In the two-class basketball system, Class AA winners of play-in games were most often tuneup fodder for a top seed.
But the four-class system has changed the landscape in 4A in particular. Quite often one of the top seeds is facing a team that never would have been considered play-in material in the old days.
No one knows that better than Warren, last year's 4A runner-up and the top seed in the Barrington sectional for the second straight year.
Making it to today's 7:30 p.m. Stevenson regional final against the hosts was nowhere near as easy for the Blue Devils (23-3) as Wednesday's 65-50 victory over No. 15 Hersey may have appeared.
"You see this happen all the time," said Warren coach Chuck Ramsey, who clearly earned his 400th career victory. "The team playing the play-in game wins, comes in with some energy and is ready to go.
"We had a week off and we're back on our heels and they jumped on us. They were very well-prepared."
Warren fell behind 13-2 after three minutes and didn't take the lead until there was 3:17 left in the third quarter. But it wasn't as bad as a year ago when it trailed deep into the fourth quarter of its postseason opener before topping Highland Park and starting a run to a second-place finish to Simeon.
"Last year was worse and once again we had a long time off," Ramsey said. "We needed the rest (this year) because we were banged up but we weren't sharp earlier in the game."
Although 6-foot-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul combined for 25 rebounds, Ramsey wasn't happy with the overall 35-32 edge on a Hersey team whose tallest regulars were 6-4.
"They were on and I came out not playing well," Boothe said after scoring all 13 of his points in the second half. "In the second half we turned it on and got the win."
And the Blue Devils were finally able to celebrate Ramsey's milestone victory.
"I've been very fortunate," Ramsey said of a 19-year head-coaching tenure which includes two state runner-up finishes. "I've had the opportunity to coach great players, great teams and great kids.
"Over all the years I've been very fortunate to have a tremendous coaching staff up and down the line."
Patriot games, part III: No. 8 Stevenson (17-10) will have the homecourt advantage and comes armed with the knowledge of beating Warren 44-43 in early December.
"We're the only team around here that's taken them down," said Stevenson senior guard Michael Fleming, "and it's pretty clear they're a very, very talented team."
Which Stevenson saw when Warren used a 26-4 second-half blitz to finally quash Hersey's upset hopes.
"They came back and did their thing," Fleming said. "We can't let them do that. We have to play four quarters."
The Patriots' victory was part of a 10-1 start. A 64-38 loss to Warren in Gurnee was the end of a 1-7 post-Christmas stretch.
Wednesday's 48-41 win over Prospect was the Patriots' sixth in their last eight games.
"For stretches," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said if he's seen a return to early-season form. "We've played good at times in some of the games.
"Right now we're focusing on day-to-day and getting better right now. (Thursday) is our day to get better at defending Warren."
The Stevenson-Warren winner advances to Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. sectional semifinal at Barrington and will play the winner of the Palatine regional final between No. 5 Lake Forest and No. 13 Fremd.
Bear market tough for Mustangs: Seeds and records might indicate a mismatch when No. 3 Mundelein (24-7) faces No. 11 Lake Zurich (15-15) in today's 7:30 p.m. Zion-Benton regional final.
But their last four North Suburban Lake meetings would indicate otherwise. This year's meetings saw Mundelein lead by only 6 points after three quarters in a 51-42 win and need overtime for a 68-65 win on Jan. 24.
Two years ago, a 62-57 decision was one of 29-5 Mundelein's losses and one of 7-20 Lake Zurich's victories. Their first meeting also saw the Mustangs escape 60-58.
Cross-town rivalry highlights 3A regionals: The stakes have never been higher since Grayslake split into two schools when Central and North meet in the 7:30 p.m. Antioch final.
Grayslake Central (20-8) claimed the unofficial Fox Valley Conference title but suffered a late-season 57-45 loss to Grayslake North (19-8), which has never appeared in a regional title game.
Lakes (18-10) will also go for its first regional title at 7:30 p.m. today at Carmel (11-15), which won the last of its nine regional titles in 1992.
Vernon Hills (16-12) also has a long and tough road test at 7:30 p.m. today when it faces Ridgewood in Norridge.