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 Romeoville sectional
Top four seeds: Bolingbrook, West Aurora, Lincoln-Way East, Joliet Central.
Regional hosts: Lemont, Lincoln-Way Central, Oswego East, Plainfield South.
Players to watch: Eric Cannon, Waubonsie Valley; Tyler Cochran, Bolingbrook; Eddie Creal, Romeoville; Ray J Dennis, Oswego East; Camron Donatlan, West Aurora; Dan Gierhahn, Andrew; DeAndre Heckard, Romeoville; Paul O'Leary, Lemont; Zach Parduhn, Lincoln-Way East; Ryan Saunders, Joliet Central; Sam Schultz, Oswego East; Sam Shafer, Lincoln-Way East; Kaleb Thornton, Bolingbrook; Joseph Yesufu, Bolingbrook.
Outlook: Asked to pinpoint Bolingbrook's top players, Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said, "All of them." Earning the No. 1 seed out of the sectional's 22 teams, the Raiders (19-6) return three starters from last season's Class 4A third-place squad and split with the top seed at the Lincoln-Way East regional, No. 3 Lincoln-Way West (21-5). Bolingbrook, in the Lemont regional, earned a mid-January win over prospective sectional semifinal foe No. 4 Joliet Central (21-5). Winner of 13 straight games, No. 2 seed West Aurora (21-4) swept the Upstate Eight Conference's Valley Division led by Wyoming football and track recruit Donatlan, averaging 18.6 points and sitting fourth among Blackhawks all-time scorers. No. 15 Waubonsie Valley (12-17) plays quality teams close and may get a crack at West Aurora in a Plainfield South regional semifinal. No. 18 Neuqua Valley (9-19) drew this southeastern assignment last season and reached a regional final but would have to top Lincoln-Way East to repeat that. No. 7 Andrew (18-8) and No. 5 Oswego East (19-7) enter as sectional dark horses. Of interest at Oswego East is Montini transfer Dennis, who has helped the Wolves win 16 of their last 18 games.
They said it: "The top teams are exceptionally athletic. It's going to be a different style than what we're used to in our league, where teams more grind it out," said Waubonsie Valley coach Jason Mead.
Class 4A Glenbard East sectional
Top four seeds: Naperville North, Benet, Wheaton Warrenville South, Hinsdale South.
Regional hosts: Addison Trail, Bartlett, Hinsdale South, Naperville North.
Players to watch: David Buh, Benet; Zion Griffin, Hinsdale South; Jake Healy, Wheaton Warrenville South; Ethan Helwig, Metea Valley; Sema'j Henderson, Downers Grove North; Chris Johnson, Naperville North; Ethan Schuemer, Willowbrook; Evan Taylor, Glenbard West.
Outlook: Glenbard East is simply one of the deepest sectionals in the state. While only a handful of teams appear capable of winning it with four straight wins, there are a dozen or more capable of pulling off an upset. That'll make regional play especially interesting and create a nice advantage for top-four seeded regional hosts Naperville North and Hinsdale South, which boasts the field's top player in 6-foot-5 Iowa State-bound forward Zion Griffin. He's averaging 21.1 points and 9 rebounds. The Huskies, outright DuPage Valley Conference and last season's sectional champs, boast 6-foot-7 Chris Johnson, 6-6 Tom Welch and a ton of big-game experience. Second-seeded Benet surged in the second half of the season and takes a 14-game winning streak into the playoffs. Wing David Buh and 6-8 sophomore Colin Crothers have led the Redwings to a ninth straight 20-win season. WW South lost its last two DVC games, but don't look past the experience of seniors Jake Healy, Parker Robinson and Chase Stebbins. Just to get to the Bartlett regional final, though, the Tigers may have to beat Wheaton North for a third time in the semis. If you're looking for another good regional semifinal, check out No. 7 Naperville Central vs. No. 10 Glenbard West at Addison Trail. The Hilltoppers quietly put together a 15-win campaign with 6-5 junior Evan Taylor, who's averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. Eleventh-seeded Metea Valley is one of the hotter teams in the sectional. A win over Lake Park sets up the Mustangs against No. 5 Willowbrook, which may have the sectional's most talent. Six-six Ethan Schuemer averages 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds, but six other players have the potential to hit double-figure scoring.
They said it: "It's so deep and balanced, I think there's going to be an upset or two," said Naperville North coach Jeff Powers. "Our kids have played in a bunch of big games and they're ready. They don't get too high or two low. I think that'll be an advantage for us."
Class 4A Riverside-Brookfield sectional
Top four seeds: Curie, Young, Oak Park-River Forest, Fenwick.
Regional hosts: Curie, Fenton, Lane Tech, St. Joseph.
Players to watch: Quinlan Bennett, Proviso East; Jordan Boyd, St. Joseph; Maurice Commander, Curie; Javon Freeman, Young; Isaiah Fuller, Oak Park; Nick Kosich, York; Terrence Shannon, Lincoln Park; D.J. Steward, Fenwick.
Outlook: Bad timing for York to switch sectionals. In recent years the Dukes have been grouped with the teams at Glenbard East, but this season they've been moved east. Instead of being a dark horse threat to win at Glenbard East, the Dukes are stuck in a field with two Chicago powers considered among the favorites to win the Class 4A title. Not only that, York was given the eighth seed and is paired with No. 1 Curie -- at the Curie regional. Getting to that potential regional final won't even be easy because the Dukes face Metro Suburban Conference Blue co-champion Riverside-Brookfield in the semifinals. Honestly, though, there's no place to hide in this sectional. Not with Young, West Suburban Silver champion Oak Park and Fenwick looming in the other three regionals. York is young but doesn't play like it. Juniors Nick Kosich and Erik Cohn have combined for 109 3-pointers. That duo and senior Angelo Martucci all average double figures. The Dukes' ball press defense can be frustrating for opponents, and something that could be an advantage in the regional.
They said it: "We knew going into that sectional we'd be playing somebody good," said York coach Vince Doran. "But that's the way it is in every 4A sectional. We have to accept the challenge and see it as a positive."
-- Dave Oberhelman and Kevin Schmit