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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Henricksen

Looking back at a dozen preseason predictions

Moline’s Jasper Ogburn (10) and Grant Welch (34) react during the state semifinal game against Downers Grove North at State Farm Center. (Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times)

Way back in November, I attempted to make a dozen predictions for the upcoming 2022-23 season. 

It’s time to take a look at those fearless forecasts and see the verdict for each one. 

St. Rita can still have a great and groundbreaking season without winning a state championship.

This is still true today, just as it was four months ago: St. Rita could have a great and groundbreaking season without winning a state championship. 

Was it a great season? No. Was it groundbreaking? No. 

If “very good season” was the descriptor used in that fearless forecast it would have come to fruition, because the Mustangs did accomplish that. St. Rita won 23 games with the highlight being winning the tough Chicago Catholic League, one of the best conferences in the state. 

But this was a team with perhaps the highest ceiling — if you ignored the fact it was still a team that would not be able to rely on seniors. With all the preseason hype and headlines (St. Rita was ranked No. 2 in the preseason), along with the massive amount of individual talent (three high-major commitments), “great” and “groundbreaking” were the goals. 

St. Rita fell short in doing things the program had never done before, most notably winning its first-ever sectional championship. The Mustangs lost to Catholic League foe Brother Rice in the sectional semifinals and finished the season ranked No. 12. 

Now with North Carolina recruit James Brown announcing he was leaving St. Rita, with the 6-9 big man going the prep school route for his senior year, this star-studded group, as a whole, will never know just what it could accomplish as seniors. 

Rolling Meadows will be the only team outside the top five to reach No. 1 in the Super 25 rankings this year.

Last season Glenbard West ran the table. The Hilltoppers were No. 1 from start to finish.

This year it was expected several teams up near the top of the preseason rankings would eventually ascend to the top spot. Simeon started at No. 1 and finished there. And the only team to make it to No. 1 other than Simeon was Kenwood — for one week in the middle of January. 

The belief was Rolling Meadows had the talent, experience and early-season schedule to maybe rise to No. 1 while others knocked each other off. Coach Kevin Katovich’s team, fresh off a Jack Tosh Holiday Classic title in December, peaked at No. 5 in early January. 

If not for a tough 65-64 loss to New Trier in December, the Mustangs may have inched closer to the top spot. Flip that score and Rolling Meadows would have been a perfect 17-0 heading into January. 

Moline vs. Simeon will be the regular season game of the year.

There are usually a few to look back on as a potential regular season “Game of the Year.” But if Simeon-Moline wasn’t the one, it was surely close to being the one.

There were stars and Division I talent on both teams. There were plenty of points scored. And there was drama right up until the buzzer.

Before a packed house at this year’s When Sides Collide Shootout at Benet, Simeon and Moline went at it for 32 minutes before being decided in the closing seconds. Simeon’s Wesley Rubin preserved a thrilling 67-66 win over Moline with a game-saving blocked shot at the basket as the buzzer sounded.

And if Simeon had beaten Metamora in the Class 3A state championship game, this January matchup would have had even greater ramifications as it would have featured the two state champs in the two largest classes.

Glenbrook North — and not perennial contenders Evanston, Glenbrook South or New Trier — will win the rough-and-tumble Central Suburban League South.

New Trier won the Central Suburban League South. Glenbrook North finished second. But maybe we add an asterisk to this failed forecast? 

Just prior to a late-season showdown with New Trier, with the CSL South title on the line, Glenbrook North’s star point guard Josh Fridman went down with an injury. Playing its first full game without its spark and engine, GBN lost to New Trier 50-33. 

Fridman was lost for the season. However, coach Quin Hayes’ team regrouped and made a postseason run, winning a regional championship and stunning Rolling Meadows in the sectional semifinals before getting another shot at New Trier in a sectional title game. But CSL South nemesis ended Glenbrook North’s season.

Downers Grove North will be the team outside the Super 25 to make the biggest climb up the rankings.

Well, here was a home run forecast. 

Coach Jim Thomas guided the Trojans to an unprecedented season, winning just the second sectional title in program history and bringing home the first state trophy. Downers Grove North fizzled in Champaign but what a run it was, knocking off Proviso East, Young, Hinsdale Central and Kenwood to reach the state semifinals. 

Unranked in the preseason, DGN finished the season with 32 wins and ranked No. 4 in the final Super 25 rankings. 

Phoenix Gill will be the biggest breakout player in the sophomore class.

