By Joe Henricksen
The Illinois High School Association released the regional and sectional seeds earlier Thursday. With a quick glance there weren't any real surprises, though as always, an argument could be made here and there.
In Class 3A, the all-important No. 1 seed at the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional went to North Lawndale. Though most everyone would agree North Lawndale is the most talented team in the sectional, St. Joseph could certainly have a gripe. Coach Gene Pingatore's team is 19-3, has not lost since the Proviso West Holiday Tournament and beat North Lawndale three weeks ago. St. Joe's was awarded the No. 2 seed. The downside is that as the No. 2 seed the Chargers will now have to face Darius Smith and Marshall in a potential sectional semifinal matchup before likely getting North Lawndale in the title game.
As indicated in a previous Hoops Report blog, the Oswego East Sectional was a tough one to seed. In a bit of a surprise, West Aurora was given the No. 7 seed in the sectional, while two teams it went on the road and beat -- East Aurora and Glenbard East -- were seeded ahead of West Aurora. The seeds in this sectional set up some interesting rematches and rivalries. Naperville Central, which will host a regional, will likely have to beat West Aurora a third time in a regional final. A third matchup between neighboring rivals Geneva and Batavia, the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, respectively, would take place in a regional semifinal. And if Batavia wins, top-seed Neuqua Valley will have to go into a hostile environment and beat Batavia on the road.
Quick seeding observations....
Hinsdale Central Sectional: Vocational vs. Simeon in Round III. Will a powerful Simeon program lose to a team a third time?
Morton Sectional: The host school, Morton, slid a bit and ended up as the No. 4 seed. If both Whitney Young, the top-seeded team, and Morton can navigate through a rocky regional road, the two would clash in a rematch at Morton. Remember, Morton hammered Whitney Young at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. You don't think Whitney Young is licking its chops for another shot at the Mustangs?
Niles North Sectional: If the seeds hold true here, a pair of conference foes -- Glenbrook North and Maine East -- would meet in the sectional final.
Waukegan Sectional: Will there be a better sectional semifinal matchup if Zion-Benton and Waukegan meet in a rematch? Lake Forest was the big winner here, securing the No. 1 seed and letting Waukegan and Zion-Benton battle it out in the other bracket.
City-Suburban Showdown set for Saturday
This Saturday night at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena, one of the regular-season jewels takes place in high school basketball. In this day where the prep hoops "shootout" has become as regular as a high school breakup between girlfriend and boyfriend, this particular event has been the best of the bunch over the past decade and a half. The City-Suburban Showdown has been a consistent marquee event and this year offers up plenty of intrigue.
With the state tournament right around the corner -- regionals are set to tip off in 3A and 4A in just three weeks -- the doubleheader Saturday night should prove to be a perfect measuring stick for the four teams involved. Glenbrook North and Warren square off at 6:15 p.m., followed by the headliner at 8 p.m., featuring a pair of City/Suburban Hoops Report top 10 teams in De La Salle and North Lawndale.
Here are some of the storylines to follow this Saturday night.
Backcourt battle of unsung guards
The backcourt battle between De La Salle's Derek Needham and North Lawndale's Terry Johnson -- two very undervalued guards -- should be fun to watch.
Though no fault of his own, Johnson's player ranking has fallen in the eyes of some -- but not in the Hoops Report's rankings. It took time for the Illinois State recruit to find his way with a new, talent-laden team. He's fit in nicely with one of the state's elite teams and taken on a new role. If Johnson is still at St. Rita, where he played a year ago, he's putting up 25-plus a night and is probably garnering more attention.
When all is said and done this season, Needham is going to be the unsung senior in the Class of 2009. Needham has been vastly underrated. He has been such a steady influence for the young De La Salle players and a true force on the floor.
While Johnson and Needham have different styles, both have been very effective. Needham, the Fairfield recruit, is an absolute bull. He's a physical point guard who uses his strength and explosive ability with the ball so effectively. Needham is the Illinois high school version of Ty Lawson. Johnson is cat-quick, capable of getting by just about anyone off the dribble or using his nicely developed mid-range game and shooting ability. He gets to the line often and rarely misses. This is a battle between two of the elite senior guards in Illinois.
How will sophomore sensations respond?
While senior guards Derek Needham and Richie Fisher are the backbone of this De La Salle team, the Meteors will only play deep into March if sophomores Mike Shaw and Dre Henley are consistent and come up big in the biggest of games. Shaw, who was so active in the first half last week against Mt. Carmel both on the glass and defensively, and Henley are two of the premier sophomores in the Class of 2011. They both bring size and an inside presence to coach Tom White's team. How will these two young stars handle the bright lights against one of the best frontlines and teams in Illinois?
Big night on a big stage?
Warren's Brandon Paul, the 6-3 athletic guard who has signed with Illinois, is one of the leading contenders for Mr. Basketball in Illinois. A big performance on a big stage like this Saturday's showdown with Glenbrook North could really add to Paul's resumé.
Who will grab the momentum?
Warren grabbed the headlines earlier this season with a surprisingly fast start, which included a Pontiac Holiday Tournament title in late December. Meanwhile, Glenbrook North has been flying under the radar. Here is a chance for Glenbrook North to grab some headlines themselves. Both Warren and Glenbrook North, with a win, have an opportunity to really grab some momentum for the stretch run.
First, Glenbrook North can't afford to look past Maine East Friday night in what is a huge Central Suburban League North battle. With a win over Maine East, which sits one game back in the CSL North, Glenbrook North can all but wrap up a league title. A weekend sweep of Maine East and Warren would vault the Spartans right into everyone's rankings next week. It wouldn't be a stretch for the Spartans to run the table if they can complete the sweep this weekend and head into a winnable sectional field with a 20-4 record.
Glenbrook North has been the forgotten team in the Chicago area. The Spartans have played without injured 6-7 Tyler Ponticelli, yet are an impressive 14-4. GBN, which boasts highly-regarded 6-6 junior Alex Dragicevich, has played a solid schedule. The Spartans have beaten Brooks, Hillcrest and Lake Forest. They lost to talented Waukegan by just three points, fell to Glenbrook South by one point and lost to Morton and Homewood-Flossmoor at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
Warren is trying to get a little of that swagger back. Paul remains the star, a true go-to type that can put a team on his back at times. However, this team is at its best when the sum of all their parts are working together.
For tickets or ticket information for the City-Suburban Showdown, you can call 866-468-3401 or on the web at TicketWeb.com