Two big men playing at an elite level.
Two driven coaches known for getting the most out of their players.
Two rising programs seeking to take the next step.
Those are the similarities between Jacobs (29-1) and Larkin (19-14), teams that otherwise followed divergent paths to the Class 4A Elgin sectional final on Friday at 7 p.m.
Veteran Jacobs, directed by fourth-year coach Jimmy Roberts, was expected to be here, though the Golden Eagles had never previously advanced to a sectional final. The three-time conference champions from the Fox Valley entered the playoffs as the top seed in their sub-sectional. They eased past Streamwood and No. 4 St. Charles North to win a third regional in four seasons and defeated Hononegah 60-55 in Wednesday's sectional semifinal.
Jacobs is led by 6-foot-9, 270-pound senior Cam Krutwig. He paced the Golden Eagles in the semifinal with 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting. Most of the shots he attempted were generated within three feet of the basket. The Loyola-bound big man averages 15.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Junior-laden Larkin, directed by seventh-year coach Deryn Carter, is the sectional surprise. The Royals seek the fifth sectional title in program history and their first since winning a Class AA sectional in 2004-05.
Larkin finished fourth in the seven-team River Division of the Upstate Eight Conference and drew the No. 5 seed in its sub-sectional. The Royals capitalized on homecourt advantage in victories over Elgin, No. 2 Prairie Ridge and Bartlett to win a third regional title in five seasons.
In Tuesday's 62-51 semifinal win over NIC-10 champion Boylan, the Royals used defense to smother the No. 1 seed.
Larkin counters Krutwig with 6-foot-10, 210-pound junior Jalen Shaw, who has emerged as a force in 4 playoff wins, particularly on the boards. Shaw's regular-season rebounding average of 7 per game has ballooned to 13 in the postseason. He registered 17 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks in the semifinal.
"He's staying out of foul trouble and he's rebounding at such a high level," Carter said. "He's just been unbelievable on the glass from the regular season to the postseason. He's rebounding out of his area better than he had been.
"He'll have his hands full Friday night (against Krutwig), but we're not asking just him to do it. He has to stay on the floor, literally and figuratively. He can't get in foul trouble. If that means he has to give up a bucket or two early to stay out of foul trouble, so be it. (Krutwig) is so much bigger so it has to be about foot speed. Jalen has to make him work to catch it, make him score over the top and score at the other end."
Larkin held Boylan to 51 points on 29-percent shooting (17 of 58). The Titans made more 3-point attempts (9) than 2-point attempts (8).
"We practice on defense all the time," Shaw said. "We barely practice on offense."
Larkin guards Kindrel Morris, Kashmir Ivy, Pierre Black and Anthony Lynch scored 43 points combined Tuesday, but the defensive effort they led was more impressive. They collectively harassed Boylan guards into 14 turnovers by pressuring the perimeter and getting into passing lanes.
And they have room to improve, according to their coach.
"I don't think we're playing out of our minds right now," Carter said. "We're just playing really well, which we had the ability to do all year. We're just doing it in longer stretches."
Protecting the ball will be key for Jacobs, which committed 18 turnovers against Hononegah. The job of maintaining possession against Larkin's pressure falls to senior guard Cooper Schwartz, senior forward Mason Materna, junior point guard Nik Balkcom and junior guard Ryan Phillips.
"You just have to handle pressure," Roberts said. "If we can get into the half court and execute our stuff, I think we'll be in good shape."
This is the first sectional final appearance for each coach.
Roberts and the Golden Eagles seek the first boys basketball sectional title in school history.
Carter and the Royals are trying to match their program's deepest tournament incursion, although a win would be the first time since the inception of the four-class system the Royals would reach the Elite Eight.
It will all play out in front of an electric crowd in Elgin's venerable Chesbrough Field House.
"It's going to be fun," Roberts said. "It's a road game. It's basically a home game for them. I mean, it's going to be a crazy environment. We kind of look forward to that. Deryn's going to have them going and flying and pressuring and we're going to have to handle it and compete."
The winner advances to the Sears Centre supersectional on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against either Fremd (29-0) or Conant (27-4).
Class 4A Elgin sectional final
Jacobs (29-1) vs. Larkin (19-14)
When: 7 p.m. Friday at Chesbrough Field House
Road to the Sweet Sixteen: Jacobs defeated Streamwood 47-30 and St. Charles North 55-39 to win the Jacobs regional and Hononegah 60-55 in a sectional semifinal. Larkin defeated Elgin 59-54, Prairie Ridge 50-39 and Bartlett 71-51 to win the Larkin regional and Boylan 62-51 in a sectional semifinal.
Advancement: The winner advances to the Sears Centre supersectional against the winner of Fremd (29-0) vs. Conant (27-4) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Name Ht. Yr. PPG. Pos. Name Ht. Yr. PPG. Pos.
Pierre Black 6-1 So. 9 G Cooper Schwartz 6-0 Sr. 7.9 G
Anthony Lynch 6-3 Jr. 16 G Ryan Phillips 6-3 Sr. 10.8 G
Kindrel Morris 5-8 Jr. 5 PG Nikolas Balkcom 6-2 Jr. 5.6 PG
Isaiah Talley 6-5 Jr. 3 F Mason Materna 6-4 Sr. 7.4 F
Jalen Shaw 6-10 Jr. 14 F/C Cam Krutwig 6-9 Sr. 15.5 F/C