By Roy & Harv Schmidt
The seedings meetings are still about three weeks away, but with the sectional assignments for the class 3A and 4A state tournament for boy's basketball already drawn up, it is never too early to begin analyzing which sectionals shape up to be the strongest and which teams could be playing well into March. In this blog we do just that, as we break down what we consider to be the top three sectionals in both class 3A and 4A.
First of all, everyone might be wondering why we are placing so much emphasis on the sectional round of the state tournament. It is because we have always believed that is the round where many of the best games are often played throughout the course of the tournament. Furthermore, now that the IHSA has gone to the four class system in basketball, it means that even more emphasis has been given to geographical distribution. That is why some sectionals will be absolutely stacked as the result of the huge talent glut in one area while others will be so weak that the top seeded team can end up being a team with a winning percentage that is barely over .500.
To take matters a step further, the sectional round is where the men get separated from the boys. Coaches and players know what is at stake and as a result the level of play usually gets turned up a notch. Yes, some of the classic geographical rivalries of the past are gone due to the implementation of the four class system, but overall the sectionals are where it is at when it comes to Illinois high school basketball in March. And then by the time you reach the supersectionals and even the state finals, a good portion of the talent has been diluted and the games end up being watered down. We saw it last year in both the class 3A and 4A ranks and we are willing to bet that we will see it again this coming March.
While we do not yet know who the top seeds will be and cannot project the matchups in any given sectional, we can rank the strength of the sectionals based on where the teams have been assigned. Therefore, the following are what we consider to be the top three sectionals in class 3A and 4A.
1) Waukegan-- Right now it is a total crapshoot as to who might be the top seed in this sectional. Warren appears to have the inside track, but Lake Forest or Waukegan could have something to say before things are finalized. Zion-Benton and Schaumburg figure to be either #4 or #5 seeds at this point but are both capable of beating any team in the state on any given night. Get our drift? This sectional is absolutely loaded, with the winner standing a good chance of emerging as the favorite for the class 4A state title.
2) Cicero Morton-- No other sectional may have more depth from top to bottom, with as many as nine teams having a reasonable chance of winning it. Like Waukegan, there is no definite #1 seed as of now. On paper, it probably has to be Whitney Young, but it is not clear-cut. And what about Morton, who beat Whitney Young en route to winning the Proviso West Holiday Tournament? And then there is De LaSalle, St. Ignatius, Proviso West, St. Patrick, Fenwick, Lincoln Park and Foreman. What it means is that this sectional will be a seedings nightmare and you are also going to see some unbelievable games at the regional sites which feed into this sectional complex.
3) Hinsdale Central-- This sectional will have a different look to it in comparison with most others and offers a perfect example as to how geography is affected by the four class system, as it should feature several talented teams from Chicago's south side. As many as five teams could contend, including Curie, Hyde Park, Mt. Carmel, Simeon and Chicago Vocational, who has already beaten Simeon and might be the most unheralded team in the Chicago area.
1) Riverside-Brookfield-- It doesn't get much better than a sectional that could feature Marshall and North Lawndale (two of the top teams in the Chicago Public League), St. Joseph (who defeated North Lawndale at the High School Hoops Showdown in Hoffman Estates this past weekend) and Crane. However, Crane might not get a top four seed, as instead that honor could end up going to Riverside-Brookfield, meaning that Crane would probably have to face either Marshall or North Lawndale in a regional. Glenbard South and Wheaton St. Francis are also a couple of teams that could pull surprises.
2) Illiana Christian-- The name of the game in Chicago's south suburbs this season is balance, and that is certainly personified when looking at the top teams that feed into this sectional. Currently Rich East is the favorite, but we certainly would not count out Hillcrest, Tinley Park, Crete-Monee or Brooks. We give the slight nod to Rich East based on experience.
3) Rock Island-- This sectional would be even stronger if not for the fact that one of the regionals which feeds into it is loaded with several of the top Peoria area teams while another (Streator) is relatively weak. Nevertheless, you should see at least three quality teams in this sectional. Rock Island, Washington, and any of the following teams from amongst Peoria Richwoods, Bartonville Limestone or Peoria Central are among the possibilities.
Possible Locks To Reach Peoria:
Class 4A-- We may be going out on the limb slightly with this one and it is not our intent to jinx anybody, but we are going to take Neuqua Valley. Not only is this team talented, but they play together and don't get easily rattled. They also have a most favorable road to Peoria, with their toughest competition most likely coming in the sectional from either Bolingbrook, Naperville Central, East Aurora or West Aurora. Neuqua Valley's three most impressive wins of the season have been against Morton at the York Thanksgiving Tournament, Bolingbrook (at Bolingbrook) and Zion-Benton at the Martin Luther King Tournament at Rockton Hononegah. Illinois Prep Bulls-eye was the only scouting service in the state of Illinois that was in the gym for all three of those games. Therefore, we feel most comfortable with this pick.
Class 3A-- We don't believe that there is a lock for the state finals in Peoria from amongst the class 3A ranks, but we would bet a mint on Leo at least reaching the supersectional round at Chicago State University. This is because they feed into an extremely weak sectional at King High School which is filled mostly with lesser-known teams from the Chicago Public League. As of now, Payton is the only team in that sectional that we believe could possibly challenge Leo.
We hope that this whets everyone's appetite for what is undoubtedly the most exciting team of the year for any high school sports fan in Illinois--the original March Madness!
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