Preps Talk

IHSA Class 4A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

IHSA Class 4A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

The IHSA Class 3A and Class 4A boys basketball state playoffs begin this week. Class 4A is loaded with interesting teams in nearly every sectional this season as it could be one of the deepest pools of potential state champions that we've seen in years.

We'll have plenty of Class 4A playoff updates throughout the state playoffs on High School Lites and CSNChicago.com. Also be sure to follow our Twitter page @CSNPreps for the latest scores and highlights.

Here's a preview of the Chicago-area teams to track in the Class 4A playoffs over the next few weeks.

Proviso East Sectional

Favorite: Defending Class 4A champion Curie (23-3, 10-0) was one of the hottest teams in the area before losing to Morgan Park in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Condors have a go-to guy in senior Elijah Joiner and other seniors like Allante Pickens and Terry Smith also have a lot of big-game experience. 

Other Contenders: This sectional features plenty of teams who were in the CSN Preps Power Rankings this season. Whitney Young (20-7, 8-2) and Kenwood (19-7, 8-2) are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and both schools have plenty of talent to make some noise while No. 4 seed Oak Park-River Forest (21-6, 11-1) is one of the hotter teams in the West Suburbs. 

Darkhorse: Keep an eye out for No. 6 seed St. Joseph (16-11, 5-4) in this sectional. Gene Pingatore's ballclub has been playing significantly better the last few weeks of the season after a sluggish start and the backcourt of senior Jason Towers and sophomore Marquise Walker is very talented. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: St. Joseph potentially battling Kenwood is fun but the possible No. 4 and No. 5 seed matchup between Oak Park-River Forest and St. Patrick (19-8, 5-4) could be tons of fun. Both programs have spent a healthy amount of time in the top 25 this season and the good history of both programs should make for a fun atmosphere. 

Waukegan Sectional

Favorite: Evanston (24-3, 10-0) has only lost one game to an Illinois opponent all season (Naperville North) as they enter the Class 4A state playoffs with a lot of confidence. While senior Nojel Eastern gets a lot of the headlines for the Wildkits, this is one of the most balanced teams in the area. Evanston has plenty of shooters, experienced interior players and some scoring pop off the bench.

Other Contenders: This sectional isn't as deep as past years but there are still plenty of solid teams. Notre Dame (23-5, 7-2), the No. 2 seed, is playing very good ball down the stretch after doing a good job navigating the ESCC while No. 3 seed Stevenson (21-5, 12-2) has some talented seniors in Indiana commit Justin Smith and Willie Herenton. 

Darkhorse: Zion-Benton (20-9, 12-2) is an intriguing team that has the length, athleticism and experience to make a run here. Senior guard Rod Henry-Hayes is generating Division I college interest and he's the type of player who can take over a game and lead the Zee-Bees to some upsets.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If North Suburban conference rivals Stevenson and Waukegan (18-8, 10-4) meet up it would be a rubber match as the teams split the season series with the home team winning both games. The third game would be played on a neutral court (Maine West) and also be one of the rare regional title games that features a Division I senior on both rosters (Stevenson's Justin Smith and Waukegan's Carson Newsome.).

Robert Morris Sectional

Favorite: Unbeaten Fremd (26-0, 10-0) is not only unscathed entering the Class 4A playoffs but they've also dominated the competition within their own sectional. The Vikings swept No. 2 seed Conant during the season and also beat No. 3 seed Prospect a week ago for the Mid-Suburban League title. This is the second season in the last four that Fremd has entered the playoffs unbeaten but they don't have to face a future McDonald's All-American like Jalen Brunson in a sectional final this time. 

Other Contenders: Conant (24-4, 8-2) and Prospect (22-5, 9-1) were both top-25 mainstays who had great seasons as the Mid-Suburban League had a lot of talented teams this season. The Cougars are perhaps the bigger threat having won a sectional title in Class 4A last season and senior point guard Jimmy Sotos (Bucknell) is one of the most talented players among the sectional. 

