The stage is set for Stevenson, Geneva in Peoria
A lot has changed since the IHSA decided 20 years ago to move the boys basketball state tournaments from Champaign to Peoria.
First, the IHSA eventually decided to double the number of champions from two to four. Unfortunately, this also cut the number of people attending the tournament each year.
And now, one of the big issues people are keeping an eye on this weekend is not just what happens on the court in the Peoria Civic Center's Carver Arena on Saturday. That's when the IHSA will decide if the tournaments stay in Peoria for another five years or if they find a new home.
Champaign also wants them back in the renovated Assembly Hall, oops, State Farm Center. And the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates believes it can rekindle the big-school interest by holding the Class 3A and 4A finals in an area closer to most of the bigger schools.
So, all of that is swirling around as we get set to provide you with our 4A and 3A state tourney picks for the eighth time. Two years ago everything was perfect with an 8-0 record but last year it slipped to 5-3. Another drop and there could be rumblings of change in this arena as well.
Bolingbrook (24-6) vs. Stevenson (28-3), 6:30 p.m.
Stevenson and Villanova-bound guard Jalen Brunson are looking for the big finish to a remarkable four-year run that includes 106 wins and only 21 losses, along with second- and third-place state trophies the last two seasons. The Patriots don't just have the state's leading Mr. Basketball candidate in Brunson, who averages 23 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game, they also have one of the top coaches in Pat Ambrose, 6-5 Rice recruit Connor Cashaw (16.3 ppg, 8 rpg) and a budding sophomore star in 6-7 Justin Smith (10.3 ppg).
Matthew Johnson (8.4) is another scoring threat and Parker Nichols does all the little things as he has drawn 40 charging fouls. The Patriots are tested, and not only on the state stage, as two of their losses were in major national events and the other was in the City-Suburban Showdown to Simeon.
Bolingbrook's only state appearance was in 1985 and it didn't appear as if this would be the time to end that drought when it lost three straight games early to drop to 6-5. The Raiders now have won 18 of their last 19 behind Colorado State-bound guard Prentiss Nixon (16.8 ppg) and senior guard Brodric Thomas (11.8 ppg). Six-9 Julian Torres (9.5 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-4 Dmitri Akenten (8.3 ppg, 7 rpg) provide the inside game for the Patriots to contend with.
The pick: Stevenson has been here enough to handle the pressures of the state stage and not look past anyone. The Patriots have seen teams that can shoot 3s and have an inside presence. They'll be moving on to the title game with a 67-51 victory.
Geneva (30-3) vs. Normal Community (32-1), 8:15 p.m.
Will Geneva be affected by a dramatic double-overtime supersectional win over Lake Park to make its first state finals appearance since 1963?
Will Normal be affected by its stunning supersectional upset victory over Simeon as it tries to better its fourth-place finish from 2011?
One thing neither team is usually concerned with is a size disadvantage. Geneva is led by 6-7 Nick Navigato, a Buffalo recruit who averages 20.7 points and 5.5 rebounds and has hit 73 3s. Loudon Vollbrecht (11 ppg, 7 rpg), at 6-8, 300 pounds, is not the only tough matchup with 6-7 Bennett Fuzak, 6-8 Michael Landi and 6-10 Chandler Fuzak all making a big impact. Even the guards are good sized, with Pace Temple running the show and NIU football recruit Daniel Santacanterina at 6-3 and 6-2.
Normal has no one on its roster listed below 6 feet and is led by the 6-7 senior duo of Alex Peacock (14.6 ppg, 7 rpg) and Elon-bound Tyler Seibring (14.4 ppg, 7 rpg, 59 3s). Six-5 Zach Thompson is another outside threat for a team whose lone loss was by 2 points to Rockford Auburn in mid-January.
The pick: One of the common opponents is Geneva did beat Auburn by 3 in the sectional final. But Normal obviously wouldn't feel as if it fears anyone right now after taking out Simeon. The Ironmen advance to their first title game 62-59.
Third-place game, 6:30 p.m.
The pick: Geneva and Bolingbrook are both coming home with state trophies for the first time in the history of their programs. Navigato and crew cap what has been a magical year under former Grant coach Phil Ralston by finishing third with a 66-60 victory.
Championship, 8:15 p.m.
The pick: The matchup that was highly anticipated and widely expected between Stevenson and Simeon didn't happen. But Normal will be out to prove it was overlooked as it tries to play giant-killer once again.
However, only one trophy is missing from completing a perfect set of top four hardware in Lincolnshire. This is also a chance to pull off a historic feat of winning football and basketball state titles in the same year. And Brunson can end his career as one of the top prep players in state history.
The Patriots get a tough test but cement their legacy as the best team in Lake County history with a 70-62 victory.
Morgan Park (22-6) vs. Belleville Althoff (27-3), 12:15 p.m.
Morgan Park is looking for a third straight state title with the dynamic guard duo of senior transfer and high-major recruit Marcus LoVett and Charlie Moore. LoVett has a pair of 39-point games this season and Moore hit for 49 in the season opener. The Mustangs also have size to contend with in a 6-5, 6-7, 6-8 front line.
Althoff displayed its firepower in a 97-95 loss to St. Joseph in early February. Six-3 sophomore Jordan Goodwin averages 19.7 points and nearly 9 rebounds and juniors Tarkus Ferguson (14 ppg) and Brendon Gooch (13.1 ppg) are threats for a team that starts no seniors.
The pick: Althoff's future is bright with only one senior in its top seven. But Morgan Park has been here before and is ready to win now and will do so in this semi 76-66.
St. Joseph (27-6) vs. Rockford Lutheran (29-2), 2 p.m.
The irony to this matchup is St. Joseph and legendary coach Gene Pingatore, who has a state-record 960 wins in 46 seasons, have not been to Peoria since their 1999 state title. Rockford Lutheran is here for the second time in three years under fifth-year coach Tom Guse.
While Pingatore's state champion snuck up on people, this year he has one of his more talented teams in 6-3 Northwestern signee Jordan Ash (15 ppg), 6-foot Nebraska signee Glynn Watson (15 ppg, 4 apg) and 6-11 Nick Rakocevic (13.4 ppg, 10 rpg), who is at the top of the state's junior class with Barrington's Rapolas Ivanauskas.
The Chargers have had their ups and downs and didn't even win their sectional title on the court as North Lawndale was forced by the IHSA to forfeit after a sectional semifinal brawl with Marshall. They came back from the layoff to edge former East Suburban Catholic Conference rival St. Patrick by a point in the supersectional.
Lutheran has played and beaten 4A schools and is led by 6-1 senior Joe Kellen (18 ppg, 76 3s) and 6-4 Nate Wieting (14.4 ppg, 8 rpg). Junior James Robinson, a standout running back, also starts at guard.
The pick: St. Joseph just has too much here for Lutheran and advances with a 69-47 victory.
Third-place game, 12:15 p.m.
The pick: In the old Elite Eight, two-class format, there was always the disappointing possibility of being one-and-done with a quarterfinal loss. In the Final Four, four-class era, two teams will leave Peoria with a trophy but also without enjoying a victory during the entire weekend.
That's the dilemma Lutheran wants to avoid for the second straight year. But the first trophy in program history for Althoff will be for third after an 82-70 victory.
Championship, 2 p.m.
The pick: If you enjoy excellent, talented guard play then this is a tremendous matchup with LoVett and Moore of Morgan Park taking on Ash and Watson of St. Joseph. But Rakocevic will be the X-factor to give Ping his second ring as the Chargers win 66-63.
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.