Boys basketball teams throughout the state have been competing and improving since before Thanksgiving with IHSA tournament glory in mind.
Come Monday, the glory days begin, starting with the Class 1A and Class 2A boys tournaments.
The Class 1A bracket holds intrigue, particularly the Pecatonica sectional in which Elgin rivals Harvest Christian Academy (23-4) and Westminster Christian (17-9) enter as the top two seeds in subsectional A, respectively.
Harvest Christian is the Northeastern Athletic Conference champion for the first time after running undefeated through the 11-game slate, including a 66-57 victory at Westminster Christian on Tuesday. The Warriors finished fourth in the NAC (8-3).
The Lions score 76.3 points per game, led by 6-foot-4 senior Brennen Woods, whose recent scoring surge upped his average to 20.1 points per game to go with 9.9 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.8 assists.
Sophomore guard Andre White, Jr. leads the Fox Valley area with 8.2 assists per game. Listed at 5-foot-9, White, Jr. is the team's third-leading rebounder with 8.6 per game while averaging 15.1 points.
The Lions closed the regular season Friday with a 63-59 win against Schaumburg Christian (13-8). Junior guard JJ Flores (15.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.8 apg) did not play due to an ejection against Westminster. He's expected back Wednesday when the Lions travel to the Lena-Winslow regional to play the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 7 Dakota and No. 8 Pecatonica. The Lions would face a rematch against Schaumburg Christian in Friday's final if the regional plays out as seeded.
"Everything we did before doesn't mean anything," Harvest Christian coach Andre White, Sr. said. "I still want our guys to feel like the underdogs even though the media and the record and everything shows that we're the No. 1 seed. At the same time, we still haven't accomplished anything yet."
Westminster Christian has won three straight Class 1A regional titles. The Warriors get to compete for their fourth in a row on their home floor as regional host. One of their guests will be No. 13 Elgin Academy (4-17), which faces No. 3 Orangeville in a play-in game on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Westminster Christian opens the postseason Wednesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 9 Hiawatha and No. 11 Alden-Hebron.
Westminster is led by 6-5 junior forward Ben Versylus (16.1 ppg), 6-5 senior center Caleb Thomas (11.2 ppg) and 5-11 senior guard Scott Graziano (10.4 ppg, 4 apg).
The Warriors ended a 5-game skid Friday night with a 72-43 win against Hinckley-Big Rock. It marked the first time since the holidays coach Andy Zielinski's entire seven-man rotation was healthy at once.
"I definitely think we're the best team in that regional," Zielinski said. "We just have to play well."
Harvest Christian and Westminster Christian would meet in a sectional final if both advance that deeply. "The Harvest game showed that we can compete with them," Zielinski said.
Aurora Christian (18-8) finished tied for second in the NAC. Now, the Eagles have a chance to make a deep postseason run in Class 1A after reaching a Class 2A supersectional last season. They were named the No. 2 seed out of 14 teams in subsectional B of the Somonauk sectional.
Leading scorer Jake Wolfe and the surging Eagles open tournament play Wednesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 7 Somonauk and No. 11 Yorkville Christian. Aurora Christian has won 10 of its last 11 games and would likely meet No. 3 Serena (20-7) or No. 5 Mooseheart (12-9) in the final.
"I think it's a good draw," Aurora Christian coach Dan Beebe said. "I like the route that we have. The competition level we've played all year has hopefully made us ready for a good run in the state series."
In Class 2A, St. Edward (13-15) is the No. 4 seed in subsectional A of the Guerin sectional. To win a regional, the Green Wave will have to beat the top seed in subsectional A, host Northridge Prep (21-5), on its home court in Niles.
Northridge Prep and St. Edward used to play an annual nonconference game. Ironically, Northridge Prep discontinued the series a few years ago to schedule schools it felt it was more likely to face in the playoffs, St. Edward coach P.J. White said.
The Green Wave boast the Fox Valley area's leading scorer in Kelvin Cortez-Harvey. The senior guard averages 27.2 points per game. He'll try to lead St. Edward past No. 6 Disney (8-3) in Wednesday's semifinal.
"You have to peak at the right time or your going home," White said. "That's what we're preaching to the kids. It's put up or shut up. If you don't win, you're going home. We're concentrating on peaking at the right time."