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Boys hoops blog | Helfgot's Class 4A outlook

Four of the five members of last year's Tribune All-State first team were not seniors, and their teams occupied the top four spots in the Tribune's preseason Top 20.

They're still there.

What promised to be an exciting season has already brought us Tyler Ulis vs. Jalen Brunson and Jahlil Okafor vs. Cliff Alexander, a four-overtime city championship game and even Jesse Jackson.

Jackson may not be able to prevent Chicago Public Schools from stripping No. 1 Curie of its 24 victories and city title, but for the sake of this preview, I'm going to assume the IHSA agrees with the CPS assertion that the seven ineligible Curie players are eligible by CPS standards.

If so, the Alexander and the Condors will be breathing fire. But so will Okafor and Young.

In addition to the obvious talent of their three future-Division I starters, the Dolphins showed real grit in the city tournament, the kind teams with their ability often lack.

They reached the final despite injuries to the Georgetown-bound Paul White and the St. Louis-bound Miles Reynolds and a 15-point deficit to Orr in the semifinals.

They rallied repeatedly to take Curie to four overtimes in their eventual 69-66 losseven though foul trouble kept the Duke-bound Okafor on the bench for most of the second half and all four overtimes.

Unfortunately for every paying Peoria customer, Okafor and Alexander both can't make it to state. The hunch here is Young will.

If Ulis and Brunson meet again, it will be in the state championship game.

Brunson is a better player and Stevenson a better team than last year, when the Patriots gave Simeon all it could handle in the first half of the Class 4A title game before fading down the stretch.

Stevenson was the better team in its 76-66 victory against Marian Catholic Jan. 25, but do not count me among those who believe its star junior outplayed Ulis.

Brunson had some trouble with Ulis' quickness, but that's going to be the case with every guard who faces the Kentucky recruit in the next 10 years.

Brunson's supporting cast – namely Connor Cashaw, Matt Johnson and Matt Morrissey -- is better than it was last year and is better than Marian's.

The Spartans have the easier road, though beating Edwardsville in the supersectional will be anything but.

Like Young, Stevenson has a rough sectional to navigate, and the Dolphins and Patriots would meet in the Class 4A semifinals if they both get there.

For argument's sake, let's say they do, and the winner will go on to win it all the next day.

For argument's sake, let's call that team Young.

CHICAGO STATE SUPERSECTIONAL

Seeds (Marist Sectional): 1-Curie. 2-Young. 3-Simeon. 4-St. Rita.

Seeds (Maine South Sectional): 1-Loyola. 2-Maine South. 3-Evanston. 4-New Trier.

Darkhorse: De La Salle is easily the most talented No. 7 seed in the state, and after a 10-10 regular season the Meteors' ability shined through as they recorded upsets of Loyola, Fenwick and Mount Carmel to win the Catholic League tournament. Another upset will require their best performance of the season – and probably some Jahlil Okafor foul trouble – if and when they play Young in the Young Regional final.

Keep an eye on: Mount Carmel won its first 11 games when Christian Searles returned from a football ankle injury, and the Caravan had a late lead against De La Salle in the CCL final. Assuming they beat always-pesky St. Ignatius in the regional semis , Mount Carmel will take on St. Rita before a packed house in the Oak Lawn Regional final.

Toughest regional (Marist): Oak Lawn. 4-St. Rita. 5-Mount Carmel. 12-St. Ignatius. 13-Kenwood.

Toughest regional (Maine South): None.

Starting five (Marist Sectional): David Nichols, Mount Carmel, G; Charles Matthews, St. Rita, G; Jahlil Okafor, Young, C; Cliff Alexander, Curie, F; Paul White, Young, F.

Starting five (Maine South Sectional): Jack Morrissey, Loyola, G; James Clarke, Loyola, G; George Sargeant, Maine South, F; Duante Stephens, Niles North, F; Elijah Henry, Evanston, F.

Outlook: Curie and Young should win close sectional semifinals against Mount Carmel and Simeon, respectively, and Young may have to rally late to beat Curie in the final. In the Maine South Sectional, Loyola and Maine South are well-coached teams that rely on 3-point shooting and precise backcuts for layups, so they'll know how to defend one another. The guess is Maine South gets by and puts a scare into Young before falling a few points short in the supersectional.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS SUPERSECTIONAL

Seeds (Elgin Sectional): Larkin, Rockford Boylan, Cary-Grove and Huntley are the top regional seeds.

Seeds (Lake Zurich Sectional): 1-Stevenson. 2-Fremd. 3-Lake Forest. 4-Zion-Benton.

Toughest regional (Elgin): St. Charles North. 1-Larkin. 2-St. Charles North. 3-St. Charles East. 4-South Elgin.

Toughest regional (Lake Zurich): Rolling Meadows. 4-Zion-Benton. 5-St. Viator. 12-Palatine. 13-Rolling Meadows.

Darkhorse: The Lake Zurich Sectional is too loaded to consider 10th-seeded Prospect a serious contender, but the Knights could be a threat to ruin Fremd's undefeated season in the Hersey Regional final if they can beat 7th-seeded Lake Zurich first.

Keep an eye on: St. Charles North (16-8) played a strong non-conference schedule and has an underrated trio on the perimeter in Alec Goetz, Jake Ludwig and Jack Callaghan. Larkin beat the North Stars twice in Upstate Eight River play. They should meet in the St. Charles North Regional final if North gets past St. Charles East (15-11) in the semis.

