Can anyone beat Glenbard West? It'll be a tall task
The Illinois High School Association boys basketball tournament will feature a completely new look this weekend. The three-day, four-class system is part of the changes, with Saturday serving as a championship day for all four classes.
Also, the State Farm Center is the new home for the tourney, a return of sorts after Peoria hosted the tournament since 1995. Sixteen games will be played in three days, including two area schools vying for the first state championship in their program history.
Young (24-9) vs. Barrington (28-4)When: Friday at 2:30 p.m.
Outlook: Barrington's first semifinal appearance in program history pits the Broncos against one of the elite teams in the state. Young, led by coach Tyrone Slaughter, is one of the best programs in the country, annually producing elite college-level players. Under Slaughter, the Dolphins have won three 4A state titles and placed second twice since 2009.
The Dolphins are one of the most talented teams in the state, but lack the firepower of past teams. Senior guard AJ Casey, a Miami recruit, is a force on both ends, averaging 10.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in the Dolphins' balanced attack. Six-foot-8 forward Xavier Amos, a Northern Illinois recruit, leads the Dolphins in scoring at 11.4 points and junior guard Dalen Davis is averaging 10.5 points. The status of Young guard Marcus Pigram is unknown after he injured his ankle in the sectional finals. Slaughter said the 74-59 blowout loss to Glenbard West in January shaped his team.
"That may have been what has catapulted us to where we are today," he said. "From that point on, our season changed. The kids became humbled by what they saw. They didn't like it, and decided to change."
The Broncos lack the state experience of the Dolphins, but enter with plenty of confidence, especially after knocking off No. 2-ranked Glenbrook South in the supersectional. The Broncos controlled the tempo and led for double digits for most of the game.
The Broncos can counter Young's height with 6-10 senior center Nate Boldt and 6-6 forward Will Grudzinski. Boldt, an Illinois Wesleyan recruit, said the Broncos are riding the momentum of a 15-game winning streak.
"We're excited for playing at state, and we've been playing well as a team," Boldt said. "We share the ball and everybody is unselfish."
Grudzinski, who's averaging a team-high 19.1 points and made 95 3-pointers, is a player to watch. The Washington University (St. Louis) recruit can stretch the floor with his shooting, opening up driving lanes for Daniel Hong and Evan Jno-Baptiste.
Hong's solid play on both ends, in particularly handling the ball against pressure, is another key element in Barrington's run to the State Farm Center. Hong, a senior point guard, scored a career-high 32 points in the sectional overtime win over Libertyville.
"Daniel is really talented and can score the ball and is unselfish as our point guard," Barrington coach Bryan Tucker said. "He's a really heady kid and a gym rat. Evan Jno-Baptiste is the heart and soul of the team ... He has a sense for the big moment."
Tucker said his team is motivated to build on their success this weekend.
"We kind of feel we do get overlooked at times, but it doesn't really bother us," he said. "We step on the floor, and if people don't know us, it's our opportunity to earn some respect."
Bolingbrook (30-6) vs. Glenbard West (35-1)When: Friday at 4 p.m.
Outlook: The Hilltoppers have yet to lose a game to a team from Illinois this season, and they hope to end the season the same way. The Hilltoppers are a team of destiny, defeating teams with ease and recording blowout win after blowout win. With five Division-I players in their starting lineup to go with a stifling 1-3-1 defense, the Hilltoppers are the odds-on favorite to raise the 4A trophy on Saturday night.
Since losing 67-64 on a buzzer-beater to Sierra Canyon at Wintrust Arena on Feb. 5, the Hilltoppers have won nine straight games by double digits, including a 60-34 romp over Larkin in the supersectional.
Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost even joked about the task of getting his team ready to face the Hilltoppers.
"I would rather be playing the Lakers than Glenbard West," Brost said. "We could back off Russell Westbrook, let him shoot it and get some rebounds. There is not a guy on the Glenbard West roster we can do that to.
"We know the entire town of Glen Ellyn will be there on Friday afternoon. There will be 15 of us and 1,5000 people from Glen Ellyn. We're going to give it a shot, and see what we can do. We don't have a superstar player. We do it by committee. We have really good players that play together really well. We had eight different leading scorers in the 16-game winning streak."
The Raiders do have one edge over the Hilltoppers -- state experience. Brost has built a strong program in his tenure, leading the Raiders to a third-place finishes in 4A in 2015 and 2017.
The Hilltoppers are playing for more than just their first state title, but can add their team to the list of the best all-time teams in state history.
Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka admitted it's been a challenging season for his team due to high expectations.
"It's definitely intense," Opoka said. "But we planned on doing it this way in the summer. We wanted to challenge ourselves with our schedule. Right now, we're where we want to be -- playing our best basketball. We don't feel the pressure. We feel prepared. When we're prepared, we feel confident in our approach."
Six-foot-11 senior Braden Huff, a Gonzaga recruit, leads the Hilltoppers in scoring (16.2 points) and rebounding (5.9). Senior guard Braden Pierce, a Princeton recruit, is a stellar two-way player who leads the 1-3-1 defense at the top. At 6-6, Pierce causes havoc on defense, and will look to exploit any mismatches with his size. Senior forward Bobby Durkin and guard Paxton Warden are X-factors, mainly due to Durkin's perimeter shooting and Warden's ability to take control of games when teams focus too much on Huff, Pierce and Durkin.
Senior forward Ryan Renfro showed in the Simeon win his worth to the team, especially his toughness in the paint. The Raiders rely on mainly Mekhi Cooper (12.1 points) and Michael Osei-Bonsu (11.8) to lead them.
Opoka said his players are well aware of the historical nature of winning a state title with a 37-1 record.
"Bolingbrook is not going to look past us, and has a winning tradition," Opoka said. "We could do something that's never been done before. This group of kids we know will be prepared ... We can achieve greatness."