While most coaches agreed there was little doubt Briarcrest Christian from Memphis deserved the No. 1 seed at the 52nd annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament, there is nothing definitive after that.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus saw University of Memphis recruit Austin Nichols and Briarcrest play at the Marshall County HoopFest in Kentucky earlier this season.
"Nichols is real skilled and he's 6-8 --and he's chiseled up pretty good," Kraus said. "From what I saw, they're going to be very difficult to beat and they've got other kids around him that are very good."
There's plenty of experience, talent and intrigue at the tourney, which kicks off at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Mater Dei High School in Breese.
But there's also plenty of uncertainty when it comes to deciphering the list of contenders, especially when factoring in traditional rivalries, scheduling and a highly competitive field.
Okawville (9-0) is the lone unbeaten team here, but that was only good enough to get the Rockets a No. 4 seed behind Briarcrest (10-3), Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin (5-2) and defending Class 2A state champion and defending tourney champion Central (7-3).
Central thumped Mater Dei 51-36 in the tourney championship game last December.
Highland (9-2), Nashville (7-2), Carlyle (6-2) and Chicago Julian from the Chicago Public League also will push for a spot in the title game.
Sacred Heart-Griffin is coming off a 44-43 loss to Pleasant Plains on Saturday at the Country Financial Showcase at Illinois College. The Cyclones won the Kaskaskian Classic earlier this season with a 55-42 victory over Carlyle.
Other solid victories for the Cyclones include Springfield Lanphier (55-42) and Springfield High (62-48), although they lost 80-61 to Springfield Southeast.
SHG's top scorer is senior David Jacob (13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game), who has hit 28 of 37 shots (76 percent). Jacob did not play basketball last season, but was the Central State 8 Conference's Baseball Player of the Year as a junior.
SHG's other top scorers are junior Malik Turner (9.3 ppg) and Ben Sestake (7.8 ppg) with sophomore point guard Gabe Green and 6-6 center Dominic Aiello also capable of big games.
Central usually finds a way to make some noise at this tournament and this year should be no exception. The Cougars are 6-1 in their last seven games with the lone loss 40-37 at Carlyle.
While former Central all-stater Brandon Book is off to a strong start at Southwestern Illinois College, the Cougars still have talent in senior center Kyler Scheer (13.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg; 28 blocks), senior guard Austin Rickhoff (9.9 ppg; 16 3-pointers), junior guard Jacob Timmermann (9.1 ppg, 40 assists) and senior Justin Becker (7.5 ppg).
Kraus admits his Rockets -- a fourth-place finisher here last season --are headed for a far bigger test than what they has seen to this point.
"A lot of the teams that we've beaten so far have younger kids playing, kind of rebuilding teams," said Kraus, whose team's best win came against defending 1A state champion Woodlawn. "The verdict on us is still out there, but we'll find out a lot about ourselves this week. We're lacking size, but other than that I like what our kids can do."
Okawville has three players averaging at least 14 points led by 6-foot-4 senior Jeremy Weeke (16.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game).
"He's really doing everything for us," Kraus said. "Even the games where he hasn't been our leading scorer he's always an aggressive kid that plays hard. If we can just follow his lead, we'll be OK."
Other top threats for the Rockets are junior guard Jacob Brammeier (15.4 ppg, 34 assists) and 6-3 senior Jake Hensler (14.4 ppg; 17 3-pointers), with freshman Alec Wisneski also becoming more of a contributor in recent games.
Highland's only losses are 66-40 against Edwardsville at the Waterloo Thanksgiving Tournament and 55-43 at Jerseyville on Friday. The Bulldogs lead the Mississippi Valley Conference and are led by 5-11 senior guard Mitch Carriger (13.5 ppg, 11 3-pointers, 20 steals), 6-2 junior Aaron Elledge (9.8 ppg, 10 3-pointers) and 6-2 junior Joe Duncan (6.2 ppg).
Nashville's only losses are to Gibault (9-1) and unbeaten College Prep of Madison. The Hornets are always stingy defensively and get their offense from Scott Brown (11 ppg), Chance Reuter (10 ppg; 12 3-pointers), 6-7 senior center Devin Holle (8 ppg) and impressive freshman Royce Newman (7.9 ppg).
Mater Dei (5-5) has won four of five after a 1-4 start and the Knights' top scorers are senior guard Adam Etter (12.7 ppg, 50 assists) and 6-4 senior Mitchell Langenhorst (7.4 ppg, 17 3-pointers).
Two sophomores making a much larger impact of late are 6-4 Ben Lampe (7.3 ppg) and 6-2 Zach Haake (7.3 ppg, 15 3-pointers).
"I don't think we're close to what we're going to be," Perkes said. "We've held ourselves together after a pretty tough start and made some lineup changes. We've asked some of our seniors to accept some role changes and they've bought into that."
The Knights, 4-0 since the lineup change, start three sophomores, a junior and a senior. Haake and Zach Deiters are now starting along with junior Nick Hitpas.
Carlyle won six of its first seven games before dropping a 44-40 Cahokia Conference game to Columbia on Friday.
The Indians hope to have junior standout Matt Hilmes (fractured bone in his hand) back soon. They lack size, but have solid shooters and plenty of offense led by John Becker (11.4 ppg), Logan Zachry (10.3 ppg; 13 3-pointers, 22 steals), Cody Huels (10.9 ppg; 14 3-pointers and Tyson Boehne (7.9 ppg, 12 3-pointers).
Mascoutah (1-7) pushed Althoff to overtime last week.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.