By Joe Henricksen

March 2011 Archives

Jabari Parker, Ferrari and the AAU landscape

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By Joe Henricksen

There hasn't been as much jockeying for Simeon sophomore superstar Jabari Parker's services on the summer circuit as people think. That's because Parker and his father, Sonny Parker, had one goal: for Jabari to play for his high school coach, Rob Smith.

Smith, who has led Simeon to national prominence and back-to-back state championships, will be part of the Ferrari program and help coach the 17-and-under team. And that team will be led by Jabari Parker, a consensus top five talent nationally and the premier prospect in the state of Illinois.

"When it comes right down to it, he's going to play with his high school coach," says Sonny Parker. "And that's just the way it's going to be. We have always wanted to keep things in our inner-circle."

Smith has not been a part of the AAU circuit, but he gave it some thought when his star player came to him and asked him if he would consider coaching him in the summer.

"When a kid comes to you and says he doesn't want to play for anyone else, that he really only wants to play for one coach before he goes to college, you have to listen," said Smith.

Even with Parker's urging, Smith was only willing to coach club basketball if it was done a certain way.

"There was no way I was going to be a part of something that is up for grabs and without any structure," says Smith. "I don't want it to be like some of the other [club] programs that are out there. I want it to be first class and done the right way."

While Parker has a full-time club home, a great deal of his playing time will be spent with USA Basketball this summer. Although the U.S. basketball priority will take time away from the club circuit, Parker's presence will surely help enhance the notoriety and attention paid toward his Ferrari teammates by college coaches and scouting services.

The Ferrari 17s, with the addition of Parker and coached by both Mandel Oliver and Smith, look to be a talented group that certainly changes the landscape of the AAU scene in the Chicago area. Parker will join several highly-ranked players in the Class of 2012 on the Ferrari team, including Homewood-Flossmoor's 6-8 Tim Williams, Farragut's 6-7 Rashaun Stimage, St. Rita's 6-7 A.J. Avery and Orr guard C.J. Jones, who has committed to Ball State.

In addition, the Whitney Young guard tandem of Gabe Snider, a UIC recruit, and Jordan Smith will be on the team, along with Homewood-Flossmoor's 6-7 Antonio Bishop, North Lawndale guard Devonte Jones, Seton Academy's athletic Russell Robinson, Glenbrook North's Cory Dolins, Simeon's Reggie Norris and Antoine Buchanan, who has transferred from Orr to Middleton High School in Middleton.

"We are going in a new direction, with an all new and fresh approach," said Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, who runs Ferrari.

That new approach and direction includes a name change as Ferrari will now be referred to as All-Illinois Ferrari.

"We want to show this is a collaboration," Slaughter added.

Smith also hopes some of the tug-of-war between club programs and overall politics of AAU basketball in the Chicagoland area can be alleviated.

"Everyone needs to get together, try to get on the same page and do what is best for these kids," said Smith of the top-level AAU programs, particularly the ones affiliated with Nike. "We need one common goal, and that is to do what is best for the players in Chicago."

Smith will have other priorities this spring and summer. His mother, Sharon Smith, is currently in the hospital awaiting a heart transplant. Sharon has been in the hospital since Mar. 15, the day Simeon beat Farragut in the supersectional.

"We are just waiting for a heart donor," said Smith, who says his first priority will be taking care of his mother and being for her at the hospital. "Most of my free time will be spent with my wife, daughter and other family members in being there for my mother.

"At the same time, she knows how much I love basketball and how important it is to me. She wants me to continue coaching and doing what I love. But obviously my main focus right now and going forward is with her."

More opportunity and competitive balance? Really?

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By Joe Henricksen

There is this myth out there -- and I've heard it -- that four classes provide more opportunities for the student-athlete in basketball. There are people out there that actually believe more student-athletes, more schools and more communities are able to celebrate and experience the original March Madness than under the old two-class system.

The fact is, under the old two-class system, there were a total of 16 schools (Elite Eight in Class A and an Elite Eight in Class AA) that enjoyed the experience of a lifetime -- going to "state" and playing in Peoria. Under the current four-class system, there are still 16 teams that head to "state" and get that same exact experience, only split up into four classes instead of two.

Under the old two-class system there were 32 teams and communities around the state of Illinois that celebrated a sectional championship; under the current system there are still 32 teams that cut down those sectional nets. And under the old two-class system, there were 128 regional plaques handed out; and there are still 128 regional plaques awarded to the winnning regional teams. The only difference? The regional and sectional plaques say 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A instead of good 'ol Class A and Class AA.

Is there really more opportunity? No. At least not when it comes to the overall number of players, students, fans and communities that are able to participate in and enjoy championships in March.

The reality is, there are more opportunities--for the inferior, less-talented team to advance in March.

At the end of the day (or in this case at the end of March), the teams at the very top of Class 3A can compete with those in Class 4A. It's been that way since we went to four classes in 2008. Those Class 3A teams at the very top, those that are competing for a 3A state championship, can compete for the very same thing in Class 4A. The Rock Islands, the Peoria Notre Dames, the Brooks, the Morgan Parks of 2011 were every bit as good as the top dozen Class 4A schools.

However, there is so little competitive balance right now in Class 3A. The four-class system, when it comes to Class 3A, has made those elite, top teams in 3A that much more dominating. And the cream of the crop in Class 2A and Class 1A are also regularly dominating in a fashion we haven't seen before.

We all know the basketball talent in Illinois is not spread out equally across the state. Is that reason enough to give those weaker areas of the state an easier opportunity to do what the strong, talented basketball teams do in other parts of the state, year in and year out? That's what four classes has provided, an avenue and opportunity for average teams, regardless of school enrollments, a chance to advance in March.

Several of the Class 3A sectional fields in Illinois this year -- and in recent years since we've gone to four classes -- have been embarrassing when it comes to competitive balance and overall quality of basketball. While you hate to take anything away from those schools that won those regional and sectional titles, you can't ignore the sectional play that took place at King, Woodstock North and Ridgewood in the Chicago area alone this year. We had teams with .500 and sub-.500 records advancing to sectional title games and supersectionals.

A basketball team advancing in March is great and memorable for a community, school and basketball program. Yes, those teams that played .500 ball over the course of the season enjoy it as much as the next guy. But it's not about "coming together at the right time" or simply "March magic." No, it's called playing inferior, less-talented teams in a watered down system of stripped down sectionals and basketball mediocrity.

So it comes back to philosophical differences. IHSA executive director Marty Hickman has repeatedly been quoted as saying four classes brings "competitive balance" and that he "doesn't believe anything has been watered down."

Go ahead and try telling that to fans that just watched the Class 1A champ win a state championship with an average victory margin of 25 points a game throughout state tournament play. Check out these victory margins for Newark this past March: 46, 27, 21, 25, 13, 20 and 22. But the 1A fans are probably getting used to it. In the last three years the Class 1A state champs have had a grand total of two games (out of 21) decided by fewer than 10 points in state tournament play.

Convince the fans who watched Class 2A champ Hales Franciscan beat up on everyone in March with an average victory margin of 24 points a game there is competitive balance. There wasn't a single team that came within 13 points of Hales in any state tournament game. That's even less competitive balance than Seton Academy's 23 points a game victory margin en route to the 2009 Class 2A state title.

Tell fans the state tournament hasn't been watered down after watching a team with 15 losses on the season take home a state trophy in Class 3A.

Those fans who have watched Class 3A and 4A supersectionals the past four years in the four-class system will need more convincing. The average margin of victory in Class 3A and 4A supersectional games have jumped by an average of four points in comparison to the final seven years of Class AA in the old two-class system. Just five out of the 16 supersectional games played the past two years have been decided by single digits. And there have been 12 supersectional games in 3A and 4A that have had victory margins of 14-plus points since the four-class system began in 2008.

Competitive balance?

The IHSA and four-class lovers speak so glowingly of the competitive balance and opportunities now available to the membership schools. As shown here in this blog, it depends on how you look at it if you believe that to be true.

The question the Hoops Report still has after four years of four-class basketball is: Why was a three-class system entirely skipped over? That system, as described in a future Hoops Report blog in this state tournament blog series, could have worked, where even I could have been sold.

To read the first blog on this state tournament blog series, go to State Tournament Demise

Rhode Island lands Mike Powell

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By Joe Henricksen

Brooks senior guard Mike Powell, who helped lead the Eagles to a city championship and a third-place finish in Class 3A last week, committed to Rhode Island today.

There were few players in the Class of 2011 who saw their stock rise more this past season than the 5-10 Powell, who averaged 18.7 points a game for coach Bobby Locke.

"I knew the hard work I have put in would pay off," said Powell, who visited Rhode Island on Friday and flew back home to play in an all-star game in St. Louis on Saturday. "This is a burden off my back now that I have found a home for the next four years."

The trip to Rhode Island was all Powell needed to ultimately make his final decision after receiving late interest from Iowa and offers from the likes of UC-Irvine and Southern Illinois.

"It's a nice campus, they have a real nice recruiting class coming in with me, and it's a chance to play in the Atlantic 10," said Powell. "Coach [Jim Baron] said I would have the ball in my hands as the point guard since their starting point guard is a senior. And they play a style that I like, getting up and down in transition."

Powell made tremendous strides over the course of the season as a point guard. Always known as a scorer in his career, the ball was in Powell's hands the majority of the regular season once Wisconsin-bound teammate George Marshall went down with an injury in December. And Powell made the most of it, turning into a take-charge point guard capable of scoring and distributing.

After being named MVP of the Waubonsie Valley Holiday Tournament in December, he was the catalyst in leading Brooks to wins over Farragut, Curie and Whitney Young in the final three games of the Chicago Public League playoffs.

"He accepted everything thrown at him," said Locke, who played a key role in nurturing Powell into the player he became his senior year. "What he's shown is that his basketball I.Q. is so high that he covered up a lot of our mistakes. He has a tremendous personality, asks great questions, has goals and aspirations. He's just a flat-out good kid. And I was lucky to coach him for one year."

The demise of state tournament continues

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(This is the first in a series of Hoops Report blogs on causes and solutions to the demise of the IHSA state basketball tournament. Next up ... "Four Classes = More Opportunities: Fact or Fiction")

By Joe Henricksen

This is not a whiny rant against four-class basketball in Illinois. This is just another reminder that maybe, just maybe, it (four-class basketball) is the final nail in the coffin of state tournament basketball here in Illinois.

Aside from the 1993 Elite Eight (the one where King walloped Rockford Guilford by 37 in the title game) and the 2001 Elite Eight (the one where Schaumburg shocked Eddy Curry and Thornwood), I've been to every big school state tournament in Champaign and Peoria since 1981. That's 29 out of 31 years, a March ritual that this avid prep basketball fan has looked forward to every year for three decades.

Now even that is on shaky ground going forward.

The move
The move to Peoria in 1996 was met with resistance in the mid-1990s. The IHSA, for the most part, was blasted for moving the state's crown jewel from Champaign to Peoria. The facts, however, were beginning to become more clear if anyone would have looked close enough.

First, attendance in Champaign had dropped drastically over a 25-year period. The title game in 1972 between Thornridge and Quincy drew 15,887 fans, while the first Class AA Elite Eight that year saw over 60,000 fans roll into Assembly Hall over two days. Just 10 years later the total attendance dropped to 51,000. By 1994 the attendance figures had fallen to 41,364, with a brief spike to 47,000 the final year it was played in Champaign.

But more importantly, the story goes, the folks in Champaign began taking the tournament for granted. Hotels were price gouging guests and the hospitality was lacking. Despite all that, there were many -- heck, most everyone -- who left Champaign for Peoria kicking and screaming, wanting to maintain the traditions of Assembly Hall and making sure that heading "downstate" was still to Champaign.

Peoria a hit
After just a couple of years playing in Peoria, however, the IHSA proved it knew what it was doing. They were right, everyone else was wrong. Peoria showed it could play the role of a terrific host and, along the way, proved that a change of scenery was the right move. Peoria wanted this thing and showed it.

