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
• 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.
• 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.
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