A productive season doesn't always require long playoff run
The high school basketball season is over.
Well, not entirely over. For many DuPage County girls teams the season has ended. Timothy Christian and IC Catholic remain alive to play in Thursday's Class 2A sectional finals. Many other teams will play in Class 3A or Class 4A regional finals Thursday, with one game Friday.
Most of the county's boys teams are just about to find out who they'll be paired with in the playoffs. For them the anticipation is still building.
With that in mind, we're wrapping up Eyes on Five this week to focus on our playoff coverage. It's been a fun season, and the best is yet to come.
1. Culture change:
Nobody in DuPage County played basketball this season like the Fenton girls.
Hired just before the start of the season, coach Dave Mello took the risk of installing the rarely attempted Grinnell system. It's a high-octane, high-scoring, high-substitution style of play that seems to have helped start a culture change at Fenton.
"A lot of the girls were quitting midseason or just weren't coming out to play," said Mello, who poured his seemingly endless supply of energy into the program. "They viewed it as they weren't going to have any fun, or the ones that were out and quit, they weren't having any fun."
They came out for the team this season and they had fun this season. Who wouldn't have fun when your coach keeps pleading with the team to shoot more? And nobody complains about playing time on a team that regularly plays up to 19 girls a quarter.
The Bison aimed for 80 shots a game, 50 of them from 3-point range. After averaging 32 points a game last year, the Bison averaged 55 this year and scored 77 once.
Perhaps most fun of all, they won more, finishing 9-17 after Monday's 66-63 loss to Hoffman Estates in a Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South regional quarterfinal. That might not seem like much of a record, but the Bison only had five wins in the last two seasons combined.
They did that despite not having played over the summer. They had to learn the system on the fly, and it took a while to settle in. Only the varsity played the Grinnell style this season because of the late start, something that will change next year. Mello hopes also to get the feeder system in Bensenville and Wood Dale restarted also.
This summer the Bison will play at Montini's summer league. They will continue to develop their shooting technique. They will continue to get comfortable playing this unusual system. And Mello expects they will shoot and score even more next season.
Win more too.
"I told them," Mello said, "this group is going to be remembered as the group that resurrected Fenton girls basketball."
Fenton wasn't the only girls team to see improvement under a first-year coach. Waubonsie Valley also took steps in the right direction with new coach Brett Love.
The Warriors' 10-win season was more than the previous three seasons combined. Their victory Monday against East Aurora in a quarterfinal was their first regional win since 2012.
"Coming in the culture of losing was overwhelming," Love said. "We as a program didn't think we could win."
How did the Warriors change?
There are a lot of similarities with Fenton, though the style of play is not one of them.
Love cites two items: "Changing or improving the basketball IQ of the players and changing the work ethic and expectations of working hard throughout the program."
Not everyone bought in. Those who did saw improvement. And because many of the varsity players are young, they can develop with the program.
"We had some people quit and not continue and not play that came out last year just because of the expectations," said Love, who also runs the Illinois Evolution AAU program. "And those that stuck with it, they chose to work hard. It wasn't easy."
Rebuilding a program never is easy. But it can be very rewarding.
<URL destination="#photo2">3. We're No. 1:
After weeks of jostling for position, Naperville North's boys earned the top seed in the Class 4A Glenbard East sectional. It became official Thursday afternoon, but the Huskies (22-2) pretty much wrapped it up with Tuesday's win over Naperville Central.
Now that the seeds are in, the IHSA will release the 3A and 4A playoff pairings Friday afternoon.
Naperville North rides a seven-game winning streak heading into Friday's game at Waubonsie Valley, its last loss coming to WW South. The third-seeded Tigers (22-5), meanwhile, saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end Tuesday against Metea Valley.
And so began the jostling. Too many streaks and not enough top seeds.
Second-seeded Benet (19-4) has won 10 straight games and made a strong case for the No. 1 seed at Glenbard East. Fifth-seeded Willowbrook (21-5) won eight straight, including victories over Larkin and Proviso East, before losing two its next three games. Fourth-seeded Hinsdale South (19-5) has won five straight, including a victory over Willowbrook.
Since January, several coaches offered legitimate arguments as to why certain teams should get the top seed. The resumes, while not at the elite level of Simeon, Curie or Belleville West, are impressive.
February win streaks stand out when it's seeding time. They transform teams like Hinsdale South from a top-eight to a top-four seed.
Soon we'll see if it translates to March.
For all the impressive regular-season streaks, the postseason is completely different.
The sectional championship boils down to which boys teams are capable of putting together four straight playoff wins, and that number is obviously limited.
In past seasons several area players carried teams to a sectional championship and no one would be surprised if Iowa State-bound senior forward Zion Griffin -- averaging 21 points and 8.8 rebounds -- carried Hinsdale South to the title. Maybe a post player like Willowbrook's Ethan Schuemer or Naperville North's Chris Johnson could do it.
Given the makeup of the Glenbard East sectional, though, the opposite looks more likely.
In other words, bet on defense.
Naperville North, Hinsdale South and Willowbrook all have shown the ability to win with defense. No teams in the sectional, however, have put up defensive numbers like Benet and WW South.
The 40-point mark and the goal of allowing single-point quarters define those two teams. While Benet's allowed fewer than 40 points eight times, WW South's done it 18 times.
Granted, a lot of that has to do with the style of play and the amount of time they drain on the offensive end. But make no mistake about it, Benet and WW South win with defense.
And defense will define the Glenbard East sectional.
5. The Stat:
Having discussed the culture change at Fenton's girls program this season, let's put it in numbers. Record numbers, to be more precise.
The Bison set a national record for 3-pointer attempted in a season with 1,310, an average of 50.4 a game. They also are seventh in IHSA history with 250 3-pointers made this season.
The most interesting thing about those numbers? The Bison expect to improve on them next year with a full season of experience in this system plus a full summer working on it.