Warrensburg-Latham's Cody Huggins and Keith Owens

Warrensburg-Latham's Cody Huggins and Keith Owens

Herald & Review/Lisa Morrison

Predictions are simply our staff's best guess. Postseason assignments have not been released yet.

Elite teams

Warrensburg-Latham

COACH: Victor Binkley

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 19-11, 7-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Cody Huggins (Sr.), Tyler Reed (Jr.), Keith Owens (Sr.).

NEWCOMERS: Zach Corman (Jr.), Dagen McKenzie (Soph.), Blake Mathews (Jr.), Dyllan Foor (Sr.).

OUR TAKE: The Cardinals have a lot of big shoes to fill, having graduated its top two scorers (last season's H&R Macon County Player of the Year Jacob Taylor and Ryan Cunningham) and top two rebounders (Cunningham and Ethan Krigbaum). Huggins, last year's third-highest scorer and rebounder, is the only player to return who averaged double-digit points per game (10.1). Everyone else returning aver-aged less than 4 points per game. So, expect the 6-foot-1 guard/forward to shoulder much of the scoring. Binkley will also need the 6-foot-3 Owens, who only played 64 total minutes last year, to be more of a presence in the post. But he'll have 6-foot-4, 315-pound newcomer Foor help clog the paint, too. "Defense will keep us in games," last season's H&R Macon County Coach of the Year Binkley said.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

Meridian

COACH: Jack Blickensderfer

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 21-8, 8-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Tyler Albers (Sr.), Michael Tague (Sr.), J.D. Booker (Sr.), Derek Cookson (Sr.), Blake Damery (Sr.), Jordan Pearson (Sr.), Dylan Smith (Jr.).

NEWCOMERS: Ethan Scott (Jr.), Wade Beasley (Soph.), Brayden Barnes (Soph.), Brock Snarski (Soph.)

OUR TAKE: For the second year in a row the Hawks will have a deep roster without any true standout stars. Last year's top-scorer Jordan Ramay and top-rebounder Kyle Gates have graduated, but Meridian returns four players who averaged between 11 and 5 points per game: Albers 10.4, Tague 8.6, Cookson 6.6 and Booker 5.5. That formula was good enough for the Hawks to win last year's Argenta-Oreana Regional, and Blickensderfer thinks reaching sectionals is realistic again. "We have the opportunity to be a good team competing for the conference and a regional championship if we get good, positive, unselfish leadership," Blickensderfer said.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

Lincoln

COACH: Neil Alexander

CONFERENCE: Central State 8

LAST YEAR: 25-6, 12-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: Christian Van Hook (Sr., F), Austin Kirby (Sr., G), Jordan Gesner (Sr., G).

OUR TAKE: The Railers could struggle offensively after losing a major chunk of last year's scoring in Jordan Nelson's 21.5 pointers per game and Nathaniel Smith's 14.5 ppg. But they can make up with it on defense with 6-foot-4 forward Van Hook returning. Van Hook was third on the team in scoring, averaging only 6 ppg. But he will continue to be a presence in the post after averaging more than a block per game - his rebounding production should improve as well. While the Railers will certainly miss Nelson's 111 3-pointers, Lincoln always seems to find some sharpshooters. Gesner (32 3-pts) and Kirby (31 3-pts), were second and third, respectively, on the team in total 3-pointers made and will be expected to increase that production this year. The Railers will also expect to make a better postseason run after bowing out in the semifinals of its own regional last year.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Pana

COACH: Gary Bowker

CONFERENCE: South Central

LAST YEAR: 24-5, 11-2

RETURNING PLAYERS: Jared McMillen (Sr., First Team All Conference, IBCA Third Team All State), Mitchell Beyers (Sr., First Team All Conference)

NEWCOMERS: Avery Hrabak (Sr.), Garrett Claxon (Sr.), Allen Kile (Sr.), Tyler Epley (Sr.), Alex Metzger (Jr.), Robbie Hester (Jr.), Raustin Zahradka (Jr.)

OUR TAKE: The Panthers could be poised for a deep run this year with their two top 6-foot-3 scorers returning in McMillen (15.5 ppg) and Beyers (12.5). They will also be looking to turnaround last year's surprising regional final loss to Greenville. But for that to happen, Pana's supporting cast of unknowns will have to step up. Besides McMillen and Beyers, none of the other returning players averaged more than 2 points per game last year. And with top 3-pointer shooter Lucas Wilson graduating, Beyers, will have to increase his perimeter production. "We have a lot of potential," Bowker said. "We need to stay focused and play together. As long as we do that, we will be just fine."

PREDICTION: Sectional final

Teutopolis

COACH: Andy Fehrenbacher

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 29-3, 10-0

RETURNING PLAYERS: Mark Niebrugge (Sr., PG, Second Team All Conference, IBCA Honorable Mention), Lee Deters (Sr. G), Jon Mette (F/C, Sr.)

NEWCOMERS: Derek Smith (Jr., G), Jared Waldhoff (Jr., G), Kyle Pruemer (Jr., C).

OUR TAKE: The Wooden Shoes have quite a turnover on their hands with five of their top six scorers graduating, including 6-foot-5 Nick Schumacher (15.2 ppg). But they return a key starter in point guard Niebrugge (7.4 ppg and 4.6 apg), who will lead a team with very little varsity experience. The Shoes might be hard-pressed to repeat last year's Super-sectional run, when they barely lost to Pittsfield 43-42. But Teutopolis can never be counted out for a sectional appearance. "We have a very hard working group returning this year, with some experience returning," fifth-year coach Fehrenbacher said. "However, we will need to have some guys step up and get used to the varsity level. We will need hard play, great effort, leadership and concentration at all times - game and practice - to be successful."

