It is go time.
As in win or go home time for our local high school basketball teams that begin Illinois High School Association Class 4A and 3A regional tournament action this week.
At St. Charles North, defending champion Larkin (23-4) is the team to beat in a 6-team regional field that includes the host North Stars (16-9), St. Charles East (16-11), Elgin (10-16), South Elgin (14-14) and Streamwood (2-27).
Led by guards Kendale McCullum, Derrick Streety and 6-5 forward Andrew Jones, the Royals recently posted their first undefeated season in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
Larkin owns a 10-0 mark in head-to-head games against the rest of the regional field.
However, the Royals have been pushed to the brink in both of their meetings with Elgin (71-67 and 59-56 wins) and could face the Maroons a third time if Elgin beats fifth-seeded South Elgin Monday night.
What will it take to knock off Larkin?
"You've got to force them to play half-court basketball on offense and limit their runs," said St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin. "It's about getting high percentage shots and taking what they give you."
When Larkin needs to make a big play, McCullum is the likely candidate to do so.
"I think he's the best player in the conference and the best on- and off-the-ball defender in the area," said Poulin.
"You've got to minimize mistakes (against Larkin)," said St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods. "You've got to do the little things well like get loose balls and rebounds and you've got to be able to get (defensive) stops. Stops are crucial."
The third-seeded Saints, who begin postseason play Monday night against Streamwood, may be playing their best basketball.
Winners of their last 4, the Saints also are getting healthy again. Senior leading scorer Dom Adduci (20 ppg) expects to play against the Sabres after missing some time this past week with a sprained ankle.
"We were challenged a few weeks ago against Larkin and Geneva and our weaknesses were exposed," said Woods. "We've had three weeks to work on them."
When the Saints are at their best, they take care of the ball, hit 3-pointers and crash the boards.
"Obviously offense has been a strength for us all year," said Woods, whose team is fueled by Adduci, Cole Gentry, A.J. Washington, Jake Asquini, James McQuillan and Mick Vyzral.
Gentry, a 5-11 junior guard, can pose a matchup problem for most opponents with his electrifying quickness.
"I'll take my two (guards) against any of those guys any day," Woods said of the Larkin and St. Charles North backcourts. "I think we're right there with them."
The second-seeded North Stars, looking for their first regional title since 2009, counter with a strong backcourt of their own in Alec Goetz and Jake Ludwig -- to go along with jack-of-all-trades junior Jack Callaghan.
"I think we've got three of the better backcourts in the state in our regional," said Poulin.
St. Charles North lost its last 2 regular-season games, including an 89-82 decision against West Chicago last Thursday.
"We played with low intensity," admitted Poulin. "We had a long talk after the game as a group. At this point of the year, it's about getting reinvigorated."
The underdog role fits the North Stars well.
"The variable most important for this group seems to be when it is intent on proving something," said Poulin. "We've played our best basketball when we've focused on a goal like proving people wrong."
A third St. Charles East-St. Charles North clash is likely to take place in Wednesday's regional semifinals.
"Whoever shoots better from the perimeter has the best chance of winning," said Poulin, whose team split its previous meetings with the Saints.
St. Charles East hasn't won a regional crown since 2007.
"It's time to shine," said Woods. "It's going to be a challenge but it's going to be fun."
Fun is something that Geneva (22-5) has enjoyed throughout the season.
Led by junior guard/forward Nate Navigato, the Vikings earned the No. 6 seed in the 23-team East Aurora sectional complex that includes No. 2 West Aurora (21-5) and No. 19 Batavia (7-17).
"It's certainly the best seeding we've had since I've been at Geneva," said Vikings coach Phil Ralston, whose team opens play Wednesday against either 10th-seeded Plainfield East or 22nd-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South at the Plainfield East regional.
How strong is the sectional complex?
Benet, West Aurora, Bolingbrook and Hinsdale Central are the top 4 seeds. Despite winning 19 games, Plainfield North is the 11th seed while No. 12 Metea Valley owns a 15-12 record.
"It is a buzzsaw," admitted Ralston.
Flying under the radar at times, the Vikings will be seeking its first regional title since 1986.
"I'm not crying poor or anything but we're one of the smallest schools in the sectional," said Ralston.
Team basketball is something that Ralston has always preached -- and it suits this team perfectly.
Chris Parrilli, Cam Cook, Justin Durante, Pace Temple, Mike Landi, Loudon Vollbrecht and Navigato provide the Vikings with a balanced attack.
"I really have seven starters on this team," said Ralston. "That has been a big part of our success this year. As a team, we're shooting 50 percent from the floor. We have four guys shooting better than 50 percent and two of them are guards. We have five kids with 50-plus assists. I've never had a team do that. They're truly unselfish basketball players who only care about winning."
Ralston's teams also stress defense.
"If you do play great defense, you can survive a bad shooting night and give yourself a chance to stay in the game," said the coach.
What would a regional championship mean?
"It would be like winning a national title for these guys," said Ralston. "It has been 28 years."
"It would mean an awful lot for this group of seniors," said Poulin. "It would provide a storybook ending for them."
In Class 3A, top-seeded Kaneland (16-9) will host a 6-team regional field that includes St. Francis (15-9), Marmion (14-14), Glenbard South (15-11) and Aurora Central Catholic (3-19).
There is no clear-cut favorite between the familiar foes.
"All of our teams in the regional played each other throughout the year," said Marmion coach Ryan Paradise, whose team could face St. Francis for a third time Wednesday night. "It should be wild because everybody is so evenly matched. We split with (St.) Francis, Kaneland beat us by two and they beat Francis, and Glenbard South is right there."
The list of top players includes Kaneland's John Pruett, Tyler Carlson and Drew David; St. Francis' Zach Prociuk, Adam Hart and Kilian Brown; and Marmion's Jake Esp, Jordan Glasgow and Michael Sheehan.
There could be several dramatic finishes this week in Maple Park.
"It's going to come down to who makes the plays and maybe catches a break or two," said Paradise.
"It is going to be very difficult to win the regional," said Kaneland coach Brian Johnson, whose team will face either Glenbard South or ACC Tuesday night. "Hopefully we can protect our home floor."
It is go time.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org