Are you ready?
On the night the state high school basketball tournament tips off here in Illinois, the Original March Madness, every hoophead across the state wants to know: What are the storylines that will develop over the next three weeks.
There will be many, a couple that no one saw coming, but here are several storylines we already know to follow.
➤ Simeon's dynasty
Maybe the biggest storyline of them all. Can Simeon become just the second team in state history to win four consecutive state championships? Simeon can equal Peoria Manual's dynasty in the 1990s with seven more victories.
➤ Simeon-Young clash
The Argo Sectional is tough and there is plenty of basketball to be played over the next two weeks. And there are worthy foes for both Simeon and Whitney Young. But virtually everyone, aside from the players and coaches from St. Rita, Curie and Brother Rice, will be surprised if the Simeon-Young clash doesn't materialize. Regardless of how March plays out, right now, as we head into state tournament action, these are the top two teams in Class 4A by a fairly wide margin. The talent on display, with the stakes this high, is cause for hyperbole when/if these two meet Mar. 8.
➤ Big-time rematches with more on the line
The Simeon-Whitney Young rematch is king of all potential rematches if the two meet in the Argo Sectional championship. But the stakes will also be higher for these potential rematches. Will they develop?
• Oswego vs. Proviso East ... Who would have ever thought there was a chance Oswego and Proviso East could meet three times -- and all with something on the line? The rubber match could materialize in the super-sectional if the two No. 1 seeds both win their respective sectional.
• Marian Catholic vs. Bloom ... There's never been this much hoops excitement in Chicago Heights in the same season for two teams. These two collided in the championship game of the McDipper in late December, which Marian Catholic won, and could square off again in the sectional championship at Thornton.
• Maine South vs. New Trier ... Some serious work will have to be done by both in what is a competitive and balanced Glenbrook North Sectional. But if Maine South lives up to the No. 1 seed it received, and third-seeded New Trier can fight off the likes of both St. Patrick and No. 2 seed Niles Notre Dame, it would set up a drama-filled sectional final showdown between two Central Suburban League South foes. The first two meetings both went to overtime and both went Maine South's way.
➤ Jahlil vs. Big Cliff
When was the last time a matchup like this occurred? If Whitney Young and Curie were to meet, as expected in the sectional semifinals, this would be the biggest and best battle of legit big men in the postseason since 1988. That's when East St. Louis Lincoln's LaPhonso Ellis (Notre Dame recruit) squared off with St. Francis De Sales' Eric Anderson (Michigan recruit) in the state championship.
Well, on Wednesday, Mar. 6, fans will be treated to 6-11 Jahlil Okafor vs. 6-9 Cliff Alexander, the top two prospects in the state in the Class of 2014 and two of the top five players nationally.
Ellis and Anderson didn't disappoint back in the day in a memorable battle for anyone who took in that game in Assembly Hall in Champaign. Lincoln beat De Sales 60-52 with Ellis putting up monster totals of 26 points, 15 rebounds and 9 blocks in the state title game. Anderson impressed as well with 23 points, 17 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Your turn, Jahlil and Cliff.
➤ Morgan Park's road
Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin can't be pleased by the new IHSA ruling that will require his team to play each sectional game with one eye blind-folded to help even the playing field in the St. Laurence Sectional. That still probably won't be enough.
Morgan Park will play two regional games and two sectional games in the next two weeks. The Hoops Report is putting Morgan Park's total winning margin of those four games at 115.5 points. Are you taking the over or the under?
There is no reason Morgan Park won't be playing in the super-sectional in two weeks.
➤ Tyler Ulis is for real. Is Marian Catholic?
For all the talk about the mighty Public League trio of Young, Simeon and Morgan Park, along with the city's three-headed superstar monster of Simeon's Jabari Parker, Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander, arguably the best high school basketball story over the past three months has been Marian Catholic.
Marian Catholic made its first-ever trip to the McDipper championship game over the holidays and beat Chicago Heights neighbor Bloom to win it all. The Spartans, who have had just two 20-win seasons in school history (22 wins 2006 and 20 wins in 1993), have already set a school record for most wins with 25. The program also has its first dynamic, transcendent basketball star in junior Tyler Ulis.
Now it's a matter of whether this team, which has earned a top seed in the Thornton Sectional, can rise to the occasion, go out and win the first sectional championship in school history. In all the years of Marian Catholic basketball, there have been three regional championships -- total -- since 1962. Those regional titles have resulted in one sectional win, a 2009 sectional semifinal victory over Homewood-Flossmoor.