Darkhorse: Grant (19-8, 13-1) has been flying under the radar a bit this season but the Bulldogs are peaking at the right time. Winners of seven straight games, the Northern Lake County champs have knocked off Zion-Benton during the season and they played No. 1 seed Fremd a few weeks ago.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: A possible game between No. 4 seed Lake Zurich and No. 5 Grant would be the best potential regional final matchup in an otherwise underwhelming sectional. Lake Zurich (18-11, 5-9) had a disappointing conference season but they do have a solid record and some good wins.

Elgin Sectional

Favorite: This is an intriguing sectional with teams from a wide area of the state but Fox Valley champion Jacobs (26-1, 15-1) is a strong contender. The Golden Eagles have lost one game all season (to Prairie Ridge) and they have the most productive senior big man in the Class 4A field in Loyola commit Cameron Krutwig. 

Other Contenders: Rockford Boylan (25-4, 16-0) is the other No. 1 regional seed in this sectional and the Nic-10 champions have one of the state's most underrated seniors in guard Zach Couper. Couper has already put up a 50-point game this season and Boylan could just as easily be put as co-favorite with Jacobs in this sectional. 

Darkhorse: Both St. Charles schools -- St. Charles East and St. Charles North -- have enough to make some noise in this sectional. The Saints (18-8, 9-3) have a very good junior in Justin Hardy while St. Charles North (18-8, 8-4) is the team that ended Geneva's unbeaten season.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If St. Charles North plays Jacobs then we get to see if the North Stars can pick off another top-25 team while we also get an immediate chance to see how Jacobs handles a solid team from outside of McHenry County early in the playoffs. 

Lincoln-Way East Sectional

Favorite: Bolingbrook (24-1, 13-1) has been one of the major storylines this season as the Raiders' only loss came when they were a bit banged up. When fully healthy, Bolingbrook is perhaps the deepest team in the state and senior Nana Akenton is a major All-Area candidate. 

Other Contenders: Already a winner of a sectional title last season, Joliet West (23-3, 14-0) returns most of that core group as this team has major expectations to make a potential run to Peoria. Point guard Teyvion Kirk and wing Trevian Bell might be the best one-two punch in the sectional. 

Darkhorse: West Aurora (19-8, 9-1) is finally a fully healthy team and they're entering the playoffs having won four of their last five games. The Upstate Eight Valley champs have a talented go-to junior in Cameron Donatlan and plenty of pieces around him. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: Two teams trending in opposite directions could meet if Joliet Central faces Lincoln-Way East. The Steelmen (21-5, 11-3) have been in the CSN Preps Power Rankings most of the year but have two losses to Joliet West and Romeoville heading into the playoffs. Lincoln-Way East (19-10, 6-4) picked off top-25 teams like Homewood-Flossmoor and Bolingbrook during February as they appear to be peaking at the right time. 

Hinsdale Central Sectional

Favorite: Wheaton-Warrenville South plays a slow, methodical style of ball but they've used it to get a 27-1 record and No. 1 sectional seed. The Tigers limit turnovers, play tough defense and have a handful of floor spacers. Wheaton-Warrenville South won't beat themselves very easily so someone is going to have to force them out of their comfort zone to beat them. 

Other Contenders: Geneva (27-2, 11-1) comes in as the No. 2 seed and the Vikings were unbeaten for most of the regular season until a loss to St. Charles North. It would be dumb to count out No. 3 seed Benet since the Redwings are last season's Class 4A runner-up. Naperville North is also an intriguing No. 4 seed since the Huskies are the only Illinois team to beat Evanston this season. 

Darkhorse: This might be the deepest sectional when it comes to teams who could actually win as the middle is very deep. Seeds No. 6 through No. 10 (Wheaton North, Downers North, Downers South, Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South) are all well above .500 in both overall record and conference play.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: Because of the aforementioned depth of the Hinsdale Central Sectional, all four regional title matchups could be enticing but if Wheaton-Warrenville South faces Downers South it would be unique in Class 4A. The Mustangs (18-11, 9-3) might actually have the two most talented players on the floor (as the No. 8 seed) in seniors T.J. Clifford and Denis Alibegovic but Downers South is also mistake-prone and played poor defense in some games.

