By Joe Henricksen

Full of surprises!

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By Joe Henricksen

There are just a few days remaining in the 2008-2009 regular season. With nearly every conference championship already wrapped up and the first regional game for 3A and 4A schools still a week away, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at this year's biggest surprises -- and the forecast for those surprises this March.

Yes, there were expectations for the the Scouts this season. Coach Phil LaScala's club welcomed back a Player of the Year candidate in Michigan-bound guard Matt Vogrich and were just outside the Hoops Report preseason Top 25, checking in at No. 26 back in November. Regardless of those expectations, Lake Forest has surpassed them. Vogrich & Company have climbed past the 20-win marker, won the North Suburban Lake when everyone picked Zion-Benton, have beaten both De La Salle and Zion-Benton, and earned the No. 1 seed in the loaded Waukegan Sectional. While Vogrich is a legitimate star, Lake Forest has overachieved. The Scouts lack athleticism and have very little size. However, 6-3 junior Mitch Hopfinger has been huge and consistent all year long. Both Hopfinger and 6-0 Jonathan Sobinsky play much bigger than their size.

March fortunes: This is no time to start questioning the fortunes of Lake Forest after the season it has put together, but a rough-and-tumble sectional awaits. Though Vogrich is capable of putting this team on his back, winning the Waukegan Sectional may be too much to ask of this team.

First, forget about the missed opportunity Sunday night against North Lawndale in the city championship game. There were some big expectations heading into this season for a Hyde Park team that was ranked by everyone. But just like Lake Forest, this team has also matched and even exceeded those expectations. Did anyone really believe Hyde Park would be playing for the Public League championship while teams like Whitney Young, Marshall, Simeon and Curie were home watching?

March fortunes: If Hyde Park thought it opened some eyes with its run in the Public League Tournament, the opportunity is there to add to a chapter to the scrapbook this March. The Thunderbirds are the No. 1 seed in a very winnable Hinsdale Sectional. A sectional title would put coach Donnie Kirksey's team just one win away from Peoria, where it would face the Morton Sectional winner (De La Salle or Whitney Young?) in the supersectional. The question now is can this Hyde Park team, which has shown it can play and compete with anyone in the state, get over the hump and beat an elite team this March?

Waukegan was expected to win the CSL South and it did. However, who would have thought New Trier and Evanston would both finish 5-5 in league play and combine for a 22-26 record at this point? Evanston, which the Hoops Report had No. 21 in the preseason, was ranked No. 14 by both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune back in November. The positive is both these teams have a solid nucleus to build around for next year and surely won't stay down for long. Maine South, meanwhile, quietly has put together a solid season, finishing second in the CSL South and above .500 in league play for the first time in nine years.

March fortunes: Waukegan, which will host the sectional, has a great chance of playing in Peoria. And who knows what kind of momentum the Evanston-New Trier winner will have after those two rivals meet for the fourth time this season in a regional semifinal game. Realistically, though, the winner will have a tough time beating a red-hot Glenbrook North team in the regional final. Maine South, meanwhile, could surprise as a No. 6 seed in the Niles North Sectional. The Hawks would have to go to Niles Notre Dame and beat the Dons on their home floor.

All the Vikings have done is go 19-5 and, since losing to Whitney Young at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December, haven't lost. H-F, winners of 12 straight games, has beaten Rich East, St. Joseph and Glenbrook North -- all teams ranked in the Top 25. They also own wins over Bolingbrook and Fenwick, while losing to the No. 1 team in the state, Thornton, by just two points. Yet no one talks about them. They climbed into the Hoops Report's Top 25 several weeks ago and haven't left. And all this from a team that lost virtually everyone from last year's juggernaut, including Mr. Basketball Kevin Dillard and standouts Supo Sanni and Russell Ellington. Plain and simple, coach Jim McLaughlin has done a terrific job with this team. Big man Mike Buchanan has been a rock, Jeremy Saffold has been clutch and junior Ladon Singleton has provided some offensive production.

March fortunes: It won't be easy for the Vikings in March. H-F squeaked by both Lockport and Sandburg in conference play and would play one of them in the regional final. If H-F can take care of business, which would include beating ranked T.F. North in the sectional semis, it would get a rematch with Thornton in the sectional final. While the season has been one of surprise and success, winning a sectional title would be an even bigger one.

