Sixth sense says Simeon will be tough to beat
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The IHSA will be hoping this weekend's Class 3A and 4A boys basketball state tournaments are devoid of the controversy that has marred last Saturday's 2A title-game win by Harrisburg over Seton Academy.
An opportunity for history to be made could bring some welcome attention back to the Peoria Civic Center when the big schools are finished late Saturday night. Simeon and Duke-bound star Jabari Parker are trying to match the state record of four straight titles set by Peoria Manual and Sergio McClain from 1994-97.
But, as always, there are plenty of other intriguing storylines as we enter the sixth year of four-class basketball. So, let's get on with our sixth year of tourney predictions, starting with Class 4A.
Proviso East (29-3) vs. Simeon (28-3), 6:30 p.m. Friday: It would have been fun to see these two battle again for a state title after Simeon held on for a 50-48 victory to hand Proviso East its only loss last year. These are two of the top programs in state history as Simeon looks to add to its state record title total of six and Proviso East has won four.
Proviso East also rolls into the rematch with 19 straight wins since an 82-57 loss to 3A finalist Morgan Park in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Second-year coach Donnie Boyce would like to bring back the title he won as a player in 1991 as part of the "Three Amigos" with Michael Finley and assistant coach Sherrel Ford.
The balanced Pirates are led by 6-foot-5 Southern Methodist recruit Sterling Brown (12.7 ppg, 11 rpg, 5 apg) and Illinois State-bound guard Paris Lee (10.4 ppg, 5.5 apg). Junior guard Jevon Carter (13.1 ppg, 56 3-pointers) and Branden Jenkins (10.8 ppg) are also dangerous.
But the scary part for the Pirates is Simeon and the 6-8 Parker, who had to work his way back into shape after suffering a fractured right foot, have been playing some of their best basketball the last month. Parker (18.3 ppg, 11 rpg) has displayed his Mr. Basketball form of a year ago and when he does that, there's little chance of stopping him and his teammates.
Illinois fans are encouraged about the guard duo of Kendrick Nunn (15 ppg) and Jaylon Tate (8.3 ppg, 7.5 apg) coming to Champaign next year. Six-7 senior Russell Woods and 6-5 Kendall Pollard provide the Wolverines and coach Robert Smith with the size they need.
The pick: Revenge would be sweet, but it's not going to happen here. Too much Parker and too much Simeon in a 66-50 win.
Stevenson (28-4) vs. Edwardsville (30-2), 8:15 p.m. Friday: Stevenson didn't sneak up on anyone the way it did when it finished fourth in Class AA in 2007. Not with the super sophomore guard combo of Jalen Brunson (21.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 59 3s) and Connor Cashaw (16.2 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, 35 3s).
They've led the Patriots to 18 straight wins since losses to Morgan Park and Oswego in the Proviso West tourney. They also have unsung Andy Stempel (11.4 ppg, 55 3s) providing excellent leadership as one of only four seniors on their roster, junior football standout Matt Morrissey is a defensive stopper and Pat Ambrose continues to show why he's regarded as one of the top coaches in the state.
Edwardsville is making its fourth state trip in 25 years under Mike Waldo, but this will be the first time it returns with a trophy since taking second in 1956 and fourth in 1954. The Tigers lost twice to Belleville East, but a 51-49 win over Cahokia started a 13-game winning streak where no one else has come closer than 10 points.
Six-5 senior Garret Covington (18.4 ppg, 9 rpg, 100 3s) will be helping Western Illinois continue its resurgence next year and 6-5 senior Tre' Harris (17.1 ppg, 9 rpg, 63 3s) had a Division I offer from Lipscomb but opted to wait until after the season to make a college decision. They also get 10 points a game from 6-5 junior Armon Fletcher.
The pick: Covington and Harris are formidable, but the Patriots will get after it defensively and Brunson and Cashaw won't be intimidated by the big stage. Stevenson advances 70-62.
Third-place game, 6:30 p.m Saturday: Covington and Harris add third-place hardware to Edwardsville's trophy case with a 68-64 victory as Proviso East tries to regroup after another loss to Simeon.
Title, 8:15 p.m. Saturday: The great news for Stevenson is the future of this program has never looked better with its combination of talent led by Brunson and Cashaw and its coaching. But right now the spotlight belongs to Simeon and Parker before he heads off to play for Coach K. The Wolverines make it four straight 65-53.
Bartonville Limestone (24-9) vs. Morgan Park (31-3), 12:15 p.m. Friday: Limestone is best known as the home of baseball slugging star Jim Thome, who could also hoop it up pretty well in the late '80s at the school just south of Peoria. Second-year coach Eddie Mathews played basketball at Bradley but can also make a claim to baseball fame as he parlayed his seven-year minor-league pitching career into a role in the classic movie "Bull Durham," where he performed most of the pitching scenes for Tim Robbins' famed Nuke LaLoosh character and had some on-screen cameo appearances.
Now Mathews has Limestone in the basketball state finals for the first time after a successful nine-year stint at Peoria Notre Dame. His son Hank, a 6-2 senior swingman, leads the way (15.8 ppg, 63 3s) with 6-3 junior Terence Shelby (13.9 ppg, 8 rpg).
But the Rockets have a major challenge with only one player over 6-5 taking on formidable Morgan Park and 6-5 DePaul signee Billy Garrett (17.6 ppg, 8 apg, 5 rpg). Xzavier Taylor, Josh Cunningham and Lamont Walker go 6-9, 6-7 and 6-6 and guards Kyle Davis and Markee Williams add to a formidable offense that has broken 100 points five times and rolled to postseason wins by 67, 33, 63, 36 and 33 points.
The pick: Morgan Park's only losses were by 2 points to Simeon, 3 points to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and 4 points to Whitney Young. The roll doesn't stop here with an 87-67 victory.
Orr (28-3) vs. Cahokia (32-3), 2 p.m. Friday: Both teams had to overcome a lot to get here. Orr star Marquise Pryor spent four months in a boot camp after pleading guilty to two separate gun charges and, as a result, was ruled ineligible for postseason play by the IHSA because he didn't have enough first-semester credit hours.
But Orr persevered behind Southern Idaho-bound point guard Jamal McDowell and 6-8 junior Marlon Jones (10.3 ppg) to knock off North Chicago 63-49 in the supersectional.
Cahokia had to rally from a 7-point deficit in the final 1:34 of regulation to beat East St. Louis 76-74 in overtime when 6-2 senior star Keenan Minor (17.8 ppg) had his shot blocked but put back the miss just before the buzzer. Vincent Jackson Jr. (11.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-7 junior Darius Austin (10.7 ppg) are also dangerous.
The pick: Minor played in a supersectional loss as a freshman and Cahokia's only state trip was in 1985 when it took fourth. The finish will be better this time after a 64-58 victory.
Third place, 12:15 p.m. Saturday: Having a homecourt advantage helps Limestone as it wins 58-50.
Title, 2 p.m. Saturday: Morgan Park won the AA title in 1976 on "the shot heard round the state" when Laird Smith's jumper at the buzzer beat West Aurora. There won't be any similar drama this time as an 80-68 victory over Cahokia makes it a big weekend for the Chicago Public League.
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