A breakdown of the Class 3A state tournament field with some Peoria picks.
Team to beat: Morgan Park
There isn’t quite the buzz surrounding this Morgan Park team as in past years heading into March. The Mustangs (18-9) have more losses this season than any season where they’ve been considered a state title contender.
That loss total is due to a number of different factors –– injuries, including losing star Ayo Dosunmu for nearly a month, is the big one –– none of which have anything to do with the Mustangs and their potential to repeat in Class 3A basketball.
This is the defending state champion we’re talking about, a team with the best 1-2 combination in Class 3A with Illinois recruit Dosunmu and sophomore Adam Miller. Coach Nick Irvin’s program, shooting for its fourth state title in six years, has become the premier Class 3A program in Illinois.
Plus, over the course of the season, several different players have taken positive steps forward and raised their level of production, including sophomore guard Marcus Watson and the senior pair of 6-6 Cameron Burrell and Kenyon Duling.
Top contenders: DePaul Prep, Bogan, Champaign Central, Springfield Lanphier and Springfield Southeast
With a very manageable sectional and the type of individual player in junior Perry Cowan you can depend on in March, DePaul Prep is a favorite to be playing in Peoria. There appear to be three teams that could thwart DePaul’s run to Peoria: North Chicago (17-8) and Carmel (17-11) in the sectional and a potential super-sectional matchup with Rockford Boylan (18-10).
Bogan may be a year away from being the team to beat in Class 3A, but the Bengals, led by juniors Jordan Booker, Rashaun Agee and Jeremiah Washington, would love another crack at Morgan Park in the St. Laurence Sectional final. Bogan, which is just 2-7 against teams that have been ranked this season, lost to Morgan Park 76-72 in a December meeting.
Champaign Central (18-8), Springfield Lanphier (23-3) and Springfield Southeast (23-3) are all state-ranked and in the same loaded sectional, along with a very strong Lincoln team.
Champaign Central is primed and ready having faced one of the toughest schedules in the state and boasting one of the state’s top players, 6-6 senior Tim Finke (22 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Finke recently became the all-time leading scorer in Champaign-Urbana area history and is on the brink of 2,000 plus career points.
In addition to Finke, the Maroons boast a fabulous freshman in 6-4 Khailieo Terry, a freakish athlete who is averaging 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. Point guard A’Kieon Gill (12.3 ppg, 5 apg) and Jonte Coleman (11.8 ppg) are two other double-digit scorers on the perimeter.
Springfield Lanphier has the experience of playing deep into March, finishing fourth in the state a year ago. Senior guard Cardell McGee is an all-state player who fills a stat sheet, averaging 18.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 3.8 steals a game. James Jones (13 ppg), 6-4 sophomore P.J. Edwards and athletic 6-5 junior Karl Wright (8 ppg, 9 rpg, 6.5 bpg) give coach Blake Turner quite a nucleus.
Quietly, Springfield Southeast has put together a terrific season, matching the more-talked-about Lanphier in wins and having beaten its rival twice already this season. Southeast won a sectional as recently as two years ago, but the Spartans have yet to make a state appearance in the 50-year history of the program. There is a clear, two-year window to do so.
Anthony Fairlee, a 6-3 junior and one of the state’s elite athletes, has blossomed this season, while a host of other juniors –– Terrion Murdix, Stephen Sims and 6-6 Michael Tyler –– play the bulk of the minutes and provide the production, along with senior Kobe Medley.
Sleepers: Marian Catholic, Hillcrest and Lincoln
Hillcrest and Marian Catholic have won 21 and 20 games, respectively, and are on a collision course to meet in the sectional final. The two met in November with Marian pulling out a 61-57 win.
Reaching two Class 4A super-sectionals and falling short in 2013 and 2014 behind Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic is now a 3A school with a legitimate shot of making its first state basketball appearance. The young backcourt of junior Malik Tidwell and sophomore Ahron Ulis fuels the Spartans.
It’s been six years since Hillcrest played in Peoria. Led by the senior duo of Bobby Harvey and Jalen Hughes, the Hawks could be back this year.
Lincoln, a 24-win team with impressive victories, will have its work cut out if it wants to advance deep into March. The road for the Railers could look like this: state-ranked Lanphier in the regional final, state-ranked Champaign Central in the sectional semifinal and state-ranked Springfield Southeast in the sectional final.
Super sleeper: St. Rita
The Mustangs may not have the glitzy record, and coach Gary DeCesare’s team would likely have to beat both Bogan and Morgan Park just to get to the super-sectional, but it’s a dangerous team in Class 3A, nonetheless.
St. Rita has size and length, enough guard play and has played a challenging schedule to prepare it for the rigors of March. But can a team that’s been inconsistent put together two-plus consistent weeks of basketball and get to Peoria?
Upset special: De La Salle
Yes, De La Salle has just eight wins on the season. But in a sectional with little depth and lacking a power at the top, the Meteors are a dangerous sub-500 team.
De La Salle has beaten Brother Rice and recently played both St. Rita and Kenwood tough, losing those two games by a combined five points.
C.J. Benton, a 6-5 junior who is the team’s leading three-point shooter, leads the team in scoring with 11.6 points a game. David Pinskus (10.8 ppg) and Jamari Norwood (8.9 ppg, 3.9 apg) are
Projected Class 3A super-sectional matchups
Joliet Central Super: Morgan Park over North Lawndale
DeKalb Super: Hillcrest over Rock Falls, Galesburg, Morton, Washington
Springfield Super: Champaign Central over Centralia
Hoffman Estates Super: DePaul Prep over Rockford Boylan
Class 3A state semifinal picks: Morgan Park over Hillcrest; Champaign Central over DePaul Prep
Class 3A champ: Morgan Park