The Rockets, with a senior nucleus of point guard Jamere Dismukes, 6-5 Shea Sumpter, 6-5 Stephen O'Neal and guard Freddie Lay, came into the season as a sleeper to watch but has emerged as a bonafide Top 25 team and a March threat. An impressive run over the holidays to their first-ever Big Dipper Tournament title game appearance -- Rich East fell to Thornton in the title game -- put the Rockets in everyone's rankings where they have remained. Junior Kashaune McKinney has provided a boost for a team that won the SICA South, Rich East's first-ever conference title.

March fortunes: First, this is a program that hasn't won a regional title in over 40 years. But there is no reason why this team shouldn't be dreaming big. While the road isn't easy, Rich East should win a regional title and be a threat to reach Peoria. The No. 2 seed in the Richards Sectional, the Rockets lost a heartbreaker to top-seed Richards back in January but could get a rematch.

When the season began there were many who believed R-B would be sitting where they are right now as conference champs with a glitzy 21-2 record. The Bulldogs, however, are better than people think, especially now that sharpshooter Dan Oswald has returned from an injury that kept him out from Dec. 26 until this past weekend. Junior point guard Sean McGonagill is vastly underrated and overlooked in the Chicago area, sophomore Ryan Jackson has put together a terrific season, junior guard Billy VandeMerkt has been steady and solid, and now Oswald is back in the mix. R-B connected on a ridiculous 19 three-pointers last Friday night in a win over Fenton.

March fortunes. At first glance they are bleak, considering the R-B Sectional has arguably the three best Class 3A teams in the state in St. Joseph, North Lawndale and Marshall. However, with the solid guard play R-B features, it can hope to play the role of spoiler while playing on its home floor. But first R-B must take care of a solid Glenbard South team in the regional.

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Billy Vandemerkt of RB is actually a junior. RB has a good chance to be a spoiler in the tournament. Obviously their strength is their outside shooting, but they have consistently outrebounded even taller teams throughout the season. They are also an excellent ballhandling team.
I was not impressed with North Lawndale yesterday. They are very good at rebounding but their shooting is atrocious. (10 for 30 in the first half; a little better in the second, but everyone of their baskets was a layup.)

George.... Yes, you are correct. Billy V is a junior. I will make the change.... Joe H

A few players besides the ones mentioned above, like the Kilkoyne twins, rebounding everything that comes there way as well and solid inside scoring. Also, senior guard/forward Derek Tomasek gives the team a solid outside shooting presence, hitting his first 6 three's in a trouncing of Fenton.

Yes Evanston has had a tough year. I still think they can make a run as far as the Hoffman Estates Supersectional. But matching up with New Trier on it's home court having to play against eight people(five players along with the three refs) will be tough An 8 vs 11 seed, Evanston should have been playing St Viator the nine seed. Seems like the IHSA wants us out early this year. But you better get Evanston this year because they will have powerhouse teams for the next two years. Nic Garcia is having a tough time fitting into the team concept right now. They have a week to get it together or it will be an early exit for the Wildkits.

North Chicago is a good city .some it take a bad rap,because it is meanly a black school.the talent here is one of the best in the state.please dont look down on us.we have a good chance of winner state too.08-09

Joe you have went the entire season without once mentioning Providence St. Mel. St Mel was 10-17 the last two seasons and this year they are 20-5 and will be playing for a regional championship on Friday. They are led by trio of juniors 6-9 phil jackson, 6-6 mark mack, and point guard Torry Walker. Senior Arthur Jefferson has hit 90 threes this season. St Mel will be even better next year. Joe show St Mel some love.

Wow i guess you think evanston is much better than their sub .500 record. You think that is unfair, GBN who earned the one seed is going to have to play either New Trier, on a friday night in their own stadium, or a Evanston team who has obviously played below average. The GBN game was even originally scheduled to be played at 6:00 before the NT/ETHS game which would have a sold out crowd rooting against the 1 seed. Luckilly it was changed. The Kits are in the position that they should be. They dont deserve questioning when they havent earned that right by winning.

Jeffrey .... You are right about St. Mel, they will certainly be a team to watch next season. Had a chance to catch St. Mel at the North Park Shootout in January and believe a Luther North 2A sectional championship is a real possibility for this team.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on February 22, 2009 8:52 PM.

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