Boys basketball: Record Newspapers area 5 storylines to watch heading into the IHSA postseason

Yorkville’s Jason Jakstys lays in a shot against Joliet West in Joliet.

Oswego East just recorded its sixth consecutive 20-win season, not counting the COVID-19 shortened season, and Yorkville also is closing in on 20 wins.

And both face tall tasks just to get out of a regional.

Such is the reality this year for those grouped in the Class 4A East Aurora Sectional, arguably the most difficult sectional field in the state.

That bracket is one of the main storylines as the boys basketball postseason tips off next week across all four classes. Action starts Monday, with regional semifinals on Wednesday and regional finals next Friday, with the state tournament the first weekend in March.

Here are five storylines in the Record Newspapers area to follow as the playoffs begin.

East Aurora, a bear of a bracket

As stated previously, the East Aurora Sectional is perhaps the most daunting across the state.

Bolingbrook (23-4), led by electric freshman guard Davion Thompson, is the No. 1 seed, and has played like the team to beat in wins this month over Waubonsie Valley and Class 4A No. 1-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor.

Downers Grove North (26-4), led by Princeton recruit Jack Stanton, and Benet (25-5), both among the final four at state last year, are seeded second and fourth, respectively. Waubonsie Valley (25-2), which won its first 23 games this season, is the No. 3 seed.

A dynamite top four, yes, and there is quality on down the line.

Consider this: Downers Grove South, seeded 10th, has 23 wins and just won its league, and Plainfield North, seeded 11th, has 17 wins. It could lead to some spicy regional matchups and will provide quite a few two weeks for the winner to navigate.

“I think it’s the toughest sectional in the state,” Oswego coach Chad Pohlmann said. “It will be a challenge for teams to win a regional.”

Oswego East's Jehvion Starwood (22) drives to the hoop against West Aurora during a basketball game at Oswego East High School.

Oswego East and Yorkville, huge challenges on their home court

Unlike last season, when Yorkville was forced to make a two-hour drive for its regional games, the Foxes will be playing next week in the comforts of their home court.

The playoff road isn’t any easier.

Both Yorkville and Oswego East, who both host regionals, face huge challenges to make it out of regionals next week.

Yorkville (18-11), seeded No. 8, hosts No. 9 West Aurora (20-10), a team it split with during the regular season, in a regional semifinal. Both teams won on their respective home courts, Yorkville taking the second meeting.

Should the Foxes make it through that matchup, they’d in all likelihood get Bolingbrook in a regional final.

It’s an unenviable draw, but Yorkville takes comfort in the knowledge that they have played their best basketball down the stretch. The Foxes are 9-3 over their last 12 games, including a 72-50 thrashing of Oswego East last Friday.

“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Yorkville senior and 6-foot-10 Illinois recruit Jason Jakstys said.

Oswego East (20-10), which last season won the program’s first-ever sectional title, begins postseason play against Naperville North Wednesday. The Huskies are without Purdue football recruit Luke Williams, who had season-ending labrum surgery in January. A win there, and Oswego East likely would face Benet in a regional final.

The Redwings have struggled some down the stretch, with back-to-back losses at the start of February, but feature the state’s top sophomore in 6-foot-7 Gabriel Sularski, with 7-footer Colin Stack another one of Benet’s three sophomore starters. Oswego East counters with Jehvion Starwood, a 6-foot-3 Wyoming recruit who scored his 1,000th career point in Tuesday’s win over Oswego.

“We’ll have our hands full – our boys will be up to the challenge,” Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez said. “I don’t want this to end. We’ve learned from our mistakes, and we learned from those growing experiences.”

Yorkville Christian's Jayden Riley (10) drives to the basket against Hiawatha's Cameron Emerich (13) during a basketball game at Yorkville Christian High School in Yorkville on Friday, Jan 5, 2024.

Under the radar Yorkville Christian

Yorkville Christian, with zero seniors, is perhaps a little more under the radar than in recent seasons. There is no Division I recruit like Jaden Schutt or David Douglas Jr. The Mustangs are seeded fifth in Sub-Sectional B of the Class 1A Harvest Christian Sectional.

But the Mustangs look like a team not to overlook.

Yorkville Christian (13-17) in the last month has beaten Class 2A power Christ the King, beat a 22-win South Beloit team by 17 and had a quality win on the road at Wauconda. The Mustangs are coming off a solid showing in a 69-63 loss to Kaneland at the Indian Creek Shootout.

Sophomore guard Jayden Riley is averaging 23.9 points per game and junior guard Zach Marini 14.6. Should Yorkville Christian get through its first game against Gardner-South Wilmington and a regional semifinal, likely against Earlville, an intriguing regional final awaits against regional host Aurora Christian, ranked No. 9 in Class 1A by the Associated Press.

Yorkville Christian coach Aaron Sovern, an Aurora Christian grad, said that this under the radar group that starts two freshmen reminds him a little bit of the 2018-2019 Yorkville Christian team that won the program’s first regional, and eventual sectional title.

“Nobody really knew who we were. All of a sudden we won a regional and quote and quote upset a team in a sectional,” Sovern said.

Plano to get playoff rematch?

Plano (16-14) has had an up and down season, but there is little doubt what the Reapers looked like at their peak.

During a magical four-day stretch at their Plano Christmas Classic, the unseeded Reapers reached the championship game for the first time in 43 years. And once there, Plano led No. 1 seed Kaneland all the way into the final seconds of a heartbreaking 55-53 loss.

Could a rematch be in the cards?

Should Plano get through a playoff opener against IMSA Monday, the Reapers would face Kaneland in a regional semifinal Wednesday. Kaneland won both regular-season meetings with Plano, but both were hard-fought, including a 79-68 Knights’ win in Maple Park. Kaneland senior guard Troyer Carlson, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer to beat Plano at Christmas, just became his school’s all-time leading scorer.

Other playoff matchups

In Class 4A, Oswego is seeded No. 18 in the East Aurora Sectional and plays at 15th-seeded Naperville Central in a regional quarterfinal Monday, the winner to face Downers Grove North. In Class 2A, Sandwich is seeded No. 6 in the Mendota Sectional and hosts 11th-seeded Aurora Central Catholic in a regional quarterfinal Monday, the winner to face Riverdale at Spring Valley Hall. In Class 1A, 10th-seeded Newark plays at eighth-seeded Somonauk in a regional quarterfinal Monday, the winner to face No. 1 seed Serena.