Class 4A Dundee-Crown sectional
Regional sites: Rockford Auburn, St. Charles North, Cary-Grove, Huntley
Top seeds (by regional): Rockford Auburn, Elgin, McHenry, Huntley
Outlook: Three defending regional champions Auburn (26-2), Elgin (23-3) and Huntley (24-3) return to the postseason sporting better records than a year ago. Auburn is the defending sectional champion, led by Wichita State recruit Fred Van Vleet. The Knights defeated Huntley in the sectional final a year ago. Huntley defeated Elgin in a sectional semifinal.
The St. Charles North regional is essentially a mini-Upstate Eight tournament. No. 1 Elgin (23-3) opens the playoffs Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between two U-46 rivals, No. 4 South Elgin (11-15) and No. 5 Streamwood (4-21). Elgin defeated South Elgin by 22 points in December and Streamwood by 33 points last week.
If the Maroons advance to the regional final as expected, they will face the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between No. 2 St. Charles East (14-12) and No. 3 St. Charles North (13-15). The rival Saints and North Stars split two regular-season meetings. Likewise, Elgin split the season series with both St. Charles schools. Elgin and St. Charles North finished as co-champions of the UEC River with 9-3 division records.
Elgin endured a mini-slump in late January and early February, which coincided with the absence of third-year starting guard Dennis Moore. Since Moore's return the Maroons have gotten their act together, as evidenced by Friday's 59-50 win over Metea Valley, the No. 3 seed in the East Aurora sectional. The Maroons enter the playoffs riding a 7-game winning streak.
"If we just keep playing the way we've played the last two weeks, we'll be fine," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "We try not to worry too much about the other teams. We do what we know how to do. If we defend in the half court, if we rebound, and if we don't turn the ball over, we're going to be pretty good."
Elgin is led by UEC River MVP Kory Brown, who on Friday passed Marcus Smallwood for fifth place on the school's all-time scoring list.
Two-time outright Fox Valley (Valley) champion Huntley is the top seed in a tough regional field, led by experienced third-year varsity players Troy Miller, Justin Frederick and Bryce Only. The Red Raiders open the playoffs Tuesday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 4 Rockford Jefferson (12-14) and No. 5 DeKalb (12-16). DeKalb beat rival Sycamore Friday, 41-36, to win a share of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title.
"It's a crapshoot who comes out of that game because we've seen DeKalb and Jefferson each four or five times and both are solid teams that played very good schedules," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "Our first-round game will be tough."
If Huntley advances to the regional title game, it would face the winner of Tuesday's second semifinal between No. 2 Dundee-Crown (16-10) and No. 3 Larkin (15-11). In their Dec. 14 nonconference meeting, D-C rallied from a 14-point deficit with 11 minutes to play to defeat Larkin 66-61. The Chargers are led by dynamic junior guard Brandon Rodriguez, athletic junior forward Dylan Kissack and senior 3-point threat Kyle Bernhard.
'They know us, we know them," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said of the Chargers. "We've played the last couple years. It'll be a possession game back and forth. Whoever makes more plays is going to win, just like they made more plays at their place and they beat us the first time we played."
The Royals counter with a deep, balanced, young unit. Guards Derrick Streety and Quantice Hunter can slash to the hoop or shoot from the perimeter, guard Quentin Ruff can be lethal from 3-point range when hot and seniors Antonio Pipes and Blake Grantham and sophomore Drew Jones all can score in the post and grab rebounds. Larkin has the ability to beat anyone, as evidenced by a January victory over Plainfield East, the top-seeded team in the East Aurora sectional.
"Larkin is a very good team and they are improving by leaps and bounds lately," D-C coach Lance Huber said. "They have a lot of weapons and it's tough to guard them. On top of that, they can pressure you all over the floor and disrupt you with their speed and athleticism. I'd be very thankful if we could bet a very good Larkin team."
Huntley and Larkin did not face each other this season. On the other hand, Huntley and D-C are well acquainted. The Red Raiders defeated the Chargers three times during the regular season by 5, 5 and 1 point, respectively.
The term "second season" aptly applies to the field at the Cary-Grove regional, where, due to preassigned IHSA regionals, the top seed enters with just 10 wins. The five teams in the field have a combined winning percentage of .303.
