Basketball is unofficially on hold at Central A&M, at least for another week, until the Raiders play their Class 1A state football championship game, but the rest of the high school boys basketball season begins on Monday.
A&M's plan is to advance back to Peoria after finishing third in Class 1A last season, but with strong programs like Effingham St. Anthony and Casey-Westfield falling to Class 1A, joining A&M, Nokomis and Altamont, the path to Peoria gets much more challenging.
Teutopolis has been a staple of deep postseason runs, and that doesn't figure to change much after reaching the super-sectionals in head coach Chester Reeder's first year last season.
Both MacArthur and Eisenhower have plenty of talent to end a two-year drought of regional championships for the Decatur Public Schools in boys basketball, with the last one coming at Eisenhower in 2017.
A&M may be the favorite in the Central Illinois Conference, but Meridian has tons of talent under new head coach Shannon Hauser, and Tuscola has a rising star in sophomore Jalen Quinn, but it's never wise to forget about St. Teresa under head coach Tom Noonan or Warrensburg-Latham under Vic Binkley.
Speaking of legendary head coaches, Neil Alexander has another strong group in Lincoln, and Taylorville brings back all-stater Jace Bergschneider.
Here's what to watch for.
Central A&M has Peoria plans
All this group of seniors — Connor Heaton, Jacob Paradee, Griffin Andricks, Connor Hutchins and Brycen Burgener — have done in the last two seasons is win. The Raiders advanced to super-sectionals two years ago when they were sophomores and finished in third place in Class 1A last season, tallying up 33 wins.
But basketball is on hold until the Raiders play their Class 1A football state championship game on Friday. Still, A&M is a heavy favorite to return to Peoria, and has one of the area's best trios in Heaton, Paradee and Andricks.
Heaton averaged 19.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season; Paradee averaged 14 points and 4.3 assists and Andricks averaged 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. Those three, combined with a strong supporting cast to make up four returning starters, should pile up the wins.
Generals ready to run
Ron Ingram loves his team this season. They're an athletic bunch and the defense will be quicker. Qua Smith is the junior point guard who will run the show and junior Nick Spannaus is a strong candidate to lead the team in scoring.
And there's another Bartley on the roster in sophomore Ryan Bartley. His brother, Marcus Bartley, starred for the Generals and played at St. Louis University and at Southern Illinois University.
This Generals team will be in the running for a regional championship, their first since 2015 in Ingram's first year as head coach. MacArthur went 19-14 last season, but lost by one in an overtime thriller against Champaign Central.
Eisenhower fully stocked
The band is all together for Eisenhower. Cam Rowe is a senior guard, R.J. Walker is a junior sharp-shooter, Brylan Phillips has a year of varsity basketball under his belt and is now a sophomore, and Aaron Dabner is a freshman.
The Panthers took their lumps last season, but head coach Rodney Walker has a team with plenty of varsity experience playing in the rugged Central State Eight. R.J. Walker was the team's leading scorer with 15.4 points per game and he also averaged 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals.
Phillips averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists and showed off his ability to knife through the lane for layups. A lack of height was a problem for the Panthers last, but the guards might be enough to make up for it this year.
Teutopolis keeps rollin'
Chet Reeder didn't miss a beat in his first year as Teutopolis' head coach. He led the Shoes to a super-sectional appearance before a loss to Nashville. Postseason success is just what Teutopolis has done, winning 10 consecutive regional championships.
Gone is first-team all-area guard Dawson Smith and second team all-area forward Clint Weber to graduation, but the Shoes bring back point guard Luke Ungrund and top defender Mitch Hardiek.
New-old faces in deep Class 1A south
Central A&M and Nokomis have played in sectional championship games each of the last two seasons, but a few familiar faces could trip that up.
Effingham St. Anthony is back in Class 1A for the first time since winning the state championship in 2017, and has the talent to trip up a storybook ending for the A&M seniors. Jaccob Dust, a 6-foot-7 senior, will anchor the Bulldogs on defense, and Kaden Fearday is the do-it-all guard.
Casey-Westfield is also a threat in that part of the bracket, led by guard Noah Livingston, who scored 15 points and had four rebounds per game last season. The last regional the Warriors won came in 2015 when they were in Class 1A and advanced to super-sectionals.
Altamont is strong again and Nokomis brings back Carter Sabol, who is one of the top big men in the area.
CIC could have multiple regionals
A&M should be considered the favorite in the conference, but it doesn't mean the conference is going to be a breeze. Meridian brings back a first team all-county player in Jacob Jones, who averaged 18.5 points to go along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals. Graham Meisenhelter was an honorable mention all-county selection last season.
Tuscola, which won a regional last season, has star sophomore Jalen Quinn back and more experienced than he was last season to go with Jacob Kibler, Ben Dixon, Nick Williams and Grant Hardwick.
Noonan's presence at St. Teresa always puts the Bulldogs right in the thick of a regional championship — at least — and a conference championship. Even without Austin Fitzpatrick, who is out with a knee injury, St. Teresa has talent. Christian Stoner will anchor the post, and guards Terron Reed, Jack Hogan, Chord Miller, Tim Schmidt and Brody Danner will be a problem for opposing teams.
Apollo Conference is stacked
Alexander has plenty of guards at Lincoln, led by Kaden Froebe, Dylan Singleton and Kameron Whiteman. Even with the loss of Jermaine Hamlin, Alexander's team will be just fine and should be considered a favorite in the Apollo after winning a regional championship last season and playing for a sectional championship.
Taylorville could very well win the conference as well. Bergschneider returns after being an all-state and an all-area second team selection last year who averaged 18.4 points per game on a Tornadoes team that went 26-7. Bergschneider will be surrounded by Wyatt Shirley, Rhayden Gideon, Tyler Heimsness and Sean Czajkowski.
The Tornadoes lost to Lincoln in a regional championship game last season.
Effingham, even without Landon Wolfe who is playing at Division II Minnesota State, will be strong again and led by Wolfe's younger brother, Parker Wolfe.
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25
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