The News-Gazette's boys' basketball Top 10: SJ-O back at No. 1

Feb. 15—The regular season is nearly finished. With

postseason games and atmospheres starting next week. But before the march to madness begins in earnest soon, Sports Editor Matt Daniels unveils The News-Gazette's final Top 10 of the season:

1. St. Joseph-Ogden

Record: 24-6

Previous ranking: No. 3

What's working: A 9-0 record in Illini Prairie Conference games, including a thrilling 73-72 overtime win at Unity last Friday night, helped give the Spartans a well-earned league title. Now, Tanner Jacob and his teammates will try to give the program a third straight regional title. SJ-O opens the Class 2A postseason at 6 p.m. next Wednesday against either Westville or Sullivan in a regional semifinal game on the Spartans' home court.

2. Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin

Record: 28-3

Previous ranking: No. 2

What's working: Ever since Gary Tidwell became the BHRA coach in 2016, all the Blue Devils do is win. A lot. Keison Peoples and Co. cruised to the Vermilion Valley Conference title by going 12-0 in league play, winning those 12 games by an average of 29.6 points. BHRA carries an 18-game win streak into the Class 2A postseason, which begins for the Blue Devils at 6 p.m. next Wednesday against either Paxton-Buckley-Loda or Watseka.

3. Unity

Record: 23-4

Previous ranking: No. 1

What's working: If those connected with the Unity program would have said back in mid-November the Rockets would be 23-4 in mid-February, they'd have taken it. The Rockets are on a two-game losing streak before they host St. Thomas More on Friday to close the regular season, but Henry Thomas and pals are a top seed in a Class 2A regional. A regional they'll need to win next week in Monticello, where they lost to the host Sages on Tuesday night.

4. Tuscola

Record: 25-5

Previous ranking: No. 4

What's working: A possible return trip to State Farm Center in Champaign for the Warriors begins on their home court next Monday against Heritage in a Class 1A regional quarterfinal game. Josiah Hortin and the rest of his experienced teammates put together another superb regular season, especially given the heightend expectations and pressure surrounding the program. Pressure that will only grow in the coming weeks.

5. Clinton

Record: 26-4

Previous ranking: No. 5

What's working: The Central Illinois Conference regular-season champions experienced a successful regular season under veterean coach Vic Binkley. How Dawson Graves and the Maroons fare, though, in a tough Class 2A Olympia Regional will be interesting. Clinton is the fourth seed, with top-seeded Peoria Manual looming in a regional championship game on Feb. 23 if Clinton can beat either Tri-Valley or Deer Creek-Mackinaw first.

6. Centennial

Record: 19-10

Previous ranking: No. 6

What's working: A 66-53 home win against Urbana on Tuesday night saw Todd Makabu and the Chargers conclude the regular season on a positive note at Coleman Carrodine Gym. A chance to hit 20 wins happens next Wednesday night when Centennial plays Mahomet-Seymour — a team the Chargers beat 67-43 on the opening night of the season on Nov. 20 — during a Class 3A Decatur Eisenhower Regional semifinal game.

7. Arcola

Record: 22-6

Previous ranking: No. 7

What's working: The Purple Riders didn't lose a Lincoln Prairie Conference regular-season game this winter. Impressive. The 11-0 mark against league foes secured Arcola the outright LPC title following an 82-50 rout of Okaw Valley on Tuesday night at Nancy Stiff Gym in Arcola. Gerardo Alanis and Co. are 15-1 since Dec. 27, with a Class 1A regional quarterfinal game against Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City on Monday night in Arcola.

8. Oakwood

Record: 24-7

Previous ranking: No. 8

What's working: The Comets have won close games. Lopsided games. Recovered from discouraging losses. All to get within one victory of a 25-win season. So far. Cort Vermillion and his teammates are in a loaded Class 2A St. Joseph-Ogden Regional, but will open postseason play at home next Monday night against Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond in a regional quarterfinal game. The fact Oakwood is an eighth seed showcases how difficult the Shelbyville Sectional is.

9. Hoopeston Area

Record: 20-10

Previous ranking: Not ranked

What's working: A four-game losing streak entering February has been replaced by a four-game winning streak the Cornjerkers are on before beginning Class 2A postseason play next Monday. Kendrick Sigerill and the rest of coach Kevin Root's team has shown it can hang with — and beat — quality teams. If the Cornjerkers end up playing Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin on Feb. 23 in a regional title game in Gilman, don't be shocked.

10. Sullivan

Record: 21-7

Previous ranking: Not ranked

What's working: The first season in the Lincoln Prairie Conference treated Sullivan well, with coach Craig Toler's team going 10-2 in league games this winter. The reward, though, for Dirk Lane and Co. is a tough Class 2A regional quarterfinal home game against a 19-win Westville team next Monday. Beat the Tigers and St. Joseph-Ogden awaits in a regional semifinal game in St. Joseph. Yikes.