In a little more than a week's time, another area boys' basketball regular season will be put to bed as the sights and sounds of March Madness reawaken.|
But for several teams, some unfinished business is still at hand, as the matter of deciding area conference races remains a pressing one.
None more than in the West Central Conference's North Division, where defending champion Monmouth-Roseville (19-4) got new life in its title-defense bid when first place Rockridge (20-3) stumbled on the road at Carthage, falling 59-53 to Illini West to see their lead shrink to one game over the Titans.
That adds even more emphasis to Friday night's already-key WCC North showdown between the Titans and Rockridge, with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m. at the Rockets' pad in Edgington. If Mon-Rose wins to split the season series between the teams, it would leave both tied atop the division at 7-2.
After its loss at Illini West, Rockridge returned to form Tuesday night by rolling past Geneseo 70-35 behind junior center Ethan Happ's 24 points and 13 rebounds, giving the Rockets their second straight 20-win campaign.
The return of senior standout Liam Merritt from injury to augment an already-solid lineup has helped to bolster the Titans, who were missing his services when they lost 62-56 at home to Rockridge to open up January. Since then, Chuck Grant's club has won nine in a row. After Friday, the Titans' only remaining league game is their Feb. 15 Senior Night tilt with Sherrard.
A win by the Rockets would also earn them no worse than a share of the conference title, with only a Feb. 15 road trip to Macomb (5-14, 3-5) left on their league slate. For all intents and purposes, though, it would essentially clinch the WCC North outright, as it would give coach Toby Whiteman's club sweeps of both Monmouth-Roseville and Illini West.
As for Illini West (14-10), the Chargers remain very much a player in the WCC North race with a 6-2 league mark entering its Friday game at Sherrard (5-19, 0-8), a team that recently upset Three Rivers Conference leader Kewanee 68-67. Tied for second with Mon-Rose, IW split its two meetings with the Titans.
Defending champs alone atop LTC: After losing its Lincoln Trail Conference tournament title defense with last Saturday's 57-54 loss to Wethersfield, the Galva Wildcats decided not to let the same happen to their 2011-12 regular-season crown without a fight.
Hosting the Flying Geese in the teams' second meeting in four days, Galva (19-4) turned the tables with its own three-point win, prevailing 67-64 behind the trio of juniors Dexter Ingels (19 points) and David Jeffries (17 points) and senior Reece Hoxworth (14 points). Defensively, the 'Cats were able to hold the Geese's junior sharpshooter Trevor Lay to 12 points, although several of his teammates -- led by Matt Jenkins' 21 -- picked up the slack.
The Wildcats now sit alone atop the LTC at 7-0, a full game ahead of Wethersfield (21-4, 6-1). Another team looking to fly ahead of the Geese is third-place Stark County (10-13, 6-2), which moved within a half-game of Wethersfield after its 59-42 win at Ridgewood (14-10, 4-3) behind Ryan Daum's 24 points.
That loss also knocked the Spartans back into a fourth-place tie with Mercer County (14-9, 4-3), a team that took third at the LTC tourney (Ridgewood won the consolation title) and has won six of its last seven games behind the nucleus of senior guard/forward Tanner Matlick and junior guard Tyson Nylin.
Kewanee close to clinching TRAC-9: Looking to bounce back from their aforementioned loss to Sherrard, the Kewanee Boilermakers (19-4) can move to 12-0 in the Three Rivers and eliminate its penultimate challenger for the conference title -- defending TRAC-9 champ Riverdale -- with a road win tonight against the Rams (13-11, 8-3).
With freshman phenom Donovan Oliver added to a strong senior group, the Boilermakers' final conference games are Feb. 9 at home against Amboy (6-18, 2-10) and Feb. 12 against Bureau Valley (18-10, 6-6), also at Brockman Gymnasium -- the site of a 58-56 win over Sterling Newman two months ago that right now is the difference-maker in the title race.
Sitting at 10-1 in the TRAC-9, the Comets (20-3) are at Morrison (4-23, 0-11) tonight andtangle with Riverdale on Saturday night before wrapping up conference action on Feb. 12 with a rematch against the Mustangs. That definitely means Newman will be rooting for the Rams while tending to its business this evening.
Meantime, a win by the Jared Richmond-led Rams over Kewanee tonight would raise their stock and their hopes of repeating as TRAC-9 champs, with their 6:30 p.m. Saturday showdown at Sterling next on the agenda.