Thornwood Sectional

Favorite: City champion Simeon (24-3, 8-2) is coming off of a great run over the last few weeks in the toughest elimination tournament in the state so they're prepared to make a run to Peoria in Class 4A. Senior Evan Gilyard is one of the state's best floor leaders while juniors Kezo Brown and Talen Horton-Tucker impact the game in so many ways. 

Other Contenders: There are plenty of competitors in this sectional as seeds No. 2 through No. 7 all spent time in the CSN Preps Power Rankings this season. Among that group, No. 3 seed Thornton has perhaps the state's best player in senior guard in Alonzo Verge and No. 4 seed T.F. North is pummeling opponents lately during a red-hot winning streak.  

Darkhorse: Sitting down at the No. 7 seed is Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings are a dangerous team that spent much of the year in the top 25. Playing one of the area's strongest schedules, the Vikings won't be phased one bit if they have to face No. 2 seed Brother Rice. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: This is another sectional with strong depth and that should make for a lot of intriguing regional finals. If No. 4 seed T.F. North and No. 5 seed Marist play, however, that one would be tremendous. The Meteors are playing some of the best basketball of any team in the state and Marist was champion of a loaded East Suburban Catholic Conference. 

Edgy Tim's Week 8 analysis and picks

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim's Week 8 analysis and picks

NBC Sports Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school football games across Chicagoland on the Week 9 edition of High School Lites, Friday at 11:00 p.m. Can Wilmington win on the road at Coal City in this backyard rivalry? Who comes out ahead in the Battle for the Alec Anderson Trophy: Bolingbrook or H-F? Can Prairie Ridge and Cary Grove just start overtime now? Can Nazareth Academy unleash its offense and beat a very strong Notre Dame defense in Niles? And will Friday's Metro Suburban Blue --and Class 4A-- showdown between IC and St. Francis stand as a potential playoff preview between the two?

Wilmington at Coal City, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: This Illinois Central Eight conference title game features two nearby rivals who know each other extremely well. It's one of the most anticipated games in southern Will and eastern Grundy counties all season. Wilmington (7-0/5-0), led by veteran head coach Jeff Reents, has the Wildcats playing well this fall behind a power running game led by RB Jake Rodawold and a nice mix of the play-action passing game behind QB Keaton Hopwood. Coach Dan Hutchings and the Coal City Coalers (7-0/5-0) have an experienced and deep roster. THey will also look to establish the running game with RB Dan Jezik. The passing game is also a strength with QB Peyton Hutchings. Can Wilmington contain the Coal City running game and win the battle in the trenches? Will home field be a factor?

EDGY's Pick: Coal City 28 Wilmington 14

(10) Bolingbrook at (6) H-F, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Despite the distance between Bolingbrook (6-1/3-1) and Homewood-Flossmoor (6-1/3-1) this game is undoubtedly one of the biggest rivalry games for each school. They will play for the Alec Anderson Memorial Trophy. Raiders head coach John Ivlow has returned to the triple-option offense with just enough play-action passing game to the tune of great success. The running attack is led by senior QB Deyvn Suggs; the experienced offensive line is led by senior John Williams (Cincinnati). The defense has speed and athleticism, guided by junior LB Tyler Mclaurin and junior S Justin Walters. H-F head coach Craig Buzea features a big and experienced offensive line led by seniors Marcus Harper II (Oregon), Michael Ford and Denzel Bryant. Junior RB Sean Allen is also having a strong season. The Vikings 'D can match just about anyone in the state speed for speed. Junior WR/SB Will Pauling and sophomore LB Malyk Jones are names to watch. Can Bolingbrook run the football against H-F? Can the Vikings' offense pound away at Brook's speedy defense?

EDGY's Pick: Homewood-Flossmoor 21 Bolingbrook 14

(18) Hillcrest at Lemont, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Hillcrest (6-1/4-0) has been playing lights-out football since a close 26-20 Week 1 loss to Brother Rice. Junior RB Mar'Kiese Irving has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the Class of 2021 and has led the way for head coach Morgan Weaver's Hawks this fall. Lemont (6-1/4-0) also dropped a close opening week decision (12-6 to St. Charles East), but they have been on a roll ever since. They have a balanced offense led by QB Luke Bailey and WR Anthony Sambucci (Western Michigan). Can the Lemont defense corral and contain Mar'Kiese Irving? Can the Hawks win on the road? 

