By Joe Henricksen

March 2013 Archives

What I learned this basketball season

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A lot can be learned over four months of high school basketball action. Along the way, while bouncing from tournament to tournament over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, weeknight matchups, weekend shootouts and state tournament play, you witness busts, overachievers, breakout teams and players, surprises and realize the word overrated is used far less than it really should be.

And after a week sitting on a beach in Mexico. (Oh, I can't lie. I'm sitting here typing this looking out at the waves right now), you sit and ponder and digest all that went down over the last four months, including how Florida Gulf Coast is still playing basketball in late March.

I thought back to previous conversations with Simeon coach Rob Smith when just discussing basketball in general. When Smith took over Bob Hambric's high-profile program, he knew exactly what he envisioned for the future, especially with the fortune of having one Derrick Rose rarin' and ready to go as a sophomore in Smith's first season as head coach. Smith wanted to take Simeon basketball to another level. He wanted Simeon to be a national program at the high school level.

I digress for a moment from Simeon and its place nationally.

As expected, Simeon dominated the headlines from start to finish. But we all knew about Simeon. We were aware of the talent in place, led by All-American Jabari Parker, the most ballyhooed of the many ballyhooed Chicago prep hoop stars of the past several decades. The quest for four straight state championships this season was chronicled, really, like no other high school basketball team.

Starting today, picking back up on Monday and continuing through next week, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the many things it learned and confirmed over the course of the 2012-2013 high school basketball season. Today, we start with No. 9 and No. 10 on the list ...

#9: Simeon's place nationally is solidified
Rob Smith really doesn't need any further validation that his goal of becoming a national program has been accomplished, but here is some anyway.

You know the notion of Simeon being recognized nationally is valid when you're at a swim up bar in a resort pool in Mexico and, without any provoking, Simeon basketball pops up in the conversation. When a man sipping a Bahama Mama finds out you're from Chicago, he brings up -- of all things -- Simeon.

The conversation with this Boston sports fan -- who I can't even put in the avid sports fan category since he forgot his very own Celtic Rajon Rondo was out with an injury (Although he was a wee bit inebriated) -- began casually. But within minutes of Boston/Chicago conversation, he brings up Jabari Parker, how he was aware of Parker and Simeon with all the media attention thrown their way, and "Isn't that where Derrick Rose went to high school as well?"

Simeon is arguably -- no, not arguably anymore -- Simeon basketball IS, nationally, this state's most recognizable high school athletic program in history. Prior to Simeon basketball, that distinction probably went to Frank Lenti and Mt. Carmel football when the Caravan played in 10 state championships from 1989-2003, winning nine, and were prominently mentioned nationally.

Now it's Simeon, thanks to Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, mass media exposure, national TV appearances and championships. The Wolverines reached the national level prior to this season, but the program reached new, greater heights during this 2012-2013 campaign.

#10: The IHSA needs set rules for state tournament dates and cancellations
Now that we have been reminded that snowstorms can occur in March, can the IHSA -- no, the IHSA must -- put something in place to properly handle the cancellation of regional and sectional games?

The fact teams had to play sectional semifinal games Thursday night, while the other sectional winner had the night off while waiting for its sectional final opponent, is ludicrous.

Every step of the way along the state tournament trail becomes more taxing and emotionally draining. There is no question there was a distinct disadvantage for any team that played and won the Thursday night sectional game this year.

While one sectional semifinal winner had the luxury of "coming back down" emotionally from its win, having a night off and preparing for the sectional final with an actual practice, the other winner had to come back and play less than 24 hours later the following night for a sectional championship.

You can say teams play back-to-back nights all season or they do it for the State Finals in Peoria the very next weekend. But EVERYONE is doing it then, not just one of the two teams, so it remains competitively fair.

These high school teams--the players and the coaches--put in so much time and energy, both out of season and during the season to prepare for this moment. The least we can do is when games mean the most and they are playing for what they've worked so hard for is give them all a balanced playing field and an equal, fair shot.
 
The IHSA can claim this was the only way due to scheduling conflicts and availability with sectional sites, facilities and workers. Maybe scheduling snafus were an issue at a sectional site or two--I know the Class 3A sectional at Nazareth was one (the sectional was moved to Riverside-Brookfield as a result).

I also know I called three sectional hosts and asked if moving the championship game to Saturday night would have been a problem. Each one said there would be no problem in moving the title game one day back.
 
But the bigger question is why isn't there something more concrete already in place for situations like this?

I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since the IHSA leaves regional scheduling to the discretion of the host school. Huh? This is a whole other story, but look at the various regional scheduling around the state. They're all different from regional to regional with the opportunity (power) to add competitive advantages when they see fit. Why wouldn't they all be uniform across the state?

When it comes to hosting a sectional, would it be that difficult to put in writing that sectional hosts must, in the rare event there is a cancellation, have their gym available all week, including Saturday night?

What took place this past year can't happen again. And I would think every high school coach would agree.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The best of the four-class era

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Forget the comparisons to 1972 Thornridge. We'll leave 1981 Quincy, 1991 Proviso East, 1998 Whitney Young and all the great King and Peoria Manual teams out of the conversation.

We're going to break down the new four-class era. The City/Suburban Hoops Report ranks the best state champions since the IHSA expanded to four classes in 2008.

1. 2013 Simeon (30-3) • Class 4A
In the eyes of the Hoops Report, when completely healthy and playing at its peak in March, this Simeon state championship team was the best. Yes, 2013 Simeon gets the slight edge over the Derrick Rose state championship team of 2007 -- and last year's state title team. With a senior-dominated group, led by All-American Jabari Parker and Big Ten guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, this team had it all--star power, size and guard play to go with the typical Simeon defense and discipline.

2. 2012 Simeon (33-1) • Class 4A
People forget how good Simeon was last year with Parker, who became a dominating force, and Marquette-bound Steve Taylor, who was the No. 1 ranked player in the Class of 2012 in Illinois. Simeon won a city championship and won every state tournament game by double figures before knocking off Proviso East 50-48 in the state championship game. The only loss came to powerhouse Findlay Prep out of Nevada.

3. 2013 Morgan Park (33-3) • Class 3A
This was an electric, talented team with a dynamite backcourt in Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis. The Mustangs split with 4A champ Simeon during the regular season. How many people would have loved to have seen a rubber-match in March between these 4A and 3A state champs? The only thing we didn't get to see was a matchup against one of the elite teams

4. 2009 Whitney Young (26-9) • Class 4A
The national schedule put a dent in Young's won-loss total, but the tough-as-nails, physically strong backcourt of Chris Colvin and Marcus Jordan just beat up opponents on both ends of the floor.

5. 2011 Simeon (30-2) • Class 4A
Jabari Parker was blossoming as a sophomore and led the Wolverines in scoring with 15 points a game. But Simeon was just a balanced and solid team with a mix of underclassmen (Parker and Kendrick Nunn) and upperclassmen (junior Steve Taylor and seniors Rashawn McElrath, Jaleni Neely and Darien Walker).
 
6. 2008 Marshall (31-4) • Class 3A
The Commandos won both the Chicago Public League playoffs and the 3A state championship behind Ryan Hare and Darius Smith, a pair of all-staters. Coach Courtney Hargrays also had an unheralded supporting cast, led by guard Ardarrius Simmons, 6-6 Eriq Harris and 6-8 Dorian Tyler.

7. 2010 Simeon (25-9) • Class 4A
Of all the Simeon state champions, this was the most surprising and the least talented on paper. But Brandon Spearman, after an up-and-down regular season, turned into a postseason go-to player as the only impact senior on the team. Role players coming up big and coach Robert Smith's best coaching job.

8. 2008 Richards (30-4) • Class 4A
Although Richards snuck up on some people, this was a darn good team with balance and tremendous pieces that just fit. The Bulldogs had steady guard play from Eliud Gonzalez, size in Shaun Pratl, toughness and athleticism from Tommie Thomas and a budding star in Indiana State-bound Carl Richard.

9. 2009 Champaign Centennial (32-1) • Class 3A
A talented trio of senior James Kinney (17.4 ppg), Rayvonte Rice (16.5 ppg) and 6-8 junior Jeff Johnson (13.5 ppg) led the Chargers to wins over a loaded North Lawndale team and Oswego by a combined three points.

10. 2010 Hillcrest (31-3) • Class 3A
The Hawks shed the label of best program without a state trophy behind a team that just got after it defensively and made things difficult for opposing offenses. Senior Eric Gaines and junior point guard Juice Brown were the big names. But the Hoops Report remembers a group of role-playing seniors--Darren Tillman, Herbert Offord, Jeremiah Horne and Nick Oden--that pushed this team over the top.

11. 2009 Seton Academy (31-2) • Class 2A
This was arguably the best "small school" state champ since the famed Providence St. Mel team in 1985. Star point guard D.J. Cooper was the catalyst, but this senior-dominated team also featured 6-5 Tony Nixon, 6-6 Corbin Thomas and 6-6 Jordan Walker.

12. 2008 North Lawndale (30-4) • Class 2A
On paper, the 2009 North Lawndale team the following year was better, but it was upset in the 3A semifinals in 2010. This was a talented group as well, though a little young with junior Jon Mills and sophomores Paul Bunch and Jermaine Winfield. Senior John Taylor was an explosive weapon.

13. 2011 Rock Island (30-3) • Class 3A
Led by Mr. Basketball winner Chasson Randle, Rock Island won the school's first-ever state basketball championship. Guard Royce Muskeyvalley and junior big man Denzel McCauley both provided support.

