Big Tim's IHSA Class 4A Playoff preview!!!!!!
Updated: Feb 19
America's Original March Madness starts on Saturday. I think this is the greatest state tournament in America. I've lived many places because of my military experiences and seen many state tournaments in America. Yes I may be biased because I live here now, but there's nothing like high school basketball in Illinois. This is the best time of the year, big crowds, high school gyms filled with students cheering for their classmates to take the next step. The clever chants to bother opposing teams. The Brother Rice crazies. The Notre Dame College Prep Dons chanting "Sit down shut up". The Evanston Township students chanting "F New Trier"if they clash in the State Playoffs. Well not so nice there. Then the chanting and pointing "Scoreboard, Scoreboard, Scoreboard". Then the "Start the buses, start the buses". Then the "Seasons over, seasons over". Seniors have their high school careers end, and only one team in each class is happy and jumping up and down at mid court in Champaign aka Downstate. You see the players crying on the court, coaches and parents trying to cheer them up. You will likely see buzzer beaters, big time plays, all out war with each step. You have to win seven straight games to win the brass ring. You lose you're done that's just the way we do it here. Regionals, Sectionals, Supersectional Monday (does not sound right I loved Supersectional Tuesday), then the Final Four and finally the State Title game. Supersectional to me is the toughest game of the journey, so close but yet so far from Downstate and the Final Four. So here we go with the largest class in Illinois.
HOFFMAN ESTATES (NOW ARENA) SUPERSECTIONAL!!!!
Favorite: Libertyville (#1 seed)
Darkhorse: Palatine (#3 seed)
Libertyville is 25-5 won North Suburban Conference and has a great balance of big men Aidyn Boone (6'5") and Cole Bonder (6'6") with backcourt of Will Buchert (6'1") and Jack Huber (6'3") makes them tough to defend and they hit the glass on both ends. All are seniors so very experienced. Boone can step out and hit a couple of threes. I look for them to be a tough out and could end up in Champaign.
Palatine is 23-6 and just won the Mid Suburban Conference for the first time in 30 years. Junior wing Connor May (6'7") is the star but he gets support from seniors Tyler Swierczek (6'4"forward) and Sam Millstone (5'11" point guard). Junior Tommy Elter (6'2"guard) does a little but of everything. All can shoot from outside, pass and rebound. They are the 3 seed but on a roll.
Other contenders: Stevenson (Lincolnshire) #2 seed, Fremd (Palatine) #4 seed, Barrington #5 seed (host).
New Trier (Winnetka) Sectional:
Favorite: New Trier (Winnetka) (#1 seed)
Darkhorse: Evanston Township (#5 seed)
Rolling Meadows (which team will stand up?) (#3 seed): Most experienced team in Sectional and has the best player in Minnesota commit Cameron Christie. They have lost their biggest games this year, but is a team that won the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament. If that team shows up again they could easily win this Sectional.
This could be the toughest sectional to win in the state as there are six teams with 20 wins or more.
New Trier is 27-4, the Central Suburban Conference Champ, did not lose a game all year in toughest conference, and has been consistently the best team in this sectional all year. They have beaten all the contenders, some twice. Conference player of the year Cornell commit Jake Fiegen (6'4" senior guard) can break a game open with his shooting. Senior point guard University of Chicago soccer commit Evan Kanellos (5'11") and junior guard Logan Felder (6'3") made all conference. Junior Ian Brown (6'6" wing) can come off the bench and light it up. Good chance to make it to Champaign. Problem is they likely will have to beat a good team for a third time, can they do it?
Evanston Township is 23-7 and finished tied for third in the conference. Lots of talent but had 5 seniors transfer in, one of them has been out all year with injury (Nic Raic). It's been tough working them into the system in one season. Finished third in Central Suburban South. Senior wing Prince Adams (6'6") has had a fabulous year a 3 year starter. Josh Thomas (6'5" senior wing) has been inconsistent scoring this year, but has come on lately. For this team to go far they will need senior point guard Hunter Duncan (6'3") to play in control during the playoffs. Talent is there and if they put it together could see a long run, or lose in Regional Final as they are a 5 seed.
Glenbrook North (Northbrook) got a 2 seed but they lost their point guard junior Josh Fridman (5'11" junior) likely for the postseason, which to me knocks them out of contention.
DEKALB (NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY) SUPERSECTIONAL!!!
Favorite: Benet Academy (Lisle) (#1 seed)
I know I know other teams in this sectional will not be happy with this assessment. I think it's Benet and there's everyone else. Just don't see anyone else challenging them.
Benet Academy is 28-1, they have one more regular season game. They have not lost a game in 2023 and their only loss is to Simeon Career Academy at Pontiac during the Christmas Holidays. Senior laden team. Start with Johns Hopkins commit point guard Brayden Fagbemi (6'0") who to me is the most underrated point guard in state of Illinois. Controls tempo and rarely turns the ball over. Sneaky athleticism. His partners on the wing are Brady Kunka (6'3"), Sam Driscoll (6'2"), Andy Nash (6'3") and Darmouth commit Niko Abusara (6'5") who can jump out of the gym. Fagbemi, Kunka, Driscoll. and Nash can all hit the three. Junior forward Parker Sullaver (6'6") gives them inside play and Abusara hits the glass. Well I guess a bad shooting night could knock them out, but don't see it happening in Sectional play.
