Upsets will always play a major part in the landscape of the IHSA boys basketball state playoffs, but nobody could have expected some of the shocking defeats we saw during Class 4A regional semifinal play earlier this week.
Curie, the No. 1 team in the CSN Preps Power Rankings, suffered a truly unbelievable loss to DuSable in the King Regional on Tuesday night, with the Condors falling, 88-85, in overtime. But after the last week and a half of highly emotional drama that the Condors had been through after the CPS ruling that stripped them of their 24 wins and city championship, you can't really blame Curie if the players felt worn down while also dealing with a tremendous amount of pressure.
This wasn't your typical regional semifinal. Television cameras from across the city showed up for what many believed would be a Curie victory. DuSable clearly had other ideas. After knocking off St. Rita last season in the Class 4A regional final that the Mustangs hosted, the Panthers had visions of another monster playoff upset.
Curie beat DuSable, 69-44, on Dec. 10 and, 53-26, on Jan. 9, but as any many coaches will tell you, beating any team three times in the same season is incredibly difficult. Playing without starters Joseph and Joshua Stamps and key reserve Malik Washington, the Condors lost — on the floor — to a team from Illinois for the first time all season.
The legacy of Curie will probably be mixed, as many fans are still upset by the use of seven ineligible players during the season, but this Condor team is probably the best 0-26 team in high school basketball history.
And who can forget the play of 6-foot-8 senior center Cliff Alexander? The McDonald's All-American and CSN Preps Player of the Year candidate had enough highlight-reel dunks and blocked shots to last a lifetime, and he'll surely be missed by Illinois high school basketball fans as he moves on to the University of Kansas next season.
Larkin falls to South Elgin, but Carter makes the right call
While Curie losing to DuSable dominated the headlines — and rightfully so — another shocker went down in the Class 4A St. Charles North Regional as No. 1 seed Larkin fell to South Elgin, 71-70, in overtime.
The Royals were favored by many to win the Elgin Sectional and play the winner of the Lake Zurich Sectional in the Supersectional at NIU, but Larkin head coach Deryn Carter made a bold decision on Tuesday, disciplining two of his best players before the team's first playoff game.
Carter sat senior guard Kendale McCullum for a violation of team rules, and without the Upstate Eight River MVP, South Elgin's starting backcourt of Matt Smith and Darius Wells combined for 44 points. McCullum's backcourt running mate, senior guard Derrick Streety, was also benched for the first three minutes of the loss for also violating a team rule of lesser severity.
Recently we've seen situations where coaches have scheduled too many games and mistakenly played ineligble players dominate local headlines. It's refreshing to see a head coach that would bench his star player before a big playoff game.
McCullum might have been conference MVP and averaged 14.9 points, 6.6 assists and four steals a game this season, but Carter is trying to build a Larkin program that sustains success after McCullum moves on to playing basketball in college next season.
With younger players on the roster, including talented freshman forward Christian Negron, Carter set a precedent with his program that broken rules will not be tolerated, and it should make the Royals stronger in the future. Larkin has had a tremendous turnaround under Carter as the Royals went from a 5-49 mark the first two seasons of his tenure to a 16-12 season in year three and a combined 46-11 mark the last two seasons.