The IHSA Class 3A and 4A boys basketball playoffs begin Monday and DuPage County's competitors figure to be major players in the quest to reach the state tournament next month in Peoria.
Here's a preview of what to expect from the area's teams in the next few weeks.
Class 4A Hinsdale Central sectional
Top four seeds: Wheaton Warrenville South, Geneva, Benet, Naperville North.
Regional hosts: Batavia, Downers Grove North, West Chicago, York.
Players to watch: Denis Alibegovic, Downers Grove South; Luke Anthony, Wheaton North; Tai Bibbs, West Chicago; T.J. Clifford, Downers Grove South; Dillon Durrett, Wheaton Warrenville South; Jordan Gray, York; Zion Griffin, Hinsdale South; Jack Hoiberg, Hinsdale Central; Jeremy Hunter, Metea Valley; Bryan Jakobsze, Downers Grove North; Mitch Lewis, Naperville North; Liam Lyman, Benet; Cole Navigato, Geneva; Jack Nolan, Benet; Ethan Schuemer, Willowbrook; Michael Williams, Addison Trail.
Outlook: Is it possible for a sectional to be top-heavy and deep at the same time? We'll find out at Hinsdale Central. WW South (27-1) is fresh off an unbeaten romp through the DuPage Valley Conference and rides a 14-game winning streak thanks to a team-first approach headed by Dillon Durrett, averaging 17 points. Geneva (27-2) was unbeaten until back-to-back losses last weekend. Benet (22-6), riding an eight-game winning streak, notched its eighth straight 20-win season against one of the state's toughest schedules. The Redwings aim for a second straight sectional title behind a senior-dominated lineup with a combined 33 points a game from Nolan and Lyman. If a regional final between fourth and fifth seeds Naperville North (21-5) and Willowbrook (24-4) develops at Batavia, watch out. Seeing Lewis and Chris Johnson face Schuemer and the Warriors would be something to see. The sectional's depth comes from the middle of the pack. Between No. 6 Wheaton North (21-6), featuring third-year guard Anthony, No. 7 Downers North (19-7), No. 8 Downers South (18-11), No. 9 Hinsdale Central (15-11) and No. 10 Hinsdale South (17-11), you've got several teams capable of not only an upset but possibly making a run at the sectional title. A regional final between WW South and Downers South -- with Alibegovic and Clifford -- would not be a typical No. 1 vs. No. 8 game given the Mustangs' talent. The sectional's top player might be West Chicago's Bibbs, still weighing Division I college offers while pouring in 26.7 points a game. That's another team the top-seeded Tigers might have to beat -- on the Wildcats' home court.
They said it: "I believe there is no deeper sectional," said WW South coach Mike Healy. "To win it a team is going to have to beat four or five really good, dangerous teams."
Class 4A Robert Morris University sectional
Top four seeds: Fremd, Conant, Prospect, Lake Zurich.
Regional hosts: Hoffman Estates, Lake Zurich, Palatine, Prospect.
Players to watch: Zach Beaugureau, Cary-Grove; Mac Camardo, Buffalo Grove; Joe Coffaro, Hersey; James Connolly, Grayslake North; Ryan Davis, Conant; Peter DiCerbo, Lake Zurich; Garrett Fant, Lake Park; John Kerr, Grant; Frankie Mack, Prospect; Gavin Markgraff, McHenry; Jared Murphy, Rolling Meadows; Jackson Perkins, Barrington; Luke Schoffstall, Fremd; Kyle Sliwa, Fremd; Jimmy Sotos, Conant; Matt Szuba, Prospect.
Outlook: The top three seeds from the Mid-Suburban League -- Fremd (26-0), Conant (23-4) and Prospect (22-5) -- are the clear-cut favorites in this top-heavy field. With Sliwa, Sotos and Mack, each of the three has a guard who can carry their respective team to a sectional title. That's not the best news for Lake Park (12-14), the 11th seed that must beat No. 22 Elk Grove and No. 6 Buffalo Grove just for the chance to beat Prospect on its home court in a regional final. The Lancers have been up and down all season, but Fant has been a consistent standout while averaging 18.6 points. They'll need big efforts from complementary players like Andrew Vega and Diamante Smith to survive a tough draw. The good news is that 16 grueling games in the DuPage Valley Conference has Lake Park prepared for anything.
