2022 Tournament Preview

MACOMB, IL — On the heels of their dramatic 59-53 win over No. 5 ranked Columbia in the Great Western Shootout, the Rockridge Rockets have earned the No. 1 seed for the 76th edition of the Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament to be held on the campus of Western Illinois University December 27, 28, and 30. Also earning top four seeds include debutant Southeastern (#2), defending champion¬†Eureka (#3), and Camp Point Central (#4).

Rockridge, ranked No. 7 in the latest AP state rankings, has certainly enjoyed an impressive run since joining the tournament field in 2012. The Rockets have racked up four tournament titles and three state tournament appearances, including last season when they finished in fourth place. The top seed in last year’s event, the Rockets were surprised in the second round by Farmington in a 44-31 upset. Of course, they went on to win the fifth place trophy in the tournament and later avenge their loss to the Farmers in the sectional championship game.

Rockridge will take on another squad that played on the last day of the season last year in the opening round when they tip off against Liberty at 10:30 am Tuesday, Dec. 27. Unfortunately for head coach Greg Altmix, the top eight scorers on his Eagles team that went 30-6 and took second place in Class 1A in 2021-22 were seniors.

Another huge story heading into this year’s tournament is the arrival of the Southeastern Suns. The tiny school from nearby Hancock County will make a timely first tournament appearance boasting the #1 ranking in the state for Class 1A and one of the hottest tickets around in University of Missouri recruit Danny Stephens.

The Suns, who won their first sectional title in 30 years last season before falling to Liberty 49-42 in the Supersectional, have rolled through their pre-tournament schedule to this point at 10-0, including blasting the Eagles 49-32. They captured the Beardstown Thanksgiving Tournament as Stephens exploded for 52 points in the championship game win over 7th ranked West Central.

Stephens averaged more than 28 points and 10 rebounds en route to first team all-state honors during his junior campaign. To say the least, it has been a much-anticipated moment for when the Suns take the floor at Western Hall since it was announced they would be part of the holiday tournament field. The wait will end at 4:00 pm Dec. 27. The A-Town Tornadoes will get the first shot at the second seeded Suns. Playing strong competition certainly won’t be anything new to the Tornadoes, who will enter the game having played nine of their 12 pre-tournament games versus teams with winning records.

The third seeded Eureka Hornets will begin the defense of their first ever holiday tournament title at 8:00 pm on Dec. 27 versus Illini West. Eureka is led by 2021 tournament MVP Tyler Heffren, who led the tournament in scoring and was fourth in rebounding as a sophomore. Also the No. 3 seed last year, the Hornets took an unusual route to the tournament title. They had to survive a missed three-point attempt by A-Town in the opening round, before blowing out their next three opponents, including a 25-point victory over Farmington in the championship game.

Illini West gets the first shot at the defending champs. The Chargers pack a punch offensively with seniors Nolan Deitrich and Drake Mudd. Despite entering with a seven-game tournament losing streak, Illini West is not a team to overlook as they own a pair of victories this season over 11-win teams in West Hancock and Bushnell-Prairie City.

The Camp Point Central Panthers are proving they aren’t just for football anymore. Less than a month after playing in the Class 1A state championship football game, the Panthers have grabbed their first top 4 holiday tournament seed since they were the No. 1 seed in 2010. Central dropped its first game of the season just three days after playing football in Champaign, a 54-44 decision at Brown County. Since then, the Panthers have reeled off seven straight wins, including a pair of impressive victories in Quincy over Notre Dame and Madison.

Central coach James Barnett has a veteran squad, with four returning starters, including the exciting Nick Moore, who doubles as quarterback and point guard for his school. Moore made the all-tournament team as a sophomore last year.

Lewistown will be the opponent for Central in the fourth game of the opening round at 2:30. The Indians are coming off a successful 2021-22 campaign that saw them win over 20 games and a regional crown. This year, they already have eight wins with two more to go before the tournament, led by senior guard Cole Beekman. Lewistown last played Central in the first round in 2018, falling 44-31.