PREDICTION: Sectional final

Cerro Gordo

COACH: Scott Bacon

CONFERENCE: Little Okaw

LAST YEAR: 19-9, 8-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Tim Weaver (Sr., G/F, First Team All-Conference, H&R First Team All-County), Austin Crist (Sr., G, H&R Second Team All-County), Devin McWilliams (Sr., F, H&R Honorable Mention All-County), Cody Woollen (Sr., G/F), Kaleb Krigbaum (Sr, G), Cole Blickensderfer (Soph. G/F)

NEWCOMERS: Brian Montgomery (Sr., G/F)

OUR TAKE: The Broncos return by far the most senior-dominated team in Macon County. Their two highest scorers from last year, Weaver (20.1 points per game, which was best in the county) and Crist (16.5 ppg) will lead a group of 10 experienced seniors. Among those seniors are also two of Cerro Gordo's emotional leaders in McWilliams (8 ppg and 8.3 rebounds per game) and Kaleb Krigbaum. "Devin and Kaleb are the heart of our team," Bacon said. While none of those players present intimidating height (no player is taller than 6-foot-2), they make up for it in speed and strength. And considering all of that, Bacon and company are expecting a much better postseason after Argenta-Oreana bounced them in the semifinals of regionals.

PREDICTION: Super-sectional

Flora

COACH: Phil Lieb

CONFERENCE: Little Illini

LAST YEAR: 21-6, 8-1

RETURNING PLAYERS: Paul Knapp (Sr., G/F, First Team All-Conference, IBCA Second Team All State, H&R First Team All-Area), Nick Painter (Sr., F/C, First Team All Conference, IBCA Fourth Team All State, H&R Third Team All-Area).

NEWCOMERS: Christian Taylor (Jr.), Ethan Lieb (Soph.), Blake Shehorn (Jr.), Dexter Burgess (Sr.).

OUR TAKE: The Wolves bring back probably the area's best 1-2 punch in Knapp and Painter. And while Flora expects another strong run in the Little Illini, it also expects to improve on a disappointing postseason, when the Wolves lost 59-33 to Newton in the opening round of regionals. Knapp, who averaged 21.2 points per game last season, will once again have the help of 6-foot-6 Painter, who averaged 18 ppg and 6.6 rebounds per game. But, just like Pana, the Wolves will have to handle role players with little varsity experience. "Our success will be determined by how well the supporting cast accepts their roles and plays to their ability," 11th-year Flora coach Lieb said.

PREDICTION: State Tournament

Effingham St. Anthony

COACH: Mark Tovey

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 23-6, 9-1

RETURNING PLAYERS: Reed Willenborg (Sr.), Scott Deters (Sr.), Mitchell Dust (Sr.).

NEWCOMERS: Patrick Grunloh (Sr.), Jared Having (Sr.), Jacob Schuette (Jr.), Jason Vogel (Sr.), Charlie Schultz (Jr.), John Goeckner (Soph.), Neil Williams (Soph.)

OUR TAKE: The Bulldogs will look to seniors Willenborg and Dust to step-up as go-to scorers with James Jensen (18.8 points per game) having graduated. Willenborg (9 ppg) and Dust (8 ppg) combined for almost 20 points a game last year. The duo will also have Deters to help the Bulldogs continue nearly two decades of winning, as they go for a 17th consecutive season of 20-plus wins. But St. Anthony will also have to make up for the loss of 14 rebounds per game with the loss of Kit Koerner (7 rpg) and Ryan Schmitt (6.8). "(We) will have to play excellent defense in order to be successful," Tovey said.

PREDICTION: Regional final

On the brink teams

Argenta-Oreana

COACH: Ryan Bosch

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 7-22, 0-10

RETURNING PLAYERS: Dylan Sunderland (Sr., G), Gregg Boomer (Jr., G), Jesse Witts (Jr., F), Austin Harris (Sr., G), Ty-ler Roach (Sr., G), Alex Long (Sr., G), Dakota Williamson (Sr., F), Tyler Barringer (Sr., F), Gage Eller (So., G).

NEWCOMERS: Logan Sparks (Sr., G), Dylan Turner (Jr., F), Corey Hollis (Jr., G), Keegan McHood (Fr., F), Luke Tucker (Jr., F)

OUR TAKE: Even with Zach Rambo gone, Argenta should take a step forward this season in its second year under Bosch. Sunderland and Boomer are outstanding shooters, and they'll be counted on for most of the scoring. If Roach, Harris, Eller and Witts do their jobs, Argenta will improve drastically in the conference.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Central A&M

COACH: Rob Smith

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 11-17, 3-8

RETURNING PLAYERS: Ross Workman (Sr., F/C), Curt Ramsey (Jr., G), Spencer Garner (So., G), Todd Tague (Sr., G), Alex Snyder (Jr., G).

