Three-Pointer: Providence-St. Mel tops in 1A, red-hot Maine South and regional host debate

Maine South's Fillip Bulatovic (14) shoots over Crane's Jimarius Sneed (5) in their 60-40 win in Park Ridge, Saturday, February 9 2019. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times
Maine South's Fillip Bulatovic (14) shoots over Crane's Jimarius Sneed (5) in their 60-40 win in Park Ridge, Saturday, February 9 2019. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Providence St. Mel thinking big as the 1A and 2A state tournament begins with regional play this week. Maine South is hitting its stride at the right time. And the debate over regional hosts continues. All three of those topics are discussed in this week’s City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Three-Pointer.

No. 1

There is a tradition-rich basketball history at Providence St. Mel that reaches four decades. Yet there is only one banner hanging up in the gym –– a 1984-1985 state championship banner.

“We don’t hang regional and sectional banners,” says St. Mel coach Tim Ervin. “You play at St. Mel, that 1985 team is the standard.”

This 2018-2019 edition gives the program its best chance of winning its first state championship since that historic and legendary team, which was led by Lowell Hamilton and Fernando Bunch.

The road to Peoria starts tonight for St. Mel. The Knights, the No. 1 ranked team in Class 1A, play a regional semifinal game at Ida Crown in Skokie. And after getting so close a year ago –– St. Mel lost a 61-60 heartbreaker to Sterling Newman Catholic in a Class 1A super-sectional ––this veteran group is aching to get at it.

“They are so hungry, because I won’t let them forget how close they were,” says Ervin of the sting that was left from that super-sectional loss a year ago.

This is a team that will be heavily favored to win its sectional, with a likely matchup with East Dubuque (25-1) in the DeKalb Super-Sectional in two weeks.

A talented, senior-dominated group with superior athleticism and speed, especially for a Class 1A team, is well prepared. St. Mel has beaten Waukegan, Loyola, Brother Rice, Fenwick, North Lawndale, Leo and wrapped up the regular season in convincing fashion with a 70-48 win over St. Rita.

In the win over Leo, a Class 2A state title contender, St. Mel found itself down 20-3 after one quarter. The makeup of this year’s team showed.

“The seniors did all the talking in the huddle when they were down big,” says Ervin of that early deficit to Leo. “I really didn’t have to say a thing. This team has taken ownership. They know it’s their season, that this is their team.

There are six seniors in Deion Jackson (15 ppg, 6 rpg), Tyriel Nelson (16 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg), Eric Jordan (14 ppg), Jason Mason (7 ppg), point guard T.J. Ervin (10 ppg, 6 apg) and 6-9 Taeyon Neal (9 ppg, 8 rpg) who are well aware of what’s at stake.

“They understand they have a chance to make history,” says Ervin.

No. 2

Maine South is one hot team.

While coach Tony Lavorato’s program is accustomed to 20-win seasons –– Maine South has averaged just over 22 wins a year over the past 11 years –– this particular team is rolling at the right time. And that’s after playing a more beefed up schedule this season.

The Hawks have relied heavily on a group of seniors, led by guard Essam Hamwi (13.6 ppg, 2.5 apg and 76 three-pointers), 6-3 Danny Crane (8.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Fillip Bulatovic (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

Bulatovic has taken his game to another level during Maine South’s hot streak, which includes eight straight wins and 10 wins in its last 11. The versatile 6-5 wing averaged 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a game during the team’s 11-8 start to the season. During the current 10-1 run he’s averaged 20.6 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

In that stretch, Bulatovic scored 33 in a win over Marshall, 26 in beating Glenbrook South and 23 in a big win over ranked Homewood-Flossmoor over the weekend.

Maine South was awarded the No. 3 seed in the tough Niles North Sectional, where Central Suburban League South rivals Evanston and New Trier are seeded one and two, respectively. With a regional semifinal win next Tuesday night, Maine South would play either Loyola or Max Christie and Rolling Meadows in a regional final at Rolling Meadows.

No. 3

The IHSA needs to evaluate regional sites. It’s a growing complaint among high school basketball coaches, especially with the scenario of a low-seeded team playing a higher seeded team on the road in a regional final.

There was a time when the top four seeds in the sectional would host the regional. Maybe there can be added stipulations and requirements, including a minimum amount of gymnasium seating, but there should be a reward for a great regular season and earning a top four seed.

Curie, the top-ranked team in Illinois, may have to play a dangerous Fenwick team in Oak Park in the regional final. Top-seeded Geneva could play at No. 6 Glenbard West.

Simeon, a No. 3 sectional seed, may have to play Marquise Kennedy and Brother Rice on the road in a regional title game.

Others include No. 2 New Trier playing at No. 9 Glenbrook North. No. 2 Fremd playing at No. 7 Barrington.

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  • High School Hoops Fan

    Schools might also not want to host because their gym is used by multiple teams in the school for a variety of things. Also, surburban schools would probably lose money after paying everyone to be there. The people doing the book, the security, etc, make more money than the refs do in some cases. It’s probably a losing cause unless you got a good local matchup that will bring people.

  • Richard Patel

    The IHSA routinely holds school hostage over hosting basketball regionals and sectionals … schools may have great basketball teams, but if for some reason they can’t volunteer to host a (for example) wrestling regional or softball sectional, they can beg all they want … they won’t get it. The IHSA needs to come up with a better way to do this.

  • Will Bradford

    The IHSA is a corrupt institution corrupting our youth. We are all better off following NCAA basketball with the upstanding Mike Krzyewski leading the way and preaching about fundamentals and the right way to play.

  • M

    Schools can petition to host and the IHSA selects four within each sectional to do so. In some cases they are scrambling to get four to agree to host. They cannot lose money by hosting. Per the IHSA website “Each host school will receive a flat guarantee of $2,000 for hosting a regional. The host shall retain 20% of the net income over that amount and submit remainder to the IHSA.” So a school cannot lose money by hosting. So March is Coming is spot on when he says to anyone not hosting to revisit it with the school and AD. In 1A/2A there are usually schools each year (Marshall this year) that host both the regional and sectional.

  • reason

    It is a lot of work with no benefits The IHSA takes 80% of the gate the schools have to get workers that are usually teachers to stay late and most of these early match-ups are bad. In girls hoops hosting is a loosing battle after they pay the workers for staying late and giving up 80% of the gate and if the there is low turn out that host school will loose money. there should be a few permanent sites each year then rotate them. Have other local personal help out and let the IHSA give back some $$$ to those teams that help. Not rocket science. .

    • Lefty

      I wouldn’t say no benefit. Concessions for the booster club. Our Hs has volunteers that do that and the pizza is not cheap. And there’s alwayd something else going on. Maybe there’s a quarter final game, but it’s 3 games, and can be done in 2 days.

  • Bob

    Top seeded Geneva plays in Metea regional against either an 8 or 9 seed in regional finals.

  • abefroman

    Any school *can* request to host. Curie, however, has crap lighting in their gym and should never be allowed to host an IHSA indoor event.

    Their pizza vendor though… out of this world!

  • March is Coming

    Your seeding argument doesn’t make any sense. Blame the schools or coaches for not lobbying their ADs, they are the ones who put in a bid to become regional hosts, it’s not an IHSA issue. There were plenty of regional and sectional hosting spots that were still up for grabs long after assignments came out.

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