By Joe Henricksen
A whole lot of sectional conversation in this one, with the Hoops Report looking back at sectional semifinal action and looking ahead to Friday night's sectional championship games.
• The Whitney Young-Simeon game played out much like the first matchup did back in January. The sectional semifinal wasn't exactly pretty, but like a true champ, the Simeon defense dictated the outcome throughout the second half. There was just so much talent, size, length and athleticism on the floor, particularly for a high school game, that it was difficult for either team to put points on the board consistently.
• Milton Doyle of Marshall is one example why the state's college basketball programs in Illinois are struggling so much. It's players like Doyle who have no business crossing the state border and signing with ... Florida International? The wiry, athletic 6-4 senior is a talent, and one that should have been coveted by several college programs in the state. And on the topic of underrated Marshall players, how about Corbin McClain. Rarely talked about this season, McClain has provided absolute consistency and productivity with little to no fanfare.
• The sectional semifinal round has been brutal for the top seed in the East Aurora Sectional recently. The trend continued this week as No. 1 seed Plainfield East fell to West Aurora in overtime. Last year, top-seeded Benet Academy lost in the sectional semis. And in 2010, top-seeded Glenbard East lost in the first game of the sectional.
• Go ahead and put St. Joseph's Reggie Johnson down as one big Hoops Report miss. After watching Johnson last summer, the Hoops Report didn't budge in its thinking he was a dynamite small college prospect. That's a joke. Johnson, a physical and rugged guard, capped off a difference-making senior year with a terrific performance in a loss to Marshall. He is just an absolute bull, who has really improved his outside jumper. Johnson is not only a legit Division I player, he's another steal for a Tennessee State program that continues to make a living stealing players out of Illinois.
• There is no question the biggest surprise score that came across this March was DuSable's 51-44 win over St. Ignatius. Although Ignatius battled injuries down the stretch, the Wolfpack were hosting their own sectional and one that was very winnable. But give credit to DuSable -- and Dunbar, for that matter -- for reaching the sectional title game.
• From an individual standpoint, it's tough to find a better feel-good story than Ryan Coyle of Wheaton St. Francis. The 6-5 senior has battled injuries, some very severe, over the past year and persevered. Now he's led the Spartans to memorable wins over Orr and Crane and a berth in a sectional championship game.
• There won't be a more heartbreaking loss this season than what Peoria Manual went through in Wednesday's four overtime loss to Washington. Manual thought it had the win with a buzzer-beating tip-in at the end of the third overtime. The officials, however, waived off the basket after conferring and the game went an extra four minutes, with Washington claiming a 65-63 win. After watching the replay of the tip-in -- and putting it in slow mo and stop/freeze mode over and mover -- it appears Manual's basket should have been good. But in defense of the officiating crew, it was so stinking close, even in slow motion on replay, that in real-live time it's a flip of the coin.
Looking ahead and some picks ...
Simeon (29-1) vs. Marist (26-5) @ Argo
What a ride Marist has given its fans over the last 10 days with wins over Brother Rice, Curie and Bogan. Marist is such a tricky team to defend, especially with very little time to prepare. Coach Gene Nolan's club can pick you apart with the Princeton offense if you go man, while a zone opens up the opportunity for Marist's three-point shooting to get them rolling. This could be closer than people expect. Do I dare? Do I? Marist over ... Despite the Hoops Report picking Marist over both Curie and Bogan this past week, it can't go with a three-game Public League sweep. Nope, not when Jabari Parker is on that floor. Simeon ends one heck of a memorable Marist run.
Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 59, Marist 49
Warren (25-3) vs. Mundelein (26-7) @ Barrington
A couple of North Suburban Lake teams go at it one more time. This Mundelein team seems to be playing with more confidence and conviction than the recent Mundelein teams that have exited March. But does it have the defensive fortitude to continue playing in March? The junior tandem of Robert Knar, who is among the top 30 players in the Hoops Report's Class of 2013 player rankings, and Sean O'Brien, who is among the top 40, is a good one. Nonetheless, Warren owns two wins over Mundelein this season (61-45 in December and 87-78 in late January) and has the size advantage with 6-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul.
