Previewing and predicting the top sectional finals

Here are previews and picks of the very best in what will be a monster night of high school basketball in Illinois.

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Kenwood’s Trey Pettigrew (3) dunks after stealing the ball.

Kenwood’s Trey Pettigrew (3) dunks after stealing the ball.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Brackets haven’t been blown to smithereens yet, so that leaves some highly-anticipated showdowns for high school basketball fans Friday night.

There are a whole bunch of No. 1 vs. No. 2 seeds squaring off in sectional championship games. Here are previews and picks of the very best in what will be a monster night of high school basketball in Illinois. 

Class 4A Sectional title games

Glenbrook South: Glenbrook South (32-2) vs. New Trier (30-3)

The sectional final everyone expected and hoped would materialize is set. 

These two Central Suburban League South foes split during the regular season with New Trier winning the last matchup on Glenbrook South’s floor. This will again be in the Titan Dome in what should be a pretty electric sectional atmosphere.

This one will mean a whole lot more than the previous two. The winner will be favored in next week’s supersectional and will arguably be the biggest threat remaining to Glenbard West in Class 4A. 

While 6-8 big man Jackson Munro has become the go-to player down the stretch of the regular season, Noah Shannon showed Wednesday why New Trier is so dangerous. It’s a team filled with weapons, and in the win over Rolling Meadows it was Shannon who shined, pumping in 24 first half points in the blowout win. 

Whether it’s Munro, Shannon, Karlo Colak, Jake Fiegen or Josh Kirkpatrick, the Trevians hit you with a steady diet of size, length, shooting and versatile scoring. Plus, point guard Peter Kanellos is the consummate point guard and an outstanding on-the-ball defender. 

When New Trier gets in a flow, moves and shares the basketball, it can really score at a high level. 

Glenbrook South’s Nick Martinelli is a difference-maker, a player who can carry a team on his back. He produces and finds any possible way to do so, especially at crunch time. His running-mate, senior guard Cooper Noard, was held in check until late in the game the last time these two met. 

Can top-seed Glenbrook South make history and win the program’s first sectional championship in its home gym? Martinelli and Noard alone won’t be enough; New Trier is too big and too good. The supporting cast, led by Rodell Davis, Jr., must rise to the occasion. 

Expect a down-to-the-wire finish with a little drama in the final minute. 

The pick: New Trier 62, Glenbrook South 60

Bartlett: Glenbard West (33-1) vs. Wheaton Warrenville South (32-2)

There is a lot to be excited about in this one, starting with it’s a battle between the top two seeds in the sectional. 

There are also 65 wins between the two –– the most you’ll find in any sectional title matchup –– and both are ranked in the top 10. These are two stellar defensive teams that thrive with unique defensive schemes; Glenbard West with it’s dominating 1-3-1 and Wheaton Warrenville South with it’s frustrating ball press zone. 

From a strategic perspective, there may not be a more interesting sectional championship game. Plus, each team is playing at the top of its game. 

But let’s not forget what team we are talking about here. Glenbard West, the top-ranked team all season long, is a heavy favorite. 

How Wheaton Warrenville South, which has very little size, contains versatile 6-11 Braden Huff will determine if it can make a run and stay in this thing to the very end. 

Huff will demand attention, so look for Huff and the Hilltoppers to operate a little more in the post which should open things up for the likes of Bobby Durkin, Cade Pierce and Paxton Warden on the perimeter. But just how to guard that, specifically Huff, out of that ball press will be interesting to watch.

Coach Mike Healy has done a magnificent job with this team, one of the real big surprises –– once again –– this season. But simply put, the Tigers will have their hands full. 

Wheaton Warrenville South will get beat on the boards, maybe even pounded with Huff, 6-8 Ryan Renfro and the athletic Pierce and Warden, so it must do the obvious: make shots. 

Tyler Fawcett is Wheaton Warrenville South’s biggest weapon, but the extremely unselfish Tigers move the ball and take what teams give them. Can the likes of Rourke Robinson, Danny Healy and Braylen Meredith step up

This is the kind of role Wheaton Warrenville South will usually relish and take advantage of as the often scrappy, overlooked team. This group won’t back down from anyone. But Glenbard West isn’t looking past a 32-win team with the second sectional championship in school history on the line. 

