By Joe Henricksen
There were some scares and upsets in regional semifinal action this week, but the real fun begins Friday night with regional championships on the line in Class 4A and 3A around the state.
There will be a shocker or two. There always are, so the Hoops Report has tried to identify where that shocker will come Friday night, along with a look at the rest of regional title game matchups. The City/Suburban Hoops Report picks each Chicago area regional champion in Class 4A and 3A.
Warren over Stevenson
Before we pencil Warren in as regional champs, Stevenson does have a little something going for it, including the home floor and knowing it beat Warren back in December. Plus, it has the best darn freshman in Illinois in Jalen Brunson. But ... Sorry, Patriots, it won't matter. Warren, led by the tandem of 6-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul, will prove to be too much as coach Chuck Ramsey's Blue Devil farewell tour moves on.
Lake Forest over Fremd
This Lake Forest team, led by 6-5 senior Thomas Durrett, is a real sleeper in the Barrington Sectional as a No. 5 seed. Since a 2-6 start to the season, the Scouts are a rock solid 14-4. Fremd did upset Waukegan, but Lake Forest ends any thoughts of Fremd moving on as a low seed.
Rolling Meadows Regional
St. Viator over Rolling Meadows
With super sophomore Ore Arongundade healthy after missing some time with an ankle injury, the Lions are roaring with a conference title and 24 wins on the season. But there is something about this Rolling Meadows team, which boasts a couple of tough, competitive seniors in Brian Nelms and Tyler Gaedele. This could be tougher than people think, but St. Viator prevails 56-48.
Mundelein over Lake Zurich
Although just a No. 11 seed, Lake Zurich's win over Barrington Tuesday night should not have been a surprise. No, not when you're coming out of the tough North Suburban Lake and have unheralded Mirko Grcic (18 ppg). But it's back to a North Suburban Lake opponent Friday night in Mundelein, which has beaten Lake Zurich twice already. The last matchup was a 68-65 barnburner. Hoops Report is taking high-scoring junior Robert Knar and Mundelein in a tight one.
Niles West Regional
New Trier over Foreman
Foreman is an 18-win team no one has talked much about. While it's true the Trevians have been awfully vulnerable and shaky the last three weeks, including a tight, low-scoring opening night regional win over Niles West, this team is solid. There is size in rugged Connor Boehm and guard play that will handle Foreman's pressure.
Niles Notre Dame Regional
Niles Notre Dame over Evanston
Although Evanston did beat Niles Notre Dame back in November and played pretty well down the stretch (a close 58-56 loss to a hot St. Pat's team and wins over St. Charles East and New Trier), Notre Dame is much better than it was the last time these two met. This will be Notre Dame's third regional title in four years.
St. Patrick Regional
St. Patrick over Maine South
Has anyone noticed St. Pat's has gone 13-2 since late December, losing only to Benet and Marist by a combined 8 points? While junior guard Royale Ewing is the recognizable name, fellow junior Parish McCullom has provided a huge lift in that 13-2 run. Coach Mike Bailey has his Shamrocks playing well and at home, so despite a difficult matchup due to the offensive patience and defense Maine South throws at you, St. Pat's moves on.
Joliet Central Regional
Bloom over Sandburg
What a season it's been for Bloom, a team that has already exceeded many people's expectations with a sparkling 25-3 record. But there are no plans for this postseason to end early for point guard Donald Moore and his Blazing Trojans. Sandburg, however, handed Bloom its last lost back in the middle of January. That may be just what top-seeded Bloom needed as there will be no looking past the Eagles in this one.
Joliet West over Thornton
Any other year and a Thornton appearance in a regional title game would be second nature, but the Wildcats are playing an unfamiliar role in this regional: underdog. The No. 13 seed Wildcats beat Shepard in the opening round, upset No. 4 seed Crete-Monee in the second round and now take on big Marlon Johnson and the fifth-seeded Tigers. Joliet West ends the Thornton run and moves on to a date with Bloom.
Andrew over Marian Catholic
There are certainly some Andrew doubters as a result of the suspect schedule the T-Bolts have played in running up a 23-2 record. But regardless, it's still a solid team with a terrific talent in junior Jubril Adekoya. They may not wow you, but the T-Bolts just beat you.
Homewood-Flossmoor over Thornwood
The first matchup between these two teams was probably too long ago to put much stock into -- a 55-51 H-F win on the opening night of the season. Thornwood, led by the 1-2 punch of Darrell Combs and Khapri Alston, are sky high after stunning Andrew on the road to win a league title and riding an eight-game win streak. But the senior group of Vikings will get this one done at home and help H-F claim a ninth consecutive regional championship.
Proviso East Regional
Proviso East over Glenbard North
The Proviso East speed and quickness just wears on opponents and, ultimately, leads to 12-0, 14-2 or 15-3 type runs that generally puts teams away. This could potentially be a regional final that gets away from the underdog.
