With the Class 4A playoffs beginning this week, CSN Chicago takes a look at the sectionals that feature local teams and breaks down the favorites, the contenders and some of the best potential matchups along the way.
CSNChicago.com will have plenty of more playoff coverage of the Class 4A playoffs — and the other classes as well — throughout the month of March as March Madness rolls along.
Favorite: Dare I say Morton? The Mustangs are the 4-seed, but they've won nine consecutive games and haven't lost since January. Since that time, the Mustangs have beaten Proviso East and York and Greg Carter and Weisner Perez might be the best duo in the Bartlett Sectional.The Mustangs are peaking at the right time.
Contenders: No. 1 seed York has struggled lately, including a big loss to Morton last week, but Frank Toohey is a dangerous senior post player and the Dukes are usually steady with the ball. Proviso East has recently dropped a few games, but their guard-play is great and Jevon Carter is the guy in this sectional you would want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Oak Park-River Forest is talented but they've been inconsistent at times this season. Conant is one to watch as a No. 5 seed and they could give Morton a big scare in the regional final.
Best Potential Regional Final: Morton will have to get by Conant to advance to sectionals and this could be a really good game. The Cougars have also played good ball since 2014 began and that included a 12-game winning streak before a loss to Fremd. Morton will have its work cut out for them in this one.
Best Potential Sectional Final: Morton and Proviso East — for a third time — would be a tremendous game. These two teams beat each other on the road already this season and it sets up a perfect opportunity for the rubber match to come on a neutral court for a sectional title.
East Aurora Sectional
Favorite: One-seed Benet has played one of the most difficult schedules in the area and senior center Sean O'Mara is one of the most unstoppable forces in the Class 4A field. The 6-foot-9 Xavier commit gets lost in the shadows a bit with Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander playing so well, but make no mistake about it, O'Mara is a fantastic high school player.
Contenders: This is a pretty balanced and deep sectional that has a lot of legitimate contenders. West Aurora, the No. 2 seed, has been ranked the entire season, while No. 3 Bolingbrook and No. 4 Hinsdale Central have both been ranked as well. Then when you go further down, No. 5 Naperville Central has won on the road at West Aurora and No. 6 Geneva has talented junior forward Nate Navigato.
Best Potential Regional Final: If Geneva can get past Plainfield East and Illinois commit Aaron Jordan in the area's best regional semifinal on Wednesday, then a potential matchup with Bolingbrook could be a really good game. The Raiders have a solid record, but haven't beaten a ranked team all season while Geneva is well-coached and has Navigato to match Bolingbrook's deep collection of talent.
Best Potential Sectional Final: Benet and West Aurora would be a really intriguing matchup for the sectional title. West Aurora would likely have a slight homecourt advantage by playing in their hometown, but how would they stop Sean O'Mara? West Aurora came close to topping Curie and Cliff Alexander at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, so history shows, they have a chance to top Benet here as well.
Favorite: Larkin was looking really strong until a recent loss to Neuqua Valley, but they'll still be the favorite in this sectional thanks to its steady senior guard play from Derrick Streety and Kendale McCullum. The Royals played a tough schedule and their losses to Morgan Park, Zion-Benton and Benet are all respectable.
Contenders: Larkin will have to overcome local threats from Elgin and St. Charles, but their biggest competition will come from the Rockford area in the form of Rockford Boylan and Rockford Auburn. Boylan guard Brock Stull is a Milwaukee commit and one of the more unsung seniors in Illinois while Rockford Auburn started the season unbeaten before a few losses at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Both teams are talented enough to knock off Larkin on the right night.
Best Potential Regional Final: Boylan and Auburn could match up at Boylan for a really good regional final between Rockford rivals. If you're in the Rockford area, you'll want to check this one out.
Best Potential Sectional Final: Larkin and Boylan would be interesting on a number of levels because the teams didn't play a lot of similar opponents. Brock Stull going against Kendale McCullum would be a fun matchup of guards that can really score.
Lake Zurich Sectional
Favorite: Stevenson is 26-1, hasn't lost with Matt Johnson in the lineup, and has the best player in the sectional in junior point guard Jalen Brunson. When you also factor in Stevenson's sweep of No. 3 seed Lake Forest and February win over No. 4 seed Zion-Benton and the Patriots have already seen two of their biggest competitors in the sectional. Stevenson is poised to make it back to Peoria.
Contenders: Fremd sits as the great unknown as the No. 2 seed. The Vikings are the unbeaten Mid-Suburban League champions, but they didn't play nearly as difficult a schedule as the other top seeds. Lake Forest and Zion-Benton have both played Stevenson tough this season — with the Zee-Bees knocking off the Patriots at home when Stevenson was missing Matt Johnson — while No. 5 seed St. Viator is very talented with multiple Division I guards.