Starting five (Elgin): Kendale McCullum, Larkin, G; Brock Stull, Rockford Boylan, G; Dom Adduci, St. Charles East, G; Jack Callaghan, St. Charles North, F; Amanze Egekeze, Huntley, F.

Starting five (Lake Zurich): Jalen Brunson, Stevenson, G; Ore Arogundade, St. Viator, G; Riley Glassman, Fremd, G; Evan Boudreaux, Lake Forest, F; Milik Yarbrough, Zion-Benton, F

Outlook: If Stevenson (26-1) is going to make a return trip to Peoria, the No. 2 Patriots are going to have to earn it. They'll breeze through the regionals, but then will likely have to face either No. 10 Zion-Benton or No. 16 St. Viator. The Zee-Bees split with Stevenson, handing the Patriots their only loss on Jan. 10. St. Viator would be better than the No. 5 seed if it handled size a little better, but a lack of size is the only chink in the Stevenson armor. Fremd and Lake Forest would be a terrific matchup in the other Lake Zurich semifinal, and while both are big enough to cause Stevenson problems – Lake Forest took Stevenson to double overtime on Feb. 21 – the Patriots' talent will rise above the rest of a sectional that is arguably as talented as the city schools at Marist. Larkin will emerge from Elgin and take Stevenson to the wire at NIU but come up short.

ILLINOIS STATE SUPERSECTIONAL

Seeds (Thornton Sectional): 1-Marian Catholic. 2-Thornwood. 3-Thornton. 4-Bloom.

Seeds (East Moline Sectional): Edwardsville, O'Fallon, Ottawa and Bradley-Bourbonnais are the top regional seeds.

Toughest regional (Thornton): Bloom. 4-Bloom. 5-Joliet Central. 11-Crete-Monee. 13-Plainfield South.

Toughest regional (East Moline): Belleville West. 1-O'Fallon. 2-Belleville East. 3-East St. Louis.

Darkhorse: Oak Forest (20-5) is just one of three 20-win teams in the Thornton Sectional, yet the Bengals are seeded seventh. Their schedule wasn't particularly strong, but a 17-1 stretch from the holidays until Valentine's Day is enough to get the attention of Thornwood (21-4). The teams are set up to meet in the Eisenhower Regional final.

Keep an eye on: Bloom has had better teams in recent years, but the section is down, and the Blazing Trojans (16-8) played well down the stretch to win the Southland Conference.

Starting five: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic, G; Shawn Roundtree, Edwardsville, G; Darreon Reddick, Belleville East, G Armon Fletcher, Edwardsville, F; Tai Odiase, Homewood-Flossmoor, F

Outlook: Marian Catholic has dominated South Suburban competition the past two seasons, and Tyler Ulis and company could be the biggest favorite of any of the 4A sections. Edwardsville ended Marian's run one victory shy of Peoria last March, and the Tigers picked up where they left off, winning the tough Southwestern Conference outright. Edwardsville has the tougher road with the Belleville West Regional title in its path, and Marian has Ulis. That's been enough in all but two games this season. Nobody's more fun to watch, and his high school career should end in Peoria ... for his sake as well as those in attendance.

HINSDALE CENTRAL SUPERSECTIONAL

Seeds (East Aurora Sectional): 1-Benet. 2-West Aurora. 3-Bolingbrook. 4-Hinsdale Central.

Seeds (Bartlett Sectional): 1-York. 2-Proviso East. 3-Oak Park. 4-Morton.

Toughest regional (East Aurora): West Aurora. 2-West Aurora. 7-Neuqua Valley. 11-Plainfield North. 15-Oswego.

Toughest regional (Bartlett): Leyden. 3-Oak Park. 6-Glenbard North. 11-West Chicago.

Darkhorse: West Chicago dispatched a good St. Charles North team in an Upstate Eight crossover behind another stellar performance by John Konchar. He's the type of player who could spearhead an upset or two in a tough regional.

Keep an eye on: Oak Park might be the most talented team in either sectional. The Huskies have size, depth, an experienced senior point guard in Erick Locke and a terrific athlete in Simmie Cobbs. Oak Park beat top-seeded York last Friday night, and five of its six losses came by a combined 12 points. Hinsdale Central is the hot team with victories over Oak Park, York and Proviso West during a six-game winning streak that saw the Red Devils pull the West Suburban Silver title out from under York.

Starting five (East Aurora): Aaron Jordan, Plainfield East, G; Trevor Stumpe, Plainfield North, G; Jontrell Walker, West Aurora, G; Matt Rafferty, Hinsdale Central, F; Sean O'Mara, Benet, C.

Starting five (Bartlett): Jevon Carter, Proviso East, G; Erick Locke, Oak Park, G; Frank Toohey, York, F; Weisner Perez, Morton, F; John Konchar, West Chicago, F.

Outlook: Both sections are wide open. Benet is a top seed because it compiled a 19-7 record against a brutal schedule, and it matches up well against Hinsdale Central and Rafferty thanks to O'Mara, whose numbers warrant first team All-State consideration. Underrated Geneva could knock off Bolingbrook in the Plainfield East Regional, and look for West Aurora's Jontrell Walker and Roland Griffin to get past either in the sectional semifinals before giving Gordie Kerkman another sectional title with a one-possession victory against Benet. The top four seeds in the Bartlett Sectional are essentially equals, and at least one of the four will be upset in the regionals. Oak Park is not a well-calculated choice to win the sectional based on the strength of its regional, but the Huskies are the choice based on their talent, diversity and depth. West Aurora-Oak Park would be a rematch of the third-place game in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Oak Park won that one. This one will go West Aurora's way.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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