By Joe Henricksen
The first week of the big schools state tournament was as wild as I can remember, highlighted by numerous upsets -- and near upsets -- in regional play. Here is a look at how the Hoops Report sees a few of the Class 3A and Class 4A sectionals shaking out this week.
Proviso East Sectional
With big and strong Farragut out of the way, you have to like Whitney Young's chances. The one team the Dolphins didn't match up with very well was Farragut, due to the physical presence and size the Admirals brought to the table. Much to the liking of Whitney Young, the three other teams left standing are perimeter-oriented teams, an area that Whitney Young can go toe-to-toe with and then some. Whitney Young's perimeter attack is loaded with talented depth. The states's toughest sectional will still be a minefield to get through, but Whitney Young should get past Oak Park, DeLaSalle and Mt. Carmel.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Whitney Young over DeLaSalle
The host school is the lone top four seed remaining in this sectional after holding off a scrappy Prospect in the regional final. Thus, Evanston is the prohibitive favorite against a Loyola Academy team that doesn't match up very well against Evanston, and either Maine East, which won its first regional since 1972, or Hersey in the sectional final. Look for Evanston to win this sectional in convincing fashion.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Evanston over Maine East
East Aurora Sectional
There are a trio of teams in this sectional that are better than people in the Chicago area realize, while the fourth team is led by an underappreciated superstar. Waubonsie Valley is the highest seeded team of the four but is hardly the favorite when you throw Neuqua Valley and Bartlett into the mix. Both Neuqua and Bartlett are playing very well at the right time. Neuqua is getting huge contributions from 6-5 sophomore Dwayne Evans. And Bartlett's win over Batavia was no fluke. Bartlett dominated Batavia, with big 6-9 Kamil Janton playing at a higher level than the Hoops Report has ever seen him play. And junior point guard Marc Little has really added a consistent threat on the perimeter with his scoring and penetration ability. Little scored 38 points in two regional victories. Then there is Glenbard West and star John Shurna. There have not been many players that have played at a higher level in the postseason over the last two years than Shurna. This is the year Neuqua Valley gets over the sectional hump.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Neuqua Valley over Bartlett
The state's top-ranked team, Homewood-Flossmoor, may get its toughest test in the semifinal against a Bloom team that can match H-F's speed, size and athleticism. Thornton has played well but relies too heavily on young players in freshman Jay Parker and sophomore Reggie Smith, which is a tough thing to do in March. Lockport's March magic is about to run out. The best team with the best player should move on.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Homewood-Flossmoor over Thornton
Is this the year Richards takes the next step? The parts are in place, with a veteran point guard in Eliud Gonzalez, a versatile weapon in 6-5 Carl Richard, an emerging big man in 6-7 junior Shaun Pratl, athletic role players like Tommie Thomas and homecourt advantage. Will a lack of perimeter shooting get the best of Richards? Richards will face a Brother Rice team, led by underrated 6-5 Mike Kennedy, in the semis. Brother Rice beat Richards 69-59 back on Jan. 15. The Curie-Lyons matchup should be a good one, matching two contrasting styles as well as Curie's youth vs. LT's experience.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Richards over Curie
There are many people out there, including the Hoops Report, that believe it's Zion-Benton's time. This is an extremely talented team that is difficult to beat when it gets out in transition. On paper the Zee-Bee's are superior to all three sectional foes, but Buffalo Grove, Schaumburg and Highland Park are teams that are capable of controlling tempo. Nonetheless, overall talent wins out here as Zion-Benton gets by the strong perimeter attack of Highland Park.
HOOPS REPORT PICK: Zion-Benton over Highland Park