OUR TAKE: The potential the Raiders showed at times last year could turn into wins this year with five players who averaged at least 5 points per game returning. Workman is an offensive force inside and Ramsey is a slashing guard who can also hit from the outside. If A&M's guards take care of the ball, Workman increases his production and the Raiders' shooters take some pressure off Workman, A&M could be the Okaw's surprise team.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Charleston

COACH: Trevor Doughty

CONFERENCE: Apollo

LAST YEAR: 16-14, 10-4

RETURNING PLAYER: T.J. Bell (Sr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Tanner Bartlett (Sr., G); Skylar McNeil (Sr., F); Zack Steidl (Jr., G); Bryson Sheppard (Jr., F); Jordan Hell-man (Jr., G/F); Noah Miller (Jr., F), Ethan Miller (Jr., G/F), Truston Winnett (Jr., G)

OUR TAKE: Charleston lost all its starters other than Bell but having an NCAA Division I player is a good start. Bell is capable of putting up big numbers but every opponents' defense will likely be designed to stop him. Steidl will step in at point guard but Bell and three juniors expected to play are still playing football. It's going to take time for so many new players to mesh, and football complicates that.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Decatur Christian

COACH: Shaun Rapp

CONFERENCE: East Central Illinois

LAST YEAR: 22-10, 6-1

RETURNING PLAYERS: Brian Armour (Sr., F); Andrew McDowell (Sr. F); Michael Houran (Jr., F); Monte Rapp (Jr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Michael Hohm (Jr., G)

OUR TAKE: The Warriors have a talented, versatile team that will get even better when Armour comes becomes eligible on Dec. 21. They have players who can score inside and outside and good ball-handlers. DCS became an IHSA school this year, and it will be interesting to see what they do in the postseason. They're hungry for respect, and have the talent to be dangerous.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Maroa-Forsyth

COACH: Chad Cluver

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 18-10, 7-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: Zach Murphy (Sr., F/C), Logan Stelzriede (Sr., G/F), Drew Aschermann (Jr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Curtis Clawson (Jr., G), Curt Beckman (Jr., F/C), Aaron Smith (Jr., G), Matt Leighton (Jr., G), Jack Hocka-day (Fr., G)

OUR TAKE: Murphy and Stelzriede will be counted on for a lot of leadership on a team without a ton of varsity experi-ence, but they're capable of it. Murphy has a good low post game and Stelzriede can score inside and out. Aschermann was impressive in stretches as a sophomore. Defense will be a strength for a Maroa team much bigger than Cluver has had in recent year. But scoring, particularly from the backcourt, is a question mark.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

Monticello

COACH: Kevin Roy

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 14-14, 5-6

RETURNING PLAYERS: Daly O'Brien (Sr., G), Ryan Donohue (Jr., G/F), Matt Kruse (Jr., F/C), Isaac Bales (Jr., G)

OUR TAKE: After last season, Roy was expecting a pretty balanced inside-outside team. But 6-foot-6 junior forward Bryan Phipps had double knee surgery leading up to preseason and will miss the entire year. That leaves 6-foot-9 Kruse to be a lone presence in the paint and forces the Sages to be more guard-oriented. And with the graduation of Adam Koncel and Mitch McHale, guards O'Brien, Donohue and Bales will have to pick up their scoring production. "For us to be successful, we will have to get defensive stops, control the boards and take care of the ball," Roy said. Kruse showed flashes of brilliance last year and has the ability to dominate in the Okaw.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Mount Pulaski

COACH: Ryan Deibert

CONFERENCE: Sangamo

LAST YEAR: 12-15, 2-7

RETURNING PLAYERS: Mark Foley (Sr., F); Cole Huff (Jr., G); Jonathon Oberreiter (Sr., F); Alex Deppe (Sr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Riley Allspach (Jr., G); Scott Clampet (Jr., G); Justin White (Sr., G); Ridge Leinweber (So., G)

OUR TAKE: This could be a breakthrough year for the Hilltoppers, with the 6-8 Foley leading a team with quite a bit of size, some quickness and depth. If Foley and a couple others raise their level of play from last year, the Toppers could win 20 games.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Neoga

COACH: Clay Haurberg

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 17-13, 6-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: T.J. Roy (Sr., G), Adam Probst (Sr., G).

NEWCOMERS: Cole McKimmey (Jr., F), Seth Kline (Sr., F), Jake Baker (So., G), Dalton Roberts (Sr., G/F), Wyatt Krikie (So., G).

OUR TAKE: Neoga has more size with the 6-4 McKimmy and 6-2 Kline than it has in recent years, but the strength is still in the backcourt with Roy and Probst. Roy makes up for being 5-9 by being relentless. If the Indians can get some pro-duction in the post, and they cause turnovers with their defense that they turn into offense, Neoga is capable of cracking 20 wins and winning a regional.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

Newton

COACH: Doug Mammoser

CONFERENCE: Apollo

LAST YEAR: 18-9, 8-6

RETURNING PLAYERS: Peyton Wyatt (Sr., G), Dylan Davidson (Jr., G).

NEWCOMERS: Elijah Knepper (Jr., F), Lucas Stone (So., G/F), Mitch Mammoser (Sr., G), Lucas Houston (So., G/F).

OUR TAKE: Wyatt and Davidson make up one of the best guard tandems in the area, with Wyatt a dark horse candidate for player of the year. Stone and Knepper give the Eagles some length, and Newton should also have decent depth and quickness. They could be a force in the Apollo.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

Nokomis

COACH: Steve Kimbro

CONFERENCE: Prairie State

LAST YEAR: 24-6, 6-1

RETURNING PLAYERS: Jacob Durbin (G); Brendon Pesko (G); Devon Wright (G)

NEWCOMERS: Nick Fox; Jared Foster; Evan Huber; Ray Lovelace

OUR TAKE: This will be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Redskins, but look out late in the season. They have a tal-ented core to build around.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Robinson

COACH: Mack Thompson

CONFERENCE: Apollo

LAST YEAR: 12-17, 3-11

RETURNING PLAYERS: Aaron Siler (Jr., G); Cory Blount (Jr., G); Derrick Nicholas (Jr., F); Zach Danks (Sr., F); Warren Whithaus (Sr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Bryant Scott (Sr., C); Brayden Scott (Jr., F): Michael Akande (So., F); Ethan Riddell (So., G)

OUR TAKE: The Maroons are under a new coach in Thompson, who wants to shift some of the scoring pressure off of Siler. Robinson has size and depth to go around Siler, but Robinson will have to improve defensively to turn around its record from last year.