Lake Park Regional
York over Lake Park
Since late December, York has been on cruise control, winning 16 of 17 games behind star junior guard David Cohn and a group of players who have bought into their respective roles under first-year coach Tom Kleinschmidt. Although no one has talked about Lake Park, the Lancers are no slouch with 19 wins on the year and a player in Dominique Spencer who can impact games in a lot of ways.
Lyons Twp. Regional
Oak Park-River Forest over Morton
Morton is healthy and a dangerous (and a far too low) No. 10 seed that is capable of beating anyone in this sectional other than Proviso East. But Gabe Levin has been one of the best-kept secrets in prep hoops this season and will lead Oak Park into the sectional semis.
Glenbard West Regional
Schaumburg over Conant
A couple of coaches who are oh so familiar with one another square off, with Schaumburg having handled Conant twice already this season. Schaumburg's Christian Spandiary coming off a monster 40-point game.
Neuqua Valley Regional
Plainfield East over Neuqua Valley
This is a scary one for the top-seeded Bengals, a program with its first real taste of success going on the road to face a program that has enjoyed a whole lot of it over the years. Neuqua Valley has quietly won 18 games this season. But Dee Brown and big man Brian Bennett win a nail-biter for the Plainfield East's first regional championship.
West Aurora over Oswego
McDonald's All-American coach Gordie Kerkman looking for his 21st regional championship. The Blackhawks, led by senior Juwan Starks, will be favored on the road. Junior guard Miles Simelton has played some very good basketball for Oswego, the No. 12 seed, which took care of Naperville North.
Downers Grove South Regional
Downers Grove South over Hinsdale Central
Hinsdale Central has shown it can pull off an upset (wins over Oak Park and Metea Valley). After receiving a huge scare from Oswego East in the regional semis, Downers Grove South settles in and takes care of the Red Devils. These two met in the regular-season finale, with DGS claiming a 71-56 victory.
Metea Valley Regional
Benet Academy over Metea Valley
Metea, already with 23 wins on the year, looks to add to its breakout season by making a little history -- winning the program's first-ever basketball regional title. Benet, the No. 6 seed, will enjoy playing the underdog role after playing with a bulls-eye on its back last season. Benet's defense and sophomore big man Sean O'Mara pull off the upset.
Huntley over Larkin
This Huntley group of seniors, led by guard Troy Miller, have won a lot of games (49 games and counting over the past two seasons), while 6-6 sophomore Amanze Egekeze is a fast-rising sophomore. After a fast start to the season, Larkin struggled down the stretch but comes in with nothing to lose.
McHenry over Crystal Lake South
A couple of sub-.500 teams play for a sectional semifinal berth. McHenry (11-15) and Crystal Lake South (9-18) split their two matchups this season. The winner will be a huge underdog against either Elgin or St. Charles East next Wednesday.
St. Charles North Regional
Elgin over St. Charles East
This one will be interesting and entertaining. These two Upstate Eight River foes split the two regular season matchups. Elgin's Kory Brown and St. Charles East junior Kendall Stephens, a Purdue commit, are two stars to watch. But if sophomore guard Dominic Adduci, who scored 25 in the win over St. Charles North in the regional semis and 29 against Glenbard West, continues his torrid play, St. Charles East could very well pull off the upset.
Oak Lawn Regional
Simeon over Vocational
Quietly, coach Chris Pickett has done a nice job with this 18-9 Vocational team, but it's Simeon they're up against. Chalk up a 10th straight regional title for the Wolverines.
Whitney Young Regional
Whitney Young over St. Rita
Should be a fun one. Catholic League vs. Public League. A ton of impressive young talent on display. And a showdown featuring two teams that have deceiving records as a result of an out-of-state schedule and an endless list of injuries and absences throughout the season. But Whitney Young has played the toughest schedule in the state and has 6-10 super sophomore Jahlil Okafor.
Marist over Curie
I love what coach Mike Oliver and the Condors have done this season, but this is the most dangerous game for any heavyweight in the state this Friday. Curie will be up against a tricky style and system, on the road and against a team with good guards and that has won 13 of its last 14 games. It's not as if Curie isn't easy to believe in, but there is bound to be a shocker on Friday night somewhere and this has the makings of one.
Mt. Carmel Regional
Bogan over De La Salle
You have to feel for the Meteors. Jaylon Tate transfers in the offseason. Now the state tournament rolls around and 6-8 Gavin Schilling is out and 6-4 Alvin Ellis is in between doubtful and questionable for Friday night. Those type of injuries are tough to overcome, especially against a team like Bogan who will bring relentless pressure.
St. Ignatius Regional
St. Ignatius over South Shore
When South Shore has left the city, the fortunes haven't been too good with lopsided losses to H-F (71-21), Marian Catholic (54-33), Thornwood (62-31) and Rich Central (67-46). The joys of 3A. St. Ignatius rolls.