Peoria pumped new life into the Elite Eight. The event became just that -- an "event" -- only in a new location. A new and appealing drawing card in Peoria was the March Madness Experience for fans and kids in the exhibit hall adjacent to the arena.

Maybe the overall crowds didn't show it with whopping numbers -- we're never going to see 16,000 for a title game or two-day numbers in the 60,000 range ever again -- but there was certainly a different, more positive and festive atmosphere in Peoria than in the final years in Champaign.

The interest and buzz around Peoria was refreshing those first few years. The Peoria media treated the tournament as it was meant to be treated -- special. Peoria rolled out the red carpet and welcomed everyone, including fans, teams, media and high school coaches, with open arms. The logistics and the proximity of everything in Peoria was a huge plus, especially in comparison to Champaign, where hotels, restaurants, watering holes and Assembly Hall were distant and spread out.

There was some help those first few years. The finishing touches of the now storied Peoria Manual-Thornton rivalry in 1996 and 1997 helped those first two years. And the 1998 Elite Eight was must-see. There was a surplus of Division I talent, including the likes of Fenwick's Corey Maggette, Young's Quentin Richardson, Galesburg's Joey Range, Elgin's Sean Harrington and Maine West's Kevin Frey and Lucas Johnson to name a few, and a dynamite state champion in Whitney Young.

For such a controversial move at the time, things were rolling in Peoria, highlighted by some absolutely loaded, dynamic and memorable individual teams those first three years in Peoria Manual, Thornton and Whitney Young.

The place to be
The socializing and basketball conversation always began Thursday night and continued through Saturday evening. The coaches, media, basketball officials and avid fans had established rituals, routines and schedules of their own for their one trip a year to Peoria. The three days in Peoria was a basketball reunion.

The local establishments and hotel lobbies on Main Street, Jefferson and Adams were filled with high school coaches, fans and media members from around the state. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's hospitality room would fill up with bodies and lively basketball debate and dialogue. It was fun. People looked forward to it.

Changes are felt
Roughly 10 years into the Peoria experience, however, a subtle change in mood began. This isn't to say Peoria became less of a gracious host, though a small bit of complacency did start to settle in. It felt more like a natural progression, just as we saw in Champaign over the years. Like with anything else, the novelty wore off a little. Still, it was a blip on the radar, hardly drastic.

But then the atomic bomb was dropped. Four-class basketball arrived, with the very first four-class tournament played in March of 2008.

The Peoria Journal-Star, a newspaper that covers the local sports scene about as well as any paper its size can in this day of newspaper decline, recently ran an article that touched on the decline in state tournament attendance. The numbers in the article were alarming.

Tickets sold for the Class 3A/4A tournament in 2009 checked in at 33,715, followed by the paltry 2010 numbers of 22,989 for the four sessions of the big school tournament. Just under 23,000? Yikes. And that was with a local team, Peoria Richwoods, playing in the tournament and in the Class 3A state championship game.

The numbers this year, which I have not seen, will certainly be higher than 2010 as a result of the strong Centralia and Rock Island contingents, along with a solid two-day draw from Warren. And while both Glenbard East and Normal had terrific crowds on Friday night, the majority of their fans did not return for the third-place game Saturday night. But even if the overall numbers creep back up towards 30,000, lack of attendance and interest is still a concern.

Is it all due to four-class basketball? No. There are numerous factors that go into attendance. A big part of the attendance drop over the past 30 years is simply due to a change in culture, with so many other options out there for people today than in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, the economy could be part of the blame. And the individual fan bases from the different schools from year to year plays a huge part in attendance figures.

But regardless of the overall numbers, the state tournament is losing (lost?) its core group of fans. We're talking the regulars, who have come to the state tournament year after year for decades. We're talking the high school coaches themselves. There are fewer now attending the state tournament than ever before. Thursday night was once a bustling basketball orgy in the local establishments and in places like the IBCA room just six, seven and eight years ago. Now? The place isn't dead, but it's getting close.

There is still an outcry
The number of personal comments, calls and emails to the Hoops Report regarding the state tournament -- and more specifically, four classes -- is not as high as it once was the first couple of years when the state's basketball version of the atomic bomb hit. But the fact these comments, calls and emails are still coming in from new coaches and different fans is scary for the future of this once cherished event.

"There's not the hype, there's not the excitement, that there was years ago, before the four classes," Steve Shaw, president of the Peoria-based Mercedes Restaurants, told the Peoria Journal-Star.

That's the sentiment of so many. It's just different. In a bad way. And it's sad. What was the one major, significant change again? The gracious Peoria people didn't suddenly get nasty. No, but the significance of the state tournament has been lost to the average fan.

The quality of teams in Peoria has taken a hit the last few years with four classes. The watered down showcase features teams that would have never made it to state under the old two-class system. What is annoying in it all, however, is that it didn't change the n number of teams that make it to state. There were 16 teams that enjoyed the Elite Eight in the two-class system and there are still 16 enjoying it today. But now those 16 teams are, overall, of lesser quality than before.

While those individual communities salivate and enjoy the experience just as any other community would and should, the average fan sees a different -- and lesser -- brand of basketball. And now a quarter of the games played in Peoria are third-place games? Hardly a draw for fans to make the trip to Peoria and another drawback of the four-class system.

A survey in a recent Hoops Report issue in February showed once again the distaste of four-class basketball in Illinois, especially of those coaches in 2A, 3A and 4A. If you take out the Class 1A coaches that were surveyed, the results were 83 coaches in favor of two classes and 22 in favor of four classes.

The point? There may be someone out there as big of a fan of high school basketball as I am, but there certainly isn't one that's bigger. And if I'm considering skipping next year's state tournament, there is a problem.

Sparty assistant to lead NIU hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

Northern Illinois will soon officially announce its new basketball coach at a press conference. The City/Suburban Hoops Report has learned that new coach will be Michigan State assistant coach Mark Montgomery, who is in his ninth season as an assistant for coach Tom Izzo. Montgomery was on campus today finalizing the details.

The NIU coaching search has been a bit of a whirlwind, with both Purdue assistant Paul Lusk and Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti front and center early this week. But it's Montgomery, the associate head coach for Izzo since 2007, who will take over for recently fired Ricardo Patton in DeKalb.

Montgomery has long been considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country. And the hire makes sense in a lot of ways for the NIU basketball program. He has coached under one of the country's top coaches in Izzo and has been a part of one of the premier basketball programs in the country for a decade.

That background, along with the fact he spent four years as an assistant coach at Central Michigan, will only help in his transition to coaching in the Mid-American Conference. During his time in East Lansing, Montgomery has been a part of nine NCAA Tournament teams and Final Four runs in 2005 and 2009.

A native of Michigan who played collegiately at Michigan State, Montgomery has strong recruiting ties to the state of Michigan. He should bring energy and a new, positive look to a program that finished 9-21, 10-20 and 10-20 the past three seasons.

Look for Montgomery to add an Illinois feel to his coaching staff, with current NIU assistant coach Todd Townsend, who has made inroads throughout the city and suburbs, a strong candidate to remain on staff.

Simeon highlights weekend in Peoria -- again

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By Joe Henricksen

With Simeon capturing its second straight state championship in Peoria over the weekend, the basketball mind goes straight toward the idea the Wolverines will be favored and expected to win a third consecutive title a year from now.

The Wolverines have now put up some staggering win totals under coach Robert Smith in the last six years. Under Smith, Simeon is an eye-popping 197-36 with four state championships and a runner-up finish. With five state championships in school history, Simeon is now tied with Peoria Manual for the most state titles in state history.

And next year's team, which will feature older and better versions of Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn, could rival the 2007 Derrick Rose-led state championship team. A sixth state title next year would move the Simeon program into a different stratosphere as far as premier prep basketball programs in the state of Illinois.

Overall, state finals lacking
When you look at the state tournament that was played in Peoria this past weekend, there was a lack of excitement and buzz in Carver Arena over the two days of action.

In fact, there were just two games that were filled with any drama -- and really only one game that went down to the wire and was played at a high level.

While the Centralia-Rock Island Class 3A final was filled with drama and tense moments down the stretch, for three-plus quarters the game hardly resembled a state title game. But with any double overtime game, especially when it's for all the marbles, there are dramatic moments that will always make this particular title game memorable.

The best game of the weekend was the Glenbard East-Simeon matchup in a Class 4A semifinal Friday night. There was the comeback -- Glenbard East rallied from an early 15-0 hole -- there was excitement, clutch plays and shots made and, overall, a high level of basketball played. When Johnny Hill of Glenbard East converted an "And One" with just over five minutes to play in the game, the Rams had fans on the edge of their seat with a 41-40 lead.

"It was a great semifinal game, probably one of the best I've been involved with since coming down here," said Simeon coach Robert Smith following the game.

But Simeon did what it needed to down the stretch, most notably making free throws at an alarming rate. The Wolverines went 17 of 18 from the charity stripe to secure a 56-53 win. A night later, Simeon missed 11 free throws (20 of 31) in the title game but still beat Warren 48-39.

Classy, tradition-rich programs
When it comes to a top 10 list of high school basketball programs in the state of Illinois, it would be difficult to leave off either Rock Island or Centralia when it comes to history, tradition, wins and just what their respective programs mean to their communities. The latter was evident in Peoria, with Centralia and Rock Island providing two of the biggest and most spirited fan bases the Hoops Report has seen in Peoria in years.

The Centralia fans formed a human tunnel from the Peré Marquette Hotel, where all the teams stay, to Carver Arena for the players to walk through prior to their state title game appearance. And the size and roar of the Rock Island fans in the closing minutes of the title game victory over Centralia was something we haven't seen at the state tournament in Peoria in quite some time.

No Chicago
The Class 3A state title matchup between Rock Island and Centralia was the first big school state title game since 1994 that didn't feature at least one Chicagoland area school. Peoria Manual beat Carbondale to win the 1994 Class AA state championship.

Sigel makes coaching history
Rock Island coach Thom Sigel became the first coach in state history to win both a small school and big school state championship since class expansion in 1972. Sigel led Rock Falls to a Class 1A title in 1999. Congratulations to one of the classiest coaches in the business.

Unsung hero
• Rashawn McElrath, Simeon
His overall game may not be the prettiest, but Rashawn McElrath of Simeon has been an unsung hero for too long. The 6-6 senior, who has not received nearly enough attention from college recruiters, has been such a key cog in Simeon's back-to-back state title run.

Normally, it's McElrath's defense, rebounding and energy plays that spark Simeon. In the 56-53 semifinal win over Glenbard East, McElrath did it on the offensive end. After Glenbard East took a 41-40 lead with five minutes to play, it was McElrath who answered. McElrath, who was huge in the fourth quarter, gave Simeon the lead for good with a 10-foot jumper. He was 5-of-6 from the field and hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw down the stretch (7-of-7 overall) and finished with a team-high 17 points.

State Tournament MVP
(Including supersectional and state tournament games in Peoria)
• Johnny Hill, Glenbard East
In the three games (supersectional and state finals in Peoria) there wasn't a player who did more for his team than the 6-3 guard. He led all players in scoring in those three games with 70 total points. He poured in 32 in the supersectional win over Rockford Auburn and a game-high 22 points in the semifinal loss to Simeon, shooting a sizzling 8-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line in the three games. The Illinois State recruit also averaged 7 rebounds and made play after play when the Rams needed it most.

Rising Stock
• Denzel McCauley, Rock Island
The 6-8 junior was the Hoops Report's breakout junior during holiday tournament time over two months ago. He again showed his promise as a college prospect in Rock Island's run to a state championship. McCauley was magnificent in a semifinal win over Brooks, scoring a game-high 14 points (6-of-6 from the line) with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists. In the title game, McCauley scored 9 points and hauled down a whopping 17 rebounds. McCauley continues to show why the Hoops Report elevated the big man into the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2013.

