None of the 16 teams still alive in the Class 4A boys basketball tournament offer a more compelling back story than South Elgin.
Among the first teams statewide to send a shock wave through this year's bracket, South Elgin (18-14) was a game above .500 when it upset Upstate Eight River champion and No. 1 seed Larkin in a regional semifinal, 71-70 in overtime.
A subsequent victory over St. Charles East earned the eighth-year program its second regional title.
The intrigue deepened Wednesday when it was learned first-year South Elgin coach Matt Petersen was suspended by the IHSA for the rest of the season for a what amounts to a clerical error: playing one too many nontournament games during the regular season.
The Storm looked anything but distracted while sinking 13 of 24 shots from 3-point range in a 71-66 win over Jacobs Wednesday night. In fact, they looked like a team rallying around a cause, which can serve as powerful March motivation.
"It's firing us up," sophomore guard Matt Smith said of the suspension. "We want to do this and keep winning for coach."
To keep the improbable run going, interim coach Steve Szpejnowski and the Storm will have to overcome Rockford Auburn (27-5) at Chesbrough Field House on Friday at 7 p.m.
Auburn makes its third sectional title-game appearance in four seasons. The Knights finished third in Class 4A two years ago, led by Wichita State star Fred VanVleet. Two players from that roster remain. Of the two, only 5-foot-7 guard Philip Trammell saw time in the state semifinal as a reserve in a seven-man rotation. He averages 6.4 points per game as a senior.
The 2013-14 Knights are led by a pair of dynamic juniors in point guard Laytwan Porter (6-0) and guard/small forward Antonine Pittman (6-2).
Porter leads Auburn in scoring (16.4), assists (6.0), steals (3.3), 3-pointers made (68) and 3-pointers attempted (202).
Pittman is no stranger to postseason play. He transferred to Auburn this season from Rockford Jefferson, where last March he helped lead the J-Hawks to a sectional final appearance. District U-46 fans may recall Pittman's 21 points and 5 rebounds against Larkin in a 71-63 sectional semifinal win at DeKalb.
"They are real fast, real athletic and real quick," South Elgin guard Darius Wells said. "They can handle the ball, they can shoot. The can pretty much do it all. We're going to do the best we can to slow them down and try to get them into our game."
Porter, Pittman and 6-foot-2 senior shooting guard Zavious Hoover will enjoy a size advantage against Wells (5-foot-10), senior guard Matt McClure (5-8) and sophomore Matt Smith (5-10), but that's par for the course for the Storm.
"We've been overcoming size all year so from a matchup standpoint that's nothing new to us," Szpejnowski said. "We've definitely seen some teams that are very well coached and have just as much talent as Rockford Auburn. I think we'll be up for the challenge."
A four-year varsity performer, Wells is playing the best basketball of his career at the right time. He scored 26 against Jacobs, powered by 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. In 4 playoff games he has scored 75 points (18.8 ppg) and has drilled 15 3-pointers, including a 30-footer against Jacobs. He also lends leadership to a starting lineup that includes sophomores Smith, Tyler Hankins (6-8) and Jake Amrhein (6-3).
"As of late he's been our best player," Szpejnowski said of Wells. "You win with seniors. They've been around. They've been through it. They rise to the occasion in these big-time, pressure situations. They've seen it before. He is playing the best he has played all year. He's peaking at the right time. I couldn't be happier for him and I couldn't be happier for the guys around him."
Friday's winner advances to the supersectional at NIU's Convocation Center in DeKalb Tuesday at 8 p.m. to play either Stevenson or Fremd. Those two square off Friday for the sectional title at Lake Zurich.