There are only eight days remaining in this 2016-2017 high school basketball season, and after Friday night we’ll be down to 16 teams in Class 3A and 4A.
Here are some sectional notes and sectional championship game previews and picks.
Can anyone slow down Simeon?
The state’s premier program has a team playing its best basketball of the season. All that’s standing in its way from a trip to Peoria are two individual standouts: Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year Alonzo Verge of Thornton and Mr. Basketball frontrunner Mark Smith of Edwardsville.
But coach Robert Smith’s team is on a roll. They beat up on two solid East Suburban Catholic Conference teams in Marian Catholic and Marist. Their halfcourt defense has become tighter and more disciplined, which bodes well for the Verge and potential Smith matchups, and their offense is humming along more now than it has at any point in the season.
Yes, Simeon must first take care of Thornton Friday night, but the potential super-sectional test it would receive from Smith and a well coached Edwardsville team that has achieved so much success over the years would be must-see March basketball.
Biggest Oak Park basketball game in 40 years
While the 1976 team finished third in the state, there is no doubt Oak Park’s win over Curie, the Class 4A defending state champs and No. 1 seed, was the biggest March win the program has experienced since then.
Now coach Matt Maloney’s team gets another Chicago Public League team in the sectional final Friday at Proviso East. A win over Young would give the Huskies their first sectional championship since 1976.
Oak Park is hot. The Huskies have rattled off 11 wins in a row and have an experienced, physical tandem in 6-6 Jared Scott and 6-5 Cam Gross. Can the Oak Park guards handle the fast pace Young will play with and the high stakes basketball that awaits?
Can Fremd’s unbeaten march continue?
30-0. That’s special. Really special. Fremd is one win from reaching that impressive and rare mark.
A season to remember can get even more memorable if it can beat Conant for a third time this season, which would give Fremd its first sectional championship since the 1993 team finished fourth in the state.
In the last 20 years only one big school unbeaten team has advanced beyond a sectional –– Proviso East in 2012. Fremd is one win from adding its name to that list.
On the brink of making history
Of all teams still enjoying March there are only a few who are on the verge of entering unchartered waters. Of the 32 teams still standing in Class 3A and 4A, there are only three programs –– Jacobs, St. Rita and Sycamore –– in search of their first-ever sectional championship.
Under the .500 mark? No worries, still playing
Rich Central is 12-17. Sycamore and St. Viator are 14-15 and 14-16, respectively.
Yes, that’s right, there are three teams playing in Class 3A sectional championship games Friday night with losing records.
Rich Central will be a huge underdog when it faces Hillcrest in the Plano Sectional, while Sycamore faces a Marengo team it lost 49-33 to back in December. St. Viator is the most prepared for a sectional final with the regular-season schedule it faced, but it too will be an underdog to North Chicago.
Sectional previews and picks
The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s picks are alive and kicking with 13 of the 16 sectional champion picks from when the postseason began –– and all eight Class 3A and 4A Peoria picks –– still alive.
Here is a quick snapshot and pick for every sectional championship game.
Proviso East Sectional
■ Oak Park (24-6) vs. Young (23-7)
Young is the power, the higher seed and favored but Oak Park is red-hot with 11 straight wins and will have a fan base filling up a Proviso East gym that’s just over 3 miles away. Mak no mistake about it: This will be a Huskies home game.
Oak Park is brimming with confidence and is clearly playing its best basketball. The Huskies can beat you up physically with Cam Gross, Jared Scott and Company. But Young has too many talented weapons and wins the battle in the backcourt. This is going to be a good one.
Hoops Report picks: Young 61, Oak Park 57
■ Waukegan (21-8) vs. Evanston (27-3)
A tasty sectional final and one which exudes what March basketball is all about. A couple of north suburban communities with one high school and basketball tradition playing in a terrific jam-packed venue.
I picked Evanston to be playing in Peoria when it all began, thus there’s no reason to shift from that pick as Nojel Eastern and a veteran senior group moves on.
Hoops Report pick: Evanston 68, Waukegan 60
Robert Morris University Sectional
■ Fremd (29-0) vs. Conant (27-4)
This is the sectional title game everyone in the northwest suburbs has been waiting for since the pairings came out.
Can Conant end Fremd’s dream season and quest for a 30-0 start? Fremd already owns two wins over Conant this season, but it’s so difficult to beat a very good team three times. And Conant, led by senior Jimmy Sotos, is that very good team. Conant squeaks out a close one in a game where possessions will be valued to the extreme.
Hoops Report pick: Conant 40, Fremd 38
■ Larkin (19-14) vs. Jacobs (29-1)
The expected taking on the unexpected. Jacobs was virtually everyone’s pick to reach this point while Larkin has been a March surprise. Cameron Krutwig knocked Larkin out last year and does it again Friday night. Krutwig, the 6-9 post headed to Loyola, is for real. With a win over Larkin it would set up a super-sectional date and an opportunity to show Jacobs is for real.
Hoops Report pick: Jacobs 55, Larkin 50
Lincoln-Way East Sectional
■ Bolingbrook (27-1) vs. Joliet West (26-3)
Year after year, special sectional championships emerge. This has the makings to be one of those with all the talent on display and the local interest there is in this one in the southwest suburbs.
Bolingbrook took care of Joliet West in the regular season with a 84-74 win that really wasn’t as close as the score indicated. But it doesn’t matter. Now it’s March, and you can expect this one to go right down to the wire.
