Scouting the MSL championship game: Buffalo Grove at Schaumburg
Who: Buffalo Grove Bison (23-6, 9-1) at Schaumburg Saxons (23-6, 8-2 West)
What: Mid-Suburban League boys basketball championship game, featuring the East champion Bison and the West champion Saxons
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
TV: The game will be televised live on Comcast Channel 100. Broadcast begins at 6:45 p.m.
Coaches: Keith Peterson, Buffalo Grove (7th season); Wade Heisler, Schaumburg (5th season)
History: Both teams have had a long lull since their last appearance in the MSL title game. This is Buffalo Grove's first appearance since 2008. The Bison have never won the MSL championship. Meanwhile, Schaumburg's last trip to the championship game was in 2013 and that yielded a championship.
Buffalo Grove's key players: The Bison are led by 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Kam Craft, a threat from anywhere on the floor. Craft is averaging 24 points and 9.5 rebounds per game and exploded for a 46-point outburst in a double-overtime game against Rolling Meadows earlier this season. "Kam has been unbelievable," Buffalo Grove coach Keith Peterson said. "Before the season, we talked with him about how many more steps he could take after such a good freshman year. He's taken every single one of those steps in every aspect of his game. His maturity as a sophomore has been unbelievable, let alone his abilities on the basketball court." Seniors Nate Cole (11.1 ppg) and Matt Brunelli (10.6 ppg) also average double-figures in points while senior point guard Tyler Kipley leads the team with 5 assists per game while boasting a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Schaumburg's key players: Wisconsin commit Chris Hodges, a 6-foot-8 junior forward who can shoot 3-pointers but can be a traditional back-to-the-basket center as well, leads the Saxons with 14 points per game while making good on 70 percent of his field goal attempts. He also grabs about 8 rebounds per game. "Chris is always such a focal point, but one of the great things about him is his leadership and how he builds up his teammates by showing confidence in them," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said. "He passes up good shots when his teammates have better shots and that is something that all the other guys do now too. Chris will give up 20 points for himself if it means that we'll win by 20. He does whatever the team needs and he's really good at getting others involved so that we're always giving a collective effort." Schaumburg is a balanced but lower-scoring team than Buffalo Grove so no other players average double figures for the Saxons, who score about 45 points per game. Senior guard Jared School is the second-leading scorer at 8 points per game. Sophomore point guard Vaurice Patterson leads the Saxons with 3.5 assists per game.
Outlook: Both Buffalo Grove and Schaumburg are hungry to bring home an MSL championship. It's been awhile for both teams since their last appearance in the league's marquee event -- seven years for Schaumburg, 12 for Buffalo Grove. "The guys are very excited. There was a big celebration in the locker room when we (clinched the East)," Buffalo Grove coach Keith Peterson said. "The kids know that we've never won it. Schaumburg has a great history in basketball and it's been awhile for them too in this game. I think that's going to make it a great environment for this game. It's going to be a lot of fun." Last year, Schaumburg was just steps away from the MSL title game. The Saxons lost to Fremd in overtime for the West title. "I think our guys are so excited to be in this game after last year. That's extra motivation," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said. "We have taken another step forward, and now we want to seize the opportunity in front of us." The Saxons will be deliberate about it. They are comfortable in the half-court game and won't push tempo if it's not there. Meanwhile, Buffalo Grove is run, run, run and push, push, push. The Bison average about 68 points per game and have scored in the 80s multiple times this season. "We are comfortable at that pace and some teams might not be," Peterson said. "One of the biggest reasons we have been successful is that for as fast as we play, we have taken care of the ball really well. We're averaging only 11 turnovers per game. In that double overtime game against Rolling Meadows, we had only seven turnovers in 40 minutes." With a couple of highly-regarded superstars and 20-win seasons to their credit, both Buffalo Grove and Schaumburg have benefited from lively, loyal fan sections all season. Expect nothing less in this game. "It is so awesome that we get to host," Heisler said. "We've had unbelievable support all season from our students and our school and I know that Buffalo Grove will have a lot of fans, too. It should be a great environment."
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw