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 SECTIONAL
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
NEW TRIER SECTIONAL
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
RICH SOUTH SECTIONAL
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