Gordon Tech, 65-55, in the state championship to finish 32-0.

1989 Simeon

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (supersectional)

Led by Deon Thomas and guard Cody Butler, Simeon rolled through the regular season with a 24-0 record. But waiting for the Wolverines in the city final was talented King. Junior Jamie Brandon led King to a 67-57 win over Simeon in the super-sectional en route to a third-place Class AA finish. 

1986 Simeon

End result: Lost in Public League Championship (supersectional)

The Wolverines were the team to beat in the state and city after finishing the regular season 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state. However, Simeon had to face No. 3 ranked King, led by Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson, in the Sweet 16 and fell to the eventual state champs 49-46.

1985 Proviso West

End result: Lost in sectional championship

With the Chicago area Player of the Year, big man Michael Ingram, the Panthers were 25-0 and the No. 1 ranked team in the state heading into March. But Leyden and future Michigan Wolverine Mike Griffin pulled off a sectional title game upset.

1984 Evanston

End result: Lost in Class AA state championship

All-stater Everette Stephens led the Wildkits to a 25-0 regular season. After reaching the Elite Eight in Champaign, the state’s top-ranked team beat Benton and St. Joseph to reach the state championship game with a 32-0 record. But Stephens and Company fell to Simeon and the late Ben Wilson, 53-47, in the title game.

1980 Rich Central

End result: Lost in supersectional

The Olympians headed into the postseason with a perfect 25-0 record but ranked No. 2 in the state — behind No. 1 Proviso East. However, it was unranked Downers Grove South that upset Rich Central in the super-sectional, stunning the Olympians 54-52.

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