With two weeks left in the boys' basketball season, we asked prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner and staff writer Jeff Huth to break down the playoffs. A look:
Good news stories
The Fisher and Illini Central teams are prime examples of what’s good about the IHSA postseason tournament format in Illinois. Good in whatever manner you view the word. The teams, which will play one another in a Tuesday night Class 1A super-sectional at Illinois State University, are among the eight survivors in their class. That’s good. They are also two well-balanced teams who don’t rely on a superstar, but numerous contributors. When The Associated Press releases its 1A and 2A all-state teams on Tuesday, there won’t be a player from Fisher or Illini Central on the first or second teams. These are teams that believed anything could happen when they started tournament play with records of 13-14 (Fisher) and 13-12 (Illini Central) and without as much as a single vote in any of the final six AP statewide polls of the season. It’s a good storyline when unheralded teams can make a breakthrough of such gigantic proportions. A third member of the 1A Elite Eight is in the same club, North Shore Country Day receiving no recognition in any of the last six weekly state rankings. And yet, here they all are, along with the teams that shared the No. 1 spot in the final poll, Brimfield and Mounds Meridian. There’s one more thing that’s good: the qualification process is different in basketball than football. In football, where not all schools even get a chance to participate in the postseason, regular season records such as those compiled by Fisher and Illini Central this season in boys’ basketball likely wouldn’t have warranted a tournament berth. And now, one of those schools is guaranteed of possessing a state trophy one week from today. That’s really good.
At long last
Folks around these parts know all about Champaign Central’s rich heritage in boys’ basketball: the 1946 state title; the four state runner-up finishes; the nine Final Four appearances. And now, after Friday night’s victory against crosstown rival Centennial, the 38 regional championships. Contrast that to Central’s next opponent. Streator had not won so much as a regional title since 1969 before ending that drought in a three-overtime thriller against Pontiac on Friday in the Kankakee Regional final. “We didn’t want to hear any more about (1969),” senior guard J.J. Cravatta, the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer, said after producing six points in the third OT of the 61-59 victory. “We wanted to start something new. It’s 2012 now.” Streator (20-8) once was a mainstay in the IHSA postseason picture, winning 17 district or regional crowns from 1920 to 1942. This week, starting with Tuesday night’s game against Central at Lincoln, the Bulldogs will be looking for their first sectional title since 1964.
Is this Normal?
This truly has been a golden season for high school boys’ basketball in the town of Normal (and shouldn’t a community with a population of 52,497, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, finally get around to calling itself a city?). Entering the week, Normal University High, Normal West and Normal Community have a combined record of 71-19. Corn Belt Conference champion U-High (26-4) is one win away from its first trip to state since 1999. Big 12 co-runner-up Normal West (23-7) is headed to sectionals for the third time in seven years. And Normal Community (22-8) won its second straight Big 12 title before being derailed by Normal West in overtime on Friday in a regional final. No. 4 U-High is one of four Top 5-ranked teams still alive in the Class 2A derby and will face No. 4 Teutopolis on Tuesday in Springfield.
Maybe next year
The last of the University of Illinois’ signees/commitments in the IHSA tournament was ousted Friday night in a Class 4A regional final at Belleville. Junior Malcolm Hill and his Belleville East teammates fell to Belleville West 62-58. Hill, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, did what he could to keep the Lancers’ season alive with a game-high 20 points. Senior Michael Orris of Crete-Monee and Mike LaTulip of Prospect, who’ll join the UI as a preferred walk-on, previously hit the postseason exit.
The biggest name on the Illini’s wish list, of course, is Jabari Parker. The 6-8 junior and powerhouse Chicago Simeon kept rolling along Friday with a 54-30 clubbing of Chicago Vocational. Even by Parker’s high standards, it was a special performance by the Wolverines forward, who racked up 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 blocked shots. Simeon’s lone loss in a 28-1 season was to an out-of-state prep school. Is any team in the Land of Lincoln capable of taking down the two-time defending Class 4A state champions? Perhaps second-ranked and undefeated Proviso East (28-0), although the Pirates’ 51-48 close call on their home floor Friday night against eighth-seeded Glenbard North doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
If Champaign Central is to advance to the Class 3A super-sectionals, the Maroons most likely will need to hurdle top-ranked Springfield Lanphier and Illini recruiting target Larry Austin Jr. The Lions defeated city rival Southeast 62-53 on Friday night for their first regional title since 2008. Austin Jr. contributed 10 points to a balanced attack that saw five Lions score in double figures. “Everybody steps up when they have to,” Austin Jr. said afterward. Next up for Lanphier is a 10-16 Decatur MacArthur team that surprised Lincoln 45-35 on Friday night in a regional final in Decatur. MacArthur has held five of its last seven opponents under 50 points. In that same span, Champaign Central is the only team to score as many as 54 against the Generals.