Focus on state: SHG takes on St. Ignatius in IHSA basketball matchup of relative newcomers
When Sacred Heart-Griffin tips off in the Class 3A state basketball semifinals on Friday morning, SHG won’t be the only newcomer to the party.
The Cyclones’ opponent at the State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus, Chicago St. Ignatius, has even fewer state finals appearances: one, compared to SHG’s four.
Metamora, which faces statewide powerhouse Chicago Simeon in the second semifinal on Friday, is making its first state tournament appearance. Meanwhile, Simeon has seven state championships, two runner-up finishes, one third-place trophy and has qualified for the state tournament 15 times.
But St. Ignatius coach Matt Monroe doesn’t think the lack of program experience will be a detriment to his program. Early expectations, then dealing with a COVID-19-necessitated pause before multiple injuries led the Wolfpack to better handle the mounting stress, Monroe said.
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“It taught our kids that, really what they need to focus on, is the process and focus on what they can do in the moment, just try to be the best versions of themselves every single day, try to block out the noise and just focus on the task at hand,” Monroe said.
SHG coach Tim Allen, who has six juniors from the 2020 team — which qualified for the Class 2A state tournament before the season was canceled due to the pandemic — said he has the luxury of plenty of players who believe they have what it takes to win big games. He has players from both Springfield Grant Middle School and Christ the King, who won either won or played for state championships in middle school.
“We’ve got kids who through middle school ... (and) now juniors … never lost a playoff game,” Allen said. “They think going to state is just part of the routine. We’ve got kids saying ‘state or bust’ and I'm like, no it's not state or bust: that is extremely hard to do but they don't know any better.
"They're winners and they don't know any better.”
Scouting the Wolfpack
St. Ignatius (23-12) will tipoff with a pair of players whose names are all over the Wolfpack record books. Six-foot-3 guard A.J. Redd, who averages 11.9 points per game, is the all-time leader in rebounds, steals and games played, is second in assists and is one of just six players to score at least 1,000 points. Six-foot-6 senior Kolby Gilles is the team’s all-time offensive rebounder and second in games played. Gilles will play at the Air Force Academy.
Junior Richard Barron is the team’s leading scorer at 15.2 points per game and he’s received Division-I offers from Loyola Chicago, Southern Illinois, DePaul, Kent State, George Mason and others, according to Monroe.
“He's an outstanding shooter, he gets to the rim, he's got a nice mid-range game (and) he's one of the best scorers in (the Chicago Catholic League),” Monroe said. “He does a lot for us, not just with scoring but defensively and with rebounding, as well.”
Noah Davis is the Wolfpack’s third senior starter. Monroe said of his 6-2 forward, “What he brings to the table doesn't necessarily always show up in the stat sheet. He is our energy guy. And he brings a ton of toughness. He keeps the team together. And he's a tremendous leader. And he's willing to make tough plays.”
St. Ignatius’ size comes from 6-8 junior Jackson Kotecki, “a real nice inside-outside threat,” according to Monroe. "(Kotecki) is playing his best basketball right now. He can score around the basket, can shoot it from 3 and he's an outstanding rebounder as well.”
One of Monroe’s reserves is Phoenix Gill, the 6-1 freshman son of former University of Illinois star Kendall Gill, who had a 15-year NBA career. “He sees limited minutes, but he's a guy that's gaining valuable varsity experience,” Monroe said.
Benefit of being 'unscoutable'
In Tuesday’s conference call with statewide media, SHG's Allen said he’s not a coach with a particular system.
"We’re not going to do everything the same night in, night out so you can just scout what we do,” Allen said. “If we're playing against a more athletic team, we will slow the game down (and) pack it in. If we're playing against a team that we can push it on, we'll push it.”
Monroe said that style of play makes pouring over hours of film to prepare for a team like SHG tougher.
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“I would agree with coach (Allen), you know, the way that we run our offense is we don't have a set offense that we subscribe to,” Monroe said. “We grab bits and pieces from many different offenses — concepts that we like — and that's kind of how we build what our offensive strategy is.
“And the reason behind it is kind of like what coach (Allen) is saying: you want to be unscoutable. If you want to run one set type of offense, or you run a pattern, you know, oftentimes it's much easier to be game-planned for.”
Instead of knowing how the offense moves, the film study becomes a time to find individual propensities.
“When we're looking at a team like Sacred Heart-Griffin or like us — that kind of runs more of a conceptual-based offense — I think what you really need to focus on is personnel, finding what each individual player does and try to take that away,” Monroe said. “And then, regardless of whether or not you are a chameleon, I think oftentimes, you can pick away from scouting, different tendencies that teams go to more often so it certainly makes it harder to scout.”
SHG (33-3) and St. Ignatius meet at 10 a.m. The loser of the first semifinal will play the loser between Metamora (29-6) and Simeon (28-5) in the third-place game at 7 p.m. on Friday. The winners will meet in the Class 3A state title game on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Ryan Mahan: 857-246-9756, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR.