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Class 4A East Aurora sectional
Top four seeds: Benet, West Aurora, Bolingbrook, Hinsdale Central.
Regional hosts: Lemont, Naperville Central, Plainfield East, West Aurora.
Players to watch: Barret Benson, Hinsdale South; Nick Czarnowski, Naperville Central; Aaron Jordan, Plainfield East; Prentiss Nixon, Bolingbrook; Nate Navigato, Geneva; Marquell Oliver, Metea Valley; Sean O'Mara, Benet; Matt Rafferty, Hinsdale Central; Connor Raridon, Neuqua Valley; Jontrell Walker, West Aurora.
Outlook: It's been five years since the top seed won the sectional title in this field. Does that make Benet (19-7) nervous? It shouldn't. The Redwings have the best player in the sectional in 6-foot-9, Xavier-bound O'Mara, who averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds against one of the state's toughest regular-season schedules. A likely Lemont regional final berth awaits against the Waubonsie Valley-Naperville North winner. The Huskies (17-9), winners in eight of their last nine, are a scary team coming off a victory at Naperville Central. Speaking of the fifth-seeded Redhawks, they have the huge advantage of playing at home for the regional. They have the added advantage of a nightmare post matchup for opponents with the 6-6 duo of Nick Czarnowski and Patrick Maloney. The bad news for the Redhawks is that Hinsdale Central could await them in the regional final. The Red Devils (21-6), repeat West Suburban Silver champs, make a strong argument as the sectional's top team with slick 6-7 junior Matt Rafferty. With Jontrell Walker, West Aurora's all-time leading scorer, the Blackhawks clearly have the ability to win the sectional. And as two-time defending sectional champs, West Aurora's still the team to beat. The Plainfield East regional is intriguing with the 10th-seeded host school featuring Illinois-bound Jordan. If Bolingbrook and No. 6 Geneva meet in the final, the winner emerges as a definite contender for the sectional crown.
They said it: "There are numerous teams that could win the sectional," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "The one seed is a nice honor, but we know it means nothing. We also don't feel any pressure because we've been through the ringer this season."
Class 4A Bartlett sectional
Top four seeds: York, Proviso East, Oak Park, Morton.
Regional hosts: Addison Trail, Elk Grove, Leyden, Morton.
Players to watch: Jevon Carter, Proviso East; Simmie Cobbs, Oak Park; Chip Flanigan, Glenbard North; Will Kincanon, Riverside-Brookfield; John Konchar, West Chicago; Harrison Niego, Lyons Twp.; Weisner Perez, Morton; Joe Ranallo, Conant; Frank Toohey, York.
Outlook: At the time of seeding, York (23-5) was a somewhat clear No. 1. On the heels of three straight losses, though, Bartlett's up for grabs. Especially after Morton (19-5) beat the Dukes in a West Suburban Conference crossover on Wednesday. The Dukes, led by Air Force-bound Toohey, are still fully capable of winning the sectional, but the road now becomes much more interesting. It starts in the Addison Trail regional, where a final matchup could await against WSC Silver rival Lyons Twp. Sixth-seeded Glenbard North (20-5), on the heels of claiming a share of its first DuPage Valley Conference since 1991, deserved a higher seed but likely fell victim to block voting by the WSC coaches. The Panthers' senior leader-laden lineup could have a tough regional semifinal game against former DVC rival West Chicago and Konchar, who dropped 45 points on Thursday to become the program's all-time leading scorer. Should Glenbard North survive the semis at Leyden, they could see Oak Park (20-6) in what would be a dynamite regional title game. Although Proviso East (21-6) may not have the power of the past few years, Carter & Co. still have the talent to win a third straight sectional title. An interesting final could await with Riverside-Brookfield at Elk Grove. The most dangerous team in the sectional might be Morton. The Mustangs are even more dangerous as a regional host.
They said it: "That's why the playoffs are so exciting, because anything can happen," said Glenbard North coach Joe Larson. "We're thinking about that first game. That's the only thing you can think about, the game ahead of you in the playoffs."