They said it: "(The DVC) really has gotten us tested for the playoffs," said Lake Park coach Josh Virostko. "Because of that grind we have to be ready every night. We know we have to play very well, but there's nobody outside of our league that's going to scare us."
Class 4A Lincoln-Way East sectional
Top four seeds: Bolingbrook, Joliet West, Joliet Central, Minooka.
Regional hosts: Joliet Central, Plainfield Central, Plainfield North, Sandburg.
Players to watch: Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook; Trevian Bell, Joliet West; Malik Binns, Bolingbrook; Sedrick Brooks, Plainfield Central; Jonny Butler, Minooka; Camron Donatlan, West Aurora; Jose Grubbs, Joliet Central; Stephen Harris, Oswego East; DeAndre Heckard, Romeoville; Jaylen Jones, Oswego; Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West; Blaise Meredith, Neuqua Valley; Marco Pettinato, Lincoln-Way West; P.J. Pipes, Lemont; Sam Shafer, Lincoln-Way East; Caleb Siler, West Aurora; Matt Smietanski, Lockport; Joseph Yesufu, Bolingbrook.
Outlook: Led by Nebraska-bound guard Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook (24-1) trails only Edwardsville in The Associated Press Class 4A rankings. The Raiders, tourney winners at both Decatur and Hinsdale Central, finished third in 4A in 2015 and have lost only to No. 6 Lincoln-Way East, 65-64 on Feb. 17, playing without 6-7 forward Malik Binns. This top-heavy sectional's Nos. 2-4 seeds -- Joliet West (23-5), Joliet Central (21-5) and Minooka (21-8), all from the Southwest Prairie Conference -- comprised three-fourths of the 2016 Lockport sectional finalists, with Joliet West advancing downstate. Experienced, No. 9-ranked Joliet West lost to Bolingbrook, Simeon and Bloom but beat Curie at Pontiac; Joliet Central won the large-school division at Bloomington behind Jose Grubbs. Coach Todd Sutton of No. 13 seed Neuqua Valley (13-15) said Minooka's versatile 1,000-point scorer Jonny Butler may be the sectional's top player. If seeds play out Butler may be in a tough Plainfield North regional final against Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division winner No. 5 seed West Aurora (19-8), led by defending state high jump champion Camron Donatlan.
They said it: "We're even-steven with Plainfield East and whoever plays best wins," said Sutton, focusing solely on the Plainfield North regional. "The second game will be a little more difficult, but there's a chance, we've got a shot. We'll show up to play and hope to win."
Class 4A Proviso East sectional
Top four seeds: Curie, Whitney Young, Kenwood, Oak Park.
Regional hosts: Curie, Fenton, Proviso West, Whitney Young.
Players to watch: Tyler Chisom, Proviso East; Jalen Clanton, Riverside-Brookfield; Javon Freeman, Whitney Young; Elijah Joiner, Curie; Bryan Larsen, Fenton; Trey Mack, St. Ignatius; Kendall Mathis, Schurz; Stone Parker, De La Salle; Manny Patterson, Kenwood; Allante Pickens, Curie; Xavier Pinson, St. Patrick; Jared Scott, Oak Park; Jason Tower, St. Joseph; Dontario Ward, Proviso West; Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young.
Outlook: Chicago Public League Tournament semifinalists Curie and Whitney Young are here. No. 1 seed Curie (23-3) is the defending 4A champion while Whitney Young (20-7), featuring Proviso West Holiday Tournament MVP Lucas Williamson, owns two of the CPL's seven 4A titles since the series expanded in 2008. As at Class 4A Hinsdale Central, this sectional is strong up top with Kenwood (19-7) and West Suburban Conference and Silver Division winner Oak Park (21-6) -- which heads the Fenton regional -- and yet also deep. For example, No. 12 Schurz has won 21 games. No. 5 St. Patrick (19-8) challenged early in the East Suburban Catholic Conference; physical No. 8 De La Salle (16-10) comes out of the Chicago Catholic League. Retiring coach Tom McCloskey, formerly at Montini, hopes No. 15 Riverside-Brookfield (11-15) catches fire at Whitney Young; 2014 Class 3A winner and No. 6 seed St. Joseph (16-11) rolled to second in the CCL tournament behind 1,000-game winner Gene Pingatore. On Monday No. 18 Fenton (8-18) hosts No. 13 Prosser (12-15).
