Each year when pairings are released for the IHSA boys basketball tournament one regional is singled out as the "regional of death" due to the impressive records of the schools assigned.
That's the proper label for this week's six-team Class 4A Larkin regional, thanks to a field with a 103-62 combined record (.624 winning percentage).
The action begins Monday with an Elgin Area District U-46 rivalry doubleheader, beginning with No. 6 Bartlett (16-11) vs. No. 7 South Elgin (18-9) at 6 p.m.
No. 5 Larkin (15-14) squares off with No. 8 Elgin (16-13) at approximately 7:30 p.m.
A regional semifinal doubleheader follows on Tuesday with No. 2 St. Charles East (18-8) taking on the Bartlett-South Elgin winner before No. 3 Prairie Ridge (20-7) plays the Elgin-Larkin winner.
"Every team in our regional has a winning record," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "Every one of them is good. There are no easy games."
The brutal field at Larkin creates an imbalance within sub-sectional A of the Elgin sectional. The other regional at Jacobs isn't nearly as challenging beyond the top two teams. Top seed Jacobs (26-1) awaits the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 10 Streamwood (7-23) and No. 11 Crystal Lake South (10-17). No. 4 St. Charles North (18-8) plays the second semifinal against No. 9 Crystal Lake Central (9-17).
"I think it's extremely odd," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "A nine-seed in Crystal Lake Central has to win one game to get into a regional championship and a five, six, seven, eight like Larkin, Bartlett and South Elgin (and Elgin) have to win two games to get there. It doesn't make sense."
The pairings pit four of the five U-46 teams against each other for a third time this season. Bartlett swept two games from South Elgin by 12 and 11 points, respectively, but the Storm won 10 of their last 13 outings.
"It's always tough to play a team a third time, especially if you won the first two," Wolfsmith said. "To draw a team like South Elgin that beat West Chicago handily (Tuesday) night, drawing a team that good in a first-round play-in game? That's pretty rough, so we know we have our work cut out for us. It certainly will be a festive atmosphere."
Larkin swept two games from Elgin, winning both by 23 points to extend its winning streak against the Maroons to a series record 12 straight. However, Elgin has won 4 of its last 5.
The doubleheader features seven players named all-Upstate Eight: Bartlett's Ben Tompson, Austin Gates and Ben Fisher; South Elgin guard Logan Atkins; Elgin center Courtese Cooper; and Larkin guards Kashmir Ivy and Anthony Lynch. St. Charles East's Justin Hardy was named UEC River player of the year.
At Jacobs, Cameron Krutwig and the Golden Eagles seek their third regional title in four years under fourth-year coach Jimmy Roberts. If seeds hold, they would face St. Charles North in Friday's regional championship game. The North Stars recently saddled UEC River champion Geneva with its first loss after 26 victories.
Jacobs isn't looking past Tuesday's potential semifinal opponents, however.
"Even though we're at home and we're either going to play a conference team or a Streamwood team we watched beat Grant at Christmastime, our focus has be singular," Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts said. "Focus on the task at hand and literally take one at a time. That's the beauty of the state tournament; you can have some great, great moments or you can be home night one."
Hampshire (7-21) is the No. 9 seed in sub-sectional B of the Elgin sectional. The Whip-Purs play No. 7 Belvidere North (5-22) on Monday at 6 p.m. No. 10 Huntley (7-21) plays the second game of that doubleheader against No. 6 Rockford Jefferson (16-13).
Fellow Fox Valley Conference members Cary-Grove (14-12) and Dundee-Crown (4-22) open play Monday in doubleheader action at the Lake Zurich regional within the Robert Morris University sectional.
D-C plays No. 14 Wheeling (10-16) at 6 p.m., followed by Cary-Grove vs. No. 21 Round Lake (3-22). D-C would advance to a semifinal against No. 4 Lake Zurich (18-11). Cary-Grove would play No. 5 Grant (19-8).
Geneva (27-2) spent the season playing nonconference games and tournaments against teams from the western edge of the suburbs only to be shipped east to the Hinsdale Central sectional by the IHSA.
The Upstate Eight River champs draw the No. 2 sectional seed overall. They open the playoffs Tuesday at the Downers Grove North regional against the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 16 Lyons (13-13) and No. 18 Glenbard North (12-14). The Vikings would face host Downers Grove North (19-7) for the title if seeds hold.
The top seed in the Hinsdale Central sectional is DuPage Valley Conference champion Wheaton Warrenville South (27-1). Benet Academy (22-6) is No. 3 followed by No. 4 Naperville North (21-5).
"I think the fact that we are maybe not as familiar with those teams is equaled out by the fact those teams don't really know us very well," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "I think our sectional is maybe not at the top echelon, but from top to bottom is one of the toughest sectionals in the state. Day one it's game on. You're in survival mode."
Batavia (14-15), the No. 13 seed at Hinsdale Central, opens the playoffs Monday on its home floor against No. 20 Metea Valley (9-19). The Bulldogs would face Naperville North in a Tuesday semifinal if they advance.
Upstate Eight Valley champion West Aurora (19-8) earned the No. 5 seed in the Lincoln-Way East sectional behind No. 1 Bolingbrook (24-1), Joliet West (23-3), Joliet Central (21-5) and Minooka (21-8).
The Blackhawks, at full strength for the first time in weeks, have won 4 of their last 5 games. They open the postseason Wednesday in a Plainfield North regional semifinal against the winner of Monday's game between No. 12 Andrew (13-13) and No. 21 Plainfield North (5-19).
"I don't know who's going to win that game," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "We have some video on each team so we'll see what happens. We'll see them next week. Who knows? It's the state tournament. You don't know who's going to win, that's for sure."
In Class 3A, Burlington Central (25-3) and Aurora Central Catholic (20-6) are the top two seeds in sub-sectional A of the Genoa-Kingston sectional, followed by No. 3 Genoa-Kingston (16-12) and No. 4 Glenbard South (12-14).
Last season the Rockets entered the playoffs with the same 25-3 record, but were knocked off in a regional final by Glenbard South. The Raiders rallied from a 9-point deficit in the final three minutes to win 60-57. The same teams could meet again in the Marmion regional championship game if seeds hold.
"I think our kids would like that opportunity," Central coach Brett Porto said. "They have been chomping at the bit for the last four or five weeks. Everything has been in preparation for this and I think they're really ready to go."
No. 9 Marmion (5-22) opens the regional against No. 7 Montini (10-22) on Monday at 6 p.m. Montini defeated the Cadets 83-73 on Dec. 9. The winner plays Burlington Central in a semifinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
-- Steve Nichols contributed to this report