• Anthony Beane, Jr., Normal
Although the 6-2 athletic junior guard struggled in the third-place loss to Glenbard East on Saturday, he was sensational in Normal's semifinal loss to Warren Friday night. In that loss to Warren, Beane played as well as the Hoops Report has seen him play, especially in the first half, scoring 21 points and making numerous athletic plays. Iowa and Oklahoma State have been the two biggest schools in on Beane, with numerous mid-major programs involved.

• Dante Bailey, Glenbard East
There is a lot of potential in this 6-6 junior, who played a key role for the third-place Rams all season long. Bailey is known for his shooting stroke, which he displayed in Peoria with three big 3-pointers in the semifinal loss to Simeon. But his all-around game against Normal in the third-place game was equally impressive. Bailey scored 16 points in a variety of ways and pulled down six rebounds.

• R.J. Kwiatkowski, Centralia
The Hoops Report had never seen Kwiatkowski during the season, but two games was enough to know the 6-2 senior scorer would be a terrific small college prospect at the NAIA or Division II level. The Hoops Report loved this kid. In two games, Kwiatkowski scored 38 points and made 5-of-7 three-pointers in two games and looked awfully good doing it.

Team gets it done
What may be most impressive about Rock Island's two wins in Peoria is that the Rocks got it done with star Chasson Randle struggling. The Stanford-bound Randle, who averages 22 points a game, scored a total of 25 points in the two wins. He shot 11-of-28 from the field, including just 1-of-11 from the three-point line. Nonetheless, the Gatorade State Player of the Year has his state championship

Peoria Blues
Although Brooks bounced back on Saturday with a win over North Chicago in the Class 3A third-place game, coach Bobby Locke and the Eagles had to be wondering what it would take for a ball to go through the net after Friday's debacle against Rock Island.

First, Brooks scored one point in the opening quarter of its semifinal game against Rock Island. At halftime the Eagles trailed 23-11 and were shooting 13 percent from the field. And by the time the horn sounded to end the game, the Eagles were an atrocious 13-of-50 from the field, including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. The star backcourt of George Marshall and Michael Powell, who have been playing at such a high level over the past month, simply couldn't find the range. The guard tandem shot a combined 2-of-26 from the field in the loss to the Rocks.

On to Peoria ...

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By Joe Henricksen

The final chapter of another dramatic March Madness will be written this weekend in Peoria as eight teams will battle for two state championships. All that is left is just what will be written in that last chapter of this 2010-2011 season.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will make another voyage to the state tournament and see just how this final weekend of the season plays out and what storylines will develop and be remembered.

Simeon repeat?
There is no question Simeon, the defending state champs, are the team to beat in Peoria this weekend. Thanks to coach Robert Smith, Simeon has avoided most of the pitfalls that typically haunt a team that is attempting back-to-back titles.

This is a program that always deals well with heightened media attention and avoids the division that is often created when players start believing they aren't receiving enough credit for the team's success. Smith runs a tight ship. He implores his team to live in the moment and get better each day in preparation for March. That two-game blip on the radar in February -- losses to Whitney Young and Benet Academy -- stoked yet another fire and re-focuses a team that, at the end of the day, believes in the Simeon system because it has breaded so much success.

How tough is it to repeat?
Every repeat champion since Proviso East in the early 1990s has had one thing in common: the return of the star player. Simeon, however, graduated its star player from a year ago, Brandon Spearman. But the Wolverines are in a different class in terms of pure overall talent in comparison to a season ago.

Derrick Rose led Simeon to back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. Shaun Livingston did the same for Peoria Central in 2003 and 2004. The great Peoria Manual teams of the 1990s featured one of the all-time winningest duos in state history -- Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin.

Simeon, however, has a chance to repeat and head into next season as the unquestioned preseason No. 1 team in the state.

Simeon vs. Warren: Round II?
A little less than three months ago Simeon and Warren, the two favorites to reach the Class 4A title game Saturday night, squared off in the championship game of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Simeon's 58-50 title game win at Pontiac, where the Wolverines led just 38-36 heading into the fourth quarter, was highlighted by Jabari Parker's game-high 16 points. Warren shot just 39 percent from the field and gave up 16 Simeon offensive rebounds.

Since that December matchup between Simeon and Warren, many people have been clamoring for a rematch. Unless Glenbard East or Normal can pull off an upset, that rematch should materialize. Unlike most teams Simeon has faced, Warren has the size and depth to throw at the Wolverines with 6-7 Darius Paul and 6-8 Nathan Boothe. In addition to the junior tandem of Paul and Boothe, 6-5 senior Jeremiah Jackson has had a solid couple of weeks.

How big has Jackson been over the past few weeks? He led the Blue Devils with 18 points in a North Suburban Conference title game victory over North Chicago to close out the regular season. He had a game-high 21 points in a regional title victory over Hersey and then came up big in the supersectional win over Niles North.

Miller, Sigel in an elite coaching class
Glenbard East coach Scott Miller and Rock Island coach Thom Sigel will be in select company when they coach their teams in the Class 4A and Class 3A state semifinals, respectively, this weekend. In fact, they are in a class of their own.

Miller and Sigel will be the first two coaches since the class system began in 1972 to lead both a small school and large school to the state finals -- and bring home a trophy. And to make this impressive coaching nugget even more intriguing -- and eerie -- is the fact they did it in the same years. Sigel led Rock Falls to a state championship in 1999, while Miller guided Plano to a fourth-place finish that same year. The two highly successful coaches will be together in Peoria again this weekend, with Sigel looking to become the first coach in state history to win both a small school and big school state championship.

Matchup nightmare
The Hoops Report has been singing the praises of Glenbard East and its star, Johnny Hill, for the past two years. However, the matchup with Simeon is far from favorable. Glenbard East and its lack of size had problems with big men this season as Benet's 6-11 Frank Kaminsky and Peoria Notre Dame's 6-7 Max Bielfeldt gave the Rams fits. While Simeon doesn't have a true, dominating low-post presence, the combination of 6-7 sophomore Jabari Parker and 6-7 junior Steve Taylor is a matchup nightmare for the red-hot Rams. Glenbard East will have to keep Parker, Taylor and bouncy 6-6 Rashawn McElrath off the offensive glass.

Glenbard East does take great care of the basketball, gets out in transition and can execute with precision in the halfcourt. Plus, you don't want to be trailing the Rams late in the game, where they will put teams away at the line. Hill has gotten to the line over 200 times and shoots 83 percent, while point guard Zach Miller is at 84 percent. Even big men 6-4 Kevin Priebe and 6-5 Dante Bailey shoot 85 and 76 percent from the line, respectively.

Brooks, Rock Island and ...
The general consensus among most fans heading to Peoria and watching on television will be the first game on Friday will decide the Class 3A state champion. The Brooks-Rock Island winner will be a heavy favorite to beat either Centralia (29-4) or North Chicago (17-13) in the title game Saturday afternoon. And there are plenty of reasons why.

No one in the state has played as well as Brooks over the past month. Coach Bobby Locke's club won a city title -- beating Farragut, Curie and Whitney Young in succession -- took it to T.F. North in the sectional semis and knocked off Wayne Blackshear and Morgan Park in the sectional final by double digits.

When it comes to production and victories, it doesn't get any better than the senior backcourt combo of George Marshall and Mike Powell. These two have led the Eagles in scoring in each postseason game and are averaging 18.7 and 17.3 points a game, respectively. The wild card, however, is 6-7 Keith Gray, who if healthy can be a difference-maker for the Eagles. In some of the biggest matchups of the season, Gray has been so impressive. Against Morgan Park he went for 23 points and 14 rebounds. He had 22 points and 18 rebounds against Simeon and a monster 21 points, 21 rebound performance in a city playoff win over Farragut.

Mr. Basketball push
Of all the top Mr. Basketball candidates, Rock Island's Chasson Randle is the only one still playing on the final weekend of the season. Randle has turned it up a notch in March, averaging 24 points a game in five tournament wins. And in the biggest win of the season, a 54-52 sectional final win over Peoria, Randle poured in 34 points.

Coaching, coaching, coaching
How about some of these accomplishments for a few of the coaches that will be taking their teams to Peoria this weekend.
• Warren's Chuck Ramsey ... One of the real underrated coaches who could be put on a short list of top active coaches in the state of Illinois. All he has done is go an astonishing 376-137 in 18 years at Warren. The highlight was the 1999 state runner-up finish.
• Simeon's Robert Smith ... The 195-36 record is an eye-opener. But three state championships and a runner-up finish in six years set him apart. Simeon is the favorite for a fourth title under Smith this weekend.
• Glenbard East's Scott Miller ... All the guy has done is build two different programs from the ground up and led them both to Peoria and a top four finish. Glenbard East was once the laughingstock of the DuPage Valley Conference; now the Rams have averaged 22 wins a season over the past seven years.
• Brook's Bobby Locke ... Has posted a 106-45 record in five seasons. Led Evanston to 30 wins and a third-place finish in Class 4A in 2009. Now in his first season at Brooks, he's guided the Eagles to their first trip to state.
• Rock Island's Thom Sigel ... The veteran of 16 years has over 300 career victories and has already won one state title as coach at Rock Falls in 1999. Sigel could become the first coach to win both a big and small school state championship.

The Picks
Class 4A Semifinals
Simeon 58, Glenbard East 48
Warren 51, Normal 39
Class 4A Championship Game
Simeon 55, Warren 50

Class 3A Semifinals
Brooks 62, Rock Island 60
Centralia 54, North Chicago 48
Class 3A Championship Game
Brooks 55, Centralia 46

Maniscalco heading to Illinois

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By Joe Henricksen

Former Bradley and St. Patrick star Sam Maniscalco may not be able to help coach Bruce Weber and Illinois this Friday in its first-round NCAA Tournament game against UNLV, but the 6-0 point guard will be a huge addition for the 2011-2012 season.

Maniscalco made it official today, announcing he will be transferring to Illinois to complete his college eligibility as a senior next season for the Fighting Illini. After spending time on the Illinois campus Monday, Maniscalco sat down and discussed all that Illinois had to offer--on the floor and academically towards his graduate degree--and pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon.

"I am very excited," Maniscalco said. "Illinois offers a lot for me both athletically and academically as far as the graduate programs available to me. I think I can fit in well there and it seemed like a natural fit."

Weber and assistant coach Jerrance Howard made a very favorable impression on the former Bradley star in this short "recruiting" process, which included the visit to Champaign on Monday. Howard, who will have recruited a whopping six of next year's newcomers to campus, hit it off with Maniscalco and never left his side while on campus.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Weber," said Maniscalco. "Illinois really does it the right way. They were honest, straightforward and straight up with me during this process. I felt very comfortable with both coach Weber and coach Howard."

With senior Demetri McCamey and his 34 minutes a game at point guard moving on after this season, Maniscalco becomes a key piece for Weber's Fighting Illini going forward. Last season as a junior, Maniscalco averaged 13 points and over four assists a game while knocking down 47 three-pointers on the year. He was a second-team all-Missouri Valley performer, a MVC all-tournament selection and was the conference's Player of the Week three times.

This season, injuries cut his senior year short as he played in just six games. When the season was complete, Bradley coach Jim Les was fired and Maniscalco decided to take advantage of an opportunity to transfer and be immediately eligible next season due to a graduate-student waiver rule.

Maniscalco did enjoy his time at Bradley and appreciates all the basketball program and university gave him during his four years on campus.

"I do want to thank Bradley for the four years I had there," says Maniscalco. "Without the people there and the fans, I wouldn't be who I am today or where I am today."

But with Maniscalco, it's more than just the numbers. While he's a high-level mid-major player who is transferring up to the high-major level, he's an ideal fit for what Illinois needs and what he has to offer. Maniscalco's overall game has grown leaps and bounds since arriving in Peoria as a freshman.

