Scouting Fox Valley area sectional finals
Three Fox Valley area boys basketball teams play Friday night for a berth in the Elite Eight.
Here's a look at the Class 4A sectional final matchups for Larkin and West Aurora and for Burlington Central in Class 3A.
Larkin (22-8) vs. Rockford Jefferson (26-6)
Each program seeks its first sectional title since 2004-05, when Jefferson defeated Larkin 73-60 in the Class AA Moline supersectional en route to a fourth-place finish.
Technically, it's a rematch. The J-Hawks defeated Larkin 69-58 in a Nov. 25 tournament game in Rockford. Jefferson coach Todd Brannan said he doesn't consider the earlier meeting a barometer for the sectional title game considering 15 weeks have passed.
"Larkin is much, much better than when we played them back in November and that's what I'm going to tell our guys," the 10th-year coach said after the J-Hawks hammered Dundee-Crown 77-48 in Wednesday's semifinal. "We were better than them that Saturday in November, but that doesn't mean anything this Friday."
Jalen Shaw will play a key role for the Royals as usual. The 6-foot-10 senior scored a team-best 21 points in the first meeting against Jefferson despite being tethered to the bench for much of the first half with foul trouble.
"He's not 6-10 when he's sitting on the bench, so we need Jalen on the floor," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said.
"They're a much different team when Shaw's not there," Brannan said.
Jefferson 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior forward My'Quion Garrett gives up six inches to Shaw, but he scored 26 in the first meeting and comes in hot. He had 15 points in the win over Dundee-Crown.
"We just have to attack the basket and get (Shaw) in foul trouble so he has to sit for a while," Garrett said. "Then just try to run up the score when he's out, get to the basket."
Defensively, Larkin must guard the 3-point arc. Jefferson sank 12 3-pointers in the semifinals, courtesy of eight different players. Senior Jy'aire Robinson made three 3-pointers and scored a team-high 18 points.
Offensively, Larkin will try to protect the ball against pressure from talented guards Quillin Dixon, Terry Ford and Mike Powell, who helped these J-Hawks surpass the previous school record of 23 wins. They were three reasons Dundee-Crown committed 19 turnovers through three quarters as Jefferson raced to a 60-29 lead.
"They like to get up on us and we can't freak out," said Larkin senior guard Anthony Lynch, who scored 28 points in Tuesday's 60-54 win over Rockford Auburn. "We have to stay calm, make the right plays. They try to rush you up, but if we play how we play and play smart basketball, we can drive around and pick the right spots. Just play smart. We have a lot of good ballhandlers. I think we can handle that pressure a little bit better than Dundee-Crown."
The Jacobs sectional winner advances to the NIU supersectional to face the Glenbard East sectional winner (Benet Academy vs. Willowbrook) on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
West Aurora (24-4) vs. Bolingbrook (22-6)
They meet again.
No. 1 sectional seed Bolingbrook has eliminated No. 2 West Aurora from the state tournament two of the last three seasons.
The Raiders denied West Aurora a state berth in 2015 with a 50-49 supersectional victory. Bolingbrook defeated the Blackhawks 85-66 in a sectional semifinal last year. The Raiders finished third in Class 4A both seasons.
"I'm excited about it," West Aurora third-year coach Brian Johnson said of the matchup. "We're a better team than we were last year. They have more speed and unbelievable guard play. They transition up and down the floor. They're one of the best teams in the state."
The Blackhawks are led by co-Upstate Eight Valley players of the year Camron Donatlan (19 ppg) and Jared Crutcher (13.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg). However, everyone in the starting five is dangerous, as they demonstrated in Wednesday's 70-58 win over Lincoln-Way East when seniors Damian Virgen (11.7 ppg) and Ben Young (7.8 ppg) and junior point guard Trae Brown (10.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) combined for 54 points.
Defensively, West Aurora is tasked with containing Bolingbrook senior guard Kaleb Thornton, who scored 29 of his 31 points after halftime in Tuesday's 94-91 double-overtime win over Joliet Central.
Junior guard Tyler Cochran led the Raiders with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the regional championship victory against Lemont (77-65).
"They are athletic at the guard spot where they have multiple prospective division-I guards," Johnson said. "We'll have to be ready to roll. They're are no easy matchups. We can't not guard people. Both teams are playing well right now. Hopefully, we can stay within ourselves, play our game and pull out a win."
The Romeoville sectional winner advances to the ISU supersectional to face the Pekin sectional winner (Belleville West vs. Moline) on Tuesday at 8 p.m.
At Woodstock North
Burlington Central (28-3) vs. Rockford Boylan (21-10)
It's a matchup between No. 1 subsectional seeds with contrasting tournament pedigrees.
Central seeks the first sectional title in school history. The Titans seek their 20th overall and second in three years.
Boylan was a Class 4A team last year when it was eliminated by Larkin in a sectional semifinal. Coached by 2003 Barrington graduate Brett McAllister, the Titans slipped by St. Francis 51-47 in overtime on Wednesday, thanks to 14 points from Ben Ambrose and 11 points from 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Johnny Close.
Ambrose, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, has drained 66 3-pointers and leads his team in scoring (11.2 ppg), followed by 5-10 sophomore guard John Starck (9.1 ppg) and 6-3 sophomore forward Anthony Brown (8.2).
"They're a talented group," Central coach Brett Porto said. "They play a very tough schedule and have 20-plus wins. They have four good shooters on the court at all times with a solid interior player. They play a similar, physical man-to-man defense like we saw against Batavia. We're used to that because we've had some physical games during our playoff run and guys have adapted."
Central counters with program all-time leading scorer Zach Schutta (18.2 ppg) and junior Patrick Mayfield (17.2), the only non-senior in the starting lineup. Defense will be the key, according to Porto.
"It sounds simple but we have to be what we've been all year: a team that really defends," he said. "It all starts on defense for us. Then move the ball on offense and when we need certain shots we have to get the ball to Schutta and Mayfield."
The Woodstock North sectional winner advances to the Hoffman Estates supersectional at the Sears Centre to face the North Chicago sectional winner (North Chicago vs. DePaul College Prep) on Tuesday at 6 p.m.