Hoops Report pick: Bolingbrook 61, Joliet West 57
Hinsdale Central Sectional
■ Naperville North (24-5) vs. Wheaton North (24-6)
There will be at least one DuPage Valley Conference team playing in a super-sectional next Tuesday following this one.
After knocking off Wheaton South in the most unconventional way in the sectional semis, Naperville North takes on another Wheaton in search of its first sectional championship since 1998.
Naperville North already owns two wins over Wheaton North on the year, but they came by a total of four points and one overtime. You can expect another nail-biter between two senior-dominated teams.
Hoops Report pick: Naperville North 48, Wheaton North 44
■ Edwardsville (29-1) vs. Danville (22-8)
There is some star power in this one with Mark Smith of Edwardsville, an all-state caliber player and best unsigned senior in the state, leading the state’s No. 1 ranked team. Smith is a physical lead guard who scores, rebounds and makes those around him better.
Danville has a special talent of its own in game-changing guard Kendle Moore.
But we’ve all been waiting for Simeon-Edwardsville super-sectional, and we’re going to get it.
Hoops Report pick: Edwardsville 58, Danville 51
■ Simeon (27-3) vs. Thornton (23-5)
The best team in the Chicago area, Simeon, facing the Sun-Times Player of the Year, Thornton’s Alonzo Verge. How much fun is this going to be?
Simeon has too much balance, enough discipline and athleticism to throw at Verge, emerging and productive depth and is playing so well. Simeon goes deep into the south suburbs and knocks off Thornton.
Hoops Report pick: Simeon 65, Thornton 57
■ North Chicago (20-8) vs. St. Viator (14-16)
Quietly, North Chicago has had a really nice season and is in position to win its seventh sectional title since the four-class system began in 2008. In the past two weeks they’ve won three postseason games by victory margins of 42, 17 and 22 points.
St. Viator has played a very tough schedule –– they faced seven regional champions and nine 20-win teams during the regular season to prepare itself for a game like this. But the Lions did lose by double digits to Evanston, Prospect, Conant, Loyola, Stevenson and Notre Dame.
Hoops Report pick: North Chicago 64, St. Viator 55
■ Fenwick (27-4) vs. North Lawndale (23-7)
The best Class 3A sectional in the state. Everyone has penciled Fenwick in as one of the four 3A semifinalists next week. But North Lawndale, led by Carlos Hines, Steven Ross and Martrell Barnes, is talented, dangerous and capable of winning this game.
This is where Fenwick slipped up last year, losing to St. Joseph in a shocker last March. But this one is on Fenwick’s home floor and last year’s stunner is still fresh on Fenwick’s minds. The Friars won’t be taking anything for granted. Jacob Keller, Jamal Nixon and freshman standout D.J. Steward get it done.
Hoops Report pick: Fenwick 60, North Lawndale 52
■ Sycamore (14-15) vs. Marengo (24-7)
Raise your hand if you know anything about Sycamore? Anyone? Marengo has 24 wins and a hot hand in shooter Mike Volkening.
Hoops Report pick: Marengo 51, Sycamore 43
Bradley University Sectional
■ Washington (24-6) vs. Bloomington (24-4)
After winning a regional title last season, Bloomington hopes to take the next step and nab its first sectional championship since 2006. Led by star sophomore Chris Payton and the backcourt of junior Patrick Fisher and senior Dazon Farris, Bloomington has the talent to not only win a sectional but return to the State Finals for the first time in 42 years.
Washington will be playing in its back yard, has one of the elite coaches in the state in Kevin Brown and a tough, gritty senior guard in Devin Whitelow to lean on. Plus, Washington is 16-1 since an 8-5 start to the season.
Hoops Report pick: Bloomington 50, Washington 47
St. Rita Sectional
■ Morgan Park (22-6) vs. St. Rita (19-10)
While St. Rita has the confidence builder in having beaten Bogan in the sectional semis, knocking off another Red-South team in Friday’s sectional championship will be a much taller task.
St. Rita, in search of its first sectional championship in the program’s history, does have the luxury of playing Ayo Dosunmu and Company in its home gym. But this Morgan Park team is itching to get back to Peoria after falling short last March.
Hoops Report pick: Morgan Park 62, St. Rita 54
■ Hillcrest (21-7) vs. Rich Central (12-17)
While senior Glen Abram has the capability of putting Rich Central on his back and carrying it, Hillcrest is a big favorite. Marcus Garrett and the Hawks win the program’s ninth sectional championship.
Hoops Report pick: Hillcrest 61, Rich Central 50
■ Benton (31-2) vs. Centralia (18-9)
A couple of southern Illinois basketball programs with a ton of history meet.
My first thought when Benton basketball is mentioned is watching the great Jo Jo Johnson leading the Rangers in the early 1990s. Centralia, meanwhile, is the recognized as the winningest high school basketball program in the country with over 2,200 victories.
This year it’s a Benton team with more wins than any team in Illinois and an upset win over Carbondale in the regional final. The momentum continues as Benton enjoys playing the sectional final on its home floor.
Hoops Report pick: Benton 51, Centralia 47
■ Springfield Lanphier (26-3) vs. Mt. Zion (22-9)
Lanphier is a legit Class 3A state title contender behind the perimeter attack of Yaakema Rose (20 ppg), Cardell McGee (16 ppg) and Aundrae Williams (15 ppg). Rose and Williams scored 34 and 25 points, respectively, in the win over Champaign Central in the sectional semis. The Lions take care of business and win their first sectional title since 2012.
Hoops Report pick: Springfield Lanphier 72, Mt. Zion 63
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport