Preps Talk

The playoffs heat up on High School Lites

The playoffs heat up on High School Lites

High School Lites is focused on the IHSA playoffs for this week's show as we bounce around three different classes for boys basketball and the Class 3A and 4A state semifinals in girls basketball.

With regional titles on the line in Class 3A and 4A, there are a lot of great matchups ahead on Friday night. Catch an all-new episode of High School Lites at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.  

Class 4A Regionals

Lincoln-Way East vs. Romeoville (at Lincoln-Way Central) -- This is an intriguing matchup between two teams who were in the preseason top 25. Romeoville (20-7) hasn't won a regional since 1994 as they have some talented pieces, including seniors DeAndre Heckard and Dontia Johnson. Lincoln-Way East (22-5) has never won a regional title in boys basketball before as senior Sam Schafer, a Southern Illinois commit, looks to lead them to new heights. 

Larkin vs. St. Charles North (at St. Charles North) -- A rubber match between two conference rivals, this should be a battle. Larkin (20-8) won the conference and the first matchup on the road, only for St. Charles North to beat them on Feb. 16. The North Stars (17-10) finished second in the Upstate Eight River to Larkin as they've won four straight games.

Wheaton Warrenville South vs. Bartlett (at Bartlett) -- Bartlett hopes to continue to play spoiler in this regional. The Hawks (16-12) earned a minor upset win over Batavia in the regional semifinals as they're hoping to beat another higher seed. Wheaton Warrenville South (23-6) is hoping to win another regional title as they like to slow things down and play at their tempo. 

Loyola vs. Maine South (at Maine South) -- Two of the best teams in the North Suburbs finally get a chance to play. Loyola (23-6) went on a three-game losing streak towards the end of the season but they've corrected things since with a two-game winning streak. Maine South (22-7) has won eight of nine entering this game as they've been one of the hotter teams in the area. 

Fenwick vs. Proviso East (at Fenton) -- Another enticing battle in Class 4A here. Fenwick (20-7) went unbeaten in the Catholic League Blue as they're one of the big contenders after moving up to Class 4A. Proviso East (19-8) has dropped some recent games but they've been dangerous throughout this season. 

OPRF vs. Lincoln Park (at Lane) -- Oak Park-River Forest is trying to make another playoff run as they battle Lincoln Park. The Huskies (23-5) have won six straight games as they've looked like one of the Class 4A contenders to watch the past few weeks. Lincoln Park (18-9) survived a playoff scare from Lane as they've also knocked off a few giants during the regular season. 

Class 3A Regionals

North Chicago vs. Ridgewood (at Elmwood Park) -- North Chicago tries to claim another regional title in this one. The Warhawks (18-8) went unbeaten in Northern Lake County play as they're hoping to make it home as the host of the North Chicago Sectional. Ridgewood (13-14) earned a 15-point win over Steinmetz in its playoff opener. 

Class 2A Sectionals

IC Catholic vs. Orr (at Timothy Christian) -- Orr tries to capture another sectional title after a scare in the last round. The Spartans (26-4) had to produce a major comeback to take down Uplift in the sectional semifinals as they might have had a wake-up call. IC Catholic (20-9) will be the underdog, but they've won six of their last seven games heading into this one. 

Class 3A Girls Semifinals

Richwoods vs. Glenbard South, 11:00 a.m. -- A couple of powers play in the first semifinal. Glenbard South (29-3) is led by junior Maggie Bair as they have won nine straight games. Richwoods (33-1) has won 18 straight games as they've been one of the best teams in the state. Senior guard Kourtney Crane leads a team with balanced scoring. 

Nazareth vs. Breese Central., 12:45 p.m. -- The second semifinal should be just as competitive. Nazareth (30-2) has a potent scorer in junior guard Annie Stritzel as she's putting up 24.1 points per game. Breese Central (29-3) is seeking its first state title since 2007 as they are led by senior guard Faye Meissner. 

Class 4A Girls Semifinals

Montini vs. Edwardsville, 5:30 p.m. -- A pair of 30-win teams play here. Montini (33-2) is led by senior forward Aaliyah Patty as they try to win for the first time since 2014. Edwardsville (30-0) lost to Geneva in Class 4A as its only loss last season as they try to keep the unbeaten season alive. 

Maine West vs. Geneva, 7:15 p.m. -- The Vikings try to repeat as Class 4A champions as they have to get past Maine West first. Geneva (29-3) has a 14-game winning streak -- with most of those wins coming by double-digits. Maine West (31-1) only lost to Geneva by two points on Jan. 6 as they try to get revenge. 

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

Belleville West's Class 4A title serves as historic passing of the torch between Chicagoland and downstate

PEORIA -- Belleville West finished an undefeated IHSA boys basketball campaign on Saturday night by capturing the Class 4A state title with a memorable 60-56 overtime win over defending champion Whitney Young.

An intense back-and-forth contest that delighted fans at Carver Arena, the Maroons held off the Dolphins as junior forward and Mr. Basketball candidate E.J. Liddell finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The state title matchup between the St. Louis metro powerhouse and the Chicago Public League superpower somehow lived up to the immense hype. But perhaps more important than the game itself was the significance of the outcome. Saturday's win for Belleville West also served as an important passing of the torch.

For the first time since Shaun Livingston and Peoria High went back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, the largest IHSA boys basketball state title won't be going home to a team from the Chicagoland area.

Class 4A has been dominated by Chicago-area teams every year since four-class basketball came into existence during the 2007-08 season. And after Livingston and Peoria's two-year run, Jon Scheyer (Glenbrook North) and Derrick Rose (Simeon) swept through Peoria and won three straight titles to close out the two-class basketball era in Illinois.