14. 2012 Peoria Central (28-3) • Class 3A
This team lacked big names -- the leading scorer averaged just 12.6 points a game -- and was nowhere near the Shaun Livingston-led Peoria High teams that won back-to-back state titles, but it was a group of seniors who played hard, were tough and played together. There was size with 6-7 Trey Kellum and 6-9 Kevin Jordan, along with underrated guard play from Aldonis Foote.

15. 2011 Hales Franciscan • Class 2A
This was another big-time small school champ. The speed and athleticism provided from Aaron and Aaric Armstead, jumping-jack Dominique Walls and tough Eddie Alcantera overwhelmed Class 2A foes.

The 68-team high school field would look like this

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While we're in the middle of the NCAA Tournament's first weekend, the City/Suburban Hoops Report tried to get creative and have some fun.

How about a 68-team high school tournament in the Chicago area tipping off this weekend as well?

So, just for the heck of it, the Hoops Report put together the inaugural -- and fictional -- City/Suburban Tournament.

The Hoops Report tried to emulate the parameters of the NCAA Tournament in putting together the field and matchups. We used the 29 conferences in the Chicago area that are primarily made up of Class 4A and Class 3A schools, including only the Red Division of the Chicago Public League. The conference champ from each league received an automatic bid.

Any two teams tied for the top spot in their respective conference received the automatic bid by A) Winning the head-to-head matchup or, if the teams split, B) Most overall wins on the season.

Then we added the 39 at-large bids for our City/Suburban Tournament Field of 68. All teams in the tournament field had to be either 4A or 3A schools.

All bids and seeds were given based on both regular season and the recently completed postseason results. Remember, it's fiction, so just recently completed state tournament play was factored in as we head into our very own "Big Dance."

The Hoops Report then broke the 68 teams into four separate regions -- South, North, West and City -- and seeded the top eight teams, keeping it geographically based when possible (as the NCAA Tournament committee does) but moving top teams to other regions to keep them as balanced as possible.

It's beautiful! The top prep powers are spread out, so no complaining about the Argo Sectional being too tough. The IHSA is out of the picture, so no complaining just to complain -- and no four classes! There's no committee; just the Hoops Report sending out invites and seeding the regions.

Our top overall No. 1 seeds? Simeon was the top seed in the City Region and the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. Morgan Park earned the top seed in the South Region, with Whitney Young the top seed in the West Region and Stevenson on the top line of the North Region.

City/Suburban Tournament Field
29 Automatic Qualifiers
Hinsdale Central
Proviso East
Neuqua Valley
Larkin
Wheaton Academy
Lincoln-Way North
Homewood-Flossmoor
Oswego
Bloom
Richards
Hillcrest
Kaneland
North Chicago
Stevenson
Schaumburg
Prospect
Riverside-Brookfield
Huntley
Crystal Lake Central
Benet Academy
Glenbard East
Maine South
Niles North
St. Rita
Loyola Academy
Curie
Foreman
Simeon
Orr

39 At-Large Bids
York
Oak Park-River Forest
DuSable
Metea Valley
Waubonsie Valley
St. Charles North
Geneva
Wheaton St. Francis
Joliet West
Bolingbrook
Rich East
Crete-Monee
Lemont
T.F. North
Lakes
Zion-Benton
Lake Forest
Mundelein
Warren
Marian Catholic
St. Viator
Niles Notre Dame
St. Patrick
West Aurora
Naperville Central
New Trier
Brother Rice
De La Salle
Fenwick
St. Joseph
St. Ignatius
Hyde Park
Morgan Park
Bogan
Young
Farragut
Marshall
Morton
Naperville North
Waukegan
Marist

The Last Four In
Metea Valley
Warren
Fenwick
Wheaton St. Francis

City/Suburban Tournament Top Eight Seeds By Region
North Region
(1) Stevenson
(2) Orr
(3) New Trier
(4) Niles Notre Dame
(5) Maine South
(6) St. Viator
(7) Zion-Benton
(8) Mundelein

South Region
(1) Morgan Park
(2) Marian Catholic
(3) Benet Academy
(4) Bloom
(5) Hillcrest
(6) Bogan
(7) Rich East
(8) Homewood-Flossmoor

West Region
(1) Whitney Young
(2) Proviso East
(3) West Aurora
(4) Oswego
(5) Neuqua Valley
(6) Larkin
(7) Joliet West
(8) Oak Park-River Forest

City Region
(1) Simeon
(2) Curie
(3) North Chicago
(4) Niles North
(5) Glenbard East
(6) Loyola Academy
(7) St. Rita
(8) St. Patrick

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The 20-year anniversary of the worst ...

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We hype. We talk about the best this, the best that. We compare and contrast who's better.

But how about the worst? We never talk or write about the worst.

No one could possibly be a bigger critic of the four-class basketball system in Illinois than yours truly. For me, four-class basketball has sucked the loving-March-life out of me when it comes to prep basketball in this state.

But that's not to say every State Finals in the two-class system were glorious. There was a down year here and there in two-class basketball as well, which brings me to the point of all this: The 20-year anniversary of ...

The worst State Finals ever.

Right now there is someone in the Bradley-Bourbonnais community reading this and saying, "Wait a minute! Weren't we in Champaign in 1993?"

Yes, you were Boilermakers.

But this was the Bradley-Bourbonnais team a year after Chris Gandy, the 6-8 all-stater who went on to play at Illinois, had graduated.

Yep, 20 years ago today, Mar. 20, 1993, the Class AA Elite Eight tipped off in Assembly Hall in Champaign.

The 1993 season and State Finals in Champaign will forever be highlighted by one of coach Sonny Cox's most dominating King teams. The Jaguars were led by what we've never seen before and may never see again: A pair of highly-regarded 7-footers leading the way.

King went 32-0 behind 7-1 Rashard Griffith and 7-3 Thomas Hamilton, who averaged 21 and 18 points a game, respectively. Jerard Billingsley, Ronald Minter and Dewarren Stewart rounded out this senior-dominated juggernaut.

But this State Finals conversation starts with King and ends with King. There was nothing else -- at least for anyone outside the seven participating communities.

King won the state championship game in an absolute yawner, demolishing Rockford Guilford by 37 points in a 79-42 win. That's a 37 point-margin! In a state championship!

King's other two wins -- 82-54 over Proviso East in the quarterfinals and 69-38 over Danville in the semifinals -- weren't much closer or better. Those are three games decided by an average victory margin of 32 points a game.

But lets get away from King for a moment. The first session quarterfinal games on Friday featured these two, uh, um ... tantalizing matchups: Fremd (23-6) vs. Bradley-Bourbonnais (28-2) and Rockford Guilford (25-6) vs. Edwardsville (24-6). Try and name any of the big-named players on those four teams.

Waiting ...

Anyone?

The King bracket did feature Glenbrook North. But this was one year after Mr. Basketball winner Chris Collins had graduated and a decade before Jon Scheyer arrived. This was, you remember I'm sure, the Kyle Scott, Brian Culhane and Jamar Holcomb version of GBN hoops.

A pretty solid Danville team, led by DeMarko Wright and Keon Clark, buried Glenbrook North by 20 points in the quarterfinals, while King crushed Proviso East in the final quarterfinal game.

Speaking of Proviso East, don't get too excited. This was two years after the "Three Amigos" -- Sherrell Ford, Michael Finley and Donnie Boyce -- played and won a state championship, and a year after the Pirates went unbeaten en route to winning back-to-back state titles.

Memorable, take-home moments for the fan? There weren't any, unless you want to keep talking about how the two King 7-footers looked as if they were matched up against 8th graders. This was a dud of an Elite Eight.

Hey, it happens. The 2006 Final Four, after all, featured Florida, UCLA, LSU and George Mason, with the closest game being a 14-point margin of victory. The combined seeds of the four teams was greater than 20 and there wasn't a single first, second or third-team AP All-American playing in the Final Four field.

The Class AA State Finals doldrums in Illinois didn't last long. The following March began the four-year run of dominance by Peoria Manual, with stars Brandon Hughes and Willie Coleman leading the way with the help of a couple of freshmen, Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin. The Rams knocked off Troy Hudson, who went on to play 10 years in the NBA, and Carbondale in a 61-60 state championship game thriller.

That was promptly followed by what would become the last true heyday of State Finals basketball in Illinois, from 1995-1998. Peoria Manual and Thornton captivated state basketball fans at the State Finals from 1995-97, while the 1998 field was as talented as any we've seen with Whitney Young (Quentin Richardson, Cordell Henry and Dennis Gates), Elgin (Sean Harrington, Marcus Smallwood and Marcus Howard), Galesburg (Joey Range and Rod Thompson), Maine West (Lucas Johnson and Kevin Frey) and Fenwick (Corey Maggette and Chris Williams).

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Simeon, Morgan Park and all things Peoria

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We are now six years into four-class basketball in Illinois and, unfortunately for me -- no, thousands of people -- it's not going anywhere.

One area of prep hoops the four-class system has impacted is our chance to compare and contrast, even debate, the past and present when it comes to all-time great teams. Heck, some can't even agree on the best team in Illinois this year due to the fact 4A champ Simeon and 3A champ Morgan Park split this season and didn't play for all the marbles in March.

The Hoops Report, however, believes this year's Simeon team -- not Morgan Park, not last year's Simeon team, not the 2009 Whitney Young team -- is the best of all the state champions in this four-class system era, dating back to 2008.