Sangamon Valley

COACH: Josh Meyers

CONFERENCE: Sangamo

LAST YEAR: 22-8, 6-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Eric Leonard (Sr., G), Dan Rentschler (Jr., F), Jordan McCall (Sr., G), Nick Yokley (Sr., G), Austin West (Sr., C), Nick Craig (Sr., G), Andrew Dunn (Sr., G), Andrew Urbanowicz (Jr., F).

OUR TAKE: Sangamon Valley returns not only their two best players, but also two of the area's best players in Leonard and Rentschler. Once again, Leonard should have no problem averaging 20 points a game for the third year in a row, making him an easy candidate for H&R Macon County Player of the Year. And Rentschler isn't too far behind. The junior isn't the biggest post player in the area, but that doesn't matter since he's one of the most physical. With Jordan Col-brook, last year's third scoring option, gone, that will pave the way for players like West and Yokley to increase their production. The Storm should make an even stronger postseason push and will likely improve from its 26-point loss in last year's championship game of Mount Pulaski Regional.

PREDICTION: Sectional semifinal

St. Elmo

COACH: Greg Feezel

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 13-16; 3-7

CONFERENCE: National Trail

RETURNING PLAYERS: Ben Sperry (Sr.); Blake Pruett (Sr.); Jake Mansker (Sr.); Connor Beasley (Jr.)

NEWCOMERS: Blaine Scholes (Sr.); Patrick Schaal (Sr.); Leri Maxey (So.)

OUR TAKE: The Eagles began to make strides late last year and they'd like to pick up where they left off. A hot start would help, but the senior class and Beasley is capable of something special.

PREDICTION: Regional final

St. Teresa

COACH: Tom Noonan

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 14-12,

RETURNING PLAYERS: Alex Tueth (Sr., F), Patrick Krueger (Sr., G), Ross Anderson (Jr., F/C), Brett Althoff (Jr., G), Zach Gilbert (So., G).

NEWCOMERS: Shevonte Joyner (Sr., G), Adam Peters (So, G/F), George Duncan (So, F)

OUR TAKE: The Bulldogs have an interesting mix of contributors from last year's team led by Tueth, and a sophomore class that has a buzz around it. Tueth and Anderson make up a nice frontcourt. St. Teresa will be tough to beat on the boards with that duo. Krueger and Althoff are a good start in the backcourt. The key will be the contribution of the newcomers. If Joyner can make an impact, and Peters and Duncan provides quality minutes, the Bulldogs could be formidable.

PREDICTION: Regional final

 

Rebuilding boys basketball teams

Altamont

COACH: Doug Hill

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 18-11

RETURNING PLAYERS: Cody Drone (Sr., F); Dustin Gordon (Sr., F); Jason Hooks (Sr., F); Mitch Wolff (Sr., G); Brandon Hybarger (Sr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Masno Muchow (Sr.); Zac Jackson (Sr.); Pablo Romo (Jr.); Logan Hill (Jr.); Jon Kuhns (Jr.); Ryan Mayhaus (Jr.); Garrett Ziegler (So.)

OUR TAKE: As always, the Indians have athleticism. But there's less experience than Hill has had in several years. Depth will be a strength. Gordon and Hooks should be the leaders, and Hill is potentially a standout player.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

Arthur

COACH: Dale Schuring

CONFERENCE: Little Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 18-12, 8-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Trevor Schrock (Sr., G); Evan Seegmiller (Jr., G); Andrew Maxwell (Jr., F); Curtis Plank (So., G)

NEWCOMERS: Caleb Schrock (So., F); Clayton Honn (So., G); Mitchell Helton (So., F); Tyler Schuring (Fr., F)

OUR TAKE: Arthur doesn't have much size or experience, but shooting will be a strong point. If the Knights don't get killed on the boards, they'll score enough to stay in games.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

Atwood-Hammond

COACH: Bill Lyons

CONFERENCE: Little Okaw

LAST YEAR: 16-15

RETURNING PLAYERS: Phil Irace (Sr.); Andy Webb (Jr.)

NEWCOMERS: Jordan Faegin (So.); Kyle Wierman (Jr.)

OUR TAKE: This will by Atwood-Hammond's second year playing "System" basketball, a style of play that picks up the pace and allowed Atwood-Hammond to set several record for scoring and 3-pointers last year. While the players' experience in the System should help, most of last year's varsity team graduated.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Bement

COACH: Kraig Rogers

CONFERENCE: Little Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 16-13, 7-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: Connor Gross (So.; G)

NEWCOMERS: Jeremy Sapp (Sr., G); Ethan Morton (So., F); Steve Isbell (So., G); Tyce Rittenhouse (Jr., F); Shane Hall (So., G)

OUR TAKE: Gross was among the area's top freshmen last year, but he's Bement's only returning letter winner. With four other sophomores expected to contribute, the lumps Bement takes this year could pay off in the long run.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Brownstown

COACH: Vince Rohr

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 5-20, 0-10

RETURNING PLAYERS: Colten Hunter (Sr.), Austin Hunter (Jr.), Matt Sefton (Jr.), Nick Reeder (Sr.)

NEWCOMERS: Jacob Behrends (Soph.), Eric Gurtner (Soph.)

