By Joe Henricksen
Sure, powerhouses such as Whitney Young, Waukegan, Simeon and Champaign Centennial are rich with stunning individual talent and recent success, but that doesn't mean they are the only story in the state. They have their blemishes. The best teams will be forced to conquer their own issues--along with some upstart, unheralded, new-to-the-March-limelight teams in their paths.
Perhaps never before in the history of state tournament play has there ever been eight supersectional games on the final Tuesday of the year with such a collective mix of underdogs, with the possible exception of Benet Academy, although Simeon remains the favorite in that matchup.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at several programs who, with a win on Super Tuesday, will stun basketball fans statewide with an arrival in Peoria this weekend. These are the underdogs heading into Super Tuesday
This program is not exactly new to surprise March runs. It was just two years ago when Bartlett surprised many with an appearance in a sectional title game, falling to Neuqua Valley. This run, however, is more Cinderella-like as the Hawks entered March with a pedestrian 13-11 record after just a 6-4 mark in the Upstate Eight. Now they are in a supersectional and facing the No. 1 player and No. 1 ranked team in the state. Bartlett obviously peaked and came together at the right time, but a win over Waukegan Tuesday would be monumental and a state tournament shocker. These two teams met way back in November, with Waukegan winning by a whopping 78-36. Bartlett is a much better team than in November; Waukegan is too.
This much we know: Big, bad, talented Whitney Young will not faze Maine South. Nothing fazes this team or this group of players. Not in this 28-win season. At this time of the year the Hawks know they won't have the most talented players on the floor. They don't care. They go out and compete, play tough halfcourt defense, show patience and execution on the offensive end and ooze with confidence and poise. And they know how to play down the stretch of close games, beating Notre Dame in overtime to win the regional, edging New Trier 42-40 and knocking off Glenbrook North in 43-41 in the sectional final.
The Hoops Report has glamorized the return of Benet basketball throughout this 2009-2010 season. Coach Gene Heidkamp has pushed all the right buttons. The only problem with Benet is if Simeon can control or contain star point guard David Sobolewski, who has to play at such an extremely high level for this team to play with and beat the best. But Sobolewski has done just that throughout state tournament play. Simeon seems to have waited until March to turn up the gas. While many have been surprised by Simeon's turn of events in March after nine regular-season losses, this team was ranked No. 3 in the Hoops Report's preseason rankings. Simeon has been a different team since switching up its defense, going from primarily a zone defensive look to man-to-man in the state playoffs. Will Simeon's quickness, athleticism and depth prove to be too much for Benet?
Everyone penciled in O'Fallon in the 4A bracket. While O'Fallon remains the favorite, Joliet is riding high. JT, under the direction of coach of the year candidate Luke Yaklich, has persevered and been flying under the radar most of the season. The Steelmen aren't flashy. They play defense, they rebound, they have different players step up at different times and they have won on the road and taken care of their rivals. How will Joliet respond to some unfamiliarity of playing in a college setting at Redbird Arena and against a team from the southern part of the state?
Peoria Richwoods is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A. Oswego is riding a momentous two-year run of postseason success never seen before in the program. But the previous four playoff teams Oswego faced and has beaten really isn't in the same league as Peoria Richwoods. With that being said, however, Oswego poses a physical threat to Richwoods with their big, strong inside threats and a confidence level that could make things interesting in the supersectional. Will Oswego's guards be able to handle the quickness and defensive pressure Richwoods applies?
The City/Suburban Hoops Report picked St. Viator to win regional and sectional titles in the state tournament preview issue, but there is no doubt they enter this supersectional matchup as a big underdog. St. Viator, led by talented point guard Alan Aboona, was able to handle North Chicago's speed and quickness in a double-digit sectional win. The difference, though, is North Chicago applies its speed and quickness on the offensive end; Marshall applies its speed and quickness on the defensive end. Plus, Marshall has a pair of athletic 6-5 and 6-6 players in Vincent Garrett and Alfonzo McKinnie.
A lot was made of the tournament road Robeson had in getting to the supersectional, with Tilden (out of the CPS Blue) and under-.500 teams King and Harper as the opponents. LaShane Purdy has been huge. And he will have to be again Tuesday in a matchup with Hillcrest, a team aching for a trip to Peoria that would bring back the school's first-ever basketball trophy.
The Hoops Report is not going to pretend to know anything about Cahokia. Many believe, however, that Champaign Centennial, Cahokia's supersectional opponent, is primed for a repeat in Class 3A. They are big and boast player of the year candidate Rayvonte Rice. The two met way back in November, with Centennial winning 70-58.