Remember, it's not about Simeon's full body of work from November to March; there just isn't any way around admitting Simeon was slow out of the gate and a shell of what it would become. It's about how they finished, how it played when it mattered most. This Simeon team in March was not the one we watched in November, December, January, maybe not even February.

Those that saw Simeon in Pontiac, or in Red-South play, or on any of their national televised games or in the city playoffs, saw a different Simeon team in March. This team passed the eye test of a nationally-ranked state champion.

The Simeon team that beat a loaded Whitney Young by 17 points in the sectional championship was absolutely dominant. That team on display that night left you saying, "Wow."

That win over Young, along with taking care of business this past weekend in Peoria in rather convincing fashion against two solid teams, was enough.

"With all that went on this season -- and a lot of it was blown a little out of proportion -- this title was the most rewarding of the four," says Simeon coach Robert Smith. "This championship was just refreshing."

The most notable change, the biggest reason for Simeon's rise to the dominance level so late in the season is pretty simple: Jabari Parker's health. Any dominant team you think of has that superstar, the matchup nightmare who by just his mere presence makes everyone around him better. Simeon had it in name only the first three months of the season, due to Parker's slow comeback from his summer foot injury.

Parker was never close to 100 percent, his normal comfort level on the court or his impactful self until late February and into March.

Starting with the best player in Peoria conversation, here are some thoughts from this past weekend in Peoria ...

➥ No surprise here, but the best player in Peoria was the 6-8 senior All-American, Jabari Parker. He wasn't just terrific in Peoria, he was the Parker everyone expected and hoped for all season. He averaged 22.4 and 10 rebounds a game in the five wins leading up to Peoria, where he then scored 40 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in wins over Proviso East and Stevenson.

Everyone benefited -- aside from the seven foes Simeon knocked off on its run -- from being able to see the real Jabari Parker for a few weeks during his final high school basketball season. This is a kid that entered high school with enormous expectations, lived up to them and did everything the right way throughout his illustrious prep career.

➥ The unsung hero for Simeon? Depending on the night, it was either Kendall Pollard or Russell Woods. On championship night, it was Woods, who didn't put up big numbers all season. In essence, he was a role player. But all season long the 6-7 senior provided a presence for Simeon inside. And in 27 minutes against Stevenson, Woods scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and, once again, was a presence around the basket defensively.

➥ Goodness, did Morgan Park bring the heat all season long. I tweeted during the matchup with Cahokia that it resembled a bunch of terriers with a pit bull mindset. Coach Nick Irvin's team just brought it every night out. The Mustangs did three things well all season long: play together, pressure opponents and play hard. While Morgan Park's road to Peoria was as soft as any in recent memory, it didn't play around. This team didn't shy away when push came to shove in big moments. They didn't retreat. They didn't get too cautious. They just constantly got after it.

➥ What a brilliant high school career Billy Garrett, Jr. put together in his four years at Morgan Park. His old school game is refreshing, particularly with how he can play it while still playing in his team's frenetic style and pace. Hopefully DePaul can figure out a way to put some pieces around Garrett, because that's how he will really flourish at the collegiate level.

➥ Dayton, you got yourself a big recruiting steal in Simeon's Kendall Pollard. The 6-5 senior is going to be a heck of a player for coach Archie Miller. Tough, strong, more athletic than you think and a defensive presence with intangibles, Pollard is the type of player you win with. As his offensive game evolves, particularly his perimeter jumper, he's going to become such a valued, versatile weapon at the college level.

Proviso East fell short to mighty Simeon in back-to-back seasons, but what a two-year run coach Donnie Boyce, star Sterling Brown and the rest of the Pirates experienced. The powerhouse out of Maywood, with so much history and tradition, brought home two more state trophies to the trophy case and piled up 61 wins over two seasons. If you're counting, that's an impressive seven state trophies for Proviso East following this years fourth-place finish.

➥ This may not be much of an earth-shattering prediction, but Sterling Brown is going to have a stellar career for coach Larry Brown at SMU. He just brings too much to the table in terms of versatility and isn't afraid of big games or key moments.

➥ What a terrific job Jim Molinari has done at Western Illinois, one of the truly difficult college basketball coaching jobs. He led the Leathernecks to 18 wins last season and a 22-8 record this year. The reason I bring up the WIU coach is the simple fact he has, for his level, a recruiting gem coming in with Edwardsville's Garret Covington. The 6-5 senior, who averaged 18.4 points a game and knocked down over 100 three-pointers on the season, is a big recruiting coup for Molinari.

➥ Any more doubters out there when it comes to Stevenson's Jalen Brunson being one of the elite talents in the state? This point guard is special and, as he showed again, is the most polished and productive sophomore in the state.

Keenan Minor led Cahokia in scoring this year with nearly 20 points a game. Darius Austin, a 6-6 junior, is the team's top prospect. But the Hoops Report came away very impressed with the talent and potential of junior C.J. Rivers. He has terrific size for a combo guard, a solid feel and is a certain Division I prospect.

➥ Reason No. 178 why four-class basketball is bad: two third-place games. Now a quarter of the games played in Peoria -- two of the eight -- are of the consolation variety, games hardly played at full-throttle. I don't blame the teams. There is just a natural intensity letdown after riding that high of winning in March and falling in the state semifinals the day before.

➥ We seed all the sectionals. Why can't we seed beyond the sectional -- or at least the final four teams playing in Peoria? If we're not going to get the best teams to Peoria because of geography, can we at least seed the teams that make it?

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Two for NU as coaching search begins

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Lets get right to it.

The obvious, most talked about choice: Duke associate head coach Chris Collins.

The under-the-radar, darkhorse choice: La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini.

Northwestern can go a number of different directions to replace Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, who was fired after 13 years as head coach on Saturday. These are just two of many names the Hoops Report has heard to be in the mix in Evanston, and for different reasons both Collins and Giannini are quality candidates for this job at this time.

Roughly one year ago when everyone wondered if Carmody would be back for the 2012-2013 season, the Hoops Report learned through close sources that Duke assistant Chris Collins would be Northwestern's primary target and that the former Glenbrook North star was very much interested -- if the job would have opened.

Now, 12 months later, not much has changed. Well, except the job is actually open following the firing of Carmody as head coach.

Collins is still expected to be a target and, according to a source with knowledge, the 13-year Duke assistant is still very much intrigued by the job.

"If Northwestern decides that Chris Collins is their guy and they are fair with him in the [negotiating] process, Chris would definitely be interested," the source told the Hoops Report.

According to Hoops Report sources, the son of former NBA all-star and current Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins welcomes the academic rigor at Northwestern and targeting a certain type of recruit that a school and program like Northwestern attracts.

Collins, who was named Duke's associate head coach in 2008, has familiarity with the Chicago area, both having starred at Glenbrook North and having recruited the area for the past decade while at Duke.

As a prep star at Glenbrook North, Collins was an Illinois Mr. Basketball winner and a McDonald's All-American who averaged 32 points a game as a senior before going on to play at Duke.

What grabbed my attention and intrigues me about Collins when talking to a few basketball people was the impressive experience he has had assisting Mike Krzyzewski and the USA Basketball team staff with on-court duties since 2006. He's been a part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 FIBA World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics.

According to sources who know players on the U.S. National Team and spent time at a practice or two, Collins would often run parts of those practices. And he had the respect of the world's greatest players.

Collins would be a big name hire for a Northwestern program that has put its dollar and attention towards the football program. He would bring instant name recognition and, maybe most important, energy that will hopefully take the program from point A to point B.

Duke assistants have not exactly set the world on fire when they've taken control of their own programs. This is where Northwestern hopes Collins breaks the odds and is closer to a version of Mike Brey as opposed to Quin Snyder.

Names like Valpo's Bryce Drew, Bucknell's Dave Paulsen, South Dakota State's Scott Nagy and Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson have been floated around by the media as possible options for Northwestern, but Dr. John Giannani's name hasn't but very likely will be, especially if the road to Collins closes.

Is there a better fit for a coach with a doctorate than Northwestern?

Giannini is a proven, experienced coach with a winning pedigree. He's won at the Division I level in what are very tough basketball jobs at both La Salle and Maine.

Last season he led the Explorers to 21 wins and a NIT berth, the program's first postseason appearance in over 20 years. He's followed that up with another 21-win season, an 11-5 record in the tough Atlantic 10 and a potential NCAA Tournament berth this year.

Under Giannini, La Salle's team APR (Academic Progress Rate) has improved each of his nine seasons with 100 percent of seniors recruited by the head coach having graduated.

While at Maine, Giannini compiled the best record of any coach in school history and recorded the program's only two 20-win seasons.

In addition, Giannini won big at the Division III level early in his career. He spent seven seasons at Rowan University in New Jersey, where he won a national championship in 1996. In his last four seasons at Rowan, Giannini went 110-12 with three Division III Final Four appearances.

Then there are the local ties. Giannini is a Chicago native who graduated from Fenwick High School and North Central College in Naperville. He served on Lou Henson's University of Illinois staff from 1987-89 as a graduate assistant. And while Giannini was on the Illinois staff in the late 1980s, current Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips was as well as a basketball manager and student assistant.

Collins and Giannini are a couple of terrific choices for a Northwestern program aching to take that next step. There are lot of others as well. Here's hoping Northwestern can make that perfect hire.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Six reasons to watch Simeon-Stevenson

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The masses around the state believed the state championship was played eight days ago when Simeon knocked off Whitney Young in the championship game of the Argo Sectional.

