When the season began there was the ever-tempting lure of possibility for each of the remaining 32 teams still alive in the IHSA state basketball tournament.
That possibility back in November was playing on the biggest stage –– in Champaign on the final weekend of the season. Now those teams are one win away.
Here is a look at the top supersectional games Monday night.
Class 4A: Kenwood (28-6) vs. Downers Grove North (31-3) at UIC
No. 4 seed Downers Grove North is the lowest seeded team remaining in the state. But the Trojans are beaming with confidence and have proved their worth with sectional wins over Young and Hinsdale Central, the top two seeds in the sectional.
Jack Stanton, a rising junior guard, is just the kind of guard who can lead an upstart team like DGN to another upset. He doesn’t need a whole lot of space to get his shot off and is a game-wrecker with his three-point shot.
Kenwood, led by dynamic scoring guard Dai Dai Ames, reached this spot a year ago where it fell to Young. So the Broncos are in search of their first State Finals berth in program history.
Will the size and athleticism of 6-5 Calvin Robins, 6-8 Solomon Mosley and 6-10 Jaden Smith present a problem for DGN?
The pick: Kenwood 55, Downers Grove North 50
Class 4A: Libertyville (29-5) vs. New Trier (31-4) at NOW Arena
A pair of No. 1 sectional seeds who both made it through after winning dramatic, buzzer-beating sectional games last week collide.
Libertyville’s 6-7 Aidyn Boone has taken his game to another level. In addition to a buzzer-beating three he hit in the semifinal win over Barrington, Boone scored 43 points in the two sectional wins.
Beyond Boone’s superlative sectional, the Wildcats have thrived with various players –– experienced players –– stepping up and providing balance. Will Buchert has been outstanding in the backcourt, while Jack Huber, Cole Bonder and Kaj Sorensen are among the many who have made major contributions.
New Trier lives through the feisty toughness of seniors Jake Fiegen and point guard Evan Kanellos. They set the tone with their leadership and not being scared of the big moment. Fiegen can beat you with his three-point shooting or with his strength and bulliness around the basket.
Coach Scott Fricke is receiving valuable minutes from 6-10 Tyler Van Gorp, while sophomore Colby Smith has become a more confident player and shooting threat.
The pick: New Trier 54, Libertyville 47
Class 4A: Oswego East (29-5) vs. Moline (32-3) at ISU
After taking down one future Big Ten guard in Jeremy Fears and Joliet West in the sectional final, Oswego East now gets a shot at two more; Moline’s terrific tandem of Brock Harding and Owen Freeman are both headed to Iowa.
In Harding and Freeman, the Maroons have a combination of a heady and special point guard and a dominant 6-10 figure inside. That’s a recipe to win in March.
Oswego East answers with outstanding balance, including a 6-6 do-it-all in Mekhi Lowery and emerging Ryan Johnson. While guards Bryce Shoto and Jehvion Starwood provide additional offensive punch, it was unsung 6-5 senior Tyler Jasek and his spot-up shooting that provided a major lift in the win over Joliet West.
Can the Wolves pull off a third straight upset? Taking care of the ball will be essential. The more Oswego East turns the ball over –– turnovers allowed Joliet West to erase deficits last Friday –– the margin for error becomes that much smaller.
The pick: Moline 63, Oswego East 57
Class 3A: Hillcrest (29-3) vs. Simeon (30-3) at UIC
A couple of standout veteran coaches with 17 sectional titles between them meet with a State Finals berth on the line. Hillcrest’s Don Houston and Simeon’s Robert Smith lead balanced powerhouses loaded with size and experience.
The battle of Division I players inside, featuring Hillcrest’s 6-9 Darrion Baker (Akron) and Simeon’s Miles Rubin (Loyola) and Wesley Rubin (Northern Iowa), is one worth monitoring in this one.
But Jalen Griffith of Simeon and Bryce Tillery of Hillcrest have been the anchors for their teams at point guard.
The pick: Simeon 53, Hillcrest 47
Class 4A: Benet (33-1) vs. Rockford Auburn (23-12) at NIU
Once again it was one of Benet’s “Big Three” that saved the Redwings from a massive upset loss in the sectional final. Brayden Fagbemi’s putback at the buzzer beat Geneva and saved the season.
