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Jalen Brunson (15) will look to lead Stevenson to a title in the rugged Lake Zurich Sectional. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media
The Class 4A Marist Sectional, which includes Curie, Young, Simeon and St. Rita, is widely considered the best sectional in the state. If the seeds hold up, fifth-seeded Mount Carmel would have to beat St. Rita, Young and Curie just to win a sectional.
But the Class 4A Lake Zurich Sectional boasts an impressive field as well. The top five seeds, led by state title contender and No. 1 seed Stevenson, each have at least 21 wins on the year and a combined record of 118-15. Of those 15 losses among the top five teams, eight came against one another.
Each of the top 10 seeds in this sectional head into regional play this week with at least 15 wins on the season.
The sectional also has an impressive collection of talent with Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw, Lake Forest’s Evan Boudreaux, St. Viator’s Ore Arogundade and Zion-Benton’s Milik Yarbrough.
If there is one team in desperate need of a signature win this March, it’s St. Rita.
Prior to coach Gary DeCesare’s arrival in 2009, St. Rita basketball had been an afterthought. An influx of talent and an upgraded schedule has certainly changed the makeup, perception and expectations of the program.
But with Kentucky-bound junior Charles Matthews, who is ranked No. 14 nationally in the Class of 2015, Northwestern recruit Vic Law, and the Catholic League South Player of the Year Dominique Matthews, it’s time for this “team” to grab people’s attention.
Aside from three consecutive Catholic League South titles, the Mustangs are lacking a victory over a top tier team.
St. Rita was stunned on its home floor last year in the regional by DuSable, a No. 13 seed in the sectional. The Mustangs are just 1-4 this season against teams ranked in the Chicago Sun-Times Super 25, including a Catholic League Tournament opening-game loss to Fenwick.
A regional championship this week, which would be the program’s first since 2003, would be a start. That would then present an opportunity for this program to officially put itself on the map with that signature win in the loaded Marist Sectional and get to 20 victories for the first time in 11 years.
The memorable 1997-98 season in Illinois, which featured one of the all-time great classes of individual talent in state history, continues to eerily resemble this 2013-2014 season in many ways.
The four highest ranked teams in the final AP regular-season poll featured arguably the four best players in the state and the top four finishers in Mr. Basketball voting: Young (Quentin Richardson), Peoria Manual (Frank Williams), Galesburg (Joey Range) and Fenwick (Corey Maggette).
That same scenario has and continues to play out this year, with Curie (Cliff Alexander), Young (Jahlil Okafor), Stevenson (Brunson) and Marian Catholic (Tyler Ulis) the top four teams in Illinois, which also feature the four best, most prominent players in the state.