Those that doubted the validity of Simeon-Young looked forward to the Simeon-Proviso East
rematch in last night's state semifinal.

And anyone else just wishes Simeon and Morgan Park, which is playing in the 3A state championship game Saturday afternoon, would go at it one more time after splitting two games this season.

The people sitting perfectly fine with all those thoughts? The Stevenson Patriots.

Coach Pat Ambrose's team will head into the 4A state final as a major underdog. If we're talking Vegas, Stevenson would be a double-digit underdog.

Stevenson's biggest stage thus far was the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in December, where it went 3-2 with losses to Oswego (72-66) and Morgan Park (67-52). However, this is a different Patriots team than the one nearly two months ago. That's what happens when you're playing with sophomores. By the time March rolls around, those second-year kids with little to no experience are sophomores in name only.

Stevenson hasn't lost a single game since the holidays, ripping off 18 consecutive wins. For the most part, they have dominated foes during that stretch. There is a budding confidence with this team, but it also knows they are up against a different animal than the Edwardsvilles, Boylans, Mundeleins and North Chicagos of the world.

Here are six reasons for basketball fans in Illinois to watch Simeon-Stevenson in the Class 4A state championship game.

1. A chance to see history
It's not every year you can say you watched a team playing for a fourth straight state championship in the final game of the high school basketball season. The actual answer to that question is once -- Peoria Manual in 1997. Simeon's quest to match Manual's state record four-peat now comes down to one game.

2. Ultimate individual winners
Ironically, the four-year run put together by Peoria Manual in the mid-1990s and Simeon's current run has one undeniable parallel: Jabari Parker and Sergio McClain. Both were instrumental players all season long as freshmen for state championship teams; Parker averaged 9.2 points a game and McClain 7.6 points a game as freshmen. With a win, Parker can match McClain's ultimate winner status at the state level.

Don't forget Simeon senior guard Kendrick Nunn, who also played a small role for a state championship team as a freshman three years ago. Nunn and Manual's Marcus Griffin, who is also a four-time state champion, were overshadowed first year players by their big-named freshmen teammates.

3. Jabari Parker's final game
Selfishly, the Hoops Report has waited all season for the Jabari Parker we've seen over the past few weeks. After dealing with a slow recovery from a summer foot injury, that player is here. He's been dominant, impressive and the difference-making player all would expect from an individual who has received more attention and media hype than any player in state history.

Now all fans have one last chance to enjoy one of the best talents to come through the state of Illinois. Watch closely how Parker impacts games in so many different ways with his combination of size, skill and basketball smarts.

4. Jalen Brunson
The Hoops Report may not have spoken any truer words this season than with this headline and story back in December: Jalen Brunson is that good. Since then, the Hoops Report has repeatedly stated there is no other sophomore in the state who is as polished or greatly impacts a game more than the Stevenson star. And there is no sophomore who is asked to do more or has as much responsibility as the smooth, heady 6-1 lefty point guard.

The kid is special and fun to watch. And though he's not the same player as Jon Scheyer, the former Glenbrook North icon who led his team to Peoria as a freshman, his unique, cerebral qualities for such a young player are very similar. He's also shown he can put his team on his back, averaging over 24 points a game in Stevenson's last seven games.

5. Sneak peek to the 2013-2014 season
As it stands right now, when next season begins in eight months your preseason No. 1 team will be Whitney Young. We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Stevenson could very well be No. 2.

Superstar sophomore Jalen Brunson isn't the only talent returning for coach Pat Ambrose. While playing with a lower profile, sophomore Connor Cashaw (16.2 ppg) has been terrific all season. However, his play in super-sectional and state semifinal wins have opened people's eyes. Plus, junior Matt Morrissey (8 ppg) will be back with a pair of sophomores, 6-4 Parker Nichols and emerging 6-3 Cameron Green.

6. David vs. Goliath
Who doesn't like the David vs. Goliath story when it comes to sports?

This is a really good Stevenson team with a star player that has been ranked since January, earned a No. 1 sectional seed and was expected to reach Peoria when the brackets were analyzed in February.

But this is Simeon. Nationally-ranked Simeon. Mighty Simeon, winners of three straight state championships with McDonald's All-American Jabari Parker. Ridiculously talented Simeon, with Illinois recruits Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, Dayton-bound Kendall Pollard and three or four other players who will or could see the floor that will all play Division I basketball.

A win by Stevenson Saturday night would be the biggest state championship game upset in recent memory, bigger than Schaumburg knocking off Eddy Curry and Thornwood in 2001.

Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 58, Stevenson 47

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Class 4A Peoria primer and picks

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A couple of high school heavyweights, Simeon and Proviso East, headline a Class 4A field in Peoria.

While Simeon has been dominant over the past eight seasons and shoots for its record-tying fourth straight state title, Proviso East has been a state power and player for decades. Proviso East won state championships in 1969, 1974, 1991 and 1992, with state runner-up finishes in 1981 and 2012.

The most recent second-place finish last March, however, is partly what has fueled this season's return to Peoria. The Pirates lost a heartbreaker, falling to Simeon 50-48.

"What better way to reach our ultimate goal than by getting another shot at Simeon," says Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce. "Everyone in Illinois understands you have to go through Simeon."

Although many key parts returned from last year's 32-1 team, including SMU-bound Sterling Brown and Illinois State recruit Paris Lee, this group developed at a different pace.

"Last year, with the start we had and the unbeaten regular season, it was expected that we reached Peoria," says Boyce. "Getting back this year is more rewarding because there were plenty of people doubting us. It took us longer this year than last year to realize we had to do this together."

Simeon, however, is what it is -- a high school basketball giant in Illinois with talent and a presence. And the worst news for Proviso East, Stevenson and Edwardsville?

"We're playing our best basketball of the season," says Simeon coach Robert Smith. "I do feel a little more comfortable this year than last year with where we're at, with how our guards have played.

"But it's one game at a time right now. You can't ever look past that next game, and our focus right now is keeping them focused on Proviso East only."

Top storyline to follow: Simeon's quest to make history
What more can be said about this run? It's a dynasty. The Wolverines are two wins away from making history with a fourth consecutive state championship, which would tie Peoria Manual's four-peat back in the mid-1990s.

Sleeper: Stevenson
Everyone will be talking about the Simeon-Proviso East rematch on opening night. Then there is the curiosity of the 30-win Edwardsville team from southern Illinois no one knows much about. But what about the easily-forgotten Stevenson team? Unranked in the preseason, the Patriots are now assured of a state trophy and hoping to make their first-ever state title game appearance behind sophomores. Stevenson is disciplined, well coached and will run its stuff but probably has the smallest margin for error of any of the 4A teams in Peoria.

Best player: Jabari Parker, Simeon
The good news is fans are now finally getting a glimpse of the headline-making superstar at his best after a slow start to the season due to a summer foot injury. He's been dominant of late, especially in March. The bad news is for the teams in Peoria that sure wish this was the Parker people saw in December.

The unheralded: Connor Cashaw, Stevenson
You've all heard of Jalen Brunson by now, the uber-talented Class of 2015 star point guard who has been one of the state's elite players all season long. But how about the OTHER sophomore for the Patriots? The 6-3 Cashaw, who averages over 16 points and 7 rebounds a game, poured in 22 in the super-sectional win over Boylan. "He was huge," says Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose of Cashaw's performance Tuesday night. Cashaw also chips in 3 assists a game and shoots 50 percent from the three-point line.

The unheralded Part II: Kendall Pollard, Simeon
No team wins a state championship without a talented player willing to accept a less glamorous role. Pollard, the 6-5 Dayton recruit, is that guy. He does the dirty work and defends anyone, anywhere (Hello, Sterling Brown!). Ask coach Rob Smith or his staff an overlooked aspect that has made Simeon successful, and Pollard's contributions will be one of the first factors they'll cite.

Top 10 players:
Jabari Parker, 6-8, Sr., Simeon
Kendrick Nunn, 6-2, Sr., Simeon
Kendall Pollard, 6-5, Sr., Simeon
Jaylon Tate, 6-2, Sr., Simeon
Sterling Brown, 6-5, Sr., Proviso East
Paris Lee, 5-10, Sr., Proviso East
Jevon Carter, 6-1, Jr., Proviso East
Garret Covington, 6-5, Sr., Edwardsville
Jalen Brunson, 6-1, So., Stevenson
Connor Cashaw, 6-3, So., Stevenson

The unknown: Edwardsville
The downstate team is always the obvious choice. But the Tigers are more than just "the team from down south." This program has won A LOT under coach Mike Waldo, including a trip to the super-sectional a year ago and a 30-2 record this season. When you break it all down, Edwardsville really does have a whole lot going for it, beginning with star power in the Garret Covington (18.4 ppg) and Tre Harris (17.1 ppg) tandem.

The favorite: Simeon
You can't talk about the much-needed "tournament tough" without starting that conversation talking about Simeon. With one weekend to play, Simeon remains likable for so many reasons, largely unchanged from 12 months ago. Yes, elite talent. But we're talking veteran players, excellent guards and experience playing in this setting. The problem with preparing a game plan to defend against Jabari Parker is that there are so many other weapons that can hurt you. The backcourt of Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, combined with Parker, has made Simeon more multidimensional.