Why not add to this record-breaking season?
➤ Other potential postseason breakthroughs?
Marian Catholic is not the only No. 1 seed out there in search of its first-ever sectional championship or a simple postseason breakthrough.
● Orr, which was stunned last year as a No. 1 sectional seed in the regional final by Wheaton St. Francis, is primed to end its sectional drought. Orr has never won a sectional championship. But with the Division I trio of 6-6 Tyquone Greer, 6-8 Marlon Jones and 6-2 Louis Adams, Jr., the Spartans are again the No. 1 seed in a very winnable Nazareth Academy Sectional.
● Do you know how many regional championships Rich East has won in the last 45 years? One. The Rockets, who won a regional title in 2009, are in position to put together a nice little run over the next two weeks. In fact, Rich East is one upset win away -- if it can beat Hillcrest in the sectional final -- from claiming the program's first sectional championship since 1955. Rich East must take care of Rich South in the regional and either Pontiac or Morris in the sectional semis to set up a likely showdown with Hillcrest.
● St. Rita won its second straight Catholic League South title. It boasts arguably the top sophomore in the state in Charles Matthews. The Mustangs have three other high-profile, Division I prospects in sophomore Myles Carter and juniors Vic Law and Dominique Matthews. Coach Gary DeCesare's team will host a regional. Now, all St. Rita has to do to win the school's first-ever sectional championship is beat a 20-win Brother Rice team for a second time, dispose of three-time defending champ Simeon, and then take care of Whitney Young, the No. 1 team in the state. Come on, that's child's play.
➤ How will the big, bad ESCC do?
With the Chicago Public League's Red-West down this year and the strong Red-South top heavy with Simeon, Morgan Park and everyone else, the deepest and most competitive league over the past three months has been the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Now, what will the ESCC do for an encore in state tournament play?
The ESCC by the numbers:
● There are six ESCC teams with 17-plus victories, including three teams with 22-plus wins.
● There are four teams heading into state tournament play this week as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in their respective sectional -- and all four are in different sectionals.
Benet Academy (No. 2 in the Bolingbrook Sectional), Niles Notre Dame (No. 2 in the Xxcc Sectional) and Marian Catholic (No. 1 in the Thornton Sectional) all have realistic chances of winning sectional championships.
St. Viator is expected to win a regional title and is a sleeper and No. 3 seed in the Waukegan Sectional. St. Patrick has the ability to ruin the hopes of a team or two (are you listening New Trier?) as a tough No. 6 seed in the Glenbrook North Sectional. Even Nazareth Academy, which finished 1-7 in the ESCC, could be a scary regional final opponent for top-seed Orr in the Class 3A Nazareth Sectional. Nazareth played well down the stretch, losing to Benet on the road, 48-47, and beating Fenwick.
The East Suburban Catholic, just as it did all season, is in position to make noise.
➤ Can the big names, big teams make it?
The state tournament has set up nicely for high school basketball fans. If the higher-seeded, ranked teams around the state, both in Class 4A and 3A, make it through to Peoria, we could be looking at something that looks like this:
Class 3A semifinals: Washington vs. Morgan Park and Cahokia vs. Orr.
Class 4A semifinals: Proviso East vs. Simeon/Whitney Young and Belleville East vs. Stevenson.
And those four teams bring unique styles, various storylines and a whole bunch of star-level talent.
How about this list of players in Carver Arena in Peoria (choosing top-seed Simeon in this case over Young) on the final weekend of the season: Washington's Alec Peters (Valpo); Morgan Park's Kyle Davis (Dayton), Billy Garrett, Jr. (DePaul) and Josh Cunningham (top 15 player in 2014); Orr's Marlon Jones (top 15 player in 2014) and Tyquone Greer (top 15 player in 2014); Cahokia's Darius Austin (top 25 player in 2014); Proviso East's Sterling Brown (SMU), Paris Lee (Illinois State) and Jevon Carter (top 20 player in 2014); Simeon's Jabari Parker (Duke), Kendrick Nunn (Illinois), Kendall Pollard (Dayton), Jaylon Tate (Illinois) and D.J. Williams (top three player in 2015); Belleville East's Malcolm Hill (Illinois) and Darreon Reddick (top 25 player in 2014); Stevenson's Jalen Brunson (top three player in 2015).
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