Class 3A Hampshire sectional
Top four seeds: Kaneland, Marengo, Rockford Lutheran, Sycamore.
Regional hosts: Freeport, Genoa-Kingston, Kaneland, Woodstock.
Players to watch: Gordon Behr, Wheaton Academy; Matt Brachmann, Montini; Kilian Brown, St. Francis; Tyler Carlson, Kaneland; Ryan Cork, Hampshire; Reed Hunnicutt, Burlington Central; Jake Esp, Marmion; Maurice Jackson, Belvidere; Zach Knoblauch, Marengo; Thomas Kopelman, Rockford Lutheran; Tommy Lucca, Genoa-Kingston; Devin Mottet, Sycamore; Ben Niemann, Sycamore; Zach Prociuk, St. Francis; John Pruett, Kaneland; Chaun Rickette, Glenbard South; Josh Ruggles, Wheaton Academy.
Outlook: Were this sectional seeded 1 through 22 Rockford Lutheran (25-3) would be the easy No. 1. The Crusaders, third place in Class 2A in 2012 and headed by 2,000-point guard Kopelman, won both Burlington Central's Strombom Tournament and the small-school bracket at the State Farm tourney in Bloomington. Aside from a loss to Maine South, Rockford Lutheran's losses have been equally impressive -- 72-71 to New Trier, 61-60 to Winnebago, third last year in 2A (the Crusaders went 1-1 vs. Winnebago). Sycamore, 19-7 entering Friday's game against Morris with the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title on the line, has split with 15-9 Kaneland in that league while Marengo (18-10) is 8-3 in the Big Northern West. Wheaton Academy, which lost to both Rockford Lutheran and Belvidere at a Rockford Jefferson MLK event, has the height to match Burlington Central at Genoa but needs grit to surpass Sycamore football stars Niemann and Devin Mottet. If so, they'll face the Woodstock regional winner in a sectional semifinal. Rockford Lutheran, No. 1 at Freeport, would face the Kaneland regional winner and here's where some fun is. St. Francis is 1-1 against likely regional semifinalist Marmion in the Suburban Christian Blue, while Kaneland has wins in hand over St. Francis and Marmion. Glenbard South hopes to reverse losses to St. Francis and Marmion. As Marmion coach Ryan Paradise said: "I expect this regional to be an absolute war."
They said it: "The teams in the conference, you've already played them twice, so playing a team a third time, it's tough. It's sohard to beat a team a third time because teams know each other, and they're very emotional games," said Naperville Central graduate Paradise.
Class 3A Westinghouse sectional
Top four seeds: Orr, St. Joseph, Fenwick, Marshall.
Regional hosts: Farragut, Marshall, Nazareth, St. Joseph.
Players to watch: Arsenio Arrington, Clemente; Tyquone Greer, Orr; Ashawn Jones, Farragut; Scott Lindsey, Fenwick; Connor VanderBrug, Timothy Christian; Glynn Watson, St. Joseph.
Outlook: Tenth-seeded Timothy Christian (16-9) is the lone area team at Westinghouse, which figures to be brutally difficult. The Trojans traditionally have been a Class 2A team, but for the second straight year they're stuck trying to survive with much bigger schools. With VanderBrug, averaging 21.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, Timothy has a player capable of taking over a regional. Unfortunately for the Trojans, that regional happens to be St. Joseph. The second-seeded Chargers are loaded with talent led by Watson, 6-foot-9 Nick Rakocevic and Jordan Ash. A St. Joe's matchup only would happen if the Trojans win their quarterfinal and then semifinal game against Clemente, an underrated Chicago Public League team. While Orr deserves its top seed, Fenwick and Northwestern-bound Lindsey will be tough to stop.
They said it: "Class 3A's a big challenge for us, but we try to get our kids to respect teams, not fear teams," said Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand. "We're going to play some really good teams, but that's what the state tournament's about. Our kids love the challenge."