OUR TAKE: The Bombers return two versatile players with the Hunters. Last year, Colten averaged 8.3 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game and 2 assists per game while Austin averaged 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 2 apg. But their production will have to increase this year to help the Bombers get out of the NTC basement.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Casey-Westfield

COACH: Steve Hawkins

CONFERENCE: Little Illini

LAST YEAR: 15-10, 7-1

RETURNING PLAYERS: Brandon Wolfe (So., F); Zach Murphy (So., G); Ethan Blankenship (Sr., G); Drew Bolin (Sr., C); Preston Reick (Sr., G/F); Jeremy Nichols (Sr., F); Landry Huisinga (Sr., G); Matt McCown (Jr., F)

NEWCOMERS: AJ McNeil (So., G/F); Sam Huisinga (Sr., G); Baylor Myers (So., G); Evan Blankenship (Fr., G/F)

OUR TAKE: Casey has six players back who started at one time or another last year. Wolfe was the team's leading scorer as a freshman last year, and the Warriors have a deep front line with decent size around him.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Cumberland

COACH: Justin Roedl

CONFERENCE: Little Illini

LAST YEAR: 10-17, 4-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: Clint Carlen (Sr., C); Kendal Butler (Sr., G); Brayden Smith (Sr., G); Jackson Greene (Sr., F); Trevor Brumleve (Jr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Ryan Closson (Jr., G); Tyler Phillips (Jr., F): George Stray (Sr., G)

OUR TAKE: The Pirates have a lot of question marks, but Carlen could average a double-double this year in the post and Butler is a stat-stuffer at guard whose numbers should take a jump as a senior. The potential is there for a major improvement.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Dieterich

COACH: Jamie VanScyoc

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 15-12

RETURNING PLAYERS: Seth Flach (Sr., G/F); Nathan Garbe (Sr., G); Derek Cox (Sr., G); Dalton Hinterscher (Jr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Adam Dahnke (Sr., C); Neil Thoele (Sr., F); Austin Bushue (Jr., G); Brandon Westjohn (Jr, F)

OUR TAKE: Dieterich lost its leadership with the graduation of Same Thoele and Taran Bohnhoff. The Moovin' Maroons hope to find some new leadership this year for a team featuring some speed and solid shooting. They don't have a lot of size and hanging in on the boards will be a key.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

Eisenhower

COACH: Eric Newbon

CONFERENCE: Big 12

LAST YEAR: 3-22, 1-11

RETURNING PLAYERS: DeShawn Davis (Jr., G); Eugene Smith (Sr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Devin Anderson (Jr., F); Brandis Stanley (Jr., G); Adrian Gleghorn (Sr., F)

OUR TAKE: The Panthers have some returning experience, but they're going to need help from their underclassmen coming off the bench to have much success. "We are going to have to play the best team basketball we are capable of playing," Newbon said.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

LSA

COACH: Dave Kreps

CONFERENCE: East Central Illinois

LAST YEAR: 3-25, 1-9

RETURNING PLAYERS: Lorenzo Triplett (Sr.); Skylar Taylor (Jr.); Jacob Kraemer (So.)

NEWCOMERS: Bobby Cherry (Jr.); Jeremy Pezelle (Jr.); Hunter York (Fr.); Bryce Ellis (Fr.); Donovan Resch (Jr.)

OUR TAKE: Ten of LSA's 16 players are freshmen and sophomores. This will be a teaching year, with Kreps focusing on aggressive defense, developing a hard-nosed style and learning how to win.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

MacArthur

COACH: Felipe Phillips

CONFERENCE: Big 12

LAST YEAR: 7-18, 2-11

RETURNING PLAYERS: Marcus Bartley (Soph., G, All-Conference Honorable Mention, H&R All-County Honorable Mention), Reggie Anderson (Jr., G), Jay Lee (Sr., G).

NEWCOMERS: Devan Ingram (Soph., G), Deondre Coleman (Sr., G/F), Kain Chandler (Jr., F), Chris Stone (Jr., G/F), Spencer Hines (Soph, F), Nathan Allyn (Jr, G).

OUR TAKE: The Generals feature the most promising sophomore in the area with Bartley, who is being touted as one of the top 15 best players in the state for the 2014 class. He's also already draw interest from a handful of Div. 1 programs and has visited Iowa and Bradley. The Bartley represents just how young the Generals are. Phillips' team only has four seniors, one of whom, Coleman, is a first-year player. Bartley will certainly increase his 7 points per game average and be complimented by Anderson, who averaged 10 ppg last year in only the last seven games of the season.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Mattoon

COACH: Bryan Smith

CONFERENCE: Big 12

LAST YEAR: 11-17, 3-10

RETURNING PLAYERS: Shaunesy Carlen (Sr.), Grant Speer (Jr.), Kris Heller (Sr.)

NEWCOMERS: Ryan Sparks (Jr.), Skyler Hartbank (Jr.), Michael White (Jr.)

OUR TAKE: The Green Wave will need to establish a go-to score with Carlen, Speer and Heller all averaging less than 8 points per game last year. At the same time 18th-year coach Smith believes their team defense and rebounding will need to improve, too.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Mount Zion

COACH: Jay Driscoll

CONFERENCE: Apollo

LAST YEAR: 4-24

RETURNING PLAYERS: Jacob Stewart (Sr., F); Dalton Sharp (Sr., G); Grant Pyatt (Jr., F); Tim McElroy (Jr., G); Brody Rothrock (Jr., G); Alex Cardascio (Jr., C)

OUR TAKE: This group has taken its lumps over the last couple seasons, but returns a good mix of size and experience. The Braves need to find a point guard to go along with a good wing player in Stewart and the big boys Pyatt (6-4) and Cardascio (6-5), and Sharp needs to build on the burst he showed toward the end of last year. Mount Zion, a program not used to struggling, also wants to end the slide it's been on the last three years.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

