2023 Tournament Preview

Macomb, Ill. — The seeds and bracket are set for the 77th annual Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament. Sixteen teams will make their final preparations before descending on the campus of Western Illinois University for three days of loaded action and between some of the best teams across central and western Illinois.

On the heels of its football team winning the school’s first ever state championship in any sport, Camp Point Central was named the tournament’s top seed for the first time since 2010. The Panthers got a late start to the season, but have run off eight consecutive victories to begin play on the court. Most notably, they bested their Adams County rivals from Quincy Notre Dame 42-32, followed by a win over a tough Bowling Green, Mo. team at the Rumble of the River Shootout the next morning.
Might the Panthers have a shot to avenge a pair of losses to Illini Bluffs from last season? They fell to IB in the MWHT semifinals on a last second shot, and then again in the sectional final 54-46. They are opposite sides of the bracket from the Tigers here.
Central is led by the quarterback/running back duo of senior Nick Moore and junior Elijah Genenbacher, who were both named to the All-Tournament team last year after the Panthers topped Southeastern in the third place game 51-43. 
Speaking of the Suns, they will provide a test for Central in a primetime opening round game at 8:00 pm, Thu. Dec. 28 in one of the juicier first round matchups between schools that co-op in several sports, including girl’s basketball. Southeastern returns four starters for first-year head coach Brandon Gooding, led by seniors Owen Rigg and Mason Fry. Expect a low-scoring affair here as the Suns have been stingy on the defensive end, grinding out five wins by allowing fewer than 45 points per game.
Illini Bluffs received the No. 2 seed one day after their biggest win of the season by far, a 56-41 takedown of Rockridge in the Great Western Shootout in Abingdon. A rematch could be on the horizon in the semifinals, but there is much work to do before that happens.
Huge expectations have been placed on the Tigers this season. After falling in the 2022 MWHT Championship game to Eureka 48-44, IB made a run to the IHSA Supersectional, losing a heartbreaker to the eventual state champs from Waterloo Gibault by one point.
Illini Bluffs entered the season ranked No. 1 in the Nesto Hoops rankings, and are now at #2. They are also at #3 in the AP rankings. Senior 6-9 forward Hank Alvey is at the top of everyone’s scouting report, but the Tigers boast a veteran backcourt of Devon White, Wyatt Hendel, and Toby Cooper, too.
Illini Bluffs will tee it up in a 10:30 am first round matchup against Liberty. Despite a 3-9 record, the Eagles have played tough this year, having been outscored on average by less than five points per game. Liberty recently picked up an impressive victory over Illini West, 49-44. Liberty and Illini Bluffs met in the first round in 2021, with Liberty running away with a 50-19 decision.
The third-seeded Rockridge Rockets appeared poised to claim the top seed for the third year in a row until their 15-point setback against Illini Bluffs on Dec. 16. Indeed, the Rockets have earned a top 4 seed in the tournament every year since 2018, but they have only made it to the semifinals once during that span (they won the tournament in 2019).
Rockridge was upset in the quarterfinals last year in a classic overtime game against Illini Bluffs, 61-56. But they recovered nicely, winning a pair of games on the final day to claim 5th place and then going on a great postseason run all the way to the Final 4 in Champaign.
The Rockets are under new management with former coach Andy Seay off to United Township. Jordan Harris is at the helm now. He can rely on a veteran frontcourt, with returning all-tournament performer junior Landon Bull, and 6-6 senior T.J. Wilson. The Rockets were ranked #1 in the latest Class 2A AP rankings, but they are on a bit of a slide, having lost three of their last four games.
Rockridge will tip-off on Dec. 28 at 2:30 pm against Lewistown in a rematch of the 5th place game in 2021, won by Rockridge, 58-31. The Indians have gotten off to a slow start this season with a rebuilt roster and a rugged schedule that has had them play just two home games thus far.
Pittsfield grabbed the fourth seed after an impressive 10-1 start. The Saukees’ resume includes huge wins over Winchester West Central and their Pike County rivals, Griggsville-Perry.
Senior backcourt mates Javan Petty and Brennan Tomhave provide the punch to the Pittsfield attack, but who are we kidding? The Saukees have been winning on the defensive end for years, and with a scoring average against of 41 points per game, this year is no different.
Pittsfield will close session two of the first day with a 4:00 scheduled game against Abingdon-Avon. At 6-7, the Tornadoes have had an up-and-down start to the season, to say the least. However, they come into the tournament on an up-swing, having won four out of five games, including their best win of the season, a 53-48 triumph over Monmouth-Roseville. 
Pittsfield may be seeded, but this one could get a bit spicy if it turns into a low-scoring slugfest. A-Town has had six games decided by five points or less. The Tornadoes have some length in the frontcourt as well, with seniors Drew Foutch and Asa Stegall leading the way in that department.
