Daily Herald
Path rarely clear for tournament favorites
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 2/26/2012 12:01 AM

Glenn Rivers was undoubtedly one of the elite high school basketball players in state history at Proviso East.

But a trip to the state's Elite Eight is one thing the good Doc doesn't have in a resume that includes an NBA all-star appearance as a player and a championship ring as the Celtics' head coach. That includes a Proviso East team in 1980 that was undefeated and top-ranked for most of the season but didn't get out of a sectional.

So those who believe in teams that are unbeatable should also consider one of Rivers' current players, Kevin Garnett. His Farragut team which included electrifying legend Ronnie Fields made the Elite Eight but didn't come home with a trophy.

Mike Tyson had his Buster Douglas. Georgetown had its 1985 Villanova. Duke was inches from having Butler do it two years ago.

Closer to home, there might have been no more than a few handfuls of people outside the Schaumburg locker room who believed it would play giant-killer of Eddy Curry and top-ranked Thornwood for the 2001 AA title.

And one of the moments that vaulted Warren and retiring coach Chuck Ramsey into statewide prominence as the 1999 AA runner-up was a quarterfinal win few saw coming over future NBA player Brian Cook and Lincoln.

So, here are Proviso East and Warren, considered clearly the teams to beat in their respective 4A sectionals at Schaumburg and Barrington. Is there anyone who can detour their expected path to Peoria?

And is there anyone who can prevent Simeon from hoisting a third straight state title trophy?

You just never know as March Madness starts unfolding Monday when regional play begins.

Barrington sectional

So far, so good for top-seeded Warren (22-3) on Chuck Ramsey's farewell tour. The dynamic duo of 6-foot-8 Toledo recruit Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Western Michigan signee Darius Paul has last year's runner-up poised for another final four run.

Two of the losses were last week to unbeaten Proviso East in the City-Suburban Showdown and in double overtime to Public League power Curie in the Pontiac tournament semifinals. But loss No. 3 is a definite and early cause for concern for the North Suburban Conference champs.

That was 44-43 at Stevenson in December. That's where Warren is headed for its regional and the Patriots (16-10) could be the title-game opponent.

But the Patriots have a tough opener Wednesday with Prospect (17-8) and career scoring leader Mike LaTulip.

The Patriots won their meeting 66-63 in the second round of the Wheeling tourney but they have struggled since midway through the second quarter of a title-game loss there to Naperville Central. LaTulip has averaged 24.4 points during the Knights' 8-2 stretch run.

Second-seed St. Viator (23-3) went 8-0 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference to win its first outright league title in history. The selfless Lions have two experienced guards in Kevin Walsh and D.J. Morris, an athletic infusion with sophomore scoring leader Ore Arogundade and the second half inside inspiration of 6-5 third-year starter Chris Myjak.

But their assignment for the Rolling Meadows regional isn't easy, either. Particularly if they face No. 14 Highland Park (16-10) on Tuesday.

Yes, the Lions won their matchup by 27 points but that was at Thanksgiving. The Giants are always a challenge, as Warren saw in an opening-game struggle last year, with their defense, patience and discipline under coach Paul Harris.

And there's the possibility of Viator playing a road regional final against Mid-Suburban East champion Rolling Meadows (16-10) and fourth-year starting point guard Brian Nelms and long-distance threat Tyler Gaedele. Libertyville has struggled down the stretch but is dangerous with Griffin Pils and Ellis Mathews.

Third-seed Mundelein (23-7) has its usually potent offense led by junior Robert Knar and versatile Sean O'Brien. But it also faces a potentially dangerous regional opener at Zion-Benton against the Zee-Bees, who have had an uncharacteristic year at 13-14 but have one of the state's top sophomores in Milik Yarbrough.

No. 6 Barrington (18-10) has 6-7 Western Illinois recruit John Schneider back from a hand injury with Brad Zaumseil and Mark Bennett to try and avenge a Christmas overtime loss to Lake Zurich.

Two teams that had big second halves No. 4 Waukegan and No. 5 Lake Forest are in the Palatine regional. So is red-hot No. 12 Grant (19-7), which has wins over Barrington and Meadows, and No. 13 Fremd (15-11).

For all of them, the goal is to keep the Blue Devils from what many believe is their due and another trip to Peoria.

Schaumburg sectional

Former Proviso East star Donnie Boyce, one of the Three Amigos on the 1991 state title team with Michael Finley and Sherell Ford, picked a perfect time to return to his alma mater as head coach.

So far it's been perfect for the 25-0 Pirates who aren't big but can run opponents out of the gym with Loyola-bound point guard Keith Carter, 6-4 Sterling Brown, Paris Lee and Paris Burns.

They just handled second-seed Oak Park-River Forest (18-6) in the unofficial West Suburban Conference title game 63-48 on Wednesday.

No. 3 Schaumburg (21-5) made Cinderella runs to sectional finals the last two years. This time the MSL champions are in a favorite's position.

The Saxons have plenty of big-game experience with scoring leader Christian Spandiary, 6-5 junior Jimmy Lundquist and junior point guard Kyle Bolger, who is hopeful of returning to action after missing the last two games with an injured shoulder.

Heading to Glenbard West for a regional will be a challenge and could include a third matchup with nearby rival and No. 11 Conant (13-13) in a regional final. They could also face the host Hilltoppers, who have faded after a strong start.

Fourth-seed York has been red hot since Christmas and has one of the state's top junior guards in David Cohn. But it could have to play the fifth-seeded hosts in the final of the Lake Park regional.

Oak Park is at the Lyons regional where No. 7 Leyden (16-10) and standout guard Alex Herrera will try to beat No. 10 Morton for the second straight time.

Glenbrook South sectional

New Trier and Dartmouth-bound Connor Boehm got the top seed. No. 2 Glenbrook North has been bolstered by the return of 6-8 junior Andrew McAuliffe from a knee injury but has a potential rubber match with No. 7 Niles North in the regional final at Skokie.

No. 3 St. Patrick has had a strong second half and No. 4 Notre Dame also had a solid year after losing its big stars from a year ago. No. 12 Maine West has lost five straight and 20-point averager Conor Hart to a knee injury going into its matchup with No. 5 Evanston at Notre Dame.

The rest of the state

Top-seed Simeon and star junior Jabari Parker will have to get through the Public League-filled minefield of Curie, Bogan and Whitney Young at Argo - At East Aurora, Plainfield East and Metea Valley, two programs in their infancy, battle traditional powers Downers Grove South and West Aurora - Rockford Auburn and standout guard Fred Van Vleet, Elgin and star Kory Brown and Huntley lead the Dundee-Crown field - Illinois State-bound guard Anthony Beane and Normal, which took fourth last year, is among the best at Collinsville - Top-seed Bloom and surprising No. 2 Andrew lead the way at Lockport.

mmaciaszek@dailyherald.com