Okaw Valley

COACH: Mike Reynolds

CONFERENCE: Little Okaw

LAST YEAR: 17-11, 9-2

RETURNING PLAYERS: Alex Corrington (Sr., G/F); Walker Herzog (Sr. ,F/C); Colton Cloyd (Sr., G/F); Wesley Thompson (Jr., G/F); Garrett Sparks (Jr., G/F); Will Craig (Jr., F/C); Hunter Perrine (Jr., G/F): Colton Bush (Jr., C)

OUR TAKE: The defending Little Okaw Valley Conference champs return seven players from last year's team including leading scorer Corrington and four-year starter Herzog. The Timberwolves don't have a lot of size with Bush injured, but they have plenty of speed.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Shelbyville

COACH: Mike Steers

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

LAST YEAR: 6-19, 2-9

RETURNING PLAYERS: Brody Bence (Jr., C); Jake Keown (Jr., G); Nate Standerfer (Jr., G); Darin Breeden (Jr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Tucker Schwengel (Jr., F); Trenton Shuff (Jr., G); Neil Yockey (Jr., G); Spencer Shadwell (So., G); Johnny Eloe (Sr., F); Connor Biehler (Sr., F)

OUR TAKE: The Rams could be a sleeper team, with two players in Standerfer (10 points per game) and Breeden (10 points per game) who averaged in double-figures last year. They're part of a highly talented junior class.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

South Central

COACH: Rick Simmons

CONFERENCE: Midland Trail

LAST YEAR: 13-17, 5-4

RETURNING PLAYERS: Fischer Tharp (Jr., G/F), Colby Bushue (Sr., G), Cameron Eischens (Sr., G), Cody Heinzman (Sr., G), Luke Krajefska (Sr., G), Rickey Rector (Sr., F).

OUR TAKE: With Tharp (14.1 points per game) and Bushue (8.1 ppg) returning as the two highest scorers, the Cougars have a good chance at improving on last year's 5-4 MTC record. But point guard Andrew Snow and his 3 assists per game have graduated, so Simmons will have to rely on a new playmaker.

PREDICTION: Regional semifinal

Stewardson-Strasburg

COACH: Shane Smith

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 10-17, 4-6

RETURNING PLAYERS: Nicholas Ferris (Sr., G); Austin Carlson (Sr., G); Wade Mathis (Sr., F); Zach Rincker (Sr., G)

NEWCOMER: Justin Fulk (Jr., F)

OUR TAKE: The Comets have plenty of offensive firepower with shooters Ferris and Rincker. Ferris is a good distributor and Mathis can rebound. But they'll have to play defense to improve on last year, and some depth would help.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Tuscola

COACH: Matt Franks

CONFERENCE: Okaw Valley

RETURNING PLAYERS: Phil Meyer (Sr., G); Jimmy Knight (Sr., G); Cody Pankau (Sr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Dustin Haake (Jr., F); Dan Yoakum (Jr., G)

OUR TAKE: The Warriors have almost no experience and won't get all their players until football season is over. That could be a tough combination for Tuscola, though the Warriors do have good athletes.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Vandalia

COACH: Kevin Jackson

CONFERENCE: South Central

LAST YEAR: 17-11, 8-3

RETURNING PLAYERS: Tim Ritchey (Jr., G); Bryan Hosick (Sr., G); Dathan Berning (Sr., G); Leyton Godoyo (Jr., G); Quenten Austin (Sr., F)

NEWCOMERS: Chase Woolsey (Jr., C); Michael Wells (Jr., G); Aaron Harter (Jr., G); Wade Cowger (Jr., G); Trevor Montgomery (Sr.)

OUR TAKE: The Vandals were quietly solid last year and have plenty of experience back. If they can push the ball, it could be another good year.

PREDICTION: Regional final

Windsor

COACH: Josh Forsythe

CONFERENCE: National Trail

LAST YEAR: 26-4, 8-2

RETURNING PLAYER: Andy Cole (Sr., G)

NEWCOMERS: Garrett Haddock (Sr.); Hayden Cole (So.); Trey Leasher (Jr.); Jake Gilbert (Sr.); Brandon Beem (Sr.)

OUR TAKE: Windsor graduated its top six players from last year's sectional finalist, and have a new coach. There's size and speed in the talent coming up, but none of those players have varsity experience.

PREDICTION: Regional quarterfinal

Other rebuilding teams

Arcola, Beecher City, Cowden-Herrick, Clinton, DeLand-Weldon, Effingham, Louisville North Clay, Lovington, Oblong, Ramsey, Sullivan, Taylorville

Player of the year candidates

T.J. Bell (Sr., F) Charleston

Bell had a decent year last season after transferring back to Charleston from Bloomington (Ind.) South, averaging 13.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and two blocks per game. But the 6-foot-7 Bell is on this list because of his potential. And like former H&R Area Player of the Year Meyers Leonard, a Robinson graduate now playing for the University of Illinois, Bell's production might finally meet his potential as a senior. Bell's natural position is guard, but he'll likely be featured inside in Charleston's offense. The key for Bell will be taking advantage of whatever mismatch he's causing on a given night. If his defender is big and slow, take him out on the perimeter and beat him off the dribble. If he's smaller, post him up. And the more opportunities Bell can get in transition, the better.

Paul Knapp (Sr., G) Flora

Knapp burst on the scene as a freshman and was one of the best players in the area, and he's gotten better every year. Using a shooting touch that more than one area coach has said is the smoothest in the area, Knapp was a H&R All-Area Third Team selection as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 18 points per game and was second team all-area. Last year, he pushed his scoring average up to 21.2 ppg and was first team. And despite drawing most of the attention of opposing defenses, Knapp still shot 39 percent from 3-point range last year while knocking down 67 shots from behind the arc. But Knapp's game is more than shooting. He's quick enough to drive past opponents and strong enough to finish at the basket.