The pick: Glenbard West 58, Wheaton South 44

Proviso West: Young (23-9) vs. Lyons (26-5)

Young is the heavyweight with recent state titles and appearances. There are a pair of 6-8 Division I big men in AJ Casey and Xavier Amos, along with the physical 6-3 Marcus Pigram and talented junior point guard Dalen Davis. 

Simply put, this is a No. 1 seed playing its best basketball of the season. 

Lyons, meanwhile, has been a little bit of an afterthought even as the wins piled up this season. The sectional win over Curie, however, grabbed some people’s attention.

Lyons has shown it can take a punch. The Lions lost in lopsided fashion to top-ranked Glenbard West in the first two meetings –– by a combined 69 points. Then coach Tom Sloan’s team held its own in a 62-50 loss to the mighty Hilltoppers in late January. 

Now it’s feeling particularly good beating Curie, the No. 2 seed, in preparation for the top-seeded Dolphins. 

A highly-productive night from Akron recruit Tavari Johnson will be a must. The senior point guard must be able to score the ball and create opportunities for others because Young has ramped up its defense. Unsung junior Nik Polonowski has emerged and become a legit threat while sectional semifinal hero Will Carroll is sky high following his game-winning three-pointer. 

In its sectional semifinal win over Riverside-Brookfield, the size and length of Young gave R-B fits. And there were times in that win where the Dolphins were smothering defensively, contesting shots and making it difficult in the half court. 

If coach Tyrone Slaughter’s team continues to do that for closer to 32 minutes than 18, 19 or 20 minutes, Young will be playing in a supersectional next Tuesday. 

The pick: Young 63, Lyons 57

Thornwood: Kenwood (25-8) vs. St. Rita (23-11)

There will be plenty of youth playing in a high stakes game for the first time, so this might not be the cleanest looking game. But there won’t be a matchup in the state with more future Division I players on the floor together. 

The senior backcourt of Nevada recruit Trey Pettigrew and unsung shooter Darius Robinson offer some seasoning for Kenwood. Both can score the basketball in different ways. But there is another wave of firepower with the junior duo of dynamic Darrin Ames in the backcourt and 6-7 Davius Loury and freshman Bryce Heard. 

St. Rita counters with a pair of sophomore big men in 6-8 Morez Johnson, an Illinois commit, and 6-9 James Brown, the top two prospects in the Class of 2024. Junior guard Kaiden Space and freshman Melvin Bell are two more Division I prospects on the perimeter for the Mustangs. 

These are two teams that entered the season with monster expectations without having really proven anything but are both still alive when it matters. St. Rita and Kenwood have matured as teams and may have reached this point as the best version of themselves. 

While both had their highs and lows throughout the regular season, they are one win away from claiming the first sectional title in program history. 

The pick: Kenwood 66, St. Rita 62

Oswego: Oswego East (33-1) vs. Bolingbrook (28-6)

The top two seeds will meet in the Oswego Sectional final where there will be a definitive home court feel for No. 1 seed Oswego East. 

Bolingbrook and coach Rob Brost are accustomed to playing sectional basketball. Behind junior guard Mekhi Cooper (14 ppg) and blue-collar undersized big man Michael Osei-Bonsu (13 ppg), Bolingbrook is looking for its fourth sectional championship in the last eight years.

Oswego East is a scary, resilient group because it consistently wins close games — and an impressive, school record 33 wins on the year. The trio of rugged Patrick Robinson, 6-5 versatile Mekhi Lowery (12 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists) and guard DeVon Oregon (12 points) provide the edge for a team that’s in search of its first sectional title in program history. 

It took some time for Bolingbrook to discard spunky Andrew in the sectional semifinal win Wednesday . The Raiders will need to avoid that slow of a start if it intends to survive this one. 

The pick: Oswego East 68, Bolingbrook 63

Barrington: Barrington (26-4) vs. Libertyville (27-7)

The North Suburban Conference faces the Mid-Suburban League in another 1 vs. 2 sectional championship.

The postseason has been pretty bleak for Libertyville over the past 25 years with just three regional titles –– the last being in 2018 –– and only one sectional victory. A win here would give the Wildcats their first sectional championship since the Matt Heldman-led team reached Champaign and the Elite Eight in 1994. 