Hoops Report Pick: Warren 72, Mundelein 66
Proviso East (29-0) vs. Schaumburg (24-5) @ Schaumburg
Schaumburg is hot, winning 15 of its last 16 games. And so is senior Christian Spandiary, who has put together a heck of a finishing touch on his career here in state tournament play. The Hoops Report anticipated a Schaumburg-Proviso East final. And it also anticipated this game being Proviso East's toughest matchup to reach Peoria. If -- and it's always a big if when playing Proviso East -- Schaumburg can handle Proviso East' fullcourt pressure, the Hoops Report likes what the Saxons will be able to do in the halfcourt. Schaumburg is experienced, well coached, has played in tight games (the Saxons have eight wins by five or fewer points) and are playing on its home floor. Scary, scary game for the unbeaten, No. 2 ranked Pirates. But guards win you big games like this and the Pirates have enough of them in Keith Carter and Paris Lee to survive.
Hoops Report Pick: Proviso East 59, Schaumburg 53
West Aurora (24-5) vs. Metea Valley (25-4) @ East Aurora
Talk about your difference in programs. West Aurora is shooting for its 19th sectional championship. Metea Valley won its first regional title in the school's short history last week. Legendary coach Gordie Kerkman goes up against up-and-coming and Hoops Report Coach of the Year candidate Bob Vozza. With Metea, it truly has been one of those balanced teams with various players stepping up in different moments. But seniors Kenny Obendorf and Ryan Solomon have been rock solid veterans. West Aurora's defense has picked up and the young guards have become more steady.
Hoops Report Pick: West Aurora 55, Metea Valley 51
Hillcrest (24-5) vs. Morgan Park (17-8) @ Rich East
Coach Don Houston's Hillcrest Hawks have done a nice job of playing themselves back into the conversation as a 3A title contender, even with the departure of go-to lead guard Julius Brown, who is a freshman at Toledo. Morgan Park, meanwhile, will have exceeded everyone's expectations with a win Friday night. Coach Nick Irvin's club is awfully young, but there is enough talent to upset Hillcrest. The Hoops Report just doesn't see it happening.
Hoops Report Pick: Hillcrest 52, Morgan Park 46
Evanston (20-10) vs. Niles North (21-8) @ Glenbrook South
There is a little drama in this one as Niles North's Lorenzo Dillard, who has played a pivotal role in his team's surge, goes up against the school he transferred from. On paper, Evanston certainly won't wow anyone. But Evanston coach Mike Ellis has pieced this team together nicely, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Wildkits have postseason wins over two quality teams in Niles Notre Dame and top-seeded New Trier.
Hoops Report Pick: Evanston 45, Niles North 43
Elgin (26-3) vs. Rockford Auburn (29-2) at Dundee-Crown
As everyone expected, these two will collide in the final with impact players on both sides in Elgin's Kory Brown and Auburn's Fred Van Vleet. With Van Vleet, the state's purest and best point guard, Auburn will get it and go and put points on the board. Elgin has showcased a suffocating defense throughout the season. Brown, a versatile star, and Dennis Moore are lockdown defenders. But it's difficult to pick against Van Vleet in this one.
Hoops Report Pick: Auburn 60, Elgin 55
Bloom (26-3) vs. Homewood-Flossmoor (22-7) @ Lockport
The Hoops Report is itching to pick an upset in one of these sectional title games. Is this the one? Even after Bloom has taken care of H-F twice during the regular season? The first two matchups were fairly high scoring -- 70-65 and 63-56 Bloom victories. The Hoops Report believes this could be a low-scoring dogfight, with the "It's tough to beat a team three times" adage in play.
Hoops Report Pick: H-F 48, Bloom 47
Wheaton St. Francis (20-7) vs. Marshall (23-7) @ Glenbard South
Get ready for a whole lot more chatter about St. Francis if it can pull off a third straight upset over a Chicago Public League Red-West team. The Spartans are feeling good, but this is a lot to ask against the scrappy, Milton Doyle-led Commandos.
Hoops Report Pick: Marshall 62, St. Francis 54