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
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
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