Hoops Report's 4A Picks
Class 4A semifinals
Simeon 59, Proviso East 53
Edwardsville 51, Stevenson 48
State Championship Game
Simeon 64, Edwardsville 55

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Class 3A Peoria primer and picks

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Across the state there are high school basketball fans wondering and asking: Who's Orr?

The 3A field features two teams in Orr and Limestone who both won their first sectional title in school history last week and are making their first-ever trip to state. Cahokia made its lone appearance way back in 1985. Morgan Park is making just its second appearance in the last 35 years.

Yes, this field of four teams in 3A is unfamiliar to state basketball fans, offering up a fresh look and feel to the 2013 State Finals.

But the rise of Orr has been a terrific story. Prior to the arrival of coach Lou Adams six years ago, Orr basketball was non-existent. The Spartans scratched and clawed to respectability and have overcome some of the past post-season demons the program has encountered.

"I knew when I took over at Orr we weren't going to get the type of kids that Whitney Young and Simeon get," says Adams, who coached at Englewood prior to his arrival at Orr. "But no one is going to outwork us. We have tough kids who really compete and want to win."

Now Orr must avoid looking ahead to a potential matchup with No. 1 Morgan Park and take care of another relatively unknown, Cahokia, in the state semifinals Friday afternoon.

"They're here for a reason," Adams says of Cahokia making it to Peoria. "If they're still playing at this time of the year and have 30-some wins, there is no way we will overlook them."

Top storyline to follow: Two wins from all-Public League final
Morgan Park is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A and the favorite. Orr is the red-hot upstart that beat up talented North Chicago in the super-sectional and owns a win over 4A power Whitney Young. And both are on a collision course to meet in the state championship game, which would be the third time two Chicago Public League teams met in a state championship (Simeon vs. Young in 4A in 2010 and Marshall vs. Simeon in 3A in 2008).

Sleeper: Cahokia
Maybe its unfair to label a team with this much talent and sporting a 32-3 record as a sleeper. Cahokia, led by high-scoring sharpshooter Keenan Minor, has just one loss since the middle of December, a 51-49 defeat to 4A semifinalist Edwardsville. The Comanches' three losses are by a combined seven points. With Minor, 6-6 Vincent Jackson, 6-6 junior Darius Austin and junior guard C.J. Rivers, Cahokia has an impressive collection of individual talent.

Best player: Billy Garrett, Jr., Morgan Park
The DePaul recruit isn't overly flashy. He's just steady, productive and contributes at a high level as both a scorer and playmaker. Garrett simply gets it, knows how to play and is a calming influence on a team that sometimes needs that type of presence.

Top 5 prospects
• Billy Garrett, Jr., 6-4, PG, Morgan Park
• Kyle Davis, 6-0, PG/2G, Morgan Park
• Josh Cunningham, 6-6, WF/PF, Morgan Park
• Tyquone Greer, 6-6, WF/PF, Orr
• Marlon Jones, 6-8, PF, Orr

The unheralded: Jamal McDowell, Orr
On a roster filled with coveted junior prospects in 6-8 Marlon Jones, 6-6 Tyquone Greer and 6-3 Louis Adams, Jr., McDowell, the 5-9 senior who has been a cornerstone for three years, is the most important. He instills toughness and a physicality at the point guard position. He runs the show on offense and is a defensive presence on the other end. And he makes big plays in big moments -- i.e. buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Whitney Young. "He's so tough," says Adams of his point guard. "We feed off him."

The unknown: Limestone
If anything else, the local team -- Limestone is located in Bartonville, which is a 15-minute drive to downtown Peoria -- will save the 3A crowd. With such small fanbases from Morgan Park, Orr and Cahokia, Limestone may have more fans than the other three 3A teams combined. Limestone (24-9) does have this on its resumé: an impressive win over one of the top 3A teams in the state in Washington. The Rockets stunned Washington in the regional final. Hank Mathews (15.8 ppg), the son of head coach Eddie Mathews.

The favorite: Morgan Park
Figuring out a way to beat the No. 1 team in the state isn't easy. The key? Handling Morgan Park's relentlessness on both ends of the floor. What team will be able to stand up to Morgan Park and not be swallowed up by its pedal-to-the-metal style? Just one patented Morgan Park run can end a game in a hurry. Coach Nick Irvin's team has won a whopping 27 games this season by 15 or more points. Orr's toughness and confidence -- if it can get by Cahokia -- may just be the answer. The Spartans are Chicago West Side tough through and through. Throw whatever you want at them, they're never phased.

Hoops Report 3A Picks
Class 3A Semifinals
Morgan Park 68, Limestone 49
Orr 54, Cahokia 52

State Championship Game
Morgan Park 63, Orr 56

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Sectional and Super thoughts

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No one is beating the Simeon team that played at Argo this past Friday night.

There is always a team's "best game of the season" -- and maybe the sectional final win over Whitney Young was it for Simeon (if so, mighty convenient since that will be the most talented team Simeon will face in March) -- but that team looked absolutely dominant. When your 6-8 All-American star player plays at that level, along with the high-level backcourt play Simeon received, coach Rob Smith has to feel good going forward in the quest for three more wins.

Honestly, when it comes to Simeon it's like a broken record. No matter what transpires in December, January and February, when March rolls around the Wolverines are playing at a championship level.

When it came to Simeon's 69-51 win over Whitney Young, it boiled down to two things:

1) Jabari Parker's dominance. This is the Parker (29 points, 13 rebounds) we would have seen, enjoyed and marveled at all season long if not for a foot injury and a long, slow comeback from that injury. He had a spring in his step, a comfort and confidence level not seen since before his injury.

2) Simeon's guard play. At every level, you win with seasoned, productive, playmaking guards. Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn made plays when it counted and combined for 23 points. Nunn's buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter was a killer.

➥ Simeon and Whitney Young showed Friday night how depth is a little overrated, especially when you can trot out a starting five these two progams are capable of putting on the floor. It was like an old playground 5-on-5 matchup with neither team making a substitution until the 5:50 mark of the fourth quarter.

L.J. Peak is a high-level talent. The 6-4 Whitney Young junior had 20 and 23 points in the two sectional games against Simeon and Curie, respectively. Peak, the Hoops Report's No. 4 ranked prospect in the Class of 2014, was recently offered by Florida. He's exceptional in transition, where he fills lanes, can handle and finish with outstanding body control and has a reasonable jumper.

➥ You get the feeling Proviso East and its star, Sterling Brown, might be getting tired of hearing endless chatter about Simeon, Whitney Young, Morgan Park, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Billy Garrett, Jr. and the Public League-dominated conversation.

After all, this is a Proviso East team that is riding an 18-game win streak and is coming off a season where it lost a heartbreaker in the state championship game to Simeon while going 32-1. Most encouraging, Brown, the SMU recruit, has stepped up and played big in the sectional, just as he did last March.

➥ Anytime a program wins its first-ever sectional championship, it's a huge deal. So kudos to both Marian Catholic and Orr.

➥ So many things go into deep tournament runs in March, including the obvious like talent, coaching, experience and some luck. But a combination of a star player rising to the occasion and a nondescript player doing the same, has been a constant over the years in storybook tournament runs. That's a big part of what you're seeing with New Trier.

Steven Cook has been that star who's done anything and everything he can for the Trevians. The Princeton recruit poured in 30 points in the sectional final win over Niles North and has averaged 25.6 points a game in New Trier's last three tournament wins. Meanwhile, Aaron Rosen came off the bench for 17 points in the regional championship and scored 17 more in the sectional win over Niles Notre Dame, including a pair of clutch 3-pointers late in the game.

➥ In the final couple weeks of the regular season, West Aurora did not look the part of a team that was on the verge of winning the strong and deep Bolingbrook Sectional. The Blackhawks went 1-2 in their final three regular-season games, including home losses to both Naperville North and Glenbard East. Now coach Gordie Kerkman's team is headed to its second straight super-sectional. It shows what a couple of regional wins can do for confidence and momentum.

➥ First, congratulations to Seton Academy for its second-place finish at state. Second, shame on the Sting for their post-game decisions. It shouldn't matter what happens or transpires over the course of a game, refusing a state trophy the players in that program worked so hard to attain is unacceptable.

➥ The Hoops Report has been to a lot of different sectionals over the years. There are some schools that should host every year and others that shouldn't. In addition to East Aurora, which didn't host a sectional this year but always should, Argo is one school that has and continues to do a fantastic job hosting sectional basketball. Both athletic director Ryan Skendzel and head coach Pat Maietta did a fantastic job of making Argo an outstanding host site.

Hoops Report's Super Quick Picks
Class 4A
• Proviso East 62, West Aurora 51
A super-sectional rematch from a year ago with the same results. Heck, I'm even picking the exact same score. Look for pesky Paris Lee of Proviso East to help neutralize West Aurora junior guard Jontrel Walker in the key individual matchup.

• Simeon 64, New Trier 48
The Trevians travel from Winnetka all the way to the South Side of Chicago to play the state's best team in an arena Simeon is comfortable playing in. Look for Simeon to have a huge advantage on the boards and cause problems with its size, length and athleticism.

• Edwardsville 66, Marian Catholic 60
What we have in Edwardsville is one of the real underrated basketball programs in the state. Coach Mike Waldo's teams are always playing deep into state tournament play and have averaged over 20-plus wins a season over the past 20 years. This is what Edwardsville has going for it: 1) It has the experience of playing in the super-sectional a year ago, losing to Bloom, 2) It's beaten everyone on the schedule except Belleville East, and 3) The Tigers have four starters at 6-5. That last one could prove to be the big obstacle for Marian Catholic.

