Sports Editor MATT DANIELS offers up the latest insight on Centennial, Monticello, undefeated Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin and Villa Grove/Heritage:
1. CHAMPAIGN — Playing three games in roughly 24 hours?With some of its top players recovering from illness earlier this week?
That’s what the Centennial boys’ basketball program is facing this weekend. Chargers coach Tim Lavin said senior forward Axel Laby, senior guard Termarion Howard and junior guard David Laby all are recovering from being sick.
“We’ll make it through,” Lavin said. “It’s not good planning on scheduling on my part, but with the IHSA changing who is in 3A and 4A, we were scrambling to get some 3A teams since that’s where we’re at. So we just kind of took the games when we can get them. I think the Laby boys and Howard will be there. I just hope they’re healthy.”
First up for Centennial (10-10) is a 7:30 p.m. game on Friday at Danville. The Vikings (11-13) defeated the Chargers 72-61 on Nov. 26 and won for only the second time this month with an 81-50 win at Watseka on Tuesday. Danville has played the last month without Division I prospect Tevin Smith after the junior injured his knee in late December.
“They’ll get up and guard us hard,” Lavin said. “Obviously, not having a player of that caliber in Smith is going to hurt them a little bit, but they’re still pretty good without him. Somebody else will step up.”
Then, Centennial will travel and spend all day Saturday at the East Peoria Shootout, playing two games. The Chargers are slated to take on Chicago Corliss (12-8) at 11 a.m. before meeting the host Raiders (7-10) at 6 p.m.
Centennial already sustained a 49-28 loss to Corliss on Dec. 28 during the semifinals of the Effingham/Teutopolis Christmas Classic.
“Danville and Corliss are quick, athletic and can shoot the ball,” Lavin said. “Then, playing East Peoria on its home court won’t be easy.”
Still, Centennial snapped its four-game losing skid with a convincing 63-40 home win on Tuesday night against nonconference foe Decatur MacArthur, forcing the Generals into 26 turnovers.
“Any win is a good win, especially after losing four close games,” Lavin said. “We were able to get everybody in to play in that game, and hopefully that can jump-start us going into the weekend.”
2. MONTICELLO — The Monticello boys’ basketball team has four more home games this season.Which means only four more opportunities for the Sages to play in Miller Gymnasium. Monticello will have a new gym next season, the Arthur ‘Buz’ Sievers Center that is currently under construction and will replace the venerable venue that has served as the home of the Sages since 1958.
“It’s exciting where we’ll be able to move into a bigger, newer facility, but you won’t be able to duplicate the nostalgia we have with the small-gym feel,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said. “When our pep band is in the bleachers and our student section is out in full force, it creates a wonderful atmosphere.”
Monticello (12-8) can rev up its home crowd at 7 p.m. on Friday and vie for its third straight win when it hosts Pontiac (9-10) in an Illini Prairie Conference game.
“If you’re not ready to play in the Illini Prairie, you’re going to go home with a loss,” Roy said. “There’s a lot of parity.”
The Sages start five seniors in guard Garrett Kepley, forwards Ethan Miller, Ryan Reeder and Nick Vogelzang and center Briggs Fultz. Kepley leads Monticello in scoring, averaging 14.7 points, while Reeder (9.3 points), Miller (8.4 points) and Fultz (6.0 points, 6.6 rebounds) are capable as well.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Roy said. “Garrett has been our most consistent scorer, but after that, it’s different guys here and there. We just really need to be more consistent, and that goes on the defensive end, too.”
Monticello has shown flashes of its potential this season, winning six straight games in December after an 0-3 start. The Sages held on for a 63-60 overtime win against Cissna Park, the defending Class 1A state runner-up, on Jan. 11 in St. Joseph and narrowly lost 52-50 at Paxton-Buckley-Loda, a team with an 18-3 record.