Jefferson (Rockford) Sectional:
Favorite: DeKalb (#1 seed in subsectional)
Dark Horse: Guilford (Rockford), Huntley, Auburn (Rockford)
This sectional is pretty open which is why so many dark horses here.
CHICAGO (ILLINOIS CHICAGO) Supersectional:
St Rita (Chicago) Sectional:
Favorite: Kenwood Academy (Chicago) (#1 seed)
Darkorse: St Rita (Chicago)
Kenwood Academy is 24-6, has played a tough schedule, and is Chicago Public League Runners-up. They have the best senior in the sectional in Kansas State commit Darrin Ames (6'2"). Have size inside with juniors Jaden Smith (6'11"), high riser Calvin Robins Jr (6'5"), Chris Riddle (6'5"), and Solomon Mosely (6'7"). Are missing star sophomore sniper Aleks Alston (6'9") wing out with injury. Guards Tyler Smith (6'0" senior), and Isaiah Green (5'11" junior) will have to hit some outside shots for them to get to Supersectional.
St Rita is 20-10 playing a tough national schedule, but has won a share of the Chicago Catholic League Blue Title. Lots of young talent they may have been toughened by the schedule. Juniors Illinois commit Morez Johnson Jr (6'9), James Brown (6'10"), and Nojus Industraitis (6'6") look like they are coming together at the right time. Sophomore wing Melvin Bell (6'5") has been back long enough to get into the mix. Have won 6 straight games, some feel they have underachieved, but I think they will win this sectional on their home court.
Others: Brother Rice (Chicago), Bloom Township (Chicago Heights)
Hinsdale Central Sectional:
Favorite: Whitney Young (Chicago)
Darkhorse: Hinsdale Central, Curie (Chicago)
Whitney Young is 21-6 and has played a tough schedule. Senior point guard Princeton commit Dalen Davis (6'0") has been solid all year. Daniel Johnson (6'6"wing) has had an outstanding senior season and has hit the boards hard. Sophomore Antonio Munoz (6'6") has also been outstanding on the glass and driving from the wing. Citadel commit Marcus Pigrim (6'3" wing) will have to give them more if they are going to make a return trip to Champaign. Concerning Chicago Public League playoff blowout loss at home to Curie who's in this sectional.
Hinsdale Central is 28-3 and has clinched a tie for the West Suburban Silver title. They have the home advantage for sectional and a rowdy crowd. I frankly would not be surprised if they won this sectional. Senior leaden team. Ben Oosterbaan (6'5" wing) is outstanding along with Emerson Eck (6'4"), Chase Collignon (6'6"), Billy Cernugel (6'4") all seniors with great size and shooting ability. Senior point guard Evan Phillips (6'0") gets these guys the ball.
Curie (Chicago) is 19-10 with a tough schedule who seems to have gotten it together late this season. Had three chances to beat Simeon Career Academy in a double overtime loss. Junior point guard Carlos Harris III (6'2") has been more consistent. Forwards Chikasi Ofoma (6'6"), and Jeremy Harrington Jr (6'5") have been hitting the glass hard. Senior guard Sean Brown (6'2") has stepped up to help Harris.
NORMAL (ILLINOIS STATE SUPERSECTIONAL)!!!!
Favorite: West (Joliet) #1 seed
Darkhorses: Bolingbrook, Lincoln Way East
West (Joliet) is 25-5 with a tough schedule. Has Fear brothers McDonald's All-American Jeremy Fears Jr (6'2" senior) and Jeremiah (6'1" sophomore) will be tough to deal with as they can kill you on both ends of the court. They have a twin towers that interchange with each other senior Matthew Moore (6'9") and junior Drew King (6'9"). Key to me is junior guard Justus McNair (6'3") who's very good on the defensive boards, athletic can jump out of the gym and hit corner threes. If he performs well could see them in Champaign.
Bolingbrook is 23-7 and I'm still a believer. They have all their piece back to make another run at a possible run to Champaign for second year in a row. Guard Miami,OH commit Mekhi Cooper (6'0"), junior DJ Strong (5'11") and Josh Aniceto (5'10") who can all shoot from outside or attack you off the bounce. They have size in seniors Aries Hull (6'9), Donovan Younger (6'10"), and Keon Alexander (6'7"). They are the host and could upset the apple cart of West (Joliet).
Lincoln Way East (Frankfort) is 23-5 with two of the losses to Bolingbrook. They have a young point guard in freshman BJ Powell (5'10"). How will he handle the pressure of his first state playoffs? Senior guard Ty Toliver (6'1") could be of some assistance here. They have a couple of forward bruisers on the interior in seniors Kyle Olagbegi (6'6") and George Bellevue (6'6"). They would have to upset West (Joliet) in sectional semifinals to have a third shot at Bolingbrook.
This is another sectional where I think its one team and if they get upset it would be major.
Moline is 28-3 and has won 9 straight games. They have a great guard big combination in Iowa commits Owen Freeman (6'10") and Brock Harding (6'0"). They should get by this sectional with just outstanding play from those two. To get past super sectional and get to Champaign they will need decent shooting from Grant Welch (6'3" senior), Trey Taylor (6'5" sophomore wing), and Braeden Freeman (6'6" sophomore), and Jasper Ogburn (6'0" senior). Can the sophomores hit shots late in the playoffs? I feel this team has a legitimate shot to win the state title.
Note: If Moline and West (Joliet) make it to Illinois State Supersectional , I may make the drive to watch this one.