• Stevenson 59, Rockford Boylan 48
We'll go with the team that had a tougher road in getting to this point and will have Jalen Brunson controlling the ball. The Patriots, led by super sophomore Jalen Brunson, haven't lost since Dec. 31. And coach Pat Ambrose's club has been impressive in March with an average victory margin of 16 points.

Class 3A
• North Chicago 68, Orr 65
Talk about a glut of junior talent on display. Orr's junior trio of Tyquone Greer, Marlon Jones and Louis Adams, Jr. takes on North Chicago's JaVairius Amos-Mays, JayQuan McCloud and Kurt Hall. North Chicago has been there before. Plus, the Warhawks thrive when playing an opponent that is willing to go up and down with them.

• Limestone 58, Wheaton St. Francis 53
A super-sectional matchup no one saw coming. Limestone did beat one of the elite 3A teams in the state, Washington, in regional play. St. Francis? The Spartans went 3-6 in their final nine games of the regular season before becoming -- for the second straight year in a row -- the Cinderella story of 3A.

• Morgan Park 63, Hillcrest 53
Finally, Morgan Park plays a worthy March opponent. Hillcrest understands what it takes at this time of the year and won't back down from the best team in 3A. But Morgan Park simply has too many weapons.

• Cahokia 62, Chatham Glenwood 53
Although Chatham Glenwood will play in its back yard in Springfield and have a huge home crowd, Cahokia is the better, more talented team.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Sectional title game forecast and picks

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There aren't many nights in prep sports more exciting than the night sectional championships are played throughout the state. The dream matchup everyone wanted -- Simeon vs. Young -- will take place, while history can be made for programs like Marian Catholic and Orr.

Here is a snapshot of the top five sectional championship games in the Chicago area and some picks.

1. Whitney Young vs. Simeon • Argo Sectional
Argo will host this year's state championship ... er, I mean, sectional title game. No matter the month, the week, the day or location, this is the premier matchup in the state this season. No two teams can put a higher level of talent on one floor as the top two basketball programs in the state go at it one more time in a win-or-go-home scenario. It doesn't get any better.

Simeon won the first matchup back in January, beating Whitney Young 44-41 at Chicago State, as the Wolverines' zone gave a rather cold-shooting Dolphins team problems. Interestingly, neither of the teams biggest stars, Young's Jahlil Okafor and Simeon's Jabari Parker, scored in double figures -- Parker finished with seven points and Okafor with eight.

Behind the play of junior L.J. Peak, Whitney Young came back from a nine-point second half deficit to knock off Curie Thursday night in the sectional semifinal. Peak was a big bright spot in the last matchup with Simeon.

Simeon crushed DuSable in Wednesday's other semifinal. The biggest difference between the December/January Simeon team and the February/March one is the improved guard play of Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, along with a stiffer, more dependable defense.

Typically in big matchups like this where so much has already played out, you have a feel for which way the outcome might go. This one? Not a clue. Just as it should be, an old fashioned flip of the coin.

Hoops Report Pick: Simeon 54, Whitney Young 52


2. Benet Academy vs. West Aurora • Bolingbrook Sectional
When it comes to sectional title game atmosphere and electricity, it will be hard to top the Benet and West Aurora fan bases that will fill up Bolingbrook Friday night.

The Hoops Report doesn't expect to see what happened the last time these two met at the Batavia Night of Hoops earlier this season. Benet dismantled West Aurora that night, leading by as much as 20 points in the first half when it simply couldn't miss (the Redwings shot nearly 70 percent from the field in the opening two quarters). Benet, which won 62-50, played arguably the best 16 minutes of basketball the Hoops Report has watched all season in that first half.

West Aurora has been getting such strong play from junior guard Jontrel Walker, who was held to just nine points in that Benet loss, and 6-7 Josh McAuley. Benet, meanwhile, has a physical force with the combination of 6-9 Sean O'Mara and 6-5 versatile Pat McInerney. But what role players will step up, just as Benet's Jack Euritt (18 points in the last meeting) did against West Aurora back in January?

The other question is just how will Benet Academy respond less than 24 hours after playing a physically and emotionally draining double overtime game Thursday night?

Hoops Report Pick: Benet 55, West Aurora 49


3. Marian Catholic vs. Bloom • Thornton Sectional
In late December, Marian Catholic enjoyed winning its first-ever McDipper Tournament title -- at the expense of Chicago Heights neighbor Bloom. Coach Mike Taylor and his Spartans can only hope history repeats itself in a season of firsts for Marian Catholic basketball.

A win over Bloom Friday night would give the Tyler Ulis-led Spartans the program's first sectional championship. Bloom, however, has been there and done it before -- as recently as last March.

Marian Catholic squeezed out a 61-58 win over Bloom at the McDipper as Ulis poured in 29 points, including 13 in a take-over-the-game fourth quarter. Expect the Blazing Trojans to make life a little more difficult on Ulis this time around.

Without big names or much fanfare, Bloom has very quietly been fantastic all season. In fact, coach Jasper Williams' club has won 16 straight games and hasn't lost since the Marian Catholic defeat.

But in another toss-up sectional final game, it's hard not to go with the best and most dynamic player on the floor.

Hoops Report Pick: Marian Catholic 60, Bloom 57


4. Niles North vs. New Trier • Glenbrook North Sectional
Both these teams are sky high after winning sectional semifinal thrillers, with Niles North knocking off Maine South 45-44 and New Trier beating Niles Notre Dame 59-58.

Steven Cook, a 6-4 do-it-all senior, has been one of the more unheralded players in the Chicago area this season. The Princeton-bound Cook just does a little bit of everything for the Trevians and coach Scott Fricke. New Trier's secret weapon, however, has been Aaron Rosen, who has stepped up in a big way for the Trevians in this postseason.

Should be another nailbiter in the Glenbrook North Sectional. If Niles North guard Malachi Nix goes off, which he very well could, the Vikings can pull this one out. But here's thinking that the Trevians will slow down Nix and win a tight one.

This 27-win New Trier team has more victories than any of the last five teams that reached the State Finals in 1981, 1989, 1996, 2000 and 2002. The Hoops Report has picked AGAINST a New Trier team that has won 27 games one too many times this season, but not in this one.

Hoops Report Pick: New Trier 59, Niles North 58


5. Stevenson vs. St. Viator • Waukegan Sectional
Impressively, St. Viator has gone one game deeper in March than it did last year during its record-breaking 2011-2012 season, which included a school record 25 wins.

Even more impressively, Stevenson is poised to match its 2007 fourth-place state finisher win total with a victory Friday night behind two sophomores. The talented sophomore tandem of Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw combined for 46 points in the sectional semifinal win over Mundelein.

While Viator is more than prepared for this sectional final after playing in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference, it faces a Stevenson team that has been locked in and cruising since December. How impressive have the Patriots been? Coach Pat Ambrose's club is riding a 16-game win streak with an average victory margin of 16 points a game.

St. Viator, led by junior Ore Arogundade, is looking for just its second sectional championship -- the other coming in 3A in 2010 -- and will have its hands full in trying to contain the difference-making Brunson.

Hoops Report Pick: Stevenson 57, St. Viator 49


Hoops Report's other sectional picks

Schaumburg Sectional
• Proviso East over Oak Park-River Forest
Sterling Brown was a difference-maker in the sectional semifinal win over Glenbard East. Coach Donnie Boyce's club has too much speed, talent and depth as the Pirates win their second straight sectional championship.

St. Laurence Sectional
• Morgan Park over Perspectives Charter/Leadership
Just as the top-ranked 3A team has done all postseason, coach Nick Irvin's Mustangs will name the score. Morgan Park has won its three state tournament games by a combined score of 308-142.

Rich South Sectional
• Hillcrest over Rich East
This one could get interesting as Rich East has the quickness and athleticism to match Hillcrest. However, the Hawks and coach Don Houston have been there and done that with this sectional basketball stuff, while Rich East is fresh off its second regional championship in 45-plus years.

Riverside-Brookfield Sectional
• Orr over St. Joseph
A lot of young talent on display in this one, headed by the Orr junior trio of 6-6 Tyquone Greer, 6-8 Marlon Jones and 6-3 Louis Adams, Jr and St. Joseph's sophomore tandem of Glynn Watson and Jordan Ash. Orr, though, has been the better, more consistent team this season and wins the first sectional championship in school history.

Antioch Sectional
• North Chicago over Carmel
Carmel is better than its record and plays a style that, potentially, could slow fast-paced North Chicago down. It's been a terrific story for the Corsairs, but asking a team that won its first regional and has won the most games in 20 years to beat as talented of a team as North Chicago is asking a little too much.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Why Big Cliff and Illinois makes sense

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Please excuse Cliff Alexander if he has bigger things to worry about and focus on right now than recruiting and all the high-profile college programs that covet the 6-9 Curie junior.

Alexander and his Condors are set for their biggest test of the season Thursday night in the Argo Sectional semifinal. A date with No. 1 Whitney Young and Jahlil Okafor, the top-ranked player nationally in the Class of 2014, awaits. A win would arguably be the biggest in Curie basketball history and propel them into a sectional title game Friday night against Simeon, in all likelihood.

But the Hoops Report will digress for a moment as Alexander's visit last weekend to the University of Illinois got me thinking.

