Three Public Leaguers eye Final Four

Three Public Leaguers eye Final Four
March 10, 2013, 12:30 pm
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The boys Class 3A and 4A basketball tournaments have been reduced to the Elite Eight but is the Illinois High School Association ready for this?  The Chicago Public League is in position to send three
representatives to the championship games on Saturday in Peoria.

Since the IHSA introduced the four-class system in 2008, this has never happened before.

Oh, in 2008, North Lawndale won the 2A title and Marshall and Simeon finished 1-2 in 3A.

But never, ever has it happened in the two largest classes.

Simeon and Whitney Young finished 1-2 in 4A in 2010. Simeon swept 4A in 2011 and 2012 and is heavily favored to become the first and only school since Peoria Manual in 1994-97 to win four state titles in a row.

But this is the first time that three Public League teams are in position to reach the Final Four in 3A and 4A. Morgan Park and Orr could meet in the 3A final.

"It says that the Public League is as good as any high school basketball conference in the country," said Orr coach Louis Adams.

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What this means

-- Simeon, with a lineup stocked with Division I recruits, could demonstrate it is one of the best teams in state history.

-- Jabari Parker, as close to being 100 percent healthy as he has been all season, will give high school fans a final look at his enormous skills.

-- The Public League, particularly the Red-South and Red-West, produces more talent than any other conference in the state.

-- Whitney Young didn't make the cut.

-- Even though Young's Jahlil Okafor, L.J. Peak and Paul White or Benet's Sean O'Mara won't be on the floor, the state will get a look at one of the finest arrays of individual talent it has ever seen.

-- Attendance at Carver Arena could be an all-time low.

-- The IHSA made a mistake by scrapping what had been a successful two-class format and going to a four-class system.

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For example, Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin calls DePaul-bound Billy Garrett Jr. and Dayton-bound Kyle Davis "the best backcourt in the state."

Stevenson’s sophomore guard Jalen Brunson is the valedictorian of the class of 2015. Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis could be the best undersized guard produced in Illinois since Hales Franciscan's Sam Puckett in 1970.

The fuss over the class structure began more than 40 years ago, when the IHSA was being pressured by the newly organized Illinois Basketball Coaches Association to dump its all-for-one state tournament format in favor of a two-class system that would give smaller schools a new identity and an opportunity to share in the glory.

In Chicago, Public League coaches were fighting for an identity of their own. In the one-class system, the city champion was assigned to a super-sectional game in the suburbs. They never felt they got a fair shake from officials and began to lobby for an automatic berth in the Elite Eight.

It finally happened in 1972 when the IHSA adopted its two-class plan.

But when CPS schools began to become a dominant force in the tournament -- they won eight state championships from 1972 to 1993 -- CPS coaches wanted a bigger slice of the pie. They proposed a change in the format to allow for more city schools to qualify for the state finals.

After all, they argued, many suburban and Downstate conferences historically had sent more than one representative to the state finals. In 1945, Decatur and Champaign of the Big 12 met for the state title. In 1955, West Rockford and Elgin of the Big Eight played for the state title.

In 2008, the IHSA introduced its four-class plan, allowing for the state's smallest schools and medium sized schools that were weren't competitive in the two-class format to get a better chance of qualifying for a trip to Peoria.

At the same time, the Public League playoff became a non-factor as city schools were assigned to suburban sectionals, thus providing an opportunity for more than one city school to win a state championship.

So nobody was surprised when Marshall and Simeon played for the 3A title in 2008 and Simeon and Whitney Young played for the 4A crown in 2010.

And nobody will be surprised if Simeon, Morgan Park and Orr advance to Saturday's finals.

But you can't please everyone, right? How do you respond to folks who can't understand why the IHSA paired the state's two best teams, Simeon and Whitney Young, in the same sectional complex? Couldn't the IHSA split them up and make it possible for four Public League teams to meet in the finals?

Morgan Park, which hasn't qualified for the Final Four since finishing third in 2001, and Orr, which is bidding for its first trip, are not the only fresh faces in the remaining field of 16 teams.

Marian Catholic and Bartonville Limestone are hoping to qualify for the Final Four for the first time. Edwardsville hasn't been back since 1956, Chatham Glenwood since 1975, Cahokia since 1985, Wheaton St. Francis since 1989, Rockford Boylan since 1997, New Trier since 2002 and Stevenson since 2007.

Somebody better remind them that the tournament isn't in Champaign anymore.