By Joe Henricksen
Although top-ranked and previously unbeaten Decatur Eisenhower fell in the Class 3A sectional, the 3A Final Four offers a little bit of everything this weekend in Peoria.
First, there is the two-time defending state champ Simeon. Will the Wolverines become just the third program in state history to capture three straight state championships? And with a completely different team than the previous two?
There is also the potential matchup of two Chicago Public League teams -- and probably the two best teams in the state -- meeting for a state championship. This is the first time in history a Public League team has advanced to the Elite Eight for a third straight year -- and both Simeon and Marshall have done it this year. Thus, history would be made with two city schools squaring off for a state title.
There is the Chicago vs. Downstate intrigue, with Simeon and Marshall out of the city meeting central Illinois teams Champaign Central and Washington, respectively. You can't get a more interesting matchup than Marshall vs. Washington. Their styles are actually similar in that they both flourish in transition, yet do so in different ways. Those familiar with both Marshall and Washington can't wait to see how the two different systems play against one another. And, specifically, how shooting sensation Matt Roth of Washington will handle Marshall's relentless perimeter pressure defense.
In Class 4A the storyline is about the arrival of Zion-Benton and Richards as state powers. Zion-Benton has been lurking for years, with three trips to the Sweet 16 and an average of 25 wins a season since 1993. This is coach Don Kloth's most talented team, which is why this program is arguably the favorite to win the Class 4A title. Richards, which when it comes to basketball is recognized as Dwyane Wade's high school, is also making its first trip to the State Finals.
Lockport just won't go away. The Porters are in the midst of an amazing three-year run, which has included a Sweet 16 berth two years ago, an Elite Eight berth last season and an out-of-nowhere return trip to Peoria this season. And Evanston, a proud and tradition-rich program, will bring home its first state trophy since finishing fourth in 2003 but has visions of winning its first state basketball title since 1968.
What is too bad is that the four representatives in Class 4A won't get a shot at playing what most people believe are the state's top two remaining teams -- Marshall and Simeon. That's what four-class basketball brings, an unclear state champion.