By Joe Henricksen
When breaking down this weekend's Elite Eight, Final Four -- whatever we want to call it these days -- there will certainly be many factors that will ultimately decide the Class 3A and 4A state champions. After watching each and everyone of the teams that will be playing in Peoria, some more than others, here are the six factors the Hoops Report feels could be the difference between a win or a loss.
The team to beat heading to Peoria is Marshall. The Commandos rely on constant pressure, both offensively with their jet-quick outlets and transition game, as well as with their defensive pressure. As the season has gone on, Marshall has looked more and more like the teams of the past two years, with the defensive intensity raised to a higher level each week. Marshall attacks, from end to end, and comes at you in waves. However, if you can manage the halfcourt traps -- and fullcourt when Marshall goes into it -- and stay composed against the Commandos' superior quickness, the halfcourt defense can be picked apart. That's why the Washington matchup in the semifinal should be interesting. But in order for anyone to beat Marshall in Peoria they are going to have to excel in transition defense.
RICHARDS' PERIMETER SHOOTING
This Richards team is awfully talented, with a veteran point guard who can handle just about anything thrown his way in Eliud Gonzalez, athleticism on the wings and size inside. What the Bulldogs do lack is a consistent perimeter threat. However, Richards has shown it can be streaky with its shooting with Mike Denson and Tommie Thomas. And when Richards does knock down shots, it's very tough to beat, opening things up for the versatile Carl Richard, an Indiana State recruit, and rising 6-8 Shaun Pratl. Coach John Chappetto spoke with me back in early January of how he and this team were trying to play off of Pratl as teams began to focus more and more attention on the junior big man. They have established a perfect mix, complementing Pratl's talents inside with those around him.
While this Evanston team doesn't have a true star or go-to player, the Wildkits are balanced and deep. Evanston has had eight different players lead them in scoring this season, with four different individuals in the postseason alone. The unspectacular yet strong, steady guard play of Zach Morton and Stephen Rudnicki, along with that depth, has been more than enough to put this team in state title contention. The depth and balance has allowed for different players to step up at different times and in different games. This has given each individual confidence in big-time situations, which is a true asset in March -- and should be in Peoria.
The Simeon big man, 6-9 Stan Simpson, is the one true big man who is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. Simpson's growth as a player from last year to this year has been remarkable. He's even become a bigger factor in the second half of the season than he was in the first two months. Simpson is more active offensively and on the boards, while becoming a premier shot blocker on defense. Simpson could be a nightmare matchup in the Class 3A field.
ZION-BENTON'S TRANSITION GAME
When coach Don Kloth's Zee-Bees get it going in transition they are fun to watch and tough to beat. With athletes Ronald Steward, Rodney Clinkscales, emerging sophomore star Lenzelle Smith and Quintrell Love, opposing teams have to avoid Zion-Benton's runs, which can end things in a hurry if you let it. The Zee-Bees get in transition, get to the basket and finish. It can be a crippling impact on opponents.
If coach Kevin Brown was in the Chicago area he would be considered one of the elite coaches in the state. Brown is 98-19 in four years at Washington, which executes in a fashion that provides various opportunities for its star players -- shooter Matt Roth and junior Dyricus Simms-Edwards. They can score in executing their halfcourt sets but flourish in their secondary breaks, often leading to Matt Roth back-breaking three-pointers. Again, for entertainment purposes, the Marshall-Washington matchup should be awfully interesting.