Libertyville won a thriller over rival Stevenson in the regional championship game, thanks to a huge three-pointer from junior Jack Huber in the final minute. Huber finished with four threes and 14 points. 

The Wildcats aren’t going to wow anyone. There is some size, some shooting and can do a little inside and outside. And a school record for wins certainly has them feeling good. 

Between Huber, Chase Bonder, John Graham, Cole Bonder, Will Buchert and Aidyn Boone, a whole bunch of different players have stepped up at different moments all season long. 

Barrington is dialed in and playing with a ton of confidence. The Broncos have won 13 consecutive games, including an upset win over Rolling Meadows to win the MSL to close out the regular season. They’ve been dominating in three postseason wins. In two regional wins and one sectional victory, Barrington’s average victory margin has been 25 points. 

And no player in the sectional has been hotter than 6-5 senior Will Grudzinski, though senior guard Daniel Hong has played an integral part in this year’s success and had a whopper of a performance in the sectional semifinal win. 

While Grudzinski is averaging 24 points a game in the last 10 wins, Hong stepped up with 32 points in the sectional semifinal win over Fremd. When you add 6-10 Nate Boldt, who scored a season-high 14 against Fremd, Barrington is in a great spot to claim the first sectional title in 20 years. 

Barrington will be on its home floor and seems to be humming along the way sectional champions do. 

The pick: Barrington 58, Libertyville 49

Class 3A Sectional title games

Marian Catholic: Lemont (26-7) vs. Thornton (23-5)

The biggest question going into this one is just what does Lemont do to try and contain Thornton’s Ty Rodgers? 

The 6-5 do-it-all fills the stat sheet, makes those around him better and brings both a physicality and winning mentality that is tough to match or replicate. The athletic Illinois-bound senior is a matchup nightmare for Lemont. 

In addition, big man Mark Williams and guard Vincent Rainey have provided ample support for Rodgers over the second half of the season. 

Forget about the whole this is a year-too-soon stuff for Lemont, a fun team of young players that seems to now be playing with house money. 

And forget those regular-season losses to the likes of Hillcrest, Oak Forest, Rolling Meadows, Romeoville and Batavia. Lemont is now brimming with confidence after beating Marian Catholic in the regional final and coming from behind to knock off top-seed Hillcrest in the sectional semifinals. 

Lemont, the No. 4 seed, is built around its three-headed guard monster of sophomore Nojus Indrusaitis and juniors Rokas Castillo and Matas Castillo. These three together can quietly crush it on the offensive end of the floor. 

But Thornton is red-hot, winning 13 consecutive games, and has the best player on the floor. 

The pick: Thornton 57, Lemont 52

Hinsdale South: Simeon (26-5) vs. Hyde Park (23-7)

Forget about the lopsided game from two months ago where Simeon obliterated Hyde Park 79-49. That may have been right around the time Simeon was playing its best basketball, while Hyde Park is a much-improved team since then. 

This will undoubtedly be a better, more competitive game between these two South Side Public League programs. 

Simeon is trying to regain a little bit of its mojo. The Wolverines lost to Curie in the city playoffs, were drilled by Glenbard West in the regular-season finale and escaped St. Laurence in the regional final. There are times where the Wolverines can appear to be a bit anemic offensively. A favorable state tournament road has allowed coach Robert Smith’s team some leniency up to this point. 

Still, this is Simeon. 

The backcourt trio of Jaylen Drane, Jalen Griffith and Aviyon Morris have been the backbone for the better part of three seasons for Simeon. All three are double-figure scorers with Morris the heartbeat of this team. 

But the presence of twin brothers Miles and Wesley Rubin, a pair of 6-8 juniors, are what make the Wolverines a legitimate state title contender in Class 3A. Those two combine to average 29 points and 14 rebounds while providing some rim protection. 

Hyde Park guard Davontae Hall is an electric guard who is in the midst of a stellar senior season. He’s a go-to player for the Thunderbirds. His matchup with the Simeon guards will be a tasty one but rough one as Morris is a defensive menace. 

Thus, the supporting cast, featuring junior guard Camron Williord and junior Damarion Morris, will have to step up as it did in the sectional semifinal win over Mount Carmel. 

The pick: Simeon 65, Hyde Park 58

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