When it comes time to explain how the Western Big 6 Conference made history a season ago for the wrong reason, United Township boys' basketball coach Marc Polite spoke realistically.|
"It's where the league is at," Polite said.
Now comes the time to change the perception.
A year removed from winning no regional titles for the first time in league history, the Big 6 looks to end that streak when postseason play opens today. With five of the six teams confined to two regionals, an unexpected drought should come to an end by Friday.
"As a conference," Rock Island coach Thom Sigel said, "everybody would like to see postseason success out of all our teams."
From a local perspective, last year's regional shutout snapped a half-century streak. Not since 1960 had the five Illinois Quad-Cities metro schools been shut out from a regional title. Since the Illinois High School Association started the regional level, metro teams have never gone back-to-back years without winning one.
Examining the streak reveals that one team usually reached the sectional since all big-school teams were paired together, but games still had to be won.
Up until last year, doing that was not an issue.
"I wish we had a factory we could go to and keep recreating kids we've had," Polite said. "We've had years where we had a lot of good players and teams. ... Things are starting to turn. We've got good players in the league. That's going to cycle back through."
Youth is what many coaches believe will return the Big 6 back to postseason prominence.
"The outlook looks great," Moline coach Jeff Schimmel said.
Finding a reason for why the league is looking to end a two-year postseason drought goes beyond talent, though. Logistics play a part.
When the IHSA split into four classes in 2008, the shifting turned the all-local regional into multiple ones. The years of Alleman, Moline, Rocky and UT being in the same regional ended when the classes doubled.
Now with Moline, Rocky and UT paired with Pekin and Peoria Richwoods in the same regional, winning a title is difficult.
"It's gridlock," Polite said. "There's no advantage or reward in our part of the state for having a good season. You're going to play another good team."
Ten years ago, the thought of a regional drought was nonexistent. In 2003, three Q-C metro teams -- Moline, Rocky and UT -- advanced to the Class AA DeKalb Sectional. UT eventually outlasted Rocky for the sectional title in a season in which four of the six league teams won a regional.
With the Class AA sectional complex setup, the chances were greater for Big 6 postseason success because each team could conceivably be in a different regional.
This year, the most regional champions the league could have is three. Only Rocky is a No. 1 regional seed.Galesburg (Class 3A) and Quincy (4A) are each seeded second with the other three standing fourth or lower.
"I don't think (the Big 6) is that down," Schimmel said. "It's gone through some adversity."
Part of that is a one-year regional drought. Will that end this week?
If the seeds play out, there is a 17 percent chance.
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