EDGY's Pick: Hillcrest 28 Lemont 27

Prairie Ridge at (25) Cary-Grove, 7:00 p.m. #SendEDGY

EDGY's Take: Year in and year out, these two Fox Valley powehouse programs never fail to entertain. Same applies in 2019 where Prairie Ridge (6-1/6-1) and Cary Grove (6-1/6-1)-- expect a very tight, 'last-possession-wins' type of game. Prairie Ridge and head coach Chris Schremp will look to get the Wolves offense balanced and on trackled. The group is led by QB Connor Lydon and a backfield of RB Blake brown, Taidhgin Trost and Carter Evans. Cary-Grove and head coach Brad Seaburg will want to establish the power running attack with RB Blake Skol and QB Luke Eleftheriou. On defense, the Trojans have allowed just 36 points so far on the season. Will the team that limits the overall amount of mistakes win? 

EDGY's Pick: Cary-Grove 28 Prairie Ridge 21 OT

Grant at Grayslake North, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Grant (6-1/4-1) secured the Bulldogs' first state playoff bid since 2012 in last week's win over North Chicago. Head coach Chris Robinson's squad will rely on a stable of quality running backs along with QB Tyler Elfering. On defense, Grant has kept teams at bay all season. The unit is led by senior LB Kyle Rainey. Grayslake North (3-4/2-3) will be in must-win mode this week. The Knights are hoping that their recent offensive explosion over the past few weeks continues Friday night. North is led by QB Nick Fish. Can the Knights' offense put up points against a very strong Grant defense?

EDGY's Pick: Grant 35 Grayslake North 21

Antioch at Lakes, 7:15 p.m. 

EDGY's Take: Antioch (6-1/5-0) has been able to keep winning despite losing standout junior QB Athan Kaliakmanis (Minnesota) for the season to a Week 6 injury. Look for the Sequoits, coached by Brian Glashagel, to get the football into the hands of junior WR Dino Kaliakmanis (Minnesota) along with senior WR Treshawn Watson. Lakes (6-1/4-1), coached by Jordan Elder, was able to bounce back last week with a win over Grayslake Central after losing to Grant. Can the Eagles get starting QB Chris Selig back in the lineup after suffering a Week 6 injury? This is one of the top rivalry games in Chicago's northern suburbs.

EDGY's Pick: Antioch 35 Lakes 34

(5) Stevenson at Warren, 7:20 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Warren (7-0/5-0) is looking to lock up the North Suburban Conference title with a win. Head coach Bryan McNulty's Blue Devils defense remains the big story so far this season. The 'Township defense has allowed just 21 points all season and is led by senior DT Willis Singleton Jr. (Iowa State), junior LB Malachi McNeal and senior LB Juan Delacruz. On offense, Warren is getting a big season from RB Derrick McLaughlin. The experienced offensive line has certainly helped. Stevenson (4-3/4-1) features a first-year head coach in Brent Becker. He has relied on senior RB J.M. Etiene and backup QB Liam Crowley-- who has played well since filling in for the injured Justin Hiller. Can the Patriots' offense move the football consistently --and then score-- against Warren's defense?

EDGY's Pick: Warren Township 28 Stevenson 10

(3) Nazareth at (8) Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Nazareth (6-1/2-0) is coming off a big 39-29 win last Friday over Marist. The Roadrunners are stacked again this fall for head coach Tim Racki. Junior QB J.J. McCarthy (Michigan) is as dangerous as ever. He has a target in sophomore WR Tyler Morris. The 'Naz defense is also very solid. Keep an eye on senior ILB Marcus Griffin (GVSU), junior DE/OT Ryan Keeler and senior LB/FB Riley Theobald. Notre Dame (7-0/2-0), under Hall of Fame head coach Mike Hennessey, has been one of the biggest surprise stories in Chicagoland. The Dons have a tough one-two punch on offense with junior QB Anthony Sayles and senior RB Julian Schurr. LB Anthony Ranallo leads a very tough ND defense. Can the Nazareth offense dent a very strong ND defense? Can the Dons' offense keep the football and win time of possession?

