By Joe Henricksen
With attendance at the state basketball tournament in Peoria crashing, maybe a switch in the tournament's sectional assignments by the IHSA will do the trick in filling up Carver Arena.
A year ago Simeon and Whitney Young played for the state championship in Class 4A. This year the two teams that have won the past two state championships entered the season as the Hoops Report's preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams. There will be no chance of a highly-anticipated rematch in Peoria.
Simeon and Whitney Young, along with state power De La Salle, are all locked up with each other in sectional and supersectional play. A postseason Simeon-Whitney Young showdown would take place in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional.
Meanwhile, the biggest beneficiary of this year's switch may be the elite western suburban teams Benet Academy and Glenbard East. For years the East Aurora Sectional fed into the DeKalb Super, except for last year when a change was made and Benet won the sectional and faced Simeon in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional. This year it's back to the traditional supersectional road with the East Aurora Sectional winner playing the typically softer Jacobs Sectional winner.
So what does this all have to do with attendance? The conspiracy theorists will tell you it's a way to knock out a less-traveled fan base before that team hits Peoria. Chicago Public League representatives don't travel well. And imagine if Peoria had four Chicago Public League teams playing there in March, a strong possibility under last year's state tournament assignments. With 3A favorites Orr and Morgan Park both having favorable roads to Peoria, Simeon and Whitney Young, arguably two most talented teams in the state and most successful over the past few years, could have potentially made it four CPS schools.
In defense of the IHSA, if geographical representation is truly the goal in state tournament play -- and arguing that point is an entirely separate issue -- then this makes more sense than last year's assignments.
There will always be arguments made and questions raised over why this school is in this sectional and this school is in another sectional. But under this year's sectional assignments, at least in Class 4A, the supersectionals are geography based. The north suburban schools will hammer it out in the Barrington and New Trier Sectionals, the countless number of Chicago area basketball powers will slug it out in the rugged York and Argo Sectionals, while the underrated East Aurora Sectional will stay west and play the Jacobs Sectional winner in DeKalb.
The look in Class 3A includes arguably the two weakest sectionals in the state -- at Woodstock North (go ahead and try to pick a winner) and the ultra-weak King Sectional. The Rich South Sectional is clearly the most stacked sectional, especially with new 3A heavyweight Morgan Park in the mix. Brooks, T.F. North, defending state champ Hillcrest, surprising Tinley Park and Rich South will all be trying to knock off Wayne Blackshear & Company this March.
The Riverside-Brookfield Sectional winner, as is the case nearly every year, should win its supersectional as long as that team can navigate its way through a tough regional and sectional road. Orr will be the team to beat at R-B, with the regulars all returning, including the underrated host school Bulldogs, Wheaton Academy, Marshall, Crane, North Lawndale and St. Joseph.
Here is just one quick, early-season snapshot of the Class 4A state tournament road after the IHSA's release of sectional assignments.
Simeon, St. Rita, Mt. Carmel or Hyde Park
De La Salle, Whitney Young or Proviso East
O'Fallon or Normal
Homewood-Flossmoor, Crete-Monee or Thornton
Warren, Waukegan or Zion-Benton
Evanston, Niles Notre Dame or Glenbrook North
Benet Academy, Glenbard East, Downers South or East Aurora
Rockford Auburn, Rockford Boylan or St. Charles North
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