Eric Leonard (Sr., G) Sangamon Valley

Leonard started at point guard for the Storm as a freshman, but became a star as a sophomore. Last year as a junior, his scoring average remained around 20 point per game but his assists (seven per game) and rebounds (six per game) both shot up. Leonard is a good enough shooter that defenders have to respect his jump shot and play him close, but that plays right into his hands. Most opposing point guards are either not quick enough or strong enough to keep Leonard in front of them. Once he's by his man, he'll either score or if the defense collapses on him dish it out to a teammate. Defensively, he shuts his man down most games. Leonard has been H&R First Team All-County the last two years.

Jared McMillen (Sr., F) Pana

An undersized post at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, McMillen flew under the radar last year in Pana's balanced offense, but still managed to average 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. A third-team Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-State selection last season, McMillen consistently got better as the season progressed. McMillen is a tight end on the football team, and he uses that strength to make up for his lack of size on the inside.

Nick Painter (Sr., F) Flora

When Painter is on his game, he's completely unstoppable offensively. The 6-foot-5 forward is smooth and quick in the post. And though he lacks bulk, he's not afraid to go down low to get points. But he's equally dangerous playing on the perimeter. Painter is an outstanding shooter and skilled enough to put the ball on the floor and drive past his man. Last year, he averaged 16 points and 6.6 rebounds per game to earn H&R All-Area Third Team honors.

Alex Tueth (Sr., F) St. Teresa

Tueth was limited by injury last season, but when healthy he's a force. As a senior, he'll be the go-to guy this year after averaging 14.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last year. Expect the rebound numbers to remain high - he's the area's top returning rebounder despite being 6-foot-3 - while his scoring goes up. Tueth also brings an energy and enthusiasm that rubs off on teammates - perfect for a young Bulldogs team this season. Last year, Tueth was H&R All-County Second Team.

Tim Weaver (Sr., G) Cerro Gordo

Shot selection hasn't always been Weaver's strength, but he's learned to overcome that weakness by making a large amount of those so-called bad shots. He's so quick on his drives that his pull-up jumper is un-guardable. Weaver is also a big-time leaper who averaged 5.4 rebounds per game last year. And despite being a 6-foot-1 guard, he's Cerro Gordo's all-time leader in blocked shots. A contributor since his freshman year, last year was his breakout season. He averaged 20 points per game and was H&R All-County First Team.

Area's other top individual talent

Connor Beasley (Jr., G) St. Elmo - Beasley knocked down 40 from 3-point range last year in averaging 11.4 points per game. He also grabbed 6.5 rebounds per game.

Gregg Boomer (Jr., G) Argenta-Oreana - This could be a big year for Boomer, who Argenta will count on for a lot of scoring. He averaged 9.6 points per game last year and should raise that number.

Connor Gross (So., G) Bement - Gross knocked down 69 3-pointers as a freshman while averaging 12.3 points per game. As Bement's only returning letterman, look for even more long-range bombs from Gross this year.

Michael Houran (Jr., F) Decatur Christian - Houran is a great shooter but with the size at 6-foot-5 to take it down low and score as well.

Cody Huggins (Sr., G) Warrensburg-Latham - Huggins was one of three Cardinals players to average at least 10 points per game last year. He's the only one back, and Warrensburg is depending on him to increase his scoring substantially.

Paul Knapp (Sr., G) Flora - The player most likely to lead the area in scoring this season has raised his points-per-game average every season, upping it to 21.3 points last year. He's best when he's shooting the ball, but there's not much he can't do offensively.

Zach Rincker (Sr., G) Stewardson-Strasburg - Shooting runs in the Rincker family. Zach knocked down 35 from 3-point range last year at a 36 percent clip.

Aaron Siler (Jr., G) Robinson - Siler was unstoppable last season. He knocked down 74 3-pointers, making 39.8 percent of them. But he also got to the free-throw line 115 times, making 81.7 percent of those.

Eugene Smith (Sr., G) Eisenhower - Smith surprised teams at times when he got hot from the outside. If he's more consistent this year, he'd give the Panthers a much-needed offensive weapon.

Jacob Stewart (Sr., F) Mount Zion - Stewart has a good touch around the basket to 15 feet. He averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game last year.

Dylan Sunderland (Sr., G) Argenta-Oreana - Sunderland is an outstanding outside shooter, leading the Bombers with 11.2 points per game last year.

Tim Weaver (Sr., G) Cerro Gordo - Weaver is an aggressive shooter who became an H&R All-Macon County first-team player last year. He averaged 20 points per game.

Peyton Wyatt (Sr., G) Newton - Wyatt has a great mid-range game, but he can also knock down the 3. Last year he averaged 20.3 points per game and will go over the 1,000-point mark early in the season.

Top slashers

Marcus Bartley (Soph., G) MacArthur - In all reality, the 6-foot-3 Bartley could go on a number of these lists. He's expected to have breakout year by becoming more of a go-to penetrating scorer. He's got range to hit the 3 and the ability to run the offense as well having averaged 5 assists last year.

Alex Corrington (Sr., G) Okaw Valley - Corrington averaged 18.1 points per game last year. He can hit from the outside, and when he drives and gets to the line, he knocks down the free throws.

Austin Crist (Sr., G) Cerro Gordo - Crist is an aggressive, hard-nosed player who takes the ball hard to the basket. He scored 16.5 points per game last year and also had 4.1 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.

DeShawn Davis (Jr., G) Eisenhower - His ability to get to the basket will help ignite Eisenhower's offense.

