There was a palpable buzz about basketball in St. Charles after St. Charles East and St. Charles North each stormed to the championship game of the Saints’ prestigious Thanksgiving Tournament.
A few months later, a long season of ups and downs – not to mention, in East’s case, a critical injury – has stripped some of the luster from the teams’ seasons. But with the postseason beginning Monday, the Saints and North Stars know a banner week at the IHSA Class 4A South Elgin Regional could allow them to finish the season where they started – riding high.
Neither team will be able to run far, though, from the skeletons in its 2012-13 closet – not with Upstate Eight Conference River champion Larkin likely to await one of the teams in Friday’s regional final.
Larkin swept both St. Charles teams during conference play, taking the two games against North by an average margin of 161⁄2 points and handling East by an average of 11 points. Of those four games, the only one that was in single digits – a 61-53 Larkin win over the Saints in November – came before East lost Purdue recruit Kendall Stephens to season-ending labrum surgery.
The Royals, explosive in the open floor and boasting multiple prolific shooters, exceeded the 60-point mark in all four of those victories.
“What they have is a nice combination of not only can they get to the basket, but they can shoot the 3,” East coach Pat Woods said. “When you can do both of those, I always tell our guards, our younger guards especially developing their game, develop the handles, get to the basket, and be able to knock down the 3. We can’t guard you on both sides. You have to play one or the other. I think that’s what makes their guards so dangerous.”
Both Woods and North coach Tom Poulin agree the Royals deserve the designation of clear favorite at South Elgin. If either St. Charles team is to turn the tables on Larkin at regionals, Poulin said the top-seeded Royals will likely have to inflict some of the damage upon themselves.
“First of all, you have to hope their shooters aren’t on that night,” Poulin said. “We’ve scouted them when they haven’t shot the ball well and they’ve been in some dogfights and lost some of them. And then [in addition to] not shooting well from the perimeter, you’ve got to dominate the glass. They’re not the biggest, they do have some size, but you have to hustle and get all over the offensive boards.”
Before either St. Charles squad gets a potential third crack at Larkin, a likely fourth meeting between the crosstown rivals looms in a regional semifinal Tuesday.
The third-seeded North Stars would need to defeat sixth-seeded South Elgin on Monday to set up an East-North showdown. The youthful Storm have had a subpar season and are likely to remain without injured standout Darius Wells, but their grind-it-out, defensive-minded style is capable of keeping them in games.
“This is going to be a great opportunity for them to do something they can take with them as they go forward, if they can play a spoiler role as host,” Poulin said. “And then I think most importantly, [South Elgin coach Chaz Taft] does a great job. I think he’s one of the best coaches around, and I’m not blowing smoke. He’s going to have them prepared and they’re going to be difficult to prepare for because of his system and the number of sets that they run and how intensely they defend.”
East (15-11) defeated North (16-10) in the championship game of the St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament before the teams split two conference meetings. The late-season emergence of sophomore 3-point sniper Jake Asquini has made the Saints especially dangerous on the perimeter, where skillful point guards Dom Adduci, a junior, and Cole Gentry, a sophomore, drive the team’s success.
“I think making sure their shooters don’t have time to get off a clean look is huge,” Poulin said. “Forcing their shooters to put the ball on the ground, and when they do attack, not being forced to over-help and leave shooters open. They do a great job of seeing where you’re helping from and then finding the open man and making the extra pass.”
If the seeds hold Monday, parking figures to be at a premium on Tuesday night. The semifinal doubleheader would feature a pair of intra-city rivalry showdowns: Elgin-Larkin, followed by East-North.
“I hope South Elgin has a lot of crowd control because it could be an exciting night, depending how Monday plays out, obviously,” Woods said. “There’s potential there for a great atmosphere for a semifinal. It’s got to be two of the best back-to-back games in the state, potentially.”
Saints forward David Mason said East is not overlooking the semifinal round but acknowledged it would be fun to have another chance at Larkin after the Royals thumped the Saints in Elgin when the Saints were struggling to acclimate to Stephens’ loss.
“It just gives us a little motivation to show that we can play on the same court as them, and show that [the blowout] was a fluke, show that we can compete with them,” Mason said.
Monday's regional openers
Batavia Regional (17) Batavia vs. (16) Plainfield East, 7:30 p.m.Wheaton Warrenville South Regional (12) Geneva vs. (21) Wheaton Warrenville South, 7:30 p.m.South Elgin Regional (3) St. Charles North vs. (6) South Elgin, 7:30 p.m.Class 3A
IMSA Regional (4) Aurora Central Catholic vs. (5) Marmion, 6 p.m. (3) Kaneland vs. (6) IMSA, 7:30 p.m.Burlington Central Regional (4) Burlington Central vs. (5) Genoa-Kingston, 7:30 p.m.
Toughest regional 4A Wheaton Warrenville South Regional. Despite flirting with 20 wins, Geneva would be a heavy underdog both against red-hot, fifth-seeded Hinsdale Central in a regional semifinal and in a potential regional final against fourth-seeded West Aurora, a bona fide threat to win the Bolingbrook Sectional. The Vikings have beaten quality foes such as Larkin and St. Viator, and would need similarly inspired efforts to have a chance against Hinsdale Central and/or West Aurora if they can first handle the host Tigers in Monday's opening round.
Best first-round matchup Aurora Central Catholic vs. Marmion at 3A IMSA Regional. Neither of these teams has been consistent this season but that unpredictability is part of what makes this rivalry rematch a hoot waiting to happen. The teams split their conference meetings, with Marmion blowing out ACC in the more recent matchup. The Chargers have typically saved their best basketball for the postseason under coach Nate Drye.
Best potential regional final St. Francis vs. Wheaton Academy at 3A IMSA Regional. The Suburban Christian Conference rivals have duked it out with one another for conference and postseason supremacy in recent years, with the Spartans prevailing when the stakes have been highest in the postseason. St. Francis plays physical basketball but would be challenged by the Warriors' formidable frontcourt, featuring Division I prospect Gordon Behr and rebounding dynamo Brandon Ruggles.
Potential dark horse Burlington Central at 3A Burlington Central Regional. The Rockets have played much better basketball as the conference season has unfolded and will be playing on their home floor. If Central tops Genoa-Kingston in the opening round, a shot at rival and top-seeded Hampshire in a regional semifinal would give the Rockets a prime opportunity to show how far they've come since starting the season 0-7.