EDGY's Pick: Nazareth Academy 20 Notre Dame 14

I.C. Catholic Prep vs St. Francis at Wheaton College, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: A huge showdown here in the Metro Suburban Blue-- as well as in Class 4A. I.C. (7-0/4-0) has relied on the arm and legs of senior QB/LB Danny Cronin. Junior RB Kyle Franklin remains a game-breaking threat at all times for head coach Bill Krefft and company. Many around St. Francis (6-1/4-0) felt that this team was maybe a year away. But next year is here. Keep an eye on junior QB Tommy Rittenhouse. He's one of the most dangerous dual-threat signal callers in Chicagoland this season. The Spartans also have a stable of talented backs and receivers. Can The St. Francis defense slow down and contain the balanced Knights offense? Can the IC defense get pressure on the St. Francis offense? Am I the only one who thinks this game could be Part 1 of 2 this season? (psst: playoff preview)

EDGY's Pick: I.C. Catholic Prep 34 St. Francis 28

Cinderella stories live on in IHSA football

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NBC Sports Chicago

Cinderella stories live on in IHSA football


For the past 24-plus seasons I've been blessed to cover IHSA football from one end of the state to the other. Every year I am able to see some amazing games and programs led by incredible coaches. But for some reason, the underdog/Cinderella stories always seem to stick with me.

One of my favorites stories over the years goes back to the 2016 season. 

I was getting ready to select a Week 9 game to go cover. I've always approached the regular season finale as a bonus playoff football week since so many teams seem to be on the postseason bubble-- a "must-win" to get in. If anything, these win-to-get-in games can either go one way or the other...they are either great, intense games or the opposing team just decided to not show up. 

I struggled to find a Week 9 game to attend. Joe Collins --my editor at NBC Sports Chicago-- suggested, "Hey, what about Larkin at Elgin?"  My initial thought: "So...what about it?" Larkin, under then-head coach Dragan Teonic was 4-4 and needed a win in the regular season finale to have a shot at a state playoff berth. All the Royals needed was a win over then-lowly Elgin (0-8). Why even bother covering this game? I assumed that Larkin would just roll over the Maroons and lock up a state playoff spot and I would be stuck covering a blowout. 

I gave Joe a lot of grief for "highly encouraging" me to check out Larkin at Elgin, with heavy emphasis on "a lot" of grief, yet off I went to Elgin's Memorial Stadium.

Well, turned out that the Maroons, led by head coach Anthony Mason, decided to show up and play. And did they ever. They stunned longtime rival Larkin 26-20 for their first win of the season, got the Town Jug trophy in the process and go the additional bonus of knocking the Royals out of state playoff contention. The game was an intense, hard hitting affaor. It was easily one of the biggest and best crowds I saw all season long. Remember, Elgin hadn't won a game all season long and was outscored 302-92 that season. But for (at least) one night Elgin, was the best team in Elgin. Heck, the way the Maroons played that night they might of been the best team in all of Chicago's western suburbs that Friday evening.

I will always remember the look on then-Larkin head coach Dragan Teonic's face after the loss to Elgin, a combination of shock and sadness. I'm sure the loss bothers Teonic-- even after three years. Teonic, who's since moved onto South Elgin (7-0) and is building the Storm into a power in the Upstate Eight, has had much better days since that fateful night. But it's always the hard losses you'll remember than any of the accomplishments. 

Covering Elgin's win over Larkin taught me a lot that night. Never assume a win. Never underestimate the power of what a group of highly-motivated kids and coaches can do on any given Friday night. And in some cases, you truly can throw out the records between two teams because, at least for one night, the records don't matter. 

So when you see teams like Elgin, East Aurora, Proviso East and LaSalle-Peru just having their own Cinderella moments in 2019, learn to appreciate them whether you're a fan of those schools or not. 

The many people involved from these schools deserve credit with sticking with it and never giving up. The personal struggles that several of these coaches have faced, both personally and professionally, can be overwhelming. In some cases many, many years have come and gone and finally after those years of struggle and sacrifice, they finally have a few minutes in the sun.