For the last 13 years, the biggest, and most important, state title in basketball-crazy Illinois has gone to a team from the Chicagoland area. A legendary run of talents from the area saw players like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Jalen Brunson win state championships.

Liddell and Belleville West knocking off a Public League powerhouse, and defending state champion, for a state title is a significant moment in IHSA basketball history. It's the first time the Class 4A boys basketball state title is going somewhere besides the Chicagoland area.

While Class 3A has seen some memorable state title runs from teams outside of Chicago like Belleville Althoff and Rock Island, the more-depleted Class 3A field is generally considered an afterthought for many Illinois high school basketball fans.

By going undefeated against IHSA competition this season and beating a team like Whitney Young for a state title, Belleville West established legitimate credibility that should be respected all over the state. Chicago area high school fans can be fickle about downstate teams and their stars. None of those doubts should be apparent for Belleville West after the way they dominated the 2017-18 season.

Since Liddell is only a junior, and many of the Maroons' top players are also returning, it also sets up the possibility that Belleville West is the favorite for the Class 4A state title entering the 2018-19 season. Things have dramatically changed in the world of high school basketball. Transfers can change anything overnight. But given the return of Liddell, and the loss of only three seniors, the Maroons could have staying power next year as well.

It sets up for a fascinating offseason and an intriguing subplot for Class 4A next season as everyone will be chasing Liddell and Belleville West. And if Liddell pulls off the win and beats Simeon's Talen Horton-Tucker and Morgan Park's Ayo Dosunmu for Mr. Basketball in Illinois then the pressure will be that much greater.

The Chicago Public League will still be the epicenter of high school boys basketball in Illinois next season. Orr and Morgan Park are coming off of back-to-back state titles. Whitney Young just missed joining them. Simeon was nationally ranked nearly all season. Curie remains an imposing threat only two years removed from its own Class 4A state title. There's a depth and quality of teams in the Public League that is unmatched anywhere else in the state.

But, for right now, that Public League's depth doesn't mean a thing. It's an afterthought. Because the Class 4A state title in Illinois high school basketball is heading south to Belleville. And it might not be leaving there for another year or two.

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

Morgan Park claims back-to-back Class 3A state titles with win over Southeast

PEORIA -- Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin brought his entire team with him to the press conference podium after claiming a second consecutive IHSA Class 3A state championship.

Irvin and the Mustangs have claimed four boys basketball state titles over the past six years. The quotable Irvin is usually only flanked by his starting five.

Even though Morgan Park had a clear star and leader in senior guard and Player of the Year candidate Ayo Dosunmu, the Mustangs needed every member of their roster to make it back to Peoria during an injury-ravaged season.

Morgan Park needed its reinforcements to make it back to the state finals. Dosunmu took care of the rest. The Illinois commit led Morgan Park's back-to-back quest with a Class 3A state title game record 28 points as the Mustangs earned a 71-56 win over Springfield Southeast on Saturday afternoon.

Although Morgan Park won a Class 3A title with Dosunmu on the roster last season, the Illinois commit wasn't able to play much during the final weekend in the state tournament after suffering a injury to his right foot that forced him to be on crutches for most of the weekend.

This time in Peoria, a healthy Dosunmu carried Morgan Park with an impressive game in front of his future head coach, Brad Underwood. Dosunmu's eight-point flurry to end the third quarter -- including a half-court buzzer-beater -- lifted the Mustangs to a 54-45 advantage entering the fourth quarter. From there, Morgan Park maintained a comfortable advantage as Dosunmu and his teammates held off the feisty Spartans.

"I told myself, once I got hurt, that it felt good for my team to win it. But I wanted to come back and be apart of it and actually be on the court," Dosunmu said.

"I just wanted to come back and redeem myself after getting hurt last year. I knew what I could do. I think I stopped the haters from saying that I couldn't win the big game."

Dosunmu did the heavy lifting for Morgan Park in the state title game. But the Mustangs needed all hands on deck during a tumultuous regular season. Morgan Park was viewed in the preseason as one of the major forces in the Chicago Public League. Injuries to seniors like Dosunmu and big man Tamell Pearson, a UAB commit, meant that the Mustangs had to change all of their plans.

Dosunmu missed 10 games with injury this season. Pearson only played in four games the entire season after multiple surgeries on his eye. That meant others like senior Cam Burrell and sophomores Adam Miller and Marcus Watson had to step up their play.

Morgan Park didn't make a lot of noise during conference play in the Public League Red South/Central. They were eliminated during the quarterfinals of the Public League Playoffs by Whitney Young. Morgan Park hadn't lost this much since Irvin's first season on the job 10 years ago.

But there was still the hope that a healthy Morgan Park could figure things out and make another run at a Class 3A state title. Once Dosunmu got rolling, the Mustangs gained a new confidence to claim another trophy.

"Absolutely, the toughest one," Irvin said of the title run. "At the end of the day I knew these guys were loyal to me. I knew they'd run through a brick wall for me. And I just had to get myself level-headed. I'm used to winning and beating everybody -- or close to it. Taking tough losses was a bit of an adjustment."

Morgan Park winning another title this season is a testament to how talented, and deep, the Mustangs have been the last two seasons. Even with teams not at full strength during the state playoffs the past two years, Morgan Park still managed to win back-to-back titles.

With five trips to Peoria in six seasons, and a roster still filled with young talent, Morgan Park should remain a major contender for years to come -- even with Burrell, Dosunmu, Pearson and the senior class moving on to the next level.

Miller has the look of a potential Player of the Year candidate. Watson played with a ton of confidence down the stretch. More promising young players are also in the pipeline in the rest of the program.

“Three-peat. Three-peat; that’s the goal,” Irvin said. “We’re going to come back home to Peoria next season — hopefully. I’m gonna be on Marcus, and Adam and Kyel (Grover) and just see what we can.”