You really wouldn't think a prep player from Chicago who is a 6-9 dunking, shot-blocking, rebounding machine and ranked among the top five players in the country would need a marketing campaign. OK, it's not as if Big Cliff isn't well known, highly respected and obviously coveted, but ...

At this particular time in Chicago, it's difficult to receive your proper due in the city where Simeon's Jabari Parker and Okafor play their high school basketball. Though absolutely no fault of their own -- and very much deserving -- Parker and Okafor gobble up all the headlines.

"We keep hearing Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball is a three or four-man race and he's never mentioned among those three or four players," Curie coach Mike Oliver told the Hoops Report recently. "That [ticks] him off. He should be mentioned in the same breath with those players, with any players."

As far as the promotion and maturation of prep hoops phenoms go, Alexander had a late start. He wasn't a hot shot 8th grader. You know, the ones the average fan won't know about until they actually do something at the high school level but every hoops junkie in the basketball underworld is aware of before they enter high school. 

Some pan out, live up to the hype, while some don't. The Chicago area has had a number of these early big-named, much-talked-about prep phenoms. We're talking recent players like Okafor, Parker, Tommy Hamilton, Alex Foster and so many others before them that were all heralded as early as 8th grade.

As an early teen, Alexander wasn't in that select company. He didn't even begin playing organized basketball until four years ago. Alexander doesn't come with the built-in fame you get for playing with the biggest named programs, either. 

He doesn't play for three-time defending state champion Simeon. He doesn't travel the world with Whitney Young. He doesn't run up and down the floor on the AAU circuit for the Mac Irvin Fire, Meanstreets or Illinois Wolves.

Those are some of the reasons why rumors have circulated that Alexander could be on the move, just as a past Curie superstar, Wayne Blackshear, did when he transferred in midseason from Curie to Morgan Park. Oliver just doesn't see history repeating itself.

"We're close," says Oliver of his big man who is averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks a game. "He hears the same things Blackshear heard. But he believes in us at Curie, trusts us. He knows where he came from. He knows he started here, starting from scratch as a player. To see where he's come from since 8th grade in comparison to where the other top players have come from since 8th grade, it's not even close. His game keeps growing -- and fast."

In addition, unlike the other local phenoms, Parker and Okafor, Alexander isn't surrounded with an endless list of Division I talent on his high school team. The supporting cast Alexander plays with at Curie is good, but it's not loaded.

What this all points out is Alexander has been the kid who has done things differently. He's been his own man. Why stop now? That mantra, in fact, could be just the avenue he could take to elevate his name to another level, where his notoriety and status would reach a new plane.

How? Simple: By just staying home.

If Alexander just bucked the trend, announced that he would be playing his college basketball here in Illinois, any overlooking or second-fiddle status is gone. Immediately.

It's funny how a teenage basketball prodigy can have that much bearing on the emotion of adults. But they do in this rabid world of sports. Alexander would be celebrated. He would become the local hoops star that fans appreciated, cared about, respected and wanted to continue to follow and support.

Oliver recently told the Hoops Report "Michigan State has recruited Alexander the longest," but that his recruiting "remains open." He even mentioned his star would like to stay in the Midwest.

Which brings us back to Alexander's visit to Illinois this past weekend. The Fighting Illini are in the hunt for Alexander. Coach John Groce has re-energized the brand. The first-year coach has Illinois on the brink of returning to the NCAA Tournament, while bringing in a highly-regarded 2013 recruiting class.

That incoming freshman class, along with transfer Rayvonte Rice's arrival and a current sophomore group that continues to mature, puts several key pieces in place for Groce going forward. Now he and his staff are in pursuit of that player to put the program over the hump.

Alexander can be and do for Illinois exactly what Cody Zeller did for Indiana. The parallels are eerily similar. While Indiana basketball is in a different stratosphere when it comes to in-state fandom, Illinois basketball is nowhere near the bottomed-out depths Indiana reached while Zeller was playing his high school ball.

When Zeller, who is from Washington, Ind., committed to Indiana and coach Tom Crean in 2010, the Hoosiers were in the midst of a 3-15 Big Ten season and an overall record of 12-20. The prior two seasons, when Zeller was a high school sophomore and junior, the Hoosiers combined for a 16-46 overall record, including a horrid 5-31 mark in Big Ten play.

There is an obvious allegiance in Indiana to all things Hoosiers. But it was a seriously struggling program, nonetheless. Zeller was a five-star recruit whose brother was playing at North Carolina. From the outside looking in, it would have been acceptable for the 6-11 McDonald's All-American to leave.

But Zeller bought in. Despite the program's recent struggles, Zeller believed in what he could do for Indiana. He believed in what Tom Crean was selling. And he spearheaded the revival, elevating the program back to national prominence.

Alexander would do the same at Illinois.

And with that decision, Alexander's name would be revered in these here basketball circles. The name would take on added significance throughout Chicago and the state of Illinois. He becomes the face of a program. He becomes THE guy that did buck the trend, did something different, created his own legacy and would leave a lasting impression long after he's gone.

Do high school kids today realize the positive impact that all can have on their future? Anywhere else he's just the next player in a long line of them. Alexander will, as Rihanna says, shine bright like a diamond no matter where he plays. He would just shine a little brighter close to home.

This is always the selling point to get any hometown star to stay home. But the timing, the circumstances and the sensibility all just seem right for this Big Cliff to Illinois story to materialize.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

And a sophomore shall lead us

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In the last 20 years of state tournament play, 160 different teams have reached the final eight of the big school tournament -- Class AA from 1993 to 2007 and Class 4A and 3A from 2008-2012.

And in those 20 years and among those 160 different teams that reached the state finals, there have only been six teams who have been led to Champaign and Peoria by a freshman or sophomore. That's a percentage of 0.0375 for all you sabermetric sports fans out there who are into odds and percentages.

The last to do it was Simeon, with Jabari Parker averaging a team-leading 15.3 points a game as a sophomore in 2011. Parker scored 16 points in the 56-53 state semifinal win over Glenbard East and then scored a team-high 12 points in the 48-39 state title game victory over Warren.

Here is a list of the other five players who led their teams in scoring and to the State Finals.

• Paul Bayer, Moline (2004)
The 6-4 sophomore led the Maroons to the Elite Eight, averaging 17.1 points a game. Moline lost to Julian Wright and Homewood-Flossmoor in the state quarterfinals.

• Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North (2003)
The only freshman on this list, Scheyer's cult-like following began early as he led the Spartans to the Elite Eight with 15.8 points a game. After beating Johnsburg in the state quarterfinals, Glenbrook North lost to Thornwood in the semis and beat Evanston in the third-place game behind Scheyer's 20 points. Scheyer didn't make it back to Peoria until his junior season.

• Angel Santiago, Von Steuben (2003)
In Von Steuben's lone trip to the State Finals, coach Vince Carter's team was led in scoring by the sophomore guard Santiago, who averaged 16.3 points and 5.7 assists a game.

• Matt Shaw, Centralia (2002)
The Orphans made it all the way to the state semifinals, where it lost to Springfield Lanphier, behind the 6-7 sophomore. Shaw averaged a team-leading 14.4 points a game as Centralia finished third in the state. Shaw was an all-tournament selection in 2002.

• Kent Williams, Mount Vernon (1997)
Behind the high-scoring sophomore's 19 points a game, Mount Vernon made it to Peoria, where it fell to West Aurora in the state quarterfinals.

Which brings us to one team in Illinois in all of 4A and 3A who is led by a sophomore and is a No. 1 sectional seed: Stevenson.

While history shows it's unlikely any team will reach state behind a sophomore, Jalen Brunson isn't any 'ol sophomore, as the Hoops Report indicated in this December blog. Yes, he's talented. Yes, he's clearly among the top two of three prospects in the Class of 2015, maybe the best. But why Brunson is so prepared to lead a team in March is his make-up and fortitude.

Talk about poise, you don't find players this age as calm, cool and unflappable as Brunson. His feel, basketball I.Q. and winner's mentality for a sophomore with this much individual responsibility is the best I've seen since, well, Jon Scheyer as a sophomore during the 2003-2004 season. Brunson's presence of mind on the floor, knowing just what pass to make, what play needs to be made, each trip down in every different situation, is Trey Burke-like.

What's so alarming when watching Brunson play is that even after being branded a star, with opposing coaches game-planning for him and all eyes in the gym on him, he remains as deceptive as any game-changing player in high school basketball.

But there is a lot that goes into any superstar sophomore putting a team on his back and carrying it deep into state tournament play.

Another part of the equation is the road every team that is led by a sophomore faces in March. There are major roadblocks for some -- Derrick Rose's Simeon team, for example, faced a loaded Bobby Frasor-led Brother Rice team in Rice's back yard in a sectional game at St. Xavier during his sophomore year and lost in the final in double overtime -- while the road is paved nicely for others.

Stevenson is not only the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional, where it must hold off the likes of North Suburban Lake foes they've already beaten and St. Viator, but it also feeds into a super-sectional where it will face the winner of the weakest Class 4A sectional in the state. Peoria is clearly attainable.

Then there is the supporting cast. What is that young star surrounded by? Who is he playing with? What coach is he playing for?

Scheyer was just a freshman when he led Glenbrook North to Peoria with nearly 16 points a game. While there weren't any big names around Scheyer, he had the influence of a steady group of seniors in Eytan Azaria (15 ppg), Eric Walowitz (8.6 ppg), Sam Horelick (4 ppg) and Sean Emerick (8.2 ppg) to lean on.

