It's that time of year again.
It is around this time of the basketball season when we prep writers begin sifting through our candidates for All-Area Captain, awarded to the best player.
Usually I comb through stats and chat with other coaches to get their opinions. In recent years, though, the "eye test" was enough for me. It didn't take numbers to sell to me that the Whitney Holloways and Toni Kokenises stood above the rest.
This year, though, is another story altogether.
DuPage County is filled with good players -- but perhaps not "take-over" talents. Wheaton Warrenville South point guard Meghan Waldron might be the closest, and she's a sophomore. Montini's Tianna Brown and Naperville Central's Emma Donahue are solid, but they are post players -- it is harder for them to dominate a game than guards. Teams like Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley are good because they possess many good players, not one great one.
That in a nutshell can describe the area's best teams. They are good and can be great on some nights. How will that translate to the playoffs?
Well, let's first answer five big questions on the eve of regionals.
Can Montini three-peat?
One thing can be safely predicted -- this year's playoff run won't be as drama-free as last year's, when no opponent came within 16 points of the senior-laden Broncos.
But a three-peat is possible.
Montini's young guards are maturing, Brown can be a dominant force when she is on the floor and gets the ball, and Kateri Stone and Nikia Edom are legit perimeter threats. Just as important, Montini's path back to Redbird Arena isn't all that bumpy. St. Joseph, which beat the Broncos in December, is probably the biggest roadblock -- and the Chargers' roster has been ravaged by injuries and other losses.
Class 3A could ultimately be decided again by the Montini-Hillcrest matchup. This time it would be in the state semis, and this time Montini would be the underdog.
Who comes out of the Hinsdale supersectional?
If you want to watch the Class 4A champion crowned, don't bother giving the IHSA your $16 to watch two anti-climactic sessions in Normal March 3-4. Just show up at Hinsdale Central Feb. 27. Bolingbrook, Whitney Young and Trinity are all in that supersectional. It's an embarassment that one of Bolingbrook and Young, two of the top handful of teams in the country, will be home the first weekend in March.
Young has become a trendy pick among some writers I know to end Bolingbrook's title run. I'll say this -- Bolingbrook will have the best player on the floor in Morgan Tuck, and the Raiders seem to have the knack to win the big one. I'm not betting against the Brook.
What are the potential upset specials?
Metea Valley has never won a regional (OK, I know it's just its second year) and Naperville Central is red-hot. That said, the Redhawks would be well-served not to overlook the Mustangs. Metea recently upset Neuqua and nearly did the same to Waubonsie, two teams that beat Naperville Central. Elsewhere, Benet has not lost since Dec. 3, a win streak that sits at 17 -- but the Redwings face no easy path out of regionals. In a regional final they could get a good Romeoville team or Plainfield East and fantastic freshman Faith Suggs.
What are the potential games to watch?
Besides Bolingbrook versus Young, that is. Bartlett-WW South would be an entertaining sectional final between two teams that love to play fast, both boasting dynamic perimeter talents. Elsewhere, a sectional semifinal between Benet and Waubonsie Valley and a possible Montini-Hillcrest state semifinal are both rematches between teams with a history.
What are the best bets in Class 2A?
The team that comes out of the Wheaton Academy regional, which includes top seed Walther Lutheran, Timothy Christian, Immaculate Conception and the host Warriors, has a very real chance of getting to the supersectional at Concordia University. Wheaton Academy, which dropped down to 2A this year, has never won a sectional.