Postseason nearly here for in-state Illini recruits, targets
Postseason basketball has already started for several Illinois recruiting targets outside the Illinois state line.
The rest of in-state recruits and targets for John Groce’s team start play next week.
Here’s a rundown on where to catch the Illinois prep players the Illini have either signed, received commitments from or are pursuing:
Michael Finke (Class of 2014)
School: Champaign Centennial
Postseason opener is ... at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The top-seeded Chargers (22-4) begin play in the five-team Class 3A Champaign Central Regional at Combes Gym with a regional semifinal game against either No. 4 Rantoul or No. 5 Urbana. Rantoul and Urbana play Monday night in a regional quarterfinal game.
Postseason outlook is ... solid. Centennial has the most pieces to win the regional, but suffered its only Big 12 Conference loss at Combes Gym to a Central team, coached by former Illinois assistant Wayne McClain, that can play with the best of them. If Centennial makes it out of the regional, a potential sectional semifinal down in Mattoon against the state’s top-ranked 3A team in Springfield Lanphier and Tennessee signee Larry Austin Jr. awaits. If Chargers make it through to Peoria for third state trip in last six seasons, Tim Lavin’s team will have most certainly earned it.
Aaron Jordan (Class of 2015)
School: Plainfield East
Postseason opener is ... at 8 p.m. on Monday, March 3. The Bengals (17-9 before Plainfield Central game Thursday night) host a Class 4A regional in the competitive East Aurora Sectional. Plainfield East is the 10th seed in the 23-team sectional, and awaits 22nd seed Wheaton Warrenville South in a regional quarterfinal game on Monday.
Postseason outlook is ... tough. If the Bengals want to win the second-ever regional title in school history, Jordan’s team will have to beat sixth seed Geneva in a regional semifinal before likely facing Bolingbrook in the regional final. Both those teams have bonafide talents who could make life difficult for the Bengals. Especially if Jordan is hindered by foul trouble or has an off night shooting the ball. A trip to the regional final doesn’t seem out of the question, but anything beyond that is a risky pick.
D.J. Williams (Class of 2015)
School: Chicago Simeon
Postseason opener is ... at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The Wolverines (18-6) will square off against either Palos Heights Shepard or Chicago Hubbard in a regional semifinal game. Those two teams meet at 6 p.m. on Monday night in a regional quarterfinal game at Shepard.
Postseason outlook is ... bleak. Simeon should have no problem winning the regional title in Palos Heights, but the real difficulty awaits at the Chicago Marist Sectional. If the seeds play out on paper as they should, the Wolverines will likely meet Chicago Whitney Young, featuring Jahlil Okafor (Duke), Paul White (Georgetown) and Miles Reynolds (LSU) in a sectional semifinal game. Williams has played up-and-down at times, handling point guard responsibilities for Simeon, which features other talented players in Ed Morrow and Zack Norvell. But this isn’t the Simeon teams of the past, and a fifth straight state title doesn’t seem realistic.
Jalen Brunson (Class of 2015)
Postseason opener is ... at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The Patriots (26-1) are slated to play either Grant or McHenry in a Class 4A regional semifinal game at McHenry. Those two schools play at 7 p.m. on Monday in a regional quarterfinal game. Stevenson is the top seed in the 23-team Lake Zurich Sectional, and rightly so.
Postseason outlook is ... bright. It’s easy to think ahead and picture Stevenson celebrating on the floor at Carver Arena in three weeks, holding a state trophy in its grasp. Brunson is the engine that makes the Patriots’ high-octane offense go, but he’s surrounded by solid players like Connor Cashaw, Matt Johnson and Michigan State football signee Matt Morrissey, among others. The only potential obstacle might come against Chicago Curie and Cliff Alexander in a state semifinal game. And what a game that might be.
Nojel Eastern (Class of 2017)
Postseason opener is ... at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The Wildkits (19-8) will play either Chicago Foreman or Chicago Lake View in a Class 4A regional semifinal game at Maine East High School. Foreman and Lake View meet at 7 p.m. on Monday in a regional quarterfinal game.
Postseason outlook is ... rosy. Evanston, seeded third in the 21-team Maine South Sectional — has the tools to win the regional. And possibly the sectional. Eastern has been slowed by a knee injury, which have limited his contributions on a senior-heavy Evanston team. The toughest obstacles for Evanston to reach a possible super-sectional game against either Chicago Curie, Chicago Whitney Young, Chicago Simeon or Chicago St. Rita (gulp) lie in top seed Loyola Academy and second seed Maine South.
Kain Harris (Class of 2015)
School: Chicago Morgan Park
Postseason opener is ... at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5. The Mustangs (17-6) will play either Rich Central or Thornridge in a Class 3A Thornridge Regional semifinal game after those two teams meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in a regional quarterfinal game.
Postseason outlook is ... optimistic. Morgan Park will try to become the first Class 3A team to win back-to-back state titles since the four-class system first came into effect in 2008. Harris isn't the go-to scorer on a team featuring elite talent Josh Cunningham, but he can provide points in bunches. No team at the regional or sectional can likely match the athleticism and skill Morgan Park brings. A super-sectional date against either Chicago Bogan or Chicago Hyde Park seems possible. And highly entertaining if that comes to fruition.
Luwane Pipkins (Class of 2015)
School: Chicago Bogan
Postseason opener is ... at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The Bengals open the Class 3A St. Laurence Regional with a semifinal game against either the host or Chicago Gage Park. Bogan is the top seed in the 21-team Chicago Vocational Sectional. Rightly so.
Postseason outlook is ... relief. Bogan was ruled ineligible for postseason play at the start of the week for playing too many games this season. Pipkins, the dynamic guard who is a proven scorer, will have to make do without his head coach since the IHSA suspended Arthur Goodwin because of the violation. But at least a talent like Pipkins and his team have a chance to make a run at Peoria. Which they could very well accomplish.
Nick Rakocevic (Class of 2016)
School: St. Joseph
Postseason opener is ... at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4. The Chargers will host a Class 3A regional. St. Joseph, the second seed in the 23-team Chicago Westinghouse Sectional, receives a bye into the semifinals and awaits either Chicago Little Village or Chicago Wells.
Postseason outlook is ... difficult. St. Joseph and its legendary coach, Gene Pingatore, should add to the school's trophy collection with a regional plaque. But Rakocevic, who received an Illinois offer this week, and St. Joseph will have a hard time getting out of the Westinghouse Sectional, with potential sectional foes like Chicago Orr, Oak Park Fenwick, Chicago Marshall or Chicago Farragut lurking.
Jeremiah Tilmon (Class of 2017)
School: East St. Louis
Postseason opener is ... at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5. The third-seeded Flyers will tangle with No. 2 Belleville East (Malcolm Hill's alma mater) in a Class 4A Belleville West Regional semifinal game.
Postseason outlook is ... challenging. All five teams — No. 1 O'Fallon, No. 2 Belleville East, No. 3 East St. Louis, No. 4 Collinsville and No. 5 Belleville West — at this regional are part of the eight-team Southwestern Conference. So they'll all be familiar with one another. TIlmon hasn't played much in the past month, so don't know how much of a difference the young post player might make, if any. Flyers will need everything to go right in order to possibly advance to Peoria for the first time since Darius Miles led the Flyers to a third-place finish in 2000.