By Joe Henricksen
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a quick look back and ahead as the state tournament rolls on....
Biggest Regional Surprises
Crete-Monee .... The No. 9 seed in the Richards Sectional, coach Rocky Hill's club boasts plenty of young talent. However, it's been the play of senior Malik Thigpen that has ignited this team and brought toughness. After having not won a regional in 15 years, Hill has helped lead the Warriors to back-to-back titles and remain awfully dangerous and capable of winning this sectional.
Marian Catholic .... The Spartans (15-13), the No. 10 seed in the Lincoln-Way North Sectional, stunned second-seeded T.F. North to win just their third regional title in five decades. The steady and cool play of 6-3 guard Brian Johnson and the emergence of 6-7 Grayson Mitchell gets a shot at No. 2 seed Homewood-Flossmoor.
Proviso East .... In the grand scheme of things Proviso East winning a regional title? No big deal. After all, the school has 39 regional championships in the last half century, including an incredible 22 regional titles in the last 26 years.The Pirates, however, headed into the regional with a 10-13 record and a No. 14 seed. After upsetting No. 3 seed Lincoln Park and rival Proviso West in the regional, the Pirates will take their shot at No. 2 seed De La Salle. Talented freshman guard Keith Carter has pumped life into this team, while junior William Crowder has stepped up.
Imagine if Jereme Richmond would have been eligible to play in Wednesday night's Waukegan showdown with Zion-Benton. The sectional semifinals would feature four players heading to the Big Ten in Richmond (Illinois), Warren's Brandon Paul (Illinois), Zion-Benton's Lenzelle Smith (Ohio State) and Lake Forest's Matt Vogrich (Michigan). Nonetheless, this is quite a foursome at Waukegan this coming week. All four teams are ranked, with Waukegan, Zion-Benton and Lake Forest all among the Hoops Report's top 10 teams.
Five Best Sectional Semifinal Matchups
Morton vs. Whitney Young .... The two met back in December. Morton crushed Whitney Young by 20 points. While the game was a mojo-boost for Morton, it opened the eyes of Young and surely left the Dolphins angered and embarrassed. Young hopes its outstanding perimeter play and quickness will be enough to offset the size and interior presence Morton has in 6-8 Luke Scarlata and 6-5 Raul Guzman. Morton guard Joey Belcaster will have to handle the Whitney Young pressure if the Mustangs want a similar result as they had in December.
Bolingbrook vs. Naperville Central .... Drew Crawford continues to make a strong case for Hoops Report Player of the Year. Bolingbrook, though, is one team that has the size and athletes to throw at Crawford. What is unique about Naperville Central is each player knows their role and accepts it. The Redhawks, who have received consistent production from the perimeter from Dave Mallett (10 ppg), keep the game close and put the game in Crawford's hands in the fourth quarter. However, Central is the only team in the Oswego East sectional semifinals who has not even played a team ranked in the Top 25 this season. Bolingbrook is awfully balanced and should be able to use their length and athleticism to extend out to Central's perimeter shooters and make things difficult for the Redhawks.
Warren vs. Lake Forest .... Yes, it will come down to more than just Brandon Paul vs. Matt Vogrich, but it will be awfully fun and entertaining to watch these two all-staters. The last meeting in January was a thriller, with Vogrich hitting two free throws with :06 remaining for a 66-64 win. Vogrich finished with 35 and Paul scored 27. This could come down to which team's role players provide the stars with the most help. For Warren that means Dave Duncan (11 ppg) on the perimeter and James Poliquin (11 ppg) inside. Junior Mitch Hopfinger has been an unheralded and versatile sidekick for Vogrich, while point guard Kevin Berardini and Jonathan Sobinsky are a pair of veteran seniors.
St. Joseph vs. Marshall .... Arguably the most tantalizing 3A matchup as coach Gene Pingatore will try to devise a plan to slow down Marshall's Darius Smith. While St. Joe big man Louis Green continues to improve and make a difference, the guard play of Nate Rogers and junior Wayne Simon will be critical in this one. Rogers scored 18 and 20 points in two regional victories.
Waukegan vs. Zion-Benton .... No, Waukegan's Jereme Richmond won't be playing, but there is still plenty of talent -- and drama -- on the floor in what will be an electric atmosphere. Will Waukegan, led by talented guard Colin Nickerson, win one for the star and keep its hopes for Peoria alive? Zion-Benton beat Waukegan in an absolute wild one last month with Richmond playing, so the Zee-Bees will have a little added pressure knowing Waukegan will be without its star. But the Zee-Bees will also know there will be no one capable of stopping their big man inside, 6-7 Markus Yarbrough.
• What more can you say about all that Bloom big man Aaron Nelson has done for his team this season? Just when you think Bloom is done after a late-season slide, Nelson picks his team back up, carries it on his shoulders and leads the Blazing Trojans to a regional title. Nelson scored 22 points in a regional win over Romeoville and then went for 22 points and 15 rebounds in a 40-39 regional championship win over Joliet.
• How about sophomore Jamie Crockett for Crete-Monee? All the 6-3 athletic wing did in two regional games is score 62 points, including 32 in a title game victory over Richards.
• Glenbard South's Jordan Harks is a hot commodity among small college programs and he didn't disappoint in two regional wins. He followed up his 22-point performance in the regional opener with a monster performance in the regional championship win over Riverside-Brookfield. Harks, who battled foul trouble and missed plenty of game time, still finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, including 14 points in the pivotal fourth quarter.