Fagbemi, Niko Abusara and Brady Kunka have proven all season to be a dependable, productive and unselfish trio. All three beat you in different ways, while the role players have settled in nicely around them.
The thumbnail sketch of these two teams are glaringly different, starting with the loss totals. But Auburn has played a very tough schedule and has won eight of its last 10 games. The Knights, led by senior guard Adrian Agee, have ramped up the defense and rode the hot hand of Rakim Chaney (30 points) in a sectional final win over St. Charles East.
The pick: Benet 58, Rockford Auburn 51
Class 3A: St. Ignatius (23-11) vs. Grayslake Central (29-5) at NOW Arena
All signs point to a significant St. Ignatius advantage in this Class 3A tilt. The Wolfpack have played the much stronger schedule and boast Division I talent, including George Mason recruit Richard Barron. He came up big in the sectional championship win with 26 points and nine rebounds.
And will the experience of being in this exact position before matter? While upstart Grayslake Central won its first-ever sectional championship, St. Ignatius is one win from making its second straight trip to the State Finals in Champaign.
But that feeling of invincibility at this time of the year does some funny things and can go a long way. After beating Lake Forest in the sectional final, a team Grayslake Central lost to by 21 points in the regular season, the Rams are feeling invincible.
A quick start Monday night from the likes of Dennis Estepp, Jake Gibson and Sam Cooper could change the complexion of this game quickly.
The pick: St. Ignatius 51, Grayslake Central 45
Class 3A: Marmion (23-11) vs. Metamora (31-2) at Ottawa
A Class 3A super featuring a team with unfinished business after finishing second in the state last year and one making its first appearance since 1976.
Metamora, which lost a heartbreaking 3A state championship game last season, is rolling. The Redbirds have won 29 straight games and haven’t lost since November. This is a team that boasts talent, chemistry, so much big-game experience and an offense that can really put points on the board.
Ethan Kizer, an athletic 6-6 forward headed to South Alabama, is a difference-maker, while Tyson Swanson, Tyler Mason, Drew Tucker and sophomore Matthew Zobrist are all shot-making perimeter players.
Marmion is sky high and has played the type of competition in the Catholic League that has prepared the Cadets for this moment. Marmion has a 1,000-point scorer in Jabe Hait, shooting in Collin Wainscott and versatile 6-5 threat with Trevon Roots, who scored 18 points in the sectional semifinal win over Burlington Central.
The pick: Metamora 65, Marmion 54
Class 2A: DePaul Prep (20-12) vs. Perspectives-Leadership (24-11) at Joliet Central
A Catholic League vs. Public League battle featuring two very contrasting styles makes this Class 2A supersectional even more intriguing.
If DePaul can get this game to be played in the mud, essentially slowing down a Perspectives-Leadership team that has scored 65-plus points 21 times this season, it will be in good shape.
Coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s DePaul team grinded through a regular season with youth and injuries while playing a tough schedule. The Rams are as healthy as they’ve been –– and a little more seasoned. They are also very much invested on the defensive end.
But do the Rams pack enough offensive punch? This postseason version is averaging 60 points a game; the regular season Rams averaged 50 points a game.
Maurice Thomas and PJ Chambers are averaging 11.6 and 11.4 points a game, respectively. Since promising 6-7 junior Jaylan McElroy returned from injury after missing half of the season, he’s put up 10.2 points and seven rebounds a game while providing a defensive presence. And 6-6 junior Payton Kamin was huge in the sectional, scoring 28 and 22 points in the two wins.
This will be about tempo and Perspectives-Leadership will look to push it in the open floor. While new to the supersectional party, making its first-ever appearance, Perspectives-Leadership has walked through four postseason opponents.
There is speed, quickness and dynamic playmaking ability in the backcourt with Jakeem Cole, Gianni Cobb and Tim Handy. Led by Cobb’s 21 points a game, those three provide the bulk of the scoring, averaging a combined 53 points a game.
The pick: DePaul 48, Perspectives-Leadership 45