He's physically and mentally strong. He's as tough as they come, competes at an extremely high level and plays to win. Maniscalco, who leaves it all on the floor each night out, will run a team but also has an ability to score from the point guard position with his perimeter shooting. And most importantly, he has evolved into the type of point guard who will raise the level of play of his teammates.

Now Illinois will have a talented and veteran presence at point guard next season, along with a promising young player in Tracy Abrams of Mt. Carmel, who will arrive next fall as a freshman. This will be an ideal combination for Weber as he fills the 40 minutes at point guard.

Another positive is that Maniscalco will be able to be on campus this summer, work out with the team and be a part of an overseas team trip to Europe in August.

The party crashers have arrived

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By Joe Henricksen

There are certainly some familiar names remaining in the Class 3A and 4A state basketball tournament field, starting with perennial power and defending state champ Simeon. Coach Robert Smith's Wolverines are a household name in Illinois prep basketball with big named-players and even bigger success that stretches back to the 1980s.

Warren has been a fixture in rankings and postseason success under coach Chuck Ramsey. The Blue Devils finished second in the state in 1999 and have now won six sectional titles under Ramsey over the past 15 years. A Warren sighting in mid-March is no surprise.

Then there is Farragut, the school that produced Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields in the mid-1990s, reached the Sweet 16 in 2002 and the Elite Eight in 2004. And Rock Island has been a state power for decades with eight state appearances in the 1980s and 1990s. Even Crane, with the dominating Sherron Collins, a state quarterfinal appearance in 2005 and five sectional appearances in the past decade, has been a familiar name in prep hoops.

This 2011 version of March Madness, however, has propelled a few up-and-coming programs into prominence. The Hoops Report highlights three programs that have been on the cusp of doing some special things over the past several years and have now broken through. Here is a look at those programs, their struggles and how they have been able to get it done in such stylish fashion.

THE HISTORY: When coach Scott Miller took over the program prior to the 1999-2000 season, Glenbard East was the doormat of the DuPage Valley. In the previous eight years before Miller's arrival, the program averaged seven wins a season and had only five winning seasons -- and just one 20-win season -- since 1980.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Glenbard East began putting the pieces together in 2004-2005. In the last seven seasons, the Rams have won 19 or more games six times, averaging 22 wins a season in that span with five regional championships. In the DuPage Valley Conference, they've gone from being the laughingstock to a team that has won four of the last six league titles with back-to-back titles and winners of 28 straight games.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: After falling to Benet Academy in the sectional final a year ago, Glenbard East got over the hump this season and won arguably the state's toughest sectional. While everyone was so impressed with unbeaten Benet Academy all year, kept an eye on a Downers Grove South team that won 18 straight and gawked at superstar Ryan Boatright and East Aurora, it's Glenbard East that remains standing heading into Tuesday's supersectional.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: The Rams mix up their defenses and put points on the board with an up-tempo style, with the talented tandem of Johnny Hill and Zach Miller leading the charge. These two were monsters in two sectional victories over Downers South and East Aurora. Hill, who has signed with Illinois State, is a 6-3 versatile guard who can score and impact a game in a variety of ways. Miller, a Northern Illinois recruit, is the consummate point guard, who scored 22 points, dished out 12 assists and had seven rebounds with just one turnover in the win over East Aurora. While the Rams lack size and any sort of low-post presence, Miller and Hill make them go and valuable role players like 6-5 Dante Bailey, defensive whiz Tyree York, invaluable Steve Kinney and Kevin Priebe have stepped up. Glenbard East is executing with precision and efficiency on both ends of the floor.

THE HISTORY: There just isn't a whole lot to talk about when it comes to Crete-Monee basketball history. There was the great Phil Henderson in the mid-1980s, who led the Warriors to a regional title and Big Dipper title game appearance his senior year before going on to play at Duke. But this is a program that began this season without a single sectional basketball championship in school history. In fact, prior to the arrival of coach Rocky Hill in 2007, Crete-Monee had won just five regional championships in the previous 30 years.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: While there was little to no talk about Crete-Monee hoops in the south suburbs for decades, Hill arrived and re-energized the program. In just three years under the veteran coach, Crete-Monee won its first conference championship in 25 years, captured three straight regional titles, won 64 games and revived a program that was on life support. First-year coach Matt Ryndak, who assisted Hill last season, has flourished in leading the Warriors to new heights this season.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: Fresh off the first sectional title in school history, the Warriors are favorites heading into Tuesday's supersectional matchup with Normal. Crete-Monee, ranked No. 9 in the preseason City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings back in November, is a glitzy 25-3 on the year and a south suburban power. Plus, with some young talent in place, the program is in great shape going forward.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: Ryndak's first job as head coach was to get this group of players all on the same page. Then three positives occurred, answering any lingering questions and taking the Warriors from a very good team to a state title contending team. The enormously athletic Jamee Crockett, a DePaul recruit, grew up and took his game to a difference-making level. Big man Greg Mays, who signed with Wisconsin-Green Bay, emerged inside on both ends of the floor. And junior Michael Orris, a transfer from Palatine, solidified the point guard position in a big way. Senior Kentrell King and sophomores Marvie Keith and LaQuon Treadwell give Ryndak quickness and added weapons in support of the Big Three. The Warriors are attacking the glass, which has been a big difference between their big wins and their three lone losses.

BROOKS (27-3)
THE HISTORY: Well, the history is short. The school is only in its eighth year, so there really aren't any dark days in the basketball program's history. Brooks is a beautiful school on a 40-acre campus in the historic Pullman/Roseland neighborhoods with a solid academic reputation. Now it's a college prep academy with a sooner-than-expected powerhouse basketball program.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Chris Head, the sometimes controversial but successful coach, took over the Brooks program and immediately put it on the map with three straight 20-plus win seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2009 season included 27 wins and a sectional championship before eventually falling to Leo in the supersectional.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: Brooks struggled a year ago and, the players admit, underachieved. "This season it's been about showing we are better than what we showed last season," senior George Marshall told the Hoops Report earlier this season. "We had two goals: win a city and 3A championship." This year's Brooks team heads into Tuesday's supersectional matchup with Lindblom in a completely different mindset than two years ago. First, Brooks will be a heavy favorite with senior veterans and Division I talent. And second, the Eagles are soaring after winning the Chicago Public League championship in late February and knocking off Morgan Park and Wayne Blackshear in the sectional title game.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: Seniors -- and a comfort level playing under first-year coach Bobby Locke. This group of seniors, led by the backcourt of Wisconsin-bound George Marshall and Mike Powell, have been through a lot, including the changing of coaches, injuries and doubters. Keith and Kevin Gray, a pair of 6-7 senior twins, and mainstay Justin Raab, have more games under their belt playing together than perhaps any other team in the state.

And three other March party crashers ...
Niles North. There isn't a basketball program still playing with less basketball tradition and history than Niles North. In two years, coach Glenn Olson has won 36 games, which are more victories than the program experienced in the previous six seasons combined. The greatest season in school history, which includes winning the school's second regional and first sectional title, could add another chapter with an upset win over favored Warren Tuesday night. In

Aurora Central Catholic. This was the fewest amount of wins coach Nate Drye has had entering the postseason in the last four years. The Chargers played a competitive schedule and headed into March with a 13-13 record after averaging nearly 22 wins a season the previous three years. Taking full advantage of a very favorable sectional road, ACC won only its fourth regional and first sectional championship in the last 20 years. Rock Island stands in its way of reaching a state semifinal and claiming a trophy for the first time since the 1977 team finished second in Class A.

Lindblom. Lindblom? Yes, Lindblom. Do you remember 1942? That's when Lindblom reached the Sweet 16 and fell 35-19 to East Alton-Wood River. Since then? Well, there was the 2009 regional championship, but that team finished just 12-19 on the year. Lindblom has 22 wins and shared the city's Blue-Central title with Kenwood this season. This March, Lindblom won its regional opener over Bowen in overtime, beat top-seeded King 42-37 and edged Harper 59-57 in the sectional title game. But the Golden Eagles will be huge underdogs in their supersectional matchup with Brooks.

Sectional title games up for grabs

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By Joe Henricksen

There is a Red-West war and McDipper title game rematch. There is a Cinderella still lurking. There is another episode of the Boat Show. And there are hungry programs looking for some respect. There are terrific matchups and storylines as we head into the final week of the high school basketball season. Here is a breakdown of Friday's Class 4A sectional showdowns, along with a look at the two best Class 3A sectional title game in the Chicago area.

East Aurora vs. Glenbard East
The top two seeds in the sectional, Benet and Downers Grove South, were taken out by the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds as Glenbard East and East Aurora are set to tangle in what could turn into a fast-paced, up-tempo track meet. There will be a lot of red and black on the East Side of Aurora Friday night.

These are two teams who lack size but are both explosive offensively. At this point, there is no team that relies more heavily on one player than the Tomcats. Ryan Boatright is near unstoppable, especially in the open court. Domonique Johnson and John Williams, though, have provided more than box scores indicate for coach Wendell Jeffries. The X-factor is Snoop Viser, who has missed tournament time with injuries and whose minutes were limited in the win over Benet.

Is it possible for a team to be ranked all year and still fly under the radar? That's just what the Glenbard East Rams are doing. The senior duo of Johnny Hill and Zach Miller were huge in beating No. 2 seed Downers Grove South, combining for 43 points and automatic from the line down the stretch. And junior Dante Bailey has provided an offensive boost in recent weeks.

Hoops Report Pick: East Aurora 71, Glenbard East 70

Whitney Young vs. Farragut
An old fashioned West Side battle moves to the suburbs Friday night with a whole lot on the line in Elmhurst. Farragut, playing without talented junior big man Rashaun Stimage the first time these two met, knocked off Young 51-49 in January behind versatile D.J. Tolliver. Stimage is back for coach Wolf Nelson and will be a key in contending with Young's great size inside.

Young coach Tyrone Slaughter has a different team than the one that faced Farragut in January. Since that loss, junior guard Derrick Randolph has returned and the young players in the program have had two more months of seasoning. Look for Sam Thompson's performance to dictate the outcome of this one. When the athletic 6-6 Ohio State-bound Thompson plays at a high level, Whitney Young is a different team.

The Dolphins are no strangers to March, with a third straight sectional title game appearance. That experience and an ability to get it done when it matters most will prove to be the difference in what will be another tight one.

Hoops Report Pick: Whitney Young 55, Farragut 51

Simeon vs. Lyons Township
Yes, Lyons has won 16 games in a row, including a thrilling sectional final win over Curie Wednesday night. But the Lions haven't had to play a team like Simeon since, well ... since the last time they faced Simeon a year ago in the sectional. The task is even greater with the recent injury to Illinois State recruit Nick Zeisloft. Seniors Nick Burt and Eric Powers both stepped up in Zeisloft's absence in the win over Curie.

Coach Rob Smith and Simeon's quest for a second straight state championship look better and better with sophomore Jabari Parker's offensive assertiveness over the past month. He is a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Sorry, LT, but it's big, bad Simeon again in a sectional matchup. Last year Simeon crushed Lyons 65-35 in the sectional semifinals en route to winning a state title. This one will be closer, but the Wolverines are just too deep, talented and athletic for a Zeisloft-less LT team.

Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 67, Lyons 55

Thornton vs. Crete-Monee
This is going to be one of those fun south suburban brawls. While the seeds say Thornton is No. 1 and the Wildcats beat Crete-Monee in December, you would be hard pressed to find many people who don't consider Crete-Monee the favorite. If you haven't been taking notice of the way Crete-Monee has played the last seven weeks, you've missed out. This is a much better Crete-Monee team than the one that lost to Thornton, 57-55, in the McDipper title game in late December.

Coach Matt Ryndak's club has played a schedule that has toughened it up and flourished in the process. Big, athletic Greg Mays has become a major factor, while the duo of Jamee Crockett and junior point guard Michael Orris bring such a wide variety of attributes between the two of them.

