By Joe Henricksen
The opening regional games are typically a formality, though there can be some scary moments from time to time. Just ask Neuqua Valley. The top-seeded 28-1 Wildcats survived what would have been a monumental upset Tuesday night when they edged Benet Academy 57-55 in overtime.
Neuqua Valley fans can ease their minds a bit with this little nugget. A year ago Richards nearly fell in the regional opener, pulling out a 62-60 win over a 6-19 Eisenhower team. After that major scare Richards won seven straight and went on to claim the Class 4A state title.
There were others that fell victim in opening round regional action. Lincoln Park, a No. 3 seed, fell to Proviso East. And Foreman, who may have been caught looking ahead to a regional title matchup with Morton, found out that York's Will Sullivan is one heck of a sophomore talent and forgot that Al Biancalana can flat-out coach. Now York will get No. 4 seed Morton on its home floor Friday night.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at regional action this Friday night with a focus on where the potential upsets may occur. Here is your regional upset alert categorized by the current upset threat level.
UPSET ALERT: SEVERE
Lake Zurich vs. Warren ....There may not be a better No. 10 seed in the state than Lake Zurich. This team was beaten by talented Zion-Benton in January by just seven points. In two games against Lake Forest, the top seed in the Waukegan Sectional, the Bears lost one in overtime and the other by just one point. And yes, the Bears, who are led by the senior trio of Connor Mooney, 6-7 Brandon Kunz and 6-7 Danny Coleman, lost to Warren twice during the regular season. However, both games were tight, losing 64-60 in early December and 53-50 in January. Now Lake Zurich knows it can play with just about anyone, is fresh off a big win over Schaumburg in the regional semis and will be on its home floor.
UPSET ALERT: HIGH
Glenbard East vs. Bolingbrook .... Over the years the Bolingbrook program has had its issues in regional games, especially as a high seed. And despite being pretty young, Glenbard East has been consistent over the long haul this season. This is a young, improving team that has won 20 games and is very capable of surprising Bolingbrook. If the Rams can keep Bolingbrook's athleticism off the boards and eliminate second-chance scoring opportunities, Glenbard East may just get another crack at Naperville Central in the sectional semis.
Maine East vs. Glenbrook South .... A year ago Maine East was one of the March darlings, upsetting Von Steuben and reaching the sectional semifinals. Now the tables are turned. This year the expectations are high, with Maine East earning a No. 2 seed. However, Maine East sputtered down the stretch dropping three games late in the season, including a mid-February loss to No. 7 Glenbrook South. With big man Jack Cooley back for Glenbrook South, this is hardly a typical No. 7 vs. No. 2 seed matchup.
UPSET ALERT: ELEVATED
St. Ignatius vs. De La Salle .... This is where it gets interesting for No. 2 seed De La Salle in the loaded Morton Sectional. If Ignatius can pull off this one this would be coach Rich Kehoe's finest coaching job, and that's saying something. Kehoe's club, which has won 9 of its last 10, has battled injuries all year long and has never been at full strength. However, Mario Knezovic has stepped up, senior Dan Fahey has been a rock, and improving young talents Tyrone Staggers and 6-9 Nnanna Egwu get better and better. De La Salle has the senior guards to perhaps survive what could be a big scare from the No. 7 seed in the St. Patrick Regional final. No team likes to face the style Ignatius plays, especially when the stakes are this high.
UPSET ALERT: GUARDED
Crete-Monee vs. Richards .... Though the Crete-Monee program has made great strides under coach Rocky Hill, this has not quite been the season Hill and his team envisioned. That could all change with a regional win over Richards in the Lemont Regional final. This is an awfully dangerous No. 9 seed for top-seeded Richards, boasting size and athleticism. How well Crete-Monee can neutralize Richards big man Shaun Pratl will go a long way in its attempt of upsetting the 2008 Class 4A state champions.
UPSET ALERT: LOW
West Aurora vs. Naperville Central .... No one wants the unenviable task of having to beat a Gordie Kerkman-coached team three times in a season. The Redhawks, though, have two key ingredients in their favor: Drew Crawford and the home court. Look for Central to survive a big-time test from the Blackhawks.
Batavia vs. Neuqua Valley .... Benet Academy certainly grabbed the attention of Neuqua Valley as the top-seeded Wildcats survived another day with a 57-55 overtime win. That may have been the perfect wake-up call in preparation for a Batavia team that manhandled rival Geneva Wednesday night and will be playing on its home floor. The Bulldogs always have the advantage at home in front of their rabid fan base.
York vs. Morton .... Maybe York, the No. 12 seed in the Morton Sectional, will be this year's Cinderella story. The Dukes knocked off Foreman behind a super effort from sophomore Will Sullivan. York coach Al Biancalana is one of the best in the business. Now Morton must get a big road win in Elmhurst before it can return home for a sectional semifinal.