When considering players who combine production and upside — and who didn’t make a significant impact as a freshman — the St. Ignatius sophomore may have lived up to the billing.

The Class of 2025 hasn’t exactly lit up the high school basketball world. Overall, the early returns from the class after two seasons leaves everyone wanting and hoping for a whole lot more. 

Gill, however, sparked a St. Ignatius run that ended in Champaign for the second straight season. The talented guard was instrumental in helping the Wolfpack win their second straight sectional championship and a fourth-place finish in Class 3A. 

The overall season stats ––11.7 points, three rebounds and 2.7 assists a game –– don’t tell the whole story.

In the final 10 games of the season, Gill put up 15.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game, including upping his scoring to 16.8 points a game in the final five postseason games. He also shot 40 percent from the three-point line in the final 10 games.

This Wednesday’s St. Ignatius-Lake Forest game will be a preview of a Class 3A supersectional in March. And Lake Forest will win its first sectional in program history.

St. Ignatius and Lake Forest played one of the better Thanksgiving tournament games of the opening week. Behind the play of Richard Barron, St. Ignatius pulled out a 51-49 win over Lake Forest on Thanksgiving Eve. 

And it appeared in early March that a rematch was inevitable. 

The two were one game away from facing one another in a Class 3A super. St. Ignatius took care of Fenwick in a sectional championship game win. But Lake Forest was upset by Grayslake Central, 46-43, in its sectional title game. 

St. Ignatius went on to win its second straight sectional, beating Grayslake Central 67-60 in the Hoffman Estates Super. 

Lincoln-Way East will have the biggest turnaround season of any team.

When you consider this is a team that went 11-17 a year ago and finished 25-6 this year while winning the second regional championship in program history, it’s tough to argue against Lincoln-Way East here.

There were many turnaround seasons across the Chicago area, but the Griffins cracked the Super 25 rankings and broke a school record for wins. That’s the biggest turnaround you’ll find. 

Coach Robert Smith will win state title No. 7

Oh, so close. 

The legendary high school coach announced his retirement and all eyes were on whether he could direct one of the favorites in Class 3A to yet another state championship. He fell just short. 

Simeon, which won a city championship in February, reached Champaign in March. But an overtime loss to Metamora in the state title game ended the dream of going out on top and breaking his own record of most state championships won. 

If the IHSA keeps the sectional assignments the same as last year, the eight teams playing in Champaign will be Kenwood, Rolling Meadows, Benet and Moline in 4A and East St. Louis, Simeon, Metamora and St. Ignatius in Class 3A.

There was little to no movement within sectional assignments across the state. So how did this November forecast of the final four teams standing in 3A and 4A pan out?

This isn’t a very good example of parity in high school basketball, which is something everyone seemed to preach throughout the season. But how can that be argued considering … 

The Class 3A field his perfectly as predicted. Simeon, Metamora and St. Ignatius all returned to Champaign for a second straight year, while the preseason forecast went out on a limb and picked East St. Louis over defending state champ Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin. ESL did just that, knocking off SHG in the super-sectional. 

Benet and Moline lived up to the early-season forecast as both made their way to Champaign following the November prediction, which was followed up by picking Moline over Benet in the 4A final when the postseason began.  

Moline beat Benet 59-42 to win its first state championship in program history.

The Public League’s Red-South/Central will have six teams awarded top four sectional seeds and playing sectional basketball.

Kenwood, Simeon, Hyde Park, Phillips and Perspectives-Leadership all won regional titles and played sectional basketball. 

But due to Lyons upsetting Curie, a No. 3 sectional seed, in the regional championship, this fell short by one. 

The shot clock will be a huge success and everyone will want more.

The shot clock became more of a topic and newsworthy for a couple of reasons. 

First, the IHSA approved “experimental” use of the shot clock in this 2022-23 season for any high school shootout or tournament that chose to use one. There were many that did.

Then with the actual presence of the shot clock, coaches, media and fans simply became more engaged in the conversation as the season played out. 

The end of games, in particular, were just different. And the consensus was they were better. 

For coaches, a tactical revolution was welcomed with open arms. Virtually every coach that played in an event with a shot clock this past season spoke glowingly about it. 

The shot clock creates a more pleasing and fluid game without completely overhauling the sport or fundamentally changing the game. 

The idea of a coach telling his team, “Go play 35 seconds of good defense and then it’s our ball” is refreshing. 

Even as the logistics continue to be looked at and worked out, the shot clock will likely even grow in popularity going forward. 

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