Thornton, meanwhile, has put together a season better than most expected. This is a senior-dominated team that has simply found ways to win games with different players stepping up at different times. It appeared Stagg exposed Thornton a bit in the regional opener, but the Wildcats have cruised to three straight convincing postseason wins since. Coach Troy Jackson's team, led by seniors Brian Greene and Jay Parker, is quick defensively, very balanced offensively and has received major contributions from its bench.

Hoops Report Pick: Crete-Monee 61, Thornton 56

Warren vs. Mundelein
On paper, this is a mismatch simply based on the previous two meetings between these two teams. Warren beat Mundelein in December 79-41 and won 74-54 in late January. Expect the emotions of March to keep this one a little closer.

Since we rolled into March, Warren has been a trendy pick to reach Peoria. The Blue Devils (28-3) are big, balanced and have depth. Plus, coach Chuck Ramsey has been through the rigors of March. This will be Ramsey's 13th trip into sectional play, with the Blue Devils looking for their sixth sectional championship under the veteran coach.

Mundelein can score points and relies heavily on the 1-2 punch of Evansville recruit Ryan Sawvell (22 ppg, 11 rpg) and sophomore guard Robert Knar (20 ppg). But it's at the defensive end where Mundelein will need to get it done in order to keep this game close.

Hoops Report Pick: Warren 72, Mundelein 60

Niles North vs. Schaumburg
This is the Class 4A sectional with two teams Chicago area basketball fans probably are the least familiar with. Unheralded Niles North is enjoying a dream season behind the one player in this game fans have heard of--Abdel Nader, a talented 6-7 difference-maker. With Nader and up-and-coming sophomore Malachi Nix, Niles North is poised to win the first boys basketball sectional in school history.

Schaumburg, meanwhile, is the Cinderella story of March. There have been only two double-figured seeded teams in the last two years in Class 4A to advance to a sectional final--Schaumburg last year as a No.13 seed and Schaumburg again this season as the No. 15 seed. The really good news for Schaumburg is it has gone 5-0 this year against Central Suburban League opponents, including four straight postseason wins. Niles North is the fifth consecutive foe from the CSL Schaumburg will face, but it's also the league champ and one of the hottest teams in the Chicago area.

Hoops Report Pick: Niles North 54, Schaumburg 46

Morgan Park vs. Brooks
A battle between the last two Chicago Public League champions. There is so much on the line in this one, with the winner an overwhelming favorite to beat the King Sectional winner in the supersectional and become the Class 3A favorite going forward. These two met back in December, with Morgan Park winning a 63-60 thriller.

At first glance, with 6-7 Keith Gray of Brooks out of action with an injury, it may be a bit easier to give Morgan Park the edge in what should be a dandy of a sectional final. But Brooks has the backcourt play in George Marshall and Mike Powell that is so vital to March success. These two have been producing at a high level. Plus, Brooks, the 2011 city champs, has been playing extremely well over the second half of the season.

Coach Nick Irvin's Mustangs will try to speed the game up and should have a mismatch on the floor in 6-5 All-American Wayne Blackshear. If the young but experienced backcourt of sophomores Markee Williams and Billy Garrett, Jr. hold up against Brooks' senior veterans, Morgan Park will likely be heading to its first supersectional appearance in 10 years.

The loss of Keith Gray, who was playing some quality basketball over the past couple of months, is a big blow for a Brooks team that doesn't have a whole lot of depth or size outside of Keith and Kevin Gray. In fact, Keith Gray scored a game-high 23 points in the last meeting between these two teams. That's an awfully tough personnel loss.

Hoops Report Pick: Morgan Park 64, Brooks 62

Riverside-Brookfield vs. Crane
The Hoops Report had R-B as its 3A darkhorse, picking the Bulldogs to get through one of the few tough 3A sectionals and reach Peoria. The Bulldogs are now two steps away from that reality. This is a team that is playing on its home floor. And this is a team with confidence, knowing it has more than held its own against Red-West heavyweights. R-B knocked off Farragut, which beat Crane twice during the regular season, and beat Orr in the sectional semis.

If R-B is to pull off the upset, the Bulldogs will have to get it done in a game that will very likely go down to the wire. And R-B, which is led by standout guard Ryan Jackson, will need to find a way to neutralize senior guard Kieran Woods and red-hot junior Willie Conner.

Hoops Report Pick: Riverside-Brookfield 69, Crane 66

Boat Show, Benet and March Madness

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By Joe Henricksen

Whether it's two classes, four classes or any decade of your choosing, last night at East Aurora was what high school basketball in Illinois is all about. It doesn't get any better.

The great old East High gym was sold out, steamy hot, electric and deafening, with the state's best team--unbeaten and nationally ranked Benet Academy--squaring off with the state's most dominating player, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, in sectional warfare.

There wasn't a single thing missing in this perfect example of March Madness, including two teams that played about as intense of a game as you will ever see at this level.

In the end, the Boat Show was again the talk of the night as the Tomcats rolled to a 17-point lead and fought off Benet's furious comeback attempt in a memorable upset for the ages.

This was an unbeaten Benet team that had knocked off mighty Simeon before 8,000-plus fans, cruised to an East Suburban Catholic Conference championship and went 4-0 en route to a Proviso West Holiday Tournament title behind two Big Ten players in David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky.

And this was an East Aurora team that has played the postseason without its second best player, Snoop Viser (aside from brief appearances in the Benet game), lacks height and lost three straight games in January to Metea Valley, Bartlett and Elgin.

But it's March. And East Aurora has Boatright.

With Boatright, it's not just about his scoring numbers that generate the headlines; if there were style points awarded to a player's production, Boatright would lead the state--and probably in tall tales told by fans leaving the gym as they call and text their buddies about Boat's exploits.

While Boatright will put points on the board more quickly than anyone else in the state, there are so many overlooked and underrated ways he impacts a game.

He gets an opposing defense completely out of sync. Team defenses put so much energy and concentration in stopping Boatright and knowing where he is on the floor, they lose focus, are constantly scrambling and out of position. Even missed East Aurora shots lead to easy put-backs due to defensive doors revolving

And with Boatright, East Aurora has the game's best closer and momentum changer. Just when you think there isn't enough left in the tank, the Boat Show offers up one last scene. He is an opposing team's run killer. It's nearly impossible for an opponent to put together a big, momentum-changing run against East Aurora, because containing Boatright for more than three trips down the floor is nearly impossible.

Although Boatright is the obvious show, East Aurora is advancing to Friday's sectional championship due to a fantastic team defensive effort against Benet. East Aurora was as disciplined defensively as they've been all season. Wendell Jeffries' club harassed Benet's perimeter threats, made them work extremely hard and, most impressively, the undersized Tomcats kept Benet big man Frank Kaminsky out of the lane and basically a non-factor for most the game.

Benet, meanwhile, is left stunned after winning 29 straight games and gaining statewide and national attention. No one will know for sure what kind of potential negative impact the notoriety, the state's No. 1 ranking and unbeaten record had on this team as it headed into March.

While the near-stunning defeat to Naperville North in the regional final could be blamed on Benet having its worst shooting performance in two years and playing its worst game of the season, Tuesday night at East Aurora was a different Benet team. The Redwings, throughout the first 16 minutes of play, didn't appear to be themselves. Benet looked tight, out of sorts and, uncharacteristically, fighting to gain the composure they always seem to possess. That led to an early double-digit deficit that ballooned to 17 points in the second half and was ultimately the difference in the game.

Yes, the run ended sooner than expected for a Benet team that put together two magical seasons. And a fan base and group of players that had dreams of playing in Peoria is left stunned--in different ways--for the second straight year. But the Hoops Report can't think of a team in the past two decades that maximized the absolute most out of its nucleus and talent, had a bigger fan following and enjoyed more fun and success than Benet. That's not what they will remember today, tomorrow or even next week or month, but it's what will be cherished 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

For another Hoops Report read on Ryan Boatright, go to The Boat Show.

Top 10 sectional semi storylines

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By Joe Henricksen

The Class 4A and 3A sectional semifinal matchups will be played throughout the state on Tuesday and Wednesday. Here is a look at 10 storylines to follow in preparation for sectional final Friday.

10. The city's unknown
Simeon. Whitney Young. Morgan Park. Brooks. Crane. Orr. ... These are the city teams we've heard about and have become familiar with over the past four months. The casual high school basketball fan can name a dozen players from this list of teams. But either King, Hope, Harper or Lindblom will be advancing to a Class 3A supersectional next Tuesday as these four square off in the King Sectional. Go ahead and name a handful of players from these four.

9. Proving grounds
Wheaton Academy has heard enough about its schedule strength and people questioning its 27-1 record, which includes a perfect record against in-state opponents. A win over top-seeded Crane in the semifinals of the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional would go a long way in silencing the critics.

8. At least one Cinderella will advance
The New Trier Sectional is guaranteed of one thing: an appearance by Cinderella in the sectional title game this Friday night. That's because the Schaumburg-Niles West sectional semifinal winner will produce a double-digit seed -- Schaumburg is the No. 15 seed and Niles West the No. 11 seed -- in the title game. After losing both regular-season games to Maine South, Niles West upset the Hawks in overtime to win the regional. After a five-game losing streak in January, Niles West has won seven in a row.

7. Second chances
The regular season was not what Orr had anticipated or hoped for, but it's a new beginning. With a regional title and a looming sectional semifinal date with Riverside-Brookfield on Wednesday, the last four months don't matter a whole lot to coach Lou Adams and the Spartans. Orr star Mycheal Henry and Company have their hearts set on a Class 3A state appearance in Peoria.

6. Big-time test for defending 3A champs
Hillcrest is still a viable Class 3A threat as the Hawks try to defend their 2010 state title. After walloping both regional opponents by a combined 80 points, Hillcrest gets its first test of the 2011 postseason -- Wayne Blackshear and Morgan Park.

5. The Rematch
Crete-Monee and Homewood-Flossmoor, arguably the top two teams in the south suburbs, meet in the Thornwood Sectional semifinal. It will be a rematch of a January meeting that Crete-Monee won 67-62 in a game that really wasn't as close as the score would indicate. Crete-Monee, which received 24 points from Jamee Crockett and 11 assists from point guard Michael Orris in that earlier matchup, led 48-27 at one point in the second half. This one will be different. Homewood-Flossmoor's talented 6-8 junior Tim Williams is back playing and makes a world of difference for coach Jim McLaughlin's club.

4. The Rematch: Part II
The Niles basketball community will be front and center Tuesday night when Niles North and Niles Notre Dame meet in a rematch, only with much more on the line this time around. The two did meet in a high-profile matchup in December in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic title game, which Notre Dame won 61-50. But this is certainly a different Niles North team. Sophomore Malachi Nix has a dozen-plus more games under his belt and Cassius Bell is a much bigger factor than he was in December. Niles North, an impressive 15-1 since that loss to Notre Dame, also boasts a player who is very capable of putting a team on his back in Abdel Nader (see storyline #8).

3. Abdel Nader
An intriguing talent who had a monster game in the regional final, scoring 36 points and pulling down seven rebounds in the win over Glenbrook North. Nader is a matchup nightmare at the high school level, with an ability to step out and change the game with his perimeter shooting to the three-point line and beyond, while also using his size around the basket on both ends of the floor. How good is Nader? The 6-7 Nader (26 ppg) is obviously capable of being a dominating figure this March. While Nader will most likely head to a prep school for a year and re-classify as a Class of 2012 prospect, he would certainly be the top prospect in what is a rather weak junior class in Illinois.

2. Heavyweight battle in Elmhurst
A pair of individually loaded teams square off in Elmhurst in a monster sectional semifinal at York. There could be 10 Division I players on the floor at once when De La Salle and Whitney Young meet. Get a load of this short list of players: Whitney Young's Sam Thompson, Tommy Hamilton and Derrick Randolph; De La Salle's Mike Shaw, Dre Henley, Jaylon Tate, Alex Foster and Alvin Ellis.