Michael Fehrenbacher (Sr., F) Olney - The athletic Fehrenbacher averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds last year, and was a force at the free-throw line (76 percent).

Brook Pampe (Sr., G) Olney - Another highly athletic Olney player, Pampe led the Tigers with 15.6 points per game last year and also had two steals and two assists per game.

Curt Ramsey (Jr., G) Central A&M - Ramsey's quickness and shooting ability make him a candidate for a big statistical boost after he averaged 8.2 points per game last season.

T.J. Roy (Sr., G) Neoga - At 5-9, Roy is a bulldog-like guard. He drives to the basket relentlessly and he craves contact. He makes defenders who get in his way pay at the free-throw line, where he hits 83 percent. He's also a solid 3-point shooter (35 percent). Last year Roy averaged 12.7 points.

Top post players

Tyler Albers (Sr., F) Meridian - The 6-4 Albers isn't necessarily a dominating presence, but he's an efficient scorer in the paint. He shot 59 percent last year and averaged 10.4 points per game.

Brian Armour (Sr., F) Decatur Christian - Armour is 6-1, but he plays like he's 6-6. He'll be a force inside and out when he becomes eligible in December.

T.J. Bell (Sr., F) Charleston - The 6-7 Bell will play guard in college. But as high school player, he's unstoppable wherever he has the ball - especially in the post.

Clint Carlen (Sr., C) Cumberland - The Pirates are hoping for even bigger things out of their big man this year after the 6-6 Carlen averaged eight points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last year.

Walker Herzog (Sr., F) Okaw Valley - Herzog is undersized, but in his fourth year as a starter he knows how to use his strength. He averaged 9.8 points and nine rebounds last year, and has gotten quicker as a senior.

Matt Kruse (Jr., C) Monticello - The Sages' 6-9 center showed flashes of brilliance in the post last year. If he's aggressive, there aren't many players around with the size to stop him. He's also a game-changer on defense and on the boards.

Jared McMillen (Sr., F) Pana - The 6-3 McMillen averaged 15.5 points on 59 percent from the field and 8.5 rebounds last season. He's stronger this year, so look for a monster season.

Zach Murphy (Sr., F) Maroa-Forsyth - Murphy has a smooth post game and a mid-range jumper. If he gets more aggressive this year, he's a potential Okaw Valley first-teamer. He averaged 9.7 points per game last year on 49 percent shooting.

Nick Painter (Sr., F) Flora - At 6-6, Painter's first job is to score in the post, and he's got a variety of moves down low. But he can also shoot from deep. Last year he averaged 16 points and seven rebounds per game.

Dan Rentschler (Sr., F) Sangamon Valley - Rentschler's strength and athletic ability make up for his lack of size in the post. Energy also helps set him apart. Last year he averaged 15 points and seven boards.

Christian Van Hook (Sr., F) Lincoln - Van Hook came off the bench last year and gave the Railers a solid scorer in the post. He shot 57.4 percent and helped out defensively with more than a block per game. He'll take on a much bigger load this year.

Brandon Wolfe (So., F) Casey-Westfield - Wolfe led Casey in scoring as a freshman and got even better offensively in the offseason.

Ross Workman (Sr., F) Central A&M - The tall, long-armed Workman is an offensive threat down low with 11 points per game last year. He'll once again be the focal point in the Raiders' offense.

Top floor generals

Reggie Anderson (Jr., G) MacArthur - Anderson showed his ability to run the offense late last season, averaging 3 assists in the last seven games. His ball control will allow Brantley more freedom to slash into the paint or shoot from the perimeter.

Kendal Butler (Sr., G) Cumberland - Butler does a great job of running the offense (3.5 assists per game last year) and rebounds well (five per game) from the guard position.

Joel Eagleson (Sr., G) Olney - Eagleson was one of the most improved point guards in the area last year, filling the stat line with 8.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.5 steals, 3.1 rebounds per game and 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Nicholas Ferris (Sr., G) Stewardson-Strasburg - Ferris is an outstanding ball-handler and can score out of the point guard position. He's solid from behind the 3-point line and the free-throw line.

Michael Hohm (Jr., G) Decatur Christian - Hohm is an outstanding ball-handler who can also knock down the 3-pointer. He'll run what should be an explosive Warriors' offense.

Eric Leonard (Sr., G) Sangamon Valley - The best point guard in the area is back for his fourth year in the starting lineup. He's able to take over a game with his scoring, passing or defense. Last year he averaged 19.6 points per game.

Mark Niebrugge (Sr.,G) Teutopolis - Niebrugge will be the leader of another deep and talented Wooden Shoes team. He'll facilitate the offense and help out with scoring, too.

Top glue guys

Mitchell Beyers (Sr., G/F) Pana - At 6-3, Beyers can score from all over the court (12.5 points per game) and rebounds well (6.1 rpg). Defensively, he averaged 2.2 steals per game.

Seth Flach (Sr., G) Dieterich - A hard-nosed player with a nice shooting touch, Flach is capable of handling the ball and has the leaping ability to help out on the boards. In addition, he can play defense and run the floor.

Fisher Tharp (Jr., F) South Central - Tharp averaged 14.1 points and 5.4 rebounds last year. He can do a little bit of everything on the floor. Tharp knocked down 50 percent of his shots last year, he can handle the ball and does a great job on the boards.

Alex Tueth (Sr., F) St. Teresa - Tueth's enthusiasm and tenacity on defense and on the boards (11.6 rebounds per game) make him a team leader. If he can score more this year after averaging 14.8 ppg last year, Tueth is a player-of-the-year candidate.

Devin McWilliams (Sr., F) Cerro Gordo - The undersized Williams averaged eight points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and those numbers will probably reach the double-double level this year.

 

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