West Hancock and Canton will open the tournament at 9:00 am on Thursday, Dec. 28. Let’s hope for another contest like their first round matchup last year. West Hancock held on for a 51-48 decision. Canton missed a potential game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of that one.
Lookout below as West Hancock has a high-flying offense. The Titans have scored at least 60 points in eight of their nine wins, including a 64-60 victory over Illini Bluffs in the Spoon River Tip-Off Tournament in Bushnell. Senior Gage Scott and junior Lewis Siegfried return as starters for the Titans.
The Canton Little Giants get a break from a rugged Mid Illini Conference schedule for three days in Macomb. How much will their tough schedule help them? Canton nearly won the Fulton County Tournament, falling at the buzzer to Farmington, 49-48. But the Little Giants have won just once so far in December. Former Spoon River College boss Jon Grzanich is in his first season as head coach in Canton, having served as the school’s AD previously. Grzanich’s East Peoria ball club won 19 games last season, too. He will look to end a 5-game losing streak in first round games for Canton.
Farmington and Eureka will play in the tournament for the third year in a row, this time in the first round at 1:00 pm. The two met in the 2021 title game, the first of back-to-back championships for Eureka. Last year, Eureka took a 57-44 decision in the quarterfinals.
The Hornets are the two-time defending champs, and boast two-time tournament MVP, senior Tyler Heffren. Normally, they would be the biggest story coming into the tournament. Can Eureka become the fourth team to ever win the tournament three years in a row? Will Heffren join Macomb’s Tony Moore as the only three-time tourney MVP? Those are still in play, but the Hornets have battled injuries and luke-warm results en route to a 4-5 record thus far. Granted, three of their losses are to teams currently undefeated and another is to 9-1 Sherrard. Somehow, the Hornets seem to be just as dangerous, yet unsung, as they were before their awesome run over the last two tournaments.
The Farmers have already provided some dramatic wins for their fans this season. Zac Taylor jarred a three-pointer in the closing seconds to beat Canton for the Fulton County Tournament title to set the team off to a 3-0 start. Then, Keauntrey Barnes, who made the MWHT all-tournament team last year, made the clutch plays at the end of an overtime victory over Macomb earlier this month. What do they have in store for us in Western Hall? Perhaps the only certainty in this game is that something will give. Farmington has won seven first round games in a row, but is matched against Eureka, which is 8-0 in its last eight tournament games.
The tournament hosts come into the 6:30 game against Brown County under the radar. Macomb ran the table at the Spoon River Tip-Off Tournament, with impressive double digit wins over West Hancock and Illini Bluffs and a double overtime victory over Illini West. Overtime has been routine for the Bombers, who have played four extra sessions already this season. Macomb lost three games in a row after a 7-0 start, costing them a shot at a top four seed. Junior guard Braden Holthaus has been a steady force in the Macomb attack this year for veteran coach Jeremy Anderson. The QB-Receiver tandem of Holthaus and Dion Doyle made the all-tournament team in Bushnell earlier this year.
Brown County last played Macomb in the tournament in 2017, dropping a 51-49 decision in the 5th place bracket. The Hornets have not been at full strength, losing Tyce Fullerton to an injury during the football season. But Brown County isn’t short on players with a football mentality, as fans will see in Senior Angel Duarte.
Stay tuned for the 9:30 nightcap to day one as who knows what could happen when the Monmouth-Roseville Titans take on the Illini West Chargers? Both squads have shown the ability to beat just about anyone this season. The last game of the day has traditionally been a wild card game, and this matchup is a classic one.
Starting the season 8-2, Monmouth-Roseville just missed out on a top-four seed. The Titans beat a ranked Fulton squad on opening day and picked up a huge road victory over West Hancock recently. Seniors Nico Avendano, Jake Steele, and Darrion Smith lead the Titans’ attack. Avendano scored 14 points in the Monmouth-Roseville 56-44 win over Illini West in the consolation championship last year.
After losing their first two games of the season, the Chargers of Illini West won six of their next seven games, with the lone loss a double overtime setback to Macomb. Senior Colby Robertson, who finished in 31st place in the IHSA Class 1A State golf tournament this fall, is a dependable point guard for first-year head man Blaize Kimmell. He had the second most assists in last year’s tournament.
Every team will play in the second round of the tournament on Friday, Dec. 29. The final day will have 10 contests between Western and Brophy halls. If you can’t make it out in person, all games can be seen for free on YouTube courtesy of the exclusive streaming provider of the tournament, TSSR Gametime Live.

Brian Sullivan
Stats Lead & Committee Member
December 22nd, 2023

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