1. Benet and the 'Boat Show'
The state's top-ranked team, Benet Academy, and the state's most exciting player, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, go head-to-head in what will be a wild scene at one of the best high school basketball venues in the state. The defensive-minded Redwings will take their shot at containing the 32-plus point Boatright, who is one of the few players in the state who can absolutely dominate a game.

Regional rewind: Madness already here

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By Joe Henricksen

Everyone always answers with "It's March" whenever there is an upset, buzzer-beater or a goose-bumps on your arm, chills in your spine game. And they're saying it again just four days into this magical month we call March Madness.

But if the first week of the Class 3A and 4A state tournament is any indication, March 2011 is going to be an "It's March" with a giant exclamation point behind it. While there were a fair share of blowouts, this was as wild of a regional week as Illinois prep basketball has seen in quite some time.

There were stunners and nail-biters even before the regional finals tipped off, but on Friday alone there were 14 one-possession regional championship games, including five overtime games, one of the most bizarre finishes in memory and a game played under protest.

But there is no better place to start than the near jaw-dropping shocker that took place at Naperville North.

Benet Academy, unbeaten, No. 1 in the state, nationally ranked and enjoying a thrill ride that never seems to stop, nearly had its dream season come crashing down two weeks too early. Naperville North forced two overtimes, thanks to senior Matt LaCosse, with an opportunity to shock the state in the closing seconds -- missing a close shot attempt -- before Benet escaped and survived with a 43-42 win.

Would this one have gone down as the greatest upset in state tournament history Thankfully for Benet, that debate doesn't even need to be discussed. Now the hype and buzz can start for Benet-Boatright. The state's best team takes on the state's most dazzling player in a Tuesday night sectional semifinal that is a rematch of the exact same game that Benet won a year ago.

And speaking of Boatright, there is no player that has done more damage to one team than what the dynamic Boatright has done to Neuqua Valley over the past two years.

Think about this:

• A year ago, Boatright poured in 45 points to end Neuqua Valley's season in a dramatic regional championship game.

• In the first regular-season matchup this year, Boatright scores a game-high 32 points, including the winning basket with 15 seconds left in a 64-62 Tomcats victory.

• In the February rematch, Boatright pumps in 36 points in a 78-71 win to end Neuqua's conference stranglehold.

• And then the "Boat Show" did it one more time Friday night. Boatright polished off Neuqua again with 32 points in another regional overtime win.

In the last four matchups with Neuqua Valley, Boatright went 4-0 and averaged 36 points a game.

It's their time -- finally
Niles North will be able to dust the cobwebs out of the basketball trophy case. There is no program enjoying more success this season with less tradition than Niles North. But with 22 wins on the season and a regional title victory over Glenbrook North Friday night, thanks in large part to star Abdel Nader, the less-than-memorable basketball past at Niles North is quickly forgotten.

Niles North is now in some unfamiliar territory -- a New Trier Sectional semifinal showdown with top-seed Niles Notre Dame Tuesday night. This basketball program, which has averaged less than 8 wins a season over the past 20 years, won just its second regional championship in the last 50 years. Nader, meanwhile, is now a hot commodity on the recruiting front after de-committing from New Mexico.

How about that side of the bracket
While two schools from Niles go at it in one New Trier Sectional semifinal, the No. 11 and No. 15 seeds face off on the other side of the bracket. Highly-successful Bob Williams now has a Cinderella story to add to his coaching resumé as his 11th-seeded Niles West team upset Maine South in overtime. Over the last five years, Niles West has averaged 7 wins a season; now the Wolves have their first championship since winning back-to-back regional titles in 2003 and 2004.

And then there is the March miracle worker -- Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh. Last year he guided the Saxons to a regional title and sectional final berth as a No. 13 seed. This season the Saxons are a No. 15 seed and one win from getting back to a sectional championship game after beating both Evanston and New Trier out of the Central Suburban League South. This year, however, Schaumburg has a respectable 17 wins under its belt, features better depth and is more cohesive.

That sets up a sectional matchup of intrigue as Niles West and Bob Williams square off with Schaumburg, the program Williams built into a state power a decade ago.

Time for some Sawvell love
Is there a player that has had a better and more productive season with less fanfare than the blue-collar Ryan Sawvell of Mundelein? The Evansville-bound Sawvell put the Mustangs on his back in a regional final win over Waukegan, scoring 32 points with 10 rebounds and 7 blocked shots.

Ultimate overachievers
A few weeks ago in the Hoops Report's Three-Pointer column in Friday's Sun-Times, it was mentioned that perhaps no coach has done more with less than Deerfield's Bret Just. This was a team that graduated its top eight players from last year's 25-win team that shared the Central Suburban League North title. Plus, Just welcomed back a grand total of 3 points a game heading into this season.

In addition to battling for the top spot in the CSL North up until the final two weeks of the season and winning 18 games, Deerfield claimed its second straight regional crown. This time, though, as a No. 11 seed, knocking off Barrington 45-41 in overtime.

No drama needed
When teams were placed in their sectional assignments two months ago, the Argo Sectional and York Sectional were recognized as two of the better sectionals in the state. Hopefully these two sectionals, which both feed into the Hinsdale Central Supersectional, are just top heavy and drama-filled sectional games await.

But in the eight regional title games played in these two sectionals, seven of the eight games were decided by double digits. The average victory margin for the eight winners was 18 points, with the only close one in the end being Whitney Young's 50-46 win over St. Ignatius.

The biggest surprise came in a regional rivalry featuring Proviso East and Proviso West. In an early February matchup, Proviso East pounded Proviso West 83-58. This time an under-the-radar and dangerous Proviso West team got its revenge, winning 61-50 over the No. 2 seed Pirates.

A scoring drought and bizarre finish for the ages?
While there probably isn't any official record keeping when it comes to this peculiar stat, when is the last time there has been so few points scored in regional title games in one sectional? The regional title game point totals churned out in the Jacobs Sectional included six of the eight teams unable to score more than 36 points in a game. Hey, they were at least close. Here are your regional final scores in the Jacobs Sectional:

• Rockford Auburn 59, Rockford Boylan 43
• South Elgin 33, Bartlett 32
• Huntley 34, McHenry 32
• Elgin 36, Dundee-Crown 35

The highlight of these low-scoring slugfests -- and without question the most bizarre finish in the state this March -- was South Elgin claiming its first basketball regional title in school history.

Bartlett led South Elgin 32-31 with 2.4 seconds remaining. After a Bartlett player intercepted a South Elgin pass at midcourt and was fouled to all but end the game with 1.5 seconds left, several players on the Bartlett bench stormed the floor. As a result, a technical foul was called on Bartlett. South Elgin's Jake Maestranzi stepped to the line and the sophomore sank both free throws for the 33-32 win and regional title.

And the protest
Every Class 4A and 3A regional final Friday night was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. except one -- Marshall vs. Orr, which was officially scheduled to tip off at 6:00 p.m. The problem was that Orr thought it was a 7:30 p.m. start time and arrived late for the game. While Orr did win 60-54 behind the play of Mycheal Henry (25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks), Marshall played the game under protest. The likelihood of anything transpiring from the "official protest" is slim to none, which means Orr is on its way to a semifinal matchup with Riverside-Brookfield Wednesday night.

Hoops Report regional forecast

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By Joe Henricksen

The City/Suburban Hoops Report offers up a quick rundown of what to look forward to Friday night as regional championship games take place across the state of Illinois.

For the Hoops Report's predictions of every Class 4A regional go to 4A picks.

For the Hoops Report's predictions of every Class 3A regional go to 3A Picks.

Must-see regional finals
Here are the four best regional championship games in the Chicago area -- ranked in order -- and why you need to be in the gym to see them.

1. Whitney Young vs. St. Ignatius
This is the only regional final involving two teams that finished the regular season ranked in the Hoops Report's Top 25 -- Young at No. 9 and Ignatius at No. 21. A couple of future Big Ten players -- Illinois recruit Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius and Ohio State recruit Sam Thompson of Whitney Young -- square off in this Chicago Catholic League vs. Chicago Public League battle.

2. East Aurora vs. Neuqua Valley
When these two match up it always seem to be entertaining and down to the wire. Last year's regional final between these two Upstate Eight foes went to overtime, with East Aurora winning. The Tomcats, in fact, have won the last three times these two have tangled. East Aurora and Ryan Boatright are one step away from getting its shot at the No. 1 ranked team in the state -- Benet Academy next Tuesday.

3. Glenbrook North vs. Niles North
A pair of conference foes who have played in two tight games this season meet in the rubber match that will send one team home and the other on to sectional play. GBN stumbled in the second half of the season, while Niles North has erupted and is one of the hottest teams in the Chicago area.

4. Morton vs. Farragut
A couple of tough teams that will just go at each other without any fear. A fun matchup to watch will be Morton guard Jeff Jarosz up against the Farragut senior tandem of D.J. Tolliver and Gabe Williams.

Best game outside the Chicago area
Peoria Manual vs. Peoria Central
The potential for a special night is always present anytime two highly-regarded Peoria teams clash in March.

Spoiler alerts
Here are several teams seeded to lose Friday night that could very well extend their season with an upset. The Hoops Report's Upset Alert rating included.

No. 10 Waukegan vs. No. 2 Mundelein
Upset Alert Rating: Very High
After a loud thud to end the year last season, Mundelein has bounced back with a terrific run in 2010-2011 behind Ryan Sawvell, sophomore Robert Knar and Leavon Head. But Waukegan is not a normal No. 10 seed, with as deceiving of a record as there is due to a grueling regular-season schedule. Plus, Waukegan's top two players, Akeem Springs and Aaron Johnson, have postseason experience from the past two years.

No. 6 Morton vs. No. 3 Farragut
Upset Alert Rating: Very High
This Morton team is scrappy and just never seems to play uptight. Those are a couple of key ingredients for any No. 6 seed to pull off a win over a No. 3 seed.

No. 8 Lincoln-Way East vs. No. 1 Thornton
Upset Alert Rating: High
The top-seeded Wildcats just look vulnerable. Thornton, which hasn't played a ranked team since beating Crete-Monee at the McDipper Tournament, lived on the edge in a regional opening win over Shepard. Nonetheless, this is a senior-dominated team enjoying a whole bunch of success this season. But there are more than a few people that believe Lincoln-Way East will keep the game in the 40s or 50s and put a real scare into the Wildcats.

No. 8 St. Joseph vs. No. 1 Crane
Upset Alert Rating: Mild
Everyone seems to have written off Gene Pingatore's Chargers, the No. 11 seed in the R-B Sectional. While Crane is a heavy favorite as the top seed, the Cougars will have to get it done on the road and against a young team that has gotten better over the last month.

No. 8 St. Patrick vs. No. 1 Notre Dame
Upset Alert Rating: Mild
This is a No. 1 vs. No. 8 seed game where the lower-seeded team has the confidence in knowing it has already beaten the top seed. So of course there is an upset possibility. The St. Patrick senior group, highlighted by Jacob Williams and Kortney Darby, would love to go out with a bang.

No. 7 Orr vs. No. 3 Marshall
Upset Alert Rating: Mild
This is a No. 3 vs. No. 7 matchup in numbers only. Orr and star Mycheal Henry is eager to show a disappointing regular season is long forgotten. And a win over Red-West rival Marshall would do the trick.

No. 10 Wheaton South vs. No. 2 Downers Grove South
Upset Alert Rating: High
Maybe, just maybe, the down-to-the-wire scare Downers South received in its regional opener will prevent another near upset Friday night. The 10th-seeded Tigers of Wheaton South are rolling, playing with extreme confidence and shot the lights out in a romp over West Aurora in the semis. If Wheaton South establishes tempo and keeps it close early, this will go down to the wire.

