You know what saves high school basketball fans from the dog days, the blah part of the season in mid-February? Seeding and bracketing week.
When the regional and sectional seeds and matchups are announced it seems to rev things back up, bring a focus back into what can become a long, four-month grind of a season.
After taking a closer look at the Class 3A and Class 4A seeds and regional and sectional brackets, here are some quick thoughts and observations.
➤ If the top seeds and top-ranked teams all win out (Does anyone expect that in this season where no one is sure what constitutes an actual upset?), the Class 4A super-sectional matchups would look like this: Belleville West vs. Bolingbrook at Illinois State; Larkin vs. Naperville North at NIU; Lake Zurich vs. Evanston at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates; and Simeon vs. Curie at Chicago State.
➤ The biggest disadvantage for a highly-seeded team in March is having to play a quality opponent on the road in the regional. That’s the reward for a few poor souls who put together outstanding seasons and did their job earning a top four sectional seed, yet still have to win a tough road regional matchup. There are far too many top four seeds who will have to do just that next week.
Loyola Academy, a No. 4 seed, is going to have to beat a very good Maine South team, a No. 5 seed that will be playing on its home floor. Coach Tom Livatino’s Ramblers likely have the toughest test of any top four seed in regional play.
Likewise, fourth-seeded Joliet Central must play at red-hot fifth seed Oswego East. Joliet Central just lost to Oswego East, a young team coming into its own having won 14 of its last 16 games.
Yes, in both of these cases you expect a rugged regional game. That’s what is expected when a No. 4 vs. No. 5 seed square off. But these are four seeds going into the fifth seed’s gym.
St. Joseph, a No. 7 seed, will get to play the regional on its home floor. Coach Gene Pingatore hopes the homecourt advantage can lead to an upset of No. 2 seed Whitney Young.
Bolingbrook, a No. 1 seed, may have to face Lemont, a 17-win team, in the regional championship at Lemont.
➤ There seem to be quite a few double-digit seeds to be leery of next week.
And there seem to be all kinds of potential pitfalls in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional where the win totals for double-digit seeds are already impressive: No. 11 St. Ignatius has 15 wins; No. 10 Lane Tech has won 19 games; Prosser is a dangerous No. 14 seed with 12 wins and having played in the rugged Public League super-conference; No. 15 Morton may only have 13 wins but it has beaten Willowbrook, Proviso East and Riverside-Brookfield this season.
In the Thornton Sectional, T.F. North played Hillcrest to a one-point game recently and is a No. 13 seed. Bloom is a young team that continues to get better and is a dangerous No. 10 seed for both Thornwood and Marist in the regional. Thornton is Thornton and it’s just odd seeing a (11) in front of it in the bracket.
Metea Valley and Wheaton North are No. 11 and No. 14 seeds, respectively, in the Glenbard East Sectional. But both are playing their best basketball of the season heading into regional play. Metea has played better down the stretch, including wins over Wheaton South and Naperville Central while playing top-seed Naperville North tough. Wheaton North, meanwhile, has won five straight.
And does any high seed in the Lake Zurich Sectional want to go into Waukegan and face the 11th-seeded Bulldogs with star Bryant Brown in the regional? Palatine, a No. 7 seed, will have to do just that while second-seeded Barrington may have to in the regional final if Waukegan can upset the Pirates in the semifinals.
➤ Larkin, a top-seed in one of the Jacobs sub-sectionals, will have to get it done on the road in the regional final. The Royals will have to beat pesky St. Charles North on its home floor before advancing to the sectional semifinals at Jacobs.
➤ The winner of the Geneva-Downers Grove North regional semifinal is going to be a very tough out for top-seeded Naperville North in the regional final. Fortunately for the Huskies, they will be playing on their home floor in the regional.
➤ Bloomington finished third in the state last year in Class 3A and is among the top Class 4A teams in the state this year. Check out the road the Purple Raiders have in trying to get back to Peoria this March.
Bloomington will likely have to beat Rock Island –– at Rock Island –– in the regional semifinal, and then face Normal West, the No. 5 ranked team in the most recent Class 4A state rankings. If it can get by Normal West, a team it split with this season in two one-possession games, Bloomington would face state-ranked Danville and Kendle Moore in the sectional semifinal, followed by a likely showdown with No. 3 ranked Belleville West and E.J. Liddell in the final.
And that’s just to get to the super-sectional, where Bolingbrook could be waiting.
➤ How about the travel involved with some of these teams? Moline will travel across the state to play its regional opener at Danville. That’s roughly a three hour, 200-plus mile trek next Wednesday night to face Normal. And with a win, Moline will head back there two nights later.
Bloomington and Normal West will both travel two-plus hour drives to the Rock Island Regional for their semifinal games next week. That also means if these two high-seeded teams meet for a regional title game, as expected, two schools that are five miles apart from one another will travel 135 miles to play each other.
A little closer to home, Brother Rice and Kenwood could meet for a regional championship as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the Thornton Sectional. That’s a fun little Chicago Catholic League vs. Chicago Public League matchup. Too bad it would be played 50 to 60 miles away at Bradley-Bourbonnais.
➤ If the seeds hold up, without question the oddest locale for two teams meeting in the sectional championship would be Hillcrest facing Marian Catholic … in Pontiac? Simeon and Curie doing it in late December is cool; Marian Catholic and Hillcrest doing it in March doesn’t work quite as well.
➤ Maybe this will prove to be the kiss of death for DePaul Prep in the sectional, but the Rams moved up in class this year from Class 2A to Class 3A and were able to trade in Orr and Uplift as sectional foes for North Chicago and Carmel. Not a bad deal for top-seeded DePaul Prep.
While North Chicago has a 17-8 record, the Warhawks are a gimpy 3-8 outside of Northern Lake County Conference play. And while dangerous, Carmel is still a modest 16-10. That’s quite a difference in comparison to big, bad Orr and a Markese Jacobs-led Uplift team.
And DePaul’s potential sectional semifinal opponents? How about Chicago Northside, Lake View, CICS/Northtown and Antioch.
➤ A Wheaton North-Wheaton South regional semifinal would be interesting –– and tricky for the No. 3 seed Tigers. Wheaton South squeaked by an improving Wheaton North, 34-32, a month ago.
➤ Jacobs has had a terrific season, yet again, and earned the No. 2 seed in its own sub-sectional. But the injury to leading scorer Ryan Phillips, which could knock him out of regional action, is an obvious blow. The senior is averaging 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game. The clear benefactor is St. Charles East, who would likely face Jacobs in the Dundee-Crown Regional final.
➤ What would be a fun Proviso East-Fenwick regional final turns a little blah when you think of those two teams playing at Fenton. Put that game in a near-west suburb rather than out by O’Hare Airport and the vibe and atmosphere would be pretty fun.
➤ Looking at the bracket and potential matchups in the Little Village Sectional, De La Salle is one to watch as a No. 4 seed. As the Hoops Report noted in a story last month, here is your sub-500 team with a real chance of winning a sectional. The Meteors are just 8-14 on the season, yet have a real shot to win a Class 3A sectional.
➤ The winner of the weakest sectional in Illinois goes to …
The Little Village Sectional could certainly make an argument for being the weakest, but we’re going with Woodstock North. The biggest beneficiary is Rockford Boylan. This traditionally strong program has to be licking its chops after playing in a Class 4A sectional last year, dropping to Class 3A and being the team to beat here.
Boylan, who is 18-10 on the season, will have to hold off the likes of Burlington Central, Wheaton Academy, Wheaton St. Francis and a couple of high-scoring players in Kenny Strawbridge of Rockford Lutheran and high-scoring Zach Touissant of Johnsburg.