Some years the state basketball playoffs go down as expected, and some years they don’t. This year, it’s the latter.
In Class 3A, Morgan Park and Peoria Notre Dame were thought all season to be headed toward an epic semifinal matchup in Peoria. On Friday when the semifinals are played, neither will be on the floor.
In Class 4A, expectations were even higher for a rematch between No. 1 Benet and No. 2 Simeon. Simeon took care of business and will be playing this weekend, but Benet was upset in the sectional semifinals and will be watching from home.
Some of the year’s best regular-season players and teams will be missing from the state tournament this weekend, but it won’t be completely void. There are plenty of talented individuals and teams still standing.
All four state semifinals and both state championship games can be seen on ESPN3.com.
Brooks (28-3) vs. Rock Island (28-3)
Time: 12:15 p.m.
The story: This is could be the main event of the Class 3A weekend. Before the playoffs, the assumption was that this matchup would be Morgan Park vs. Peoria Notre Dame, but Morgan Park was knocked off by Brooks, and Notre Dame fell to Peoria Central, which then lost to Rock Island. Either way, this should be an entertaining one. Both have been among the state’s top teams regardless of class all season. Brooks won the Chicago Public League title and has four Division I prospects. Rock Island possesses one of the best players in the state in Chasson Randle and a talented big man in Denzel McCauley. Rock Island’s losses this season were to Morgan Park, Peoria Notre Dame and East St. Louis. Brooks’ losses were Morgan Park, Simeon and Bogan.
Brooks player to watch: Mike Powell Jr. was an ESPNChicago.com all-area selection, but George Marshall is the Eagles’ most talented player. He sat the bulk of the season with a hand injury and has been dominant since returning. He’s averaging 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists and is headed to Wisconsin next season.
Rock Island player to watch: Stanford recruit Chasson Randle is regarded as one of the top players in the country. He’s ranked No. 60 in the Class of 2011 by ESPN Recruiting. He’s averaging 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Prediction: Brooks 63, Rock Island 60
North Chicago (17-13) vs. Centralia (29-4)
Time: 2 p.m.
The story: North Chicago is the biggest surprise of the state playoffs. The Warhawks opened regional play with a 12-13 record and defied their seeding all the way to Peoria. North Chicago likes to run, and it likes to score. The Warhawks have scored 80 or more points 12 times this season and haven’t scored less than 55 points. Centralia’s run to Peoria isn’t a shock. The Orphans are one of the state’s most storied programs and have made 23 previous state tournament appearances. Their only losses this season were to Bogan, O’Fallon, Breese Mater Dei and Mt. Vernon. They prefer a more low-scoring game and haven’t allowed more than 58 points to an opponent this season.
North Chicago player to watch: Junior guard Aaron Simpson was an ESPNChicago.com all-area selection. He leads the Warhawks’ high-powered offensive attack with 22.5 points a game. He had a season high of 44 points.
Centralia player to watch: R.J. Kwiatkowski, a 6-2 senior guard, is the lone Centralia player in double figures. He averages 17.6 points.
Prediction:North Chicago 65, Centralia 54
Simeon (28-2) vs. Glenbard East (27-3)
Time: 6:30 p.m.
The story: Simeon is the team to beat. The Wolverines are ranked No. 1 in the state and are the defending Class 4A state champions. They’re led by sophomore Jabari Parker, but they are a team full of Division I prospects. It’s going to take an off day coupled with an unbelievable performance by someone to defeat them. Of course, that's what Glenbard East is looking for. The Rams have been impressive throughout the playoffs, which included wins over Downers Grove South and East Aurora. They’ve haven’t lost since falling to Benet on Jan. 21. Glenbard East is led by seniors Johnny Hill and Zach Miller.
Simeon player to watch: Derrick Rose won two state championships at Simeon. Jabari Parker could be on his way to four state titles. Parker has excelled this season on the big stage, so this could be his weekend. He’s ranked the No. 2 sophomore in the country by ESPN Recruiting.
Glenbard East player to watch: Johnny Hill is one of the most underrated players in the state. He’s averaging 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists and is headed to Illinois State next year.
Prediction: Simeon 68, Glenbard East 60
Warren (30-3) vs. Normal Community (27-6)
Time: 8:15 p.m.
The story: Warren was one of the favorites to reach Peoria. The Blue Devils don’t have any big-name stars, but they’re unselfish, know their roles and just win. Their losses this season were to Simeon, Lake Forest Academy and Galesburg, and they haven’t lost since Jan. 15. Normal Community is more of a surprise to advance to Peoria. The Ironmen were solid all season and all of their losses were narrow ones, but they weren’t expected to get past Crete-Monee in the super-sectionals.
Warren player to watch: Junior forward Darius Paul was an ESPNChicago.com all-area selection. He averages 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds and has continued to play better throughout the season. His older brother is Illinois sophomore guard Brandon Paul.
Normal Community player to watch: Anthony Beane, a 6-1 junior guard, leads the Ironmen in scoring at 14.3 points per game. He had 17 points in Normal Community’s upset of Crete-Monee.
Prediction: Warren 58, Normal Community 53