By Joe Henricksen
So you want to win in March? The state tournament tips off around the state for all Class 4A and 3A schools Monday night. If a team has legitimate hopes of capturing a state championship, here are a few do's and dont's of March with a proven track record and trends to back it up.
THE 2 DONT'S
1. Don't show up without future Division I players
Star players play with confidence. These are the players who lead teams and their teammates look to and believe in. And without Division I talent (preferably two Division I players), you're not going to win a state title. Want proof? Since 1990 every big school state champ, including the last four years of 4A and 3A basketball, has had at least two Division I players with the exception of two teams -- Glenbrook North and Rock Island. And they had two special ones in Mr. Basketball winners Jon Scheyer and Chasson Randle.
2. Don't shoot too many three-pointers
Teams have to be careful of shooting too many 3s, even those that live and die with the three-point shot. While the shot has revolutionized the game, historically it does not translate to winning a state title. In a season, one bad shooting night can be overcome; in a single-elimination scenario, it will end a season. In the last 22 years, covering the last 26 state champions, there have only been six teams -- Rock Island last season, Champaign Centennial in 2009, Glenbrook North in 2005, Peoria Central in 2004, Schaumburg in 2001 and Proviso East in 1992 -- with a player that has made 50 or more three-pointers on the season. And two of those five teams needed three games in the Elite Eight to get a player over the 50 three-pointer mark.
THE 3 DO'S
1. Feature a game-plan wrecker
Each team needs five wins to reach Peoria and two more to win it all. In those seven games a team will have a subpar game -- against a quality opponent. And when it's a one-and-done tournament, a true state title contender needs the elite superstar to get them through the scare.
TEAMS THAT FIT THE MOLD: Simeon (Jabari Parker), Downers Grove South (Jerron Wilbut), Whitney Young (Jahlil Okafor), North Chicago (Aaron Simpson)
RULE-BREAKER: Richards, 2008 and Simeon, 2010
2. Rely on experience
Preparation in March is not nearly as long as it normally is, with sometimes only a day (or less in Peoria) to prepare during tournament time. That's one thing that makes experience vital. Warren did reach a state title game a year ago. A big difference, though, between last year's Warren team that finished second and this year's that is expected to return to Peoria? Even more experience. Coach Chuck Ramsey has three seniors who started a year ago and two others that played in every game. And that's good news considering since the 1996 Peoria Manual team that won a state title, which started three underclassmen in juniors Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin with sophomore Frank Williams, every team but two has had at least three senior starters -- the majority with at least four.
TEAMS THAT FIT THE MOLD: Proviso East, Warren, Curie, Plainfield East, Peoria Manual
RULE-BREAKER: Peoria Central, 2003 and Simeon, 2010
3. Rely on your halfcourt offense
The teams you play late in state tournament play are obviously the better teams, so it's more difficult to get transition baskets. The good teams don't turn the ball over as much and usually are better at getting back to defend, so halfcourt offense becomes imperative. There have been few teams that play at breakneck speed, play an angry fullcourt press and thrive in transition that have claimed state titles in the last decade. Over the years, when those matchups have occurred, the team that can control tempo when it needs to and revert back to its halfcourt offense, has fared better. There are elite teams, however (i.e. Proviso East and Curie), that have and can rely on transition baskets.
RULE-BREAKER: Marshall (3A), 2008 and Westinghouse, 2002
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