No. 7 Brother Rice vs. No. 2 Lyons Twp.
Upset Alert Rating: Mild
Who would ever put this game on the list when LT pounded Rice back in December? This is a different Brother Rice team than in December and the game will be played at Brother Rice. Should be a pretty electric atmosphere with two great groups of fans.

No. 12 St. Rita vs. No. 4 Mt. Carmel
Upset Alert Rating: Mild ... but heating up
A semifinal overtime win over Bogan was just what the doctor ordered for a St. Rita team looking for a boost. And having played Mt. Carmel tough already this season, losing 77-74, only adds to Rita's burgeoning confidence. Oh, yeah, the game is at St. Rita. These are the type of ingredients and hopeful signs needed to pull of a No. 12 over No. 4 upset.

Cinderella's chances?
Glenbard West is the lowest seeded team still alive -- seeded No. 21 in a 23-team sectional. An overtime win on Monday night, followed by a stunning one-point win over Waubonsie Valley on Wednesday night, propels coach Tim Hoder's club into the regional championship. Will the surge in momentum carry over for 32 more minutes? The Hilltoppers will come into the game with nothing to lose but will have their hands full against 23-3 Glenbard East and the backcourt of Johnny Hill and Zach Miller. These two met early in the regular season, with Glenbard East winning 77-43 in a game that probably wasn't even that close.

Every regional title game pick

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By Joe Henricksen

For a look at the Hoops Report's Class 4A picks, go to 4A picks

Who are you picking? What are your upset specials?

University Regional
Hope over University
Avery Busch and Hope move on to the sectional.

Harper Regional
Harper over Jones
A top four finish in the Red-Central for Harper compared to bottom half finish in the Blue-Central for Jones.

King Regional
King over Perspectives
This isn't the King of old, but the Jaguars still favorite to win the sectional as the top seed.

Robeson Regional
Lindblom over Robeson
Blue Central champs escaped with OT win over Bowen on Tuesday and should move on.

Lemont Regional
Morgan Park over Harlan
This could be a tougher matchup for highly-regarded Morgan Park than people realize. Familiarity for both teams--Harlan played Morgan Park tough in an early January loss--but Morgan Park with too much overall talent.

Rich East Regional
Brooks over Tinley Park
There aren't many teams playing better than Brooks. Tinley Park played Hillcrest tough a while back, but the backcourt of Mike Powell and George Marshall should cruise.

Hillcrest Regional
Hillcrest over Corliss
Homecourt, Juice Brown and Hillcrest's past March experience overwhelms Corliss.

T.F. North Regional
T.F. North over Carver
This should be one of the marquee 3A regional finals, with T.F. North edging DeShawn Delaney and Carver on its home floor.

Sycamore Regional
Aurora Central over Rochelle
A competitive schedule has prepared Aurora Central for March.

Belvidere North Regional
Rockford East over Belvidere North
A couple of teams that struggled mightily down the stretch--Rockford East went 4-8 in the final 12 regular-season games and Belvidere North went 2-8 in its final 10 games. But Rockford East beat Belvidere North a month ago.

Woodstock Regional
Woodstock Marian over Woodstock
Marian comes in 14-15 and Woodstock 10-18. One of them has to advance.

Hampshire Regional
Crystal Lake Central over Marmion
Quietly, Crystal Lake Central is 23-4 and riding a 10-game win streak.

Yorkville Regional
Morris over Streator
Morris looking for second straight regional title. Since a 2-5 start to the season, Morris has put together a solid year in the win column and should advance to face Rock Island in the Peoria Sectional.

Rock Island Regional
Rock Island over Sterling
This is one regional final that won't be close. Sterling lost to Peoria Notre Dame, the top-ranked 3A team in the state, 71-42 last month.

Peoria Richwoods Regional
Peoria Notre Dame over Galesburg
The No. 1 team in Class 3A should cruise after taking care of Galesburg in a regular-season game. But Galesburg has piled up 25 wins and somehow knocked off Warren.

Peoria Manual Regional
Peoria Manual over Peoria Central
A rivalry game and one of the top 3A regional title matchups in the state. Despite the fact Central crushed Manual 79-48 last week, this will go down to the wire. Talented junior guard Jeff White didn't play for Manual last week.

Lincoln Regional
Morton over Springfield Lanphier
Morton and junior Brett Bisping upset the host Railers and have played very well in the second half of the season; Lanphier lost twice to Lincoln this season. Look for Morton to claim its third consecutive regional championship.

Decatur Eisenhower Regional
Springfield Southeast over Decatur MacArthur
Southeast, a sleeper to reach Peoria, takes its first step towards that goal.

Bloomington Regional
Washington over Bloomington
Since the calendar turned to 2011, Washington has been on run with just two losses--an impressive 16-2 since late December. And the Hoops Report will take any team coached by Kevin Brown.

Mahomet-Seymour Regional
Champaign Centennial over Urbana
These two teams split during the regular, with Urbana winning a late January matchup. Centennial is still kicking after a magical two-year run and have played well of late, going 8-3 in their last 11 games.

Centralia Regional
Breese Mater Dei over Centralia
Should be a barnburner down south as Centralia has piled up 23 wins. But the Orphans did lose to Breese Mater Dei in mid-February by 15 points.

Taylorville Regional
Salem over Mattoon
A .500 Salem team gets past a Mattoon team that has really struggled this season.

Chatham-Glenwood Regional
Highland over Jacksonville
Although Jacksonville beat Highland earlier this year, Jacksonville sputtered down the stretch and Highland has played well.

Mascoutah Regional
Cahokia over Belleville Althoff
Another regional championship featuring two teams with less-than-inspiring records. Cahokia took care of Althoff easily just last week, winning 76-61.

Wheaton Academy Regional
Wheaton Academy over North Lawndale
No early regional departure for Wheaton Academy this year as home floor fuels Warriors.

St. Joseph Regional
Crane over St. Joseph
St. Joe's escaped with an overtime win over Raby Wednesday night to set up an opportunity to play the No. 1 sectional seed on its home floor.

Nazareth Academy Regional
Riverside-Brookfield over Wheaton St. Francis
If the game goes down to the wire, favored R-B could be in trouble. St. Francis has grown up in the second half of the season (10-3 in its last 13 games) and has had a knack for winning tight games. Their last four wins have been by 2, 1, 2 and 3 points.

Marshall Regional
Marshall over Orr
In what should be a good one, Marshall gets the edge due to Keifer Sykes having shown the ability to get it done in big games.

Fenton Regional
Fenton over Senn
Senn pulled off the upset Tuesday over favorite Grayslake North, while Fenton (10-19) has a great shot of winning the school's first regional title in 35 years.

Gordon Tech Regional
North Chicago over Gordon Tech
The won-loss record may not be what it's been due to a spiced up schedule, but North Chicago is on pace to win its fourth straight regional and third sectional in four years. But few have noticed that Gordon Tech has won two straight regional titles of its own.

Lakes Regional
Ridgewood over Lakes
Ridgewood has played a much tougher schedule and is seeking first regional title since 1998. Lakes (9-19) hopes to pull off the upset on its home floor.

Vernon Hills Regional
Vernon Hills over Grayslake Central
Vernon Hills and top player Davaris Daniels are in position to claim the program's first-ever regional championship. Grayslake Central, however, handed Vernon Hills a mid-February 56-50 defeat.

Who will win 4A regional titles?

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By Joe Henricksen

There have already been a few shockers and big-time scares in the opening week of the Class 4A and Class 3A regionals. Regional final Friday is here and the Hoops Report picks a winner for every regional around the state.

Who are you picking? What are your upset specials?

Rockford Jefferson Regional
Rockford Auburn over Rockford Boylan
Star junior guard Fred Van Fleet & Company get the edge. Auburn beat Boylan twice this year, including a close one in late January.

St. Charles East Regional
South Elgin over Bartlett
These two teams split during the regular season, with Bartlett winning the most recent matchup 52-51. The Storm and Sam Sutter knock off a young, up-and-coming Bartlett team that features sophomore Lance Whitaker and junior sharpshooter Matt Chaltin.

Prairie Ridge Regional
Huntley over McHenry
A 20-plus win team that has 11 straight victories but no one knows about advances to sectional. Huntley knocked off McHenry twice during the regular season but both were by single digits.

Larkin Regional
Elgin over Dundee-Crown
Young Maroons, led by fast-rising junior Kory Brown, will extend their season and gain valuable March experience.

West Aurora Regional
Downers Grove South over Wheaton-Warrensville South
Did Mustangs already receive their regional scare? A couple of the hottest teams in the Chicago area square off--DGS has won 17 straight and WWS has won 10 straight and 13 of its last 15. How about Illini football recruit Reilly O'Toole? He poured in 31 and Wheaton South drilled 15 three-pointers in rolling past West Aurora.

Naperville North Regional
Benet Academy over Naperville North
Redwings handled the Huskies earlier this year, but North was without big man Matt LaCosse. Still shouldn't matter in this one as Benet rolls to a second straight regional title and 29th straight victory.

Bolingbrook Regional
East Aurora over Neuqua Valley
Ryan Boatright and the Tomcats have had Neuqua's number, beating their Upstate Eight rival in last year's regional title game and twice during the regular season this year. And an off night for Boatright this past Tuesday could spell disaster for Neuqua in a "Boat" bounce-back game.

Glenbard East Regional
Glenbard East over Glenbard West
Should be back-to-back regional titles for Glenbard East. The Rams withstood a regional semi scare from Naperville Central and now face a Glenbard West team that will need to do all it can to stay in the game. The Hilltoppers, a No. 21 seed, upset Oswego East and Waubonsie Valley to reach the regional final.

Vocational Regional
Curie over Vocational
This could be a little tighter than people expect, but the Condors move on with their balanced attack.

Brother Rice Regional
Lyons Twp. over Brother Rice
Forget about LT's 86-62 romp over Rice back in December. Brother Rice is much improved and playing at home. LT goes on the road in this one and should expect a real dogfight but will win its second straight regional crown.

Hinsdale South Regional
Simeon over Hinsdale South
Impressive showing by Hinsdale South in lopsided win over Marist, but ... this is Simeon.

St. Rita Regional
Mt. Carmel over St. Rita
These two Catholic League foes met in late January, with Mt. Carmel winning a close one, 77-74. Now St. Rita is hosting the regional and a dangerous No. 12 seed. Tracy Abrams and the Caravan survive.

Oak Park Regional
De La Salle over York
Although York has been hot down the stretch, the loss of Will Sullivan to an injury decimates this team. The Dukes do not match up well with De La Salle--and that was before the Sullivan injury.

Leyden Regional
Proviso East over Proviso West
Nothing like a title tilt between two rivals in March. This one will have the same winner as the last time these two met but should be much closer than East's 25-point romp over West in early February.

Willowbrook Regional
Morton over Farragut
An upset special as No. 6 Morton (18-9) gets the best of a strong Farragut (21-4) team, the No. 3 seed in the York Sectional. Morton guard Jeff Jarosz is playing at a very high level. A fun matchup as Farragut's D.J.Tolliver and Jarosz lock horns in one of the better regional title matchups on Friday.

Whitney Young Regional
Whitney Young over St. Ignatius
In what should be one of the best regional championship games, Young has the size and depth to throw at Ignatius big man Nnanna Egwu. Plus, Derrick Randolph gives Dolphins big edge in the backcourt.

Bradley Regional
Danville over Normal
In a late January game, Normal edged Danville 61-60. Danville, now 17-5 since a 0-5 start to the season, gets its revenge.

Pekin Regional
Moline over East Moline United
A couple of rivals from the Quad Cities square off in the Peoria area. Moline has struggled down the stretch of the regular season but did knock off United Township in January.

Belleville West Regional
East St. Louis Sr. over Belleville East
Now that ESL has taken care of O'Fallon, this team is scary going forward and a fashionable pick. But this is a Belleville East team that knocked off East St. Louis 77-65 back in early February.

Collinsville Regional
Alton over Edwardsville
A pair of teams hovering around the .500 mark meets for the third time this season. Alton handled Edwardsville fairly easily both times.

