Road to Champaign: Sweet 16 trips on the line

Feb. 27—Oh, how sweet a win Tuesday night or Wednesday night would feel for any of the six area boys' basketball teams still playing.

But before sectional semifinal games tip off across the state, Sports Editor Matt Daniels gives a brief overview — and picks the winners — of the games involving local programs:

Class 2A

Shelbyville Sectional

St. Joseph-Ogden (26-6) vs. Flora (19-13), 7 p.m. Tuesday

➜ What to watch: How well SJ-O's difficult regular-season schedule has prepared coach Kiel Duval's team for the postseason spotlight. A veteran group won the Illini Prairie Conference and challenged the 3A and 4A programs it faced. Now, they'll try to prevent the upset-minded Wolves from ending their season for the third straight year in the sectional semifinals.

➜ Who wins: St. Joseph-Ogden, 68-53. The Spartans complete the first step of a possible SJ-O against Unity matchup on Friday night with ease.

Unity (26-4) vs. Teutopolis (22-10), 7 p.m., Wednesday

➜ What to watch: How well the Rockets handle what will be a large turnout of Teutopolis supporters making the 45-minute drive to Shelbyville. Unity will travel well, but the Wooden Shoes are one of the more tradition-rich small-school programs in the state. Then again, Unity already won 60-52 at Teutopolis this season on. With the way the Thomas twins — Henry and Andrew — are playing for coach Matt Franks' program, the Rockets are feeling confident. Topping Teutopolis twice (say that five times fast) in the same season would be mighty impressive.

➜ Who wins: Unity, 54-49. No moment seems too big for the senior-dominated Rockets, who get one step closer to their first sectional title since 2002.

Clifton Central Sectional

Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (30-3)

vs. Beecher (32-0), 7 p.m. Wednesday

➜ What to watch: Too bad these two programs are meeting in the Round of 32 compared to, say, the Elite Eight or state tournament. Ayden Ingram and Keison Peoples are the two key Blue Devils who could help coach Gary Tidwell's program reach a sectional title game against either Fieldcrest or Manteno on Friday night.

➜ Who wins: Beecher, 53-51. A great atmosphere in a great venue produces a great game. But it ends with Beecher's undefeated season still intact.

Class 1A

Salt Fork Sectional

St. Thomas More (22-11) vs. Lexington (24-10),

7:30 p.m. Tuesday

➜ What to watch: Whether the Sabers continue to assert themselves against their 1A counterparts. STM only finished 2-7 in the rugged Illini Prairie Conference. But those lumps the Sabers took are paying off now, with three straight double-digit wins to start the postseason. Knock off the Minutemen and coach Brandon Martin's team will play either Heyworth or St. Teresa on Friday night in the sectional championship game.

➜ Who wins: St. Thomas More, 57-52. Wilson Kirby and Co. keep it rolling with a significant win at Mary Miller Gym on the Danville Area Community College campus, the site of STM's last sectional title in 2014.

St. Anthony Sectional

Arcola (26-6) vs. Webber (30-3), 6 p.m. Tuesday

➜ What to watch: If Cinderella's sleeper still fits either team by the time midnight arrives on Wednesday. Arcola last won a sectional championship in ... checks notes ... 1964. But Braden Phillips and the Purple Riders are brimming with confidence after last Friday night's upset win against top-ranked St. Anthony.

➜ Who wins: Arcola, 49-48. Cola Wars, Round II? Yes, please. Purple Riders make it happen by holding on for win against team from southern Illinois town of Bluford.

Tuscola (28-5) vs. Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran

(18-15), 6 p.m. Wednesday

➜ What to watch: Not only is Tuscola three wins away from reaching the state tournament for the second straight season — something the Douglas County program has never done — but coach Justin Bozarth's team is two wins away from another historic feat. Back-to-back seasons of at least 30 wins. The last time Tuscola set foot on the Enlow Center for a postseason game, however, it ended with heartbreaking loss when Meridian's Graham Meisenhelter hit a 60-foot buzzer-beater in a 2022 sectional title game.

➜ Who wins: Tuscola, 63-45. Jordan Quinn was a sophomore during that loss against Meridian in 2022. Now a senior leader for the Warriors, Quinn and his teammates make sure Wednesday night ends with a better result for the black and gold fans, setting the stage for an epic sectional title game against Arcola on Friday night.