They said it: "It's loaded," said Fenton coach Chaz Taft. "Out of our sectional I think we definitely have a team that's going to make it out of our sectional downstate. Those games in our sectional, it prepares you for what's down there."
Class 3A Genoa-Kingston sectional
Top four seeds: Burlington Central, Rochelle, Aurora Central Catholic, Marengo.
Regional hosts: Marmion, Richmond-Burton, Rochelle, Sycamore.
Players to watch: Charlie Bair, Glenbard South; Blaine Bayer, Richmond-Burton; Brett Czerak, Aurora Central; Kyle Czerak, Aurora Central; Sam Doroff, Marmion; Blake Feiza, Kaneland; Bailey Foley, Genoa-Kingston; Caleb Gould, Rochelle; J.D. Gunn, Wheaton Academy; TaVontae Harris, Burlington Central; Andrew Harvey, St. Francis; Justin McNeal, Genoa-Kingston; Jack Mizgalski, Sycamore; Jack Moscinski, Marian Central; Joey Ratzek, Burlington Central; Austin Revolinski, Belvidere; Zach Schutta, Burlington Central; Zach Toussaint, Johnsburg; Mike Volkening, Marengo; Brandon Whiteside, Glenbard South; Jayston Williams, Montini.
Outlook: This sectional is split into subsectionals with No. 4 seed Glenbard South, No. 6 St. Francis, No. 7 Montini and No. 10 Wheaton Academy grouped into "Subsectional A," all playing at Marmion along with one of the No. 1 seeds, Burlington Central (25-3). Rochelle (19-7) and Marengo (21-7) are Nos. 1-2 in "Subsectional B" encompassing schools farther northwest; each of the 11-team groups feeds into the Northern Illinois University supersectional. Burlington Central, paced by 1,000-point scorer Zach Schutta, has been the sole Class 3A team ranked by the Daily Herald all season. The Rockets, without a regional title since 2008, won two of three games against Marengo and 25-point scorer Volkening, and split with 17-12 Richmond-Burton to win the title of the Kishwaukee River Conference. The Rockets also beat 19-7 Rochelle early on, but haven't faced the rest of the teams at the Marmion regional. This could prove interesting because despite carrying losing records one way or another even No. 9 seed Marmion (5-22) is tested. Glenbard South (12-14) returns 6-6 double-double deliverer Charlie Bair and junior guard Brandon Whiteside from a team that last season advanced to the Woodstock North sectional championship. Along with Marmion, both No. 6 St. Francis (11-16) and No. 7 Montini (10-16) have been hardened playing in the physical Chicago Catholic League North against the likes of Fenwick, DePaul and Loyola. St. Francis, which opens Monday against No. 10 Wheaton Academy (6-20), has been tested by a string of close games. Montini recently beat No. 2 seed Aurora Central Catholic, which won a share of the Metro Suburban Blue, its first conference title since 2009. The Chargers (20-6), hitting more than 200 3-pointers this season, are led by guard Brett Czerak, who averages 26 points and is the program's all-time scoring leader. ACC is the top seed at Sycamore and will presumably vie for the regional title with Genoa-Kingston, which drew a No. 3 seed despite a 16-12 overall record and third-place share in the Big Northern Conference. Rochelle likewise finished third in the Northern Illinois Big 12 West, but behind tough Sterling and Ottawa. Unfortunately, Burlington Central coach Brett Porto said two of the sectional's top players -- Richmond-Burton's Joey St. Pierre and Genoa-Kingston's Zach Miller -- are out for the rest of the year with injuries, and Montini's 17-point scorer Williams also missed the Broncos' last two games, though Thomas expects him to play Monday.
They said it: "I think our subsectional is pretty much wide-open," said Glenbard South coach Wade Hardtke. "Burlington Central is the front-runner but (Aurora Central Catholic) is the No. 2 seed and we split with them in the regular season. We've got the winner of Wheaton Academy and St. Francis and I think both of those are tough matchups. I would say Burlington Central is probably the clear front-runner, but after that it's anybody's game."