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.
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.
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.
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