The News-Gazette's boys' basketball Top 10: Weekend showdowns on tap

Jan. 19—A superb nonconference game. A critical conference game. Those descriptions fit what the top two boys' basketball teams in The News-Gazette's latest weekly Top 10 — Unity at No. 1 and Tuscola at No. 2 — face soon. Sports Editor Matt Daniels with the lowdown on the best of the best from the area scene:

1. Unity

Record: 17-0

Previous ranking: No. 1

What's working: The Rockets will have had a week to prepare for Friday night's Illini Prairie Conference game at Rantoul after Tuesday night's home date with St. Thomas More was postponed to Feb. 16 because of inclement weather. But after Friday's trip to Rantoul, Henry Thomas and the Rockets have an even bigger test less than 24 hours later, squaring off at undefeated and state-ranked Mt. Zion at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Braves are ranked fifth in the most recent Class 3A Associated Press poll, with Unity at No. 2 in the 2A rankings.

2. Tuscola

Record: 17-2

Previous ranking: No. 2

What's working: A two-game losing streak was quickly replaced by a two-game win streak after the Warriors won at Teutopolis this past Saturday night and earned another road win on Tuesday against Warrensburg-Latham. The road dates continue to pile up for Jordan Quinn and his teammates with a Central Illinois Conference showdown on Friday night at Clinton. The two teams met Dec. 28, with Tuscola prevaililng 62-54 in the title game of the Monticello Holiday Hoopla. Should be another good one on Friday night before Tuscola plays at Schlarman on Saturday.

3. Clinton

Record: 19-1

Previous ranking: No. 3

What's working: If the Maroons can get to 20 wins on Friday night, it would be a victory well worth celebrating. Tuscola pays a visit to DeWitt County for a Central Illinois Conference game that is absolutely critical to the league race. Win and Clinton controls its CIC destinty. Lose and the Maroons need Tuscola to lose again. Brooks Cluver and the rest of coach Vic Binkley's talented team carries a five-game win streak into its showdown with Tuscola after producing its 12th double-digit victory this season courtesy a 74-57 win at Meridian on Tuesday night.

4. St. Joseph-Ogden

Record: 15-4

Previous ranking: No. 4

What's working: After Friday night's Illini Prairie Conference home game against Chillicothe IVC, the Spartans will head to Effingham for a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the latest Associated Press Class 1A poll, with a 2:30 p.m. tip set for Saturday at St. Anthony in a marquee nonconference game. Tanner Siems and the Spartans bring a two-game win streak into the weekend after an impressive 64-39 win at Prairie Central on Tuesday night in Fairbury that kept SJ-O unbeaten through its first two Illini Prairie games.


Record: 19-3

Previous ranking: No. 5

What's working: Another chance at a Vermilion County tournament championship is there for the taking. Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin clinched its spot in Saturday night's title game — location to be determined after Thursday night's games were moved from Danville Area Community College to BHRA's own Wilcox Gymnasium — with a win on Thursday night against Westville. Ayden Ingram and Co. will bring a nine-game winning streak into Saturday night, with the Blue Devils' last loss happening on Dec. 19 at St. Joseph-Ogden.

6. Centennial

Record: 13-6

Previous ranking: No. 6

What's working: It's a step back in time this weekend for the Chargers, with Centennial hosting former Big 12 Conference foes Decatur MacArthur and Decatur Eisenhower on back-to-back days. First up is state-ranked MacArthur on Friday night, with the Generals tied for 10th in the Class 3A Associated Press poll. Eisenhower visits for a 6:30 p.m. tip on Saturday night. Kayden Peat and the Chargers won at rival Champaign Central last Friday night and followed that up with a solid double-digit home win against Peoria Manual on Tuesday.

7. Westville

Record: 15-4

Previous ranking: No. 7

What's working: The Tigers will get another chance to defeat Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin on Feb. 13 in the regular-season finale for both Vermilion Valley Conference teams. On Thursday night, though, coach Ed Barney's team sustained a loss to the Blue Devils that kept Westville out of Saturday night's Vermilion County tournament championship game and ended a three-game winning streak for the Tigers. Still, senior stalwart Drew Wichtowski reached 1,000 career points on Thursday night as the Tigers will vie for third place at the county tournament on Saturday night.

8. Arcola

Record: 15-5

Previous ranking: Not ranked

What's working: Since losing its opening game at the Dieterich Holiday Tournament on Dec. 26 to the host Movin Maroons, all Arcola has done is win. And win. And win again. Tanner Thomas and the Purple Riders are playing some of their best basketball in recent memory, highlighted by a double-digit road victory on Tuesday night against a 15-win Sullivan team. Coach Greg Gisinger's team is 6-0 in Lincoln Prairie Conference games and has the top seed at the 12-team LPC Tournament that tips off Friday night.

9. St. Thomas More

Record: 13-4

Previous ranking: No. 9

What's working: The Sabers showed little ill effects from a lengthy layoff on Wednesday night. Playing for the first time since Jan. 6 after bad weather forced three games to be postponed or canceled, Wilson Kirby and his teammates cruised past Cissna Park for a 28-point home nonconference victory. STM will renew acquaintances with an old Sangamon Valley Conference foe when it plays at Watseka on Friday night before hosting Cornerstone, which placed fourth at the Class 1A state tournament last season in Champaign, at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

10. Oakwood

Record: 17-5

Previous ranking: Not ranked

What's working: A fourth-place finish at the Monticello Holiday Hoopla is how Oakwood ended 2023. But 2024 has brought about plenty of success for Alec Harrison and the Comets, who will try to win a Vermilion County tournament championship on Saturday night. Oakwood extended its win streak to six following its victory on Thursday night against Hoopeston Area in the final night of pool-play games that were held in Bismarck and will try to earn county bragging rights by the time Saturday night comes to an end.