The tournament will tip-off with a matchup between Illini Bluffs and Monmouth-Roseville. It seems hard to believe, but it has actually been 12 years since Monmouth-Roseville has appeared in the 9:00 am game of the opening round. That was also the first year Illini Bluffs joined the tournament, but these two have somehow not met in tournament play.

Don’t expect a snoozer with this early game, though, as six of the Titans’ 11 games this season have been decided by six points or less. You also will want to see the exciting Jerome Jackson play. The senior guard had a seven steal game in last year’s tournament.

Illini Bluffs returns all five starters from last year’s squad that seemed to hit its stride late last season. The Tigers made a run to the regional title game, upsetting Brown County before falling in a tight game to Lewistown. Head Coach Clay Vass’ impressive front line of the 6-9 Hank Alvey, 6-5 Brandon Coats, and 6-3 Ben Kaczmarek will be a force for any opponent. The Tigers own wins over four tournament teams: West Hancock, Lewistown, Illini West, and A-Town.

West Hancock will face-off with Canton in the third game of the first round at 1:00 pm. West Hancock won the Spartan Tip-Off Classic thanks mostly to an impressive 20-point victory over Macomb. The Titans will enter the tournament on a 6-game winning streak, including four on the road capped off by a hotly contested one-point decision at Monmouth-Roseville. Leading the way for the Titans have been seniors Brian Gerhardt and Alec Hymes.

Canton will perhaps enjoy the respite from the grind of the mostly Class 3A schedule the Little Giants often face. Canton has a veteran backcourt with senior guards Kaden Otto and Dylan Watts. The last time Canton and West Hancock played was in a semifinal game in 2016, won by Canton 51-32. The tournament is known for runs by unseeded teams. If one is made this year, it could very well come from this game.

Could it be that Macomb and Pittsfield are dark horses? The two most successful schools in tournament history will square off in the sixth game of the opening round at 6:30 pm. The Bombers and Saukees each have six tournament titles, but neither have appeared in the championship game since Pittsfield in 2016. Macomb and Pittsfield have met twice for the championship, with the Saukees winning in 1994 and 1989. They played last year in the quarterfinals with the Bombers coming out on top, 40-22.

The Bombers own wins over Illini Bluffs, Illini West, Farmington, and Liberty in pre-tournament action. Roster depth is not an issue for head coach Jeremy Anderson. Seniors Connor Watson, who was an all-tournament team member in 2021, and Nolan Kerr, fortify the Macomb lineup around the record-breaking football passing game combo of quarterback Jack Duncan and receivers Langdon Allen and J.T. Jeter.

Brad Tomhave returns no starters from last year, but his squad has still carved out a winning record heading into tournament play. The Saukees have even been tough in most of their losses, including a 38-34 decision to undefeated PORTA in what amounted to the championship game of the Pittsfield Turkey Tournament. Senior Nolan Daniel and juniors Eli Mendenhall and Brennan Tomhave are players to watch for a club that always comes to play this time of year.

Farmington and Brown County will cap off the first round with a scheduled tip of 9:30 pm. The Farmers should be in a comfortable position as an unseeded team, seeing that they were unseeded last year, but made it all the way to the championship game. Farmington has actually appeared in the two most recent title games, although the Farmers haven’t won the tournament since 1997.

It will be worth staying up late to watch this game. The 6-6 Keauntrey Barnes of Farmington is one of the most exciting athletes around and these two teams have a combined record of 15-5. Also, members of the Hornets baseball team that became the first team in school history to reach a state championship game last spring, seniors Cole Behymer and Colby Wort are the heart and soul of the Brown County squad. The Hornets and Farmers have not met in tournament play since 2014.

The second round of the tournament will be played Wednesday, December 28, with the consolation bracket at 9:00 am and four quarterfinals beginning at 5:00 pm. After a day of rest on Thursday due to the Western Illinois basketball schedule, the tournament will conclude with a full day of action on Friday, December 30.

Brian Sullivan
Stats Lead & Committee Member
December 19th, 2022

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