Lisle's boys basketball team got a nice surprise when Class 2A sectional assignments were announced earlier this month.
The Lions got sent west. That last happened in 2003, and Lisle advanced out of the Northern Illinois University supersectional to play Cairo in the state quarterfinals in Peoria.
Lisle (16-11) owns the No. 2 seed in its Seneca subsectional and is the highest seeded team at the Wilmington regional, which begins Monday. Lions coach Mark LaScala's enthusiasm is tempered by what lays ahead.
"I think this is the best opportunity we've had to get out of a regional. It gets pretty tough after that," LaScala said of prospective opponents that could include Illiana Christian, Beecher and, foremost, Bishop McNamara.
"We have to win two games to even worry about it," LaScala said.
Provided Mark McGrath and the Lions win their playoff opener against one of two teams they've already beaten -- Seneca and Wilmington -- another worry could come in the regional final against either Princeton or Reed-Custer. Lisle lost to Princeton at Plano and beat Reed-Custer in Interstate Eight play, each within 8 points.
"One (Princeton) has three big guys, and other makes you run around and play guards," LaScala said.
"Lisle's a tough matchup," said IC Catholic Prep coach T.J. Tyrrell. "McGrath's a good player and a leader. Not having them around is probably a good thing for us and the teams in our regional."
That would be Tyrrell's own IC Catholic Prep regional, which feeds into the Guerin sectional (managed by former Driscoll athletic director Bob Carlson) of the Joliet Central supersectional.
The No. 2-seeded Knights, boosted by the Feb. 7 return of Luke Ricobene from injury, last hosted a regional in 2010 but were eliminated in their first game. This season IC Catholic (18-7) has gone 9-3 at home with wins over Glenbard South, Aurora Central Catholic and, most pertinent, No. 3 seed Timothy Christian (15-9). Joining them in Elmhurst are Guerin, Chicago Academy and No. 5 seed Westmont (10-16).
"To win that regional you're going to have to beat IC at IC, most likely, which will be a great challenge," said Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand, whose most recent regional title came in 2010 at Aurora Christian.
Season results bear out the seeds. IC Catholic beat Timothy Christian 61-46, and Timothy Christian has topped Westmont twice.
Timothy's Joey Davidson and Brandon Orange have a chance to make it three straight in the second of Tuesday's regional semifinals. IC Catholic plays the Guerin-Chicago Academy winner in the first one, 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Similar to Lisle at the Seneca sectional, whoever advances out of IC Catholic has a hard task ahead, probably facing either Uplift or Orr, Nos. 2 and 3 in Class 2A by the Associated Press.
"There is a strong likelihood that the winner of our regional will have to play several state powerhouse teams just to have a chance to advance downstate," said Westmont coach Craig Etheridge, who gets 15 points and 8 rebounds a game from sophomore forward Caden Anderson.
That sure beats the alternative.
"I'd love that opportunity," LeGrand said.
It's not easy breaking into Benet's starting lineup, and it's even harder as a freshman. But that's exactly what 6-foot-7 freshman Colin Crothers managed to do at the beginning of the season.
Now the Redwings will be without their big man for the near future due to a bout of mononucleosis. Coach Gene Heidkamp says it's a week-to-week situation.
"It caught us off guard, obviously," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "It all depends on how he feels, so we plan on treating it very cautiously."
The Redwings (20-6, 4-3 East Suburban Catholic Conference), 20-game winners for the eighth straight season, will lean on their bench depth to fill the void in the middle. Ryan Liszka and Brian Batina are post options and an opportunity to give the team an all-senior lineup. Six-six junior Jack Eschenbach is the team's second-biggest player.
There's also the option for Benet to go with a small lineup depending on the matchup. That'd mean sixth man David Buh, a junior who will see increased court time regardless, playing with Jack Nolan, Liam Lyman, Matt Teglia and Justin Enochs.
Whichever way the Redwings turn, they'll still be among the favorites to win the Class 4A Hinsdale Central sectional title.
"(Crothers is) out indefinitely, but we hope he'll be back soon," Heidkamp said. "Once he's cleared to come back we'll get him going right away."
When Naperville North guard Chris Sullivan injured his ankle in a Jan. 21 win over Evanston, it didn't look good for him or the Huskies.
There's good news on both fronts, however.
Youcef Merabet has done an admirable job stepping up to fill Sullivan's spot in the starting lineup. He scored 20 points against Evanston and has since tallied 14 points in three other games.
The Huskies (20-4, 12-2 DuPage Valley Conference) notched their 14th straight victory with Tuesday's 61-41 win over Naperville Central, and coach Jeff Powers believes Sullivan could be back by the start of the playoffs.
"I couldn't be more proud of Youcef," Powers said. "We always knew he was good offensively. Since that Evanston game he's really been hot."
Sullivan's absence is tough on Naperville North, but it's also giving the Huskies a chance to flash their immense depth. Winston Elston, Tabo Tarun, Scott Smith, Derek Amend and 6-foot-6 sophomore Tom Welch are integral parts of a rotation that typically goes 10 deep.
"I think a lot of teams would love to have our guys on the bench," Powers said. "It's the benefit of having such depth and the benefit of the coaches trusting the players to do the job."
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