Best Potential Regional Final: Among the many potentially great regional finals — including a potential Fremd and Prospect MSL title game rematch, Stevenson and Deerfield, and Lake Forest and Highland Park — Zion-Benton and St. Viator is potentially the best regional final in the state. Both teams have been in the Top 25 of the CSN Preps Power Rankings all year and feature Division I prospects. Can the Lions slow down Milik Yarbrough? Do the Zee-Bees have the discipline to limit turnovers against St. Viator's guards?
Best Potential Sectional Final: Stevenson and Lake Forest III would be fun, but I'd like to see Fremd get a crack at the Patriots for a shot at the supersectional. Stevenson could have very easily been undefeated as well and these are two Top 10 teams.
Maine South Sectional
Favorite: Loyola is the clear favorite in the Maine South Sectional, despite some recent slip-ups against Catholic League competition. The senior guard trio of James Clarke, Kevin Kucera and Jack Morrissey are talented and all posses a very high basketball IQ. The Ramblers will be tough to beat before the Chicago State Supersectional.
Contenders: Central Suburban South leaders Maine South and Evanston will challenge Loyola, but neither has the combination of talent and discipline that the Ramblers have. Maine South will be the toughest out for Loyola, as the Hawks will have homecourt advantage and they won't be afraid of anybody that they face.
Best Potential Regional Final: If Maine South wishes to reach the sectional in its own gym, they might have to knock off Niles North in their home gym. Duane Stephens, the senior wing from the Vikings, might be the most talented player on the floor and this is a dangerous matchup for Maine South.
Best Potential Sectional Final: How about the sectional final chess match between Loyola and Maine South. While they're the top two seeds — and two best teams — the coaching battle between Loyola's Tom Livatino and Maine South's Tony Lavorato could be really fun to watch. These are two teams that play really high-caliber high school basketball.
Favorite: Given the recent controversy and distractions surrounding Curie, you have to give the edge to Whitney Young, especially if the Stamps brothers are ineligible as the Sun-Times reported. Tyrone Slaughter's ballclub has played one of the most difficult schedules in the country and Jahlil Okafor, Paul White and Miles Reynolds will be prepared for all comers.
Contenders: This sectional is completely stacked. Curie, Simeon, St. Rita, Mount Carmel and De La Salle are all ranked in the CSN Preps Power Rankings and Curie (although negated) and De La Salle recently won difficult tournaments. Simeon is the four-time defending Class 4A champion, St. Rita has multiple high-major players and Mount Carmel is balanced and well-coached.
Best Potential Regional Final: St. Rita and Mount Carmel would be a heck of a Catholic League crossover to determine a regional title. The pressure would be on the Mustangs, as they haven't won a regional title since 2003, but they have a tremendous amount of talent in Northwestern commit Vic Law, Catholic League South Player of the Year Dominique Matthews and junior guard Charles Matthews, a Kentucky commit. The Caravan counter with David Nichols, Montana Byrd and company and they've won some difficult games this season while playing a tough schedule.
Best Potential Sectional Final: Everyone wants to see Curie vs. Whitney Young II. Cliff Alexander and Jahlil Okafor are once-in-a-generation big men in the state of Illinois and they happen to be in the same senior class. The big men have matched up three times over the course of their varsity careers with Alexander holding a 2-1 — on-the-floor — advantage but Okafor and the Dolphins will be hungry for revenge and a chance to make a supersectional.
Favorite: Marian Catholic is the clear favorite in this sectional as they've been the class of the south suburbs all season long. Senior point guard Tyler Ulis is deserving of his McDonald's All-American honors and the Kentucky commit is playing tremendous ball this season. The Spartans have 10 seniors on this roster and they're hungry to reach Peoria after falling just short in the supersectional last season.
Contenders: Thornwood can really shoot and the No. 2 seed has won 13 straight games entering the playoffs. Thornton has also been a tough out all season and the No. 3 seed will have the benefit of homecourt advantage if they reach the sectional. Bloom is also playing some good ball towards the end of the season as the No. 4 seed and Ron Ashlaw has made it to Peoria before with Waukegan.
Best Potential Regional Final: Thornton could have its hands full if they face Homewood-Flossmoor in the regional final. The Vikings don't have the most impressive record at 14-11, but six of those losses came against ranked opponents and UIC commit Tai Odiase is having a strong season season in the post.
Best Potential Sectional Final: Marian Catholic and Thornwood would be a really fun matchup of two teams that can really get hot from the perimeter. The Spartans won the previous matchup 75-56 on November 26th, but that was before the Thunderbirds hit their stride and won 13 straight games. Marian Catholic would still be the favorite, but Thornwood could make enough shots to hang with them.