It's a little different for Brunson at Stevenson this year. There are some seniors who play valuable roles for the Patriots, but the top three scorers are all underclassmen. There are four sophomores among the top 10, including Stevenson's second leading scorer, Connor Cashaw. Will the expectations going forward be a boost or a burden for the Patriots?

Regardless of the road Stevenson has ahead of it or the amount of experience coach Pat Ambrose's players have, with Brunson on its side, even as a sophomore, the Patriots have a distinct advantage in any game it plays between now and Peoria.

Quite a difference from the last Stevenson team that reached Peoria. That 2007 team finished fourth in the state and was led by the unforgettable Jong Lee and his team-leading 12.5 points per game.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

Regional rewind: DuSable and a bunch of thoughts

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Hey, 50-plus years is a long time to be in basketball hibernation.

Welcome back, DuSable!

The DuSable basketball program, still recognized most for its state runner-up finish in 1954 and producing the great and memorable Paxton Lumpkin in the mid-1950s, sent shockwaves around the city Friday night with a stunning win. DuSable, a No. 13 seed, went into St. Rita's gym and knocked off a Mustangs team loaded with Division I talent at the buzzer.

Sure, DuSable won Class 3A regional and sectional titles last year before finally falling to Hillcrest in the super-sectional a year ago. But those victories came as a No. 4 seed and over the likes of Urban Prep Charter/West, Perspectives Charter/Leadership, St. Ignatius and Dunbar.

This DuSable team and these Class 4A regional wins in 2013, which came over a pair of Chicago Catholic League teams (Brother Rice and St. Rita) that had been ranked most of the season, have people talking.

I received one text from a high-profile Public League coach Friday night that simply read, "I told U!"

I knew exactly what the text referred to per a previous conversation I had with that coach about DuSable earlier in the week. Thanks for the tip, Rob Smith!

Smith was a believer in DuSable, a team that finished tied for fourth in the Public League's Red-Central. And now his highly-regarded Simeon team, seeking its fourth straight state championship, will face DuSable in Tuesday's sectional semifinal at Argo.

THE UPSETS: Here are the Hoops Report's regional shock factor rankings. The five biggest upsets around the state, ranked in order of shock value.

1. Limestone over Washington
If I had five teams I could have put money on to be playing in Peoria in two weeks, Washington was one of them. In the Hoops Report's mind, the 27-1 Panthers, led by Valpo recruit Alec Peters, were the second best Class 3A team in Illinois behind Morgan Park.

2. O'Fallon over Belleville East
Yes, O'Fallon is a quality basketball name with a whole lot of success over the years. But it finished 2-12 in the Southwestern Conference and headed into its regional semifinal game with state-ranked Belleville East 7-19 overall. Meanwhile, Belleville East was 24-3, featured Mr. Basketball candidate and Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill (25 ppg) and had beaten O'Fallon twice during the regular season by a combined 32 points.

3. DuSable over St. Rita
St. Rita was the No. 5 seed in the most top-heavy sectional in the state. The Mustangs were playing on their home floor. They boast a potential high-major junior in Vic Law, arguably the state's No. 1 sophomore prospect in Charles Matthews and Division I prospects in Dominique Matthews and Myles Carter. DuSable disposed of them anyway.

4. Sandburg over Homewood-Flossmoor
Yes, Sandburg has a terrific talent in 6-7 junior Malek Harris and had been playing better since Harris returned to the lineup in late December after the team started the season 0-11. But the Eagles certainly came in as a double-digit dog on the 'ol Hoops Report line, especially after having lost to H-F twice during the regular season, 69-54 in early January and 52-36 just two weeks ago.

5. Geneva over Hinsdale Central
After losing two tight games to Hillcrest (61-58) and Stevenson (56-54) at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Hinsdale Central didn't lose again for nearly eight weeks. The Red Devils reeled off 12 straight victories before losing to Proviso East in the regular-season finale. But as the No. 5 seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional, Geneva pulled off the upset.

STATUS QUO: Aside from the five aforementioned upsets, the reality is pretty much everything is status quo heading into sectional semifinal action. Of all the Chicago area Class 4A sectionals, 21 of the 24 teams that advanced to the sectional semis were all expected, based on their seeds, to be there. The only non-top four seeds to reach the sectional semis are No. 5 seed Mundelein (Waukegan Sectional), No. 6 seed Stagg (Thornton Sectional) and No. 13 seed DuSable (Argo Sectional).

Throw in Larkin and Crystal Lake Central in the DeKalb Sectional and 23 of 26 Chicago area teams that were all expected to still be playing next week will be.

PUTTING THE VIKES ON HIS BACK: Malachi Nix may be small, but the 5-6 point guard sure has some broad shoulders and a strong core, because this winner put his Niles North team on his back and carried it past Loyola Academy in a regional championship game win. Nix poured in 30 second half points and finished with 39 in leading the Vikings to a win over a red-hot Loyola Academy.

There isn't enough that can be said of what Nix has meant to this once-downtrodden basketball program that has captured three straight regional titles and has won 20-plus games for the third consecutive season.

STARS AND THE IDEAL SUPPORTING CAST: No, no, no, the Hoops Report is not going to go on and on and tout once again how overlooked and underrated Oswego's Miles Simelton is as a player and college prospect. It's done enough of that. But you want another reason -- or two -- to like Oswego (besides the Hoops Report's crush on the super-charged backcourt of Simelton and Elliot McGaughey) is the fact they have two of the toughest-son-of-a-guns you would ever want to surround your stars with. Seniors Jamaal Richardson and Jack Kwiatkowski are the ultimate role-playing difference-makers. A pair of football stars in the fall, Richardson is a lockdown defender and Kwiatkowski checks the box of every single intangible you would want.

Richardson scored 29 points -- during the ENTIRE regular season. He did, however, take 16 charges in the regular season. Kwiatkowski averages 4.6 points a game, but he provides a physical presence, gets loose balls, rebounds and defends. These two combine to average less than six points a game, yet their impact is felt in so many different measurable and immeasurable ways.

NEW TRIER ANSWERS THE CALL: New Trier should be respected after going 24-5 in the regular season. But they earned a lot more reverence with a regional win over host St. Patrick. Sure, the Trevians were the higher-seeded team and picked to win by most, but coach Scott Fricke's club showed some internal fortitude by winning in a tough gym to win in, overcoming some early foul trouble to star Steven Cook and holding off a late Shamrock run, which got as close as 57-54 with 1:35 to play.

APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE: Note to Glenbard East fans: Don't get spoiled. Over a 25-year period leading up to 2004, the Glenbard East basketball program won a total of two regional championships and enjoyed one 20-win season. Incredibly, as it pertains to incredible basketball doldrums, that futile stretch included 17 years of nine or fewer wins in a season.

After beating Conant Friday night to win the Hoffman Estates Regional, Glenbard East now has won six regional championships and averaged 21 wins a season in the nine years since 2005. Add in a third-place finish in state in 2011 and the fact the Rams have won more DuPage Valley Conference games than any team in the league in that span, it's easy to see why folks in Lombard could be a little spoiled.

FEEL-GOOD TIME AT CARMEL: Although the Hoops Report believed No. 6 seed Carmel would win a Class 3A regional title, it's still a monumental moment for a basketball team that climbed over the .500 mark with a victory over Ridgewood Friday night. This is the first regional championship for Carmel -- and the most wins the program has experienced -- in 22 years.

CONTINUITY A PLUS: Don't underestimate the value of certain high school players having played with each other for years. Playing together since their grade school and junior high days is only a plus. Oswego is one of those teams. Mundelein is another. This group of seniors at Mundelein have now won three straight regional championships after defeating Lake Forest in a down-to-the-wire regional final.

PEORIA HOOPS? YIKES!: How down is Peoria area basketball? Check this out: Of the four regionals that feed into the Peoria Class 3A Sectional, which will be played at Bradley next week, there wasn't a single top-seeded regional team that reached the sectional semis. How does Mendota vs. Limestone and Galesburg vs. Peoria Central get the juices flowing, Peoria basketball fans?

ESCC POWER: Those were five regional plaques the East Suburban Catholic Conference teams were holding Friday night, if you were counting. Benet Academy, Marian Catholic, St. Viator and Niles Notre Dame all are either favored or have legitimate shots of advancing to Class 4A sectional title games next Friday night. Carmel, meanwhile, will take on Lakes in a Class 3A sectional semifinal.

THE OTHER SOPHOMORE: The Jalen Brunson-led Stevenson club is playing like it's on cruise control. This is just an impressive team that has now won 15 straight, often in dominating fashion, and has evolved as a favorite to reach Peoria. While Brunson is everything the Hoops Report believes he is and has said he is -- he scored 19 points with nine assists in the regional title win over Waukegan -- the OTHER sophomore, Connor Cashaw is REALLY good. This kid is a talented 6-4 wing who is poised to open a lot of eyes over the next two-plus years.

CLASS 4A CATHOLIC LEAGUE BLUES: The top Class 4A Catholic League teams -- St. Rita, Loyola Academy, De La Salle and Brother Rice -- all lost in regional play. That's a kick to the you-know-what for a league that continues to try and make a dent in state tournament play. The Catholic League has really been lacking in sectional wins over the past 2-3 years. The good news? Fenwick, Providence, St. Joseph and St. Ignatius all advanced to Class 3A sectional semifinals.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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