“We’re just right on the edge,” said Roy, who has guided Monticello to at least 20 wins in five of the last six seasons. “We need to clean up things to be a great team. That’s not taking possessions off and making sure we’re locking down on defense. That’s something our kids have got to learn to work through. I feel like we’re right on the cusp.”
3. BISMARCK — The latest Associated Press statewide boys’ basketball rankings released Tuesday afternoon featured no undefeated teams in Class 2A making the top 10.But just outside the top 10 sat a team that still hasn’t gone into a locker room after a game this season experiencing defeat: Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin.
The Blue Devils carry a sparkling 22-0 record into Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game at Westville (3-17) in Vermilion Valley Conference action. Of the eight teams left on BHRA’s regular-season schedule, only Georgetown-Ridge Farm (14-10), Milford (15-9) and Salt Fork (14-6) carry a winning record. And the Blue Devils have already defeated Georgetown-Ridge Farm and Milford, making the possibility that BHRA goes undefeated in the regular season not too far-fetched.
“We’re having the season that we were anticipating,” BHRA coach Gary Tidwell said, “and we’re having a blast.”
Understandably so. Senior guard Drew Reifsteck, averaging 22 points and leading the Blue Devils in rebounding, assists and steals, is the clear-cut leader for BHRA.
“He’s getting a lot of attention and deservedly so,” Tidwell said, “but he has a really strong supporting cast around him.”
Such as senior guard Kaj Stanford, senior guard Avery McConkey and junior guard Elijah Tidwell.
“Elijah and Kaj give us consistent double-double digit scoring every game,” Gary Tidwell said. “Avery is our defensive stopper. We’ve got some guys coming off the bench that are productive, too. We can go eight deep and we feel comfortable with all of them.”
Gary Tidwell isn’t shying away from talk of an undefeated regular season. His senior season playing at Prairie Central in 1989-90 featured the Hawks taking a 31-0 record all the way to the Class A state championship game before Prairie Central lost 83-78 in double overtime to Wesclin.
Stacking more wins — and possibly going on a deep postseason run well into March — is something Gary Tidwell wouldn’t mind doing again.
“The record is automatically going to put a target on our back, but it’s fun and exciting,” he said. “We just want to play to our full potential, and our guys have been mature about handling all the attention.”
4. BROADLANDS — By seed, the Villa Grove/Heritage boys’ basketball team wasn’t supposed to be in this position.Let alone playing for the Lincoln Prairie Conference Tournament championship come Saturday night.
But the fifth-seeded Hawks will meet No. 6 Cumberland — another team that has taken down two higher-seeded foes — at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Arcola for the championship game of the 11-team league tournament.
VG/H (15-8) snuck by No. 4 Cerro Gordo/Bement 55-54 in a first-round win last Friday night in Bement before taking down top seed Okaw Valley 60-57 on Tuesday night in the semifinals.
“We kind of looked at it as a revenge train in a way,” Hawks coach Corey White said. “We lost to Okaw Valley and Cerro Gordo the first week of conference play, and to have the chance to play them again in the conference tournament, the boys looked at it as a chance to show them that we’re a team that’s capable of being competitive.”
Point proven. Junior forward Logan Nohren led the way in the win against Okaw Valley, pouring in 33 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. The return of junior guard Jake Eversole, who has missed nine games this season because of injury, has helped, too.
“Jake is an outside threat for us, and that allows things to open up for Logan,” White said. “Everyone has to pay attention to Jake because he’s more the name everybody knows.”
Don’t sleep on Blake Smith, either. The junior guard was instrumental in the first-round win against Cerro Gordo/Bement with 22 points.
All of this has left the Hawks — formerly of the Little Okaw Valley Conference — in a spot to capture the inaugural Lincoln Prairie Conference Tournament title.
“I like this tournament setup a lot better,” White said. “Before, with the Northwest and the Southeast part of the Little Okaw, the last day felt more like a shootout and not really a conference tournament. This has brought it back to what it was supposed to be like with a true conference tournament. And to have the opportunity to win the championship in the inaugural year of the tournament, it’s a pretty special feeling.”