"Every team in this regional has a chance to do something that will make them forget the whole rest of the season," Jacobs coach Jim Hinkle said. "No matter what's happened until now, winning a regional title is all you or your friends will remember. It's an exciting time of year."
The regional opens Monday with a play-in game between No. 4 Cary-Grove (7-20) and No. 5 Prairie Ridge (8-18). The teams split two regular-season games. The winner advances to a semifinal against No. 1 McHenry (10-15) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. McHenry swept Cary-Grove and split with PR in FVC Valley play.
Tuesday's second semifinal pits No. 1 Crystal Lake South (8-18) against No. 3 Jacobs (7-21). CL South won the first two meetings between these schools this season, but Jacobs whipped the Gators by 30 points last week in Algonquin. CL South could enter the game short-handed. Senior guard Will Ahsmann, the team's leading scorer in conference play, has a hamstring injury and reserve Xoni Veseli rolled his ankle Friday. Both were on crutches at Saturday's practice.
"I hope they both can play, but we've been a deep team all year, rolling nine or 10 guys," CL South coach Dan DeBrucyker said. "Hopefully, they can practice Monday and we'll see how they feel."
Led by the area's leading rebounder, Alex Glover, Jacobs is playing its best basketball of the season. The Golden Eagles are riding a 3-game winning streak against PR, CL South and Johnsburg.
"We've felt all year long that we're capable," Hinkle said. "We just haven't been able to pull it off often. But now we have another opportunity to show it."
No. 1 Auburn is the heavy favorite to win its own regional featuring Rockford-area schools. Led by Van Vleet, who averages (20.4 points, 4.8 assists, 4.1 steals and 5.8 rebounds per game, is supported by LaMark Foote (14.4 ppg). The Knights won the NIC-10 title with a 15-1 record. The only team to beat them in conference play was No. 2 Hononegah (19-9), their likely title-game opponent. The Indians beat the Knights 39-36 on Dec. 16. Hononegah plays No. 3 Boylan Catholic (16-10) in a semifinal Wednesday. Auburn opens the playoffs Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between No. 4 Harlem (16-13) and No. 5 Guilford (7-19)
Advancement: The Rockford Auburn regional winner will play the Huntley regional winner on Tuesday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m. The St. Charles North regional winner will face the Cary-Grove regional winner on Wednesday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m.
The winner of the Dundee-Crown sectional will play the winner of the Barrington sectional in the DeKalb (NIU) supersectional on Tuesday, March 13 at 8:10 p.m. The top seeds in the Barrington sectional are No. 1 Warren (22-3), No. 2 St. Viator (23-3), No. 3 Mundelein (23-7) and No. 4 Waukegan (15-9).
Class 4A Schaumburg sectional
Regional hosts: Lyons, Lake Park, Glenbard West, Proviso East
Top seeds: Oak Park-River Forest, York, Schaumburg, Proviso East
Outlook: No. 12 Bartlett (14-14) is the only Fox Valley school participating in the Schaumburg sectional. The Hawks open the playoffs with a tough task: beating No. 4 Lake Park (18-8) on its home floor in a regional semifinal. The Upstate Eight Valley rivals split their regular-season meetings. Bartlett won 58-55 in overtime in Roselle on Jan. 13. The Lancers returned the favor with a 63-48 win on the Hawks' home floor on Feb. 17.
"It's a familiar foe," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "We've split games, but they really thrashed us in our last game. We'll see. Hopefully, we'll bounce off (Thursday's win vs. Larkin) and see if we can find a way to get Lorenzo (Mitchell) a little more involved and open them up a bit. We've been on the cusp of a roll and it seems like every time we get close to playing consecutive good games we just can't quite. If you're going to put a roll together, now's the time."
Matt Chaltin is the Fox Valley's leading free-throw shooter. Bartlett's senior guard scored 25 points Thursday in a victory at Larkin in the regular-season finale.
Advancement: The winner of the Schaumburg sectional will face the winner of the East Aurora sectional in the Hinsdale Central supersectional on Tuesday, March 13 at 7:30 p.m. The top four seeds in the East Aurora sectional are Plainfield East (25-1), Downers Grove South (21-5), No. 3 Metea Valley (22-4) and No. 4 West Aurora (21-5).