Sizing Up The 4A, 3A, 2A State Tournaments In Illinois
By Roy & Harv Schmidt
February 27, 2017
2:45 P.M. CST
It has been said many times before, but it still holds true if you're a fan of Illinois high school basketball. This is truly the best time of the year. In fact, it is like Christmas in March. That is because America's Original March Madness is now in full gear with the start of the boy's basketball tournament in all four classes across the Land Of Lincoln.
What this means is that as always there will be a full slate of exciting basketball spanning regional, sectional and supersectional action en route to the state finals in Peoria. As has been the case every year since our inception, Illinois Prep Bulls-eye will be on hand to provide everyone with the best tournament coverage and analysis there is.
Once again, folks can expect some upsets along the way, but in the end we expect most of the state's top teams and players to rise to the occasion when it matters most. The following is our preview highlighting what is likely in store over the course of the next three weeks.
Top 4A Sectionals
Make no mistake about it--this is a mini-state finals in itself, featuring a "who's who" of top teams and players from the loaded deep south region of Illinois. What is truly amazing is that this is still the best sectional in the state despite Belleville Althoff's chances taking a severe blow with 6'3 2017 2-guard Jordan Goodwin out for the remainder of the season as he faces surgery on his shoulder. Nevertheless, you still have the state's top-ranked 4A team in Edwardsville along with the likes of East St. Louis, Belleville West, Quincy and Belleville East. The sectional is so deep that East St. Louis and the Belleville schools are all in the same regional at Belleville East, meaning only one of those teams will advance to Ottawa. The other side of the sectional bracket figures to be a battle between East Moline United, Moline, Danville and possibly Normal West. What it all adds up to is some absolutely must-see high school hoops.
2) Maywood (Proviso East)
This sectional features three of the most talented teams in the Chicago Public League in Curie, Whitney Young and Kenwood. And while Oak Park and St. Patrick may be considered darkhorses in comparison with the three aforementioned CPL schools, both are capable of emerging from the pack and advanccing to the supersectional at Chicago State. Although it has been a down year by St. Joseph standards, the Chargers can never be counted out come state tournament time and are currently riding the emotional roller coaster of their legendary coach Gene Pingatore having recently achieved his 1000th career victory. There may not be a clear-cut favorite from among this group and it may come down to who gets hot at the right time.
3) South Holland (Thornwood)
Simeon is clearly the cream of the crop when looking at the teams that comprise the field at Thornwood. However, you still have several quality teams that cannot be taken for granted, including Brother Rice, Thornton, T.F. North, Marist, Bloom, Homewood-Flossmoor, Marian Catholic and Stagg. You should have some outstanding regional finals with the emphasis being on geographical rivalries. And a possible sectional semifinal between Brother Rice and Thornton (should that matchup materialize) is one that definitely intrigues us. All other teams will have to play their absolute best to beat Simeon, but when it comes to March Madness anything is possible.
4) Hinsdale (Central)
There may not be an elite team among this sectional group, but no other sectional in the state is more balanced and it is extremely deep. In fact, we truly believe that any of the top ten seeds are actually capable of winning it. The favorite is Wheaton-Warrenville South, with the Tigers going undefeated in DuPage Valley Conference play and the only blemish on their resume being a loss to Joliet Central in the championship game at the State Farm Holiday Classic. #2 seed Geneva also checks in with only one loss and may be the best team that virtually no one knows about. And while we are somewhat baffled that Benet Academy got a #3 seed instead of the #2, everyone is well-aware of their recent tournament success and with that being said coach Gene Heidkamp has to like the position his Redwings are in. Naperville North, Willowbrook, Wheaton North and Downers North all have talent, and Downers South and Hinsdale Central may be the scariest #8 and #9 seeds around.
5) Lincoln-Way East
It will be difficult for anyone to top Bolingbrook in this sectional, as this is the deepest and most talented squad head coach Robert Brost has ever had. However, Joliet West has plenty of experience and may be the one team capable of matching up and staying with the Raiders for a full 32 minutes. Joliet Central and Lincoln-Way East are legit sleepers, with the Griffins handing Bolingbrook their only loss on the season. The sectional may lack the overall depth of the top four, but there is still enough talent on hand to make it well worth watching.
2A Stronger Than 3A?
That arguement can certainly be made when analyzing the overall strength of the sectionals in each of these classes. For evidence, look no further than the 2A sectional at Guerin, where the sectional final could pit two of the top-ranked teams in that class in DePaul Prep and Orr. A third team that would have fed into that sectional--Uplift--was bounced by Orr in the regional final this past Friday night. You should also have an outstanding 2A sectional final at Stanford Olympia as the host school takes on Quincy Notre-Dame, with 6'7 2017 forward Charles Payton of Stanford Olympia doing battle against Quincy Notre Dame's unheralded 6'7 2017 forward Justin Bottorff.
The 3A Road
It seems that every year certain classes in Illinois are stronger than others and this year 3A was the class that undoubtedly took a hit. This is primarily due to private schools that were formerly 3A powers such as Belleville Althoff, St. Joseph and St. Patrick all moving up to the 4A ranks this season. Because of that, there doesn't appear to be any 3A sectional that clearly stands out as eye-popping. The best one looks to be at Effingham, which should be a dogfight with the Springfield and Decatur schools fighting it out with Champaign Central and Lincoln for supremacy. We also like the roads that both Fenwick and Morgan Park have and at the end of the day look for both of them to reach the 3A state finals in Peoria.
The REAL 4A State Championship Game
We have been anticipating this one for nearly two months now. While we mean no disrespect whatsoever to Bolingbrook, who we believe will reach the 4A state finals and is certainly capable of winning it all, we believe one would be hard-pressed to find a better potential matchup in the entire state tournament than a possible 4A supersectional game at Illinois State University in Normal between Simeon and Edwardsville. Actually, Simeon vs East St. Louis and 6'10 2017 center and University of Illinois recruit Jeremiah Tilmon wouldn't be too bad either. But it's hard to top a game in which one would see the Chicago Public League champs squaring off versus a team that sports one of the fastest-rising recruits in recent memory in 6'5 2017 point guard Mark Smith. Should that matchup happen, Redbird Arena will surely be rocking!
And Some Predictions...
Class 2A State Finals
Teutopolis over Dwight
DePaul Prep over Stanford Olympia
Championship Game: Teutopolis over DePaul Prep
Class 3A State Finals
Bloomington over Fenwick
Morgan Park over Lanphier
Championship Game: Morgan Park over Bloomington
Class 4A State Finals
Evanston over Conant
Edwardsville over Bolingbrook
Championship Game: Edwardsville over Evanston
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