Stagg Regional
Lockport over Andrew
Andrew upset Stagg in the regional semis and has won six of its last seven, but Lockport and coach Larry Thompson find a way in March.

Plainfield Central Regional
Homewood-Flossmoor over Plainfield Central
In dramatic fashion, Plainfield Central stunned Thornwood at the buzzer in overtime. But the home floor and Derrick Marks won't be enough against a new-look Homewood-Flossmoor. Junior Tim Williams is back and looked terrific for the Vikings Wednesday night.

Lincoln-Way North Regional
Thornton over Lincoln-Way East
The Hoops report wants to call the upset special of the night right here--but doesn't have the guts to do so. Thornton, which struggled with Shepard in regional semis, sneaks out with a win.

Crete-Monee Regional
Crete-Monee over Bloom
While it's never easy to do, Crete-Monee beats conference foe Bloom for a third time.

Conant Regional
Niles Notre Dame over St. Patrick
A mid-season loss to St. Patrick was the start of a somewhat up-and-down second half of the season for Notre Dame. The 1-2 punch of Quinton Chievous and Rodney Pryor, though, find a way to put the Shamrocks away this time.

Maine West Regional
Maine South over Niles West
A lot of people overlooked Niles West after struggling in January, but coach Bob Williams' team has played well since early February, with wins over Waukegan and Glenbrook North. Maine South, though, has been a program that has simply found ways to win over the last three years behind underrated Matt Palucki.

Glenbrook North Regional
Glenbrook North over Niles North
Put this one in the top five category of best regional final games. Niles North, led by Abdel Nader, is red-hot. Interestingly, Nader struggled when Niles North knocked off Glenbrook North 48-44 in January. And in a 74-71 December loss to Glenbrook North, Nader went off for a school record 49 points. So what gives? Will GBN be patient and establish an inside game? Will Nader dominate? Past success, experience and the home court gets Glenbrook North to the sectional in a game that will go down to the wire.

Evanston Regional
New Trier over Schaumburg
Trevians glad to have missed rival Evanston on the road but can't overlook stubborn Schaumburg, a team that shocked everyone last season in the postseason and hopes to do so again as the No. 15 seed.

Fremd Regional
Fremd over Lake Forest
Fresh off an upset win over Zion-Benton, No. 13 seed Lake Forest hopes to pull off another one on the road. While it won't be easy for the host school, Zach Monaghan and the Vikings get it done.

Libertyville Regional
Barrington over Deerfield
Deerfield has found a way to win eight of its last nine games and overachieved this season. But a second straight regional title is not in the cards as Barrington wins a game that will be decided in the fourth quarter.

Wheeling Regional
Warren over Hersey
As expected, top-seeded Warren moves on with a win over No. 8 seed Hersey.

Mundelein Regional
Mundelein over Waukegan
How big will schedule strength play in this one? Waukegan, the sectional sleeper, has played as rugged of a slate all season as anyone and will take its best shot as the No. 10 seed with the 1-2 punch of Akeem Springs and Aaron Johnson. Mundelein, however, is due for a big win and will have the home crowd.

All Class 3A regional picks will be up later today.

Survival for a few; others not so lucky

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By Joe Henricksen


Ask any coach, even those seeded near the top of a sectional, and they will tell you that first game on Tuesday night is a scary proposition. Typically the higher-seeded team is playing an opponent that has a game under its belt from winning the play-in game on Monday night. Often times it's a higher-seeded team having to beat an opponent for the second or third time this season. And guess which team comes out a little tight?

No one could have expected Downers Grove South to have its hands full against Glenbard North last night in the West Aurora Regional. The Mustangs, the No. 2 seed in the East Aurora Sectional, rolled in with 16 straight victories and played the No. 18 seed, a team it had beaten 78-63 in mid-January. But Downers Grove South was down in the fourth quarter and had to scratch and claw to pull out a 54-51 win.

And how about Glenbard East? The Rams had rolled through the DuPage Valley Conference the past two seasons, going 28-0 in claiming two conference titles. Glenbard East squared off with DVC foe Naperville Central in the regional semis. A month ago Glenbard East beat Naperville Central 84-66; last night Naperville Central led by one with less than a minute to play before Johnny Hill (34 points) led the highly-regarded Rams to a 69-64 win.

Elgin should have known it would have its hands full, even if it was a 9-18 Streamwood team it was facing Tuesday night. The Maroons, the No. 1 seed in the Larkin Regional, were stunned by Streamwood in the regular-season finale, losing 54-52. The two were in another dogfight in the regional semis, but Elgin survived and advanced to the regional final with a 60-58 win.

After capturing the Central Suburban League title last week and winning 13 of its last 14 games, Niles North was soaring into regional play. But 16 minutes into their regional semifinal game, the Vikings were down six to a Lake Park team that closed out the final 13 games of the regular season with a 3-10 record. Despite star Abdel Nader fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, Niles North managed its way to a hard-fought 57-51 win.

There was 16th-seed Shepard giving top-seeded Thornton a run in the Lincoln-Way North Regional. Thornton prevailed and moved on with a 63-58 victory. Warren, who everyone is projecting to reach Peoria, didn't exactly have its way with Highland Park, winning 52-42.

Others weren't so lucky ...

Evanston, which scuffled down the stretch but was the No. 2 seed in the New Trier Sectional, fell victim to Schaumburg. Coach Matt Walsh and his Saxons are back up to their old tricks as a Cinderella story. A year ago Schaumburg reached the sectional final as the No. 13 seed. This year the Saxons are heading to a regional final as a No. 15 seed.

Zion-Benton beat Lake Forest twice during the regular season, winning 52-47 in early January and 67-56 Feb. 9. But unlike Downers Grove South, Glenbard East and Elgin, Zion-Benton wasn't as fortunate. The Zee-Bees, seeded fourth in the Barrington Sectional, are done after falling to No. 13 seed Lake Forest 47-40 in the regional semis Tuesday night.

And downstate, in what was without question the most difficult regional semifinal in the state of Illinois, heavyweights O'Fallon and East St. Louis Sr. collided. O'Fallon, picked by the Hoops Report and many others to advance to Peoria later this month, lost 81-79. O'Fallon has now lost to East St. Louis three times this season -- by a combined total of five points.

Lincoln, another team expected to make a serious run in March and playing the regional on its home floor, fell to Morton 48-39. Although it was very early in the season, Lincoln beat Morton 80-52 in Thanksgiving Tournament play.

Did Normal U-High really score just 15 points in its regional semifinal, losing 50-15 to Washington?

And did Morgan Park really win by 75!

What does all this mean? We get to do it all over again tonight.

The secret weapons

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By Joe Henricksen

We love to talk and write about the big-named players, especially those that play for the high-profile teams getting ready to embark on long March runs. As we celebrate the elite players who lead state-ranked teams and will go on to play Division I basketball, there are so many individuals that play pivotal roles for their teams. As they support the alpha dogs, these often forgotten players will be key figures in regional and sectional games over the next two weeks. Let's celebrate those players here today.

Matt Parisi, Benet Academy
While Parisi has been respected throughout the Benet basketball community for all he has done in support of the Big Ten-bound duo of David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, others around the state will take notice this March. Parisi provides three huge ingredients to Benet's success: a top on-the-ball defender, a standout perimeter shooter and toughness. Help on Sobolewski or double-down on Kaminsky? Parisi can spread a defense and keep them honest with his three-point shooting.

David Fatoki, Homewood-Flossmoor
The talented junior class at H-F receives plenty of hype, and senior Julian Lewis has made some headlines this season, but Fatoki is the ultimate "team player" who provides leadership and an infectious "team first" attitude. The 5-8 guard will defend, is an additional ballhandler and will knock a shot down. In a key road game at Lockport in early February, with H-F's offense stuck in neutral, Fatoki came out of the half and knocked down huge back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to provide a monster lift. Fatoki has provided plenty of lifts this season, just without the fanfare.

Gabe Williams, Farragut
The All-City team includes do-it-all Farragut senior D.J. Tolliver. And when Farragut claimed the Public League Holiday Tournament title in December, it was Tolliver and junior Rashaun Stimage who shared co-MVP honors. But Williams has been one of the better successful secrets in the city. The senior guard has been so instrumental in Admirals' rise in the Red-West and up the rankings. Williams plays with a will and persistence. He has the ability to put points on the board and rise to the occasion when the game is on the line.

Dan Jurgutis, Downers Grove South
With the talent in place at Downers Grove South, it can be easy to be overshadowed. Senior Ziggy Riauka is having a terrific senior season. The junior tandem of Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison are a very talented pair. But the unsung player is Jurgutis, who transferred in this year from St. Joseph and has been so efficient. He has provided a little of everything for coach Jay Baum--from toughness to a presence in the backcourt.

Tino Vasquez, Proviso East
On a team loaded with young talent in the junior and sophomore class, Vazquez is clearly the unsung player for the Pirates. He plays bigger than his 6-4 size and hits the offensive glass. The lanky Vazquez can defend multiple positions and finds a way to always be around the ball. Plus, he's better offensively than people give him credit for. He's a worker who keeps his head down, keeps coming at you and finds a way.

Cassius Bell, Niles North
There is no question Abdel Nader is the face and coach Glenn Olson the director of a basketball program that is doing things it's not accustomed to, which includes beating Evanston in the Central Suburban League title game and sharing the CSL North title with Glenbrook North. And mighty-mite sophomore Malachi Nix's emergence has lifted Niles North to another level in the second half of the season. But it's Bell, who Olson refers to as his "glue guy," that is the unsung factor for this 20-win team. Since Bell was inserted into the starting lineup, Niles North has gone 12-1. A team-first guy who accepts his role, he finishes at the rim and is versatile enough defensively to guard both big and small.

Antonio Levy, Thornton
Coach Troy Jackson has now won 20-plus games in each of his eight seasons at Thornton. This year's Wildcats are getting it done with veterans and balance, including the senior duo of Brian Greene, Jr. and Jay Parker. While Greene was the McDipper Holiday Tournament MVP and Parker has been a four-year varsity mainstay, another senior--Levy--has been a pivotal piece. Late in games Levy and his 85 percent free throw shooting is a weapon. He provides Jackson with another offensive threat (10.3 ppg), a perimeter shooter and added ballhandler.

Steve Kinney, Glenbard East
The Zach Miller-Johnny Hill backcourt is what is thought of first when dissecting the success the Rams have enjoyed, which has been another 22-plus win season and 14-0 record in the DuPage Valley. Senior guard Tyree York has also stepped up and played a big role. But for a team that lacks size or a presence inside, the strong-willed Kinney has been a warrior for the Rams. He plays bigger than his listed 6-1 height, is a battler on the boards and always defends players with four or five inches on him. In addition, Kinney will hurt you on the offensive end when you least expect it.

Ryan Tompkins, Niles Notre Dame
The fuel to a 20-win season and No. 1 sectional seed has been the 1-2 punch of Quinton Chievous, one of the top unsigned Division I prospects in the senior class, and the emergence of Rodney Pryor. But senior sharpshooter Ryan Tompkins is the forgotten man. Make no mistake, Tompkins is a role player and limited, but he has the ability to space the floor with his shooting range--a big plus with talents like Chievous and Pryor around--and must be accounted for on the perimeter.

Dominique Walls, Hales Franciscan
The Armstread brothers--Aaric and Aaron--have been the key cogs for coach Gary London's Class 2A favorite Spartans. The addition of out-of-state transfer Eddie Alcantera has been a huge difference. The forgotten man, however, is 6-5 leaper Dominique Walls. He's not one of the three big scorers or at the same level of a prospect as the Armsteads or Alcantera, but Walls makes an impact with high-energy, crowd-pleasing moments. Whether it's a flying dunk, keeping the ball alive around the rim or blocking shots, Walls embraces his role and energizes teammates with momentum-changing plays.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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