Du Sable over Perspectives Charter/Leadership
Well, Du Sable was a power back in the day -- roughly 60 years ago when it finished second in the state in 1954. But we are far removed from those glory years. Du Sable finished in the middle of the pack in the Red-Central and beat Crane late in the year, which is enough for the Hoops Report to go with the Panthers on this one.
Dunbar over King
As the third-place team in the Red-Central and the No. 2 seed in the sectional, Dunbar gets a shot at a regional title after beating St. Laurence 59-43. Dunbar has one of the top five nicknames in the state, so the Hoops Report is taking the Mightymen.
Jones over Robeson
Arguably the top team in the city's Blue Division, Jones is a 20-win team that should be able to advance to the sectional semis.
Evergreen Park Regional
Hillcrest over Brooks
Hillcrest, the top-seed in the sectional, can't get to anxious for another shot at Lemont in the sectional semis after last week's loss. There is business to take care of in the regional final. Junior William Gates and Erick Locke, a talented sophomore scorer, will do all it can to keep Brooks in this one after edging Rich East 60-58 in the regional semis. Hillcrest, however, has too much balance and depth.
Providence Catholic Regional
Lemont over Providence
These two met back in late January, with Lemont picking up a 70-65 win behind a huge performance from junior guard Juozas Balciunnas (23 points). While Lemont hasn't lost since December and has been one of the feel-good stories of the year, Providence is a serious threat at home with 6-8 Mike Marietti and talented junior guard Kevin Kozan. This will go down to the wire.
Rich South over Thornridge
Already one of the quietest 20-win teams in the Chicago area, Rich South has a real opportunity for a March run. Speaking of quiet, 6-5 senior John Ruffin's play has been anything but quiet, yet the blue-collar workhorse is unheralded, nonetheless. Thornridge has been hammered by the likes of Plainfield East (62-34), Andrew (58-31) and Thornwood (69-43).
Rich Central Regional
Morgan Park over Harlan
Everything points to Morgan Park, with a star in Billy Garrett, Jr., young talent in the program that has gained experience and the fact coach Nick Irvin's club has already beaten Harlan twice -- 56-52 in early February and 62-47 in late January. But Harlan remains dangerous and it's never easy beating a team a third time.
Rochelle over Kaneland
A couple of conference foes meet up. Rochelle (21-8) went 6-1 down the stretch and beat Kaneland 59-57 in the regular-season finale after leading by as much as 18 points. Kaneland (16-10), meanwhile, is the No. 1 seed but went 3-4 in its final seven games.
Aurora Central over Yorkville
After an emotional win over rival Marmion in the regional semis, Aurora Central is feeling good, healthy and has some March experience having won a sectional a year ago.
North Chicago over Elmwood Park
Another Class 3A regional final that doesn't exactly get the juices flowing. This one has a chance of getting ugly.
Grayslake Central over Grayslake North
With a huge momentum-building win over Huntley late in the season, Grayslake Central is feeling good with 20 wins and a healthy Casey Boyle. The 6-9 center wasn't available when Grayslake Central fell to Grayslake North in late February. Grayslake Central won the Fox Division of the Fox Valley Conference and will add a second straight regional title Friday night.
Ridgewood over Vernon Hills
Playing at home and getting a taste of what it's like to play in big March games a year ago gives Ridgewood a big edge in this one. Ridgewood is poised to repeat as regional champs behind guard Andy Mazurczak.
Carmel over Lakes
These two tangled back in late January, with Lakes pulling out a 63-60 victory. Lakes (18-10) will have a tough time doing it again against a Carmel (11-15) team that is led by Brandon Motzel and has played a competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference schedule. Hoops Report taking Carmel in a
Wheaton Academy Regional
Orr over Wheaton St. Francis
Top-seeded Orr better not take this one lightly as it makes the trek out to the western suburbs. While Orr is a double-digit better team, St. Francis will have the crowd and will be playing the roll of spoiler with nothing to lose. In the end, too much speed, athleticism and talent as Orr advances to the sectional semifinals.
R-B over Crane
There is a whole lot of momentum for the host school, with 16 straight victories and the home floor. Led by senior Luke Nortier and the rising junior tandem of Damonta Henry and Miki Ljubuja, look for R-B to take care of a Crane team that struggled down the stretch. The Bulldogs win their third straight regional championship and square off with top-seeded Orr next week.
Marshall over Westinghouse
This isn't the Westinghouse of old. There's no Mark Aguirre, Hersey Hawkins or a even a Cedrick Banks. But it's still pretty cool typing Marshall vs. Westinghouse for nostalgia sake. The Commandos, however, are a big favorite.
Nazareth Academy Regional
St. Joseph over Farragut
Both are well prepared and tested having played tough regular-season schedules. St. Joe's, however, continues to get better and better by the week and senior Reggie Johnson has played this season on a mission. Farragut's Rashaun Stimage can be one of the ultimate difference-makers in Illinois when he wants to be. Legendary coach Gene Pingatore adds another plaque to his impressive career with a hard-fought win.