There is so much familiarity at the Class 2A Central Regional that advance scouting isn't really even necessary.
Defending state champion Central (19-9), the No. 2 seed, will be playing third-seeded rival Mater Dei (16-12) for the fourth time this season in the semifinals. That guarantees a sure sellout for the Wednesday semifinals.
"(The state title) seems like a long time ago now and we still have three of the starters from that team," Central coach Stan Eagleson said. "They haven't had the year they would have liked; they didn't win the conference and they haven't won a tournament.
"But I still think they have a lot of confidence and a lot for competitiveness; they know they're going to be a tough out for somebody."
This regional has been hotly contested for years, producing state championships for Carlyle, Wesclin and Central.
"It's highly competitive in this area," Mater Dei coach Brian Perkes said. "There's a lot of good basketball played in the metro-east and specifically Clinton County. Both Central and Mater Dei have a lot of pride and the kids have a lot of pride, so it makes for great atmosphere."
Top-seeded Cahokia Conference champ Carlyle (22-7) has won 16 of its last 17 games and beat Central twice, also splitting two games with 1A state-ranked Okawville.
The Indians' last regional title came in 2006 and Central has been adding to its trophy case ever since. Could this be the year Carlyle breaks the Cougars' four-year hold on the regional?
"Hopefully we just understand whether we're the 1, 2 or 3 seed it really doesn't matter," Carlyle coach Andy Palmer said. "We've got to go and win two games, so that's got to be our focus."
The return of 6-3 junior forward Matt Hilmes has lit a fire under the Indians since returning from a broken hand. He's providing 19.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, exploding for 37 points in a 69-45 victory over Red Bud in their regular-season finale.
"He's really played well since he's come back and gives us a big offensive weapon inside," Palmer said. "It makes teams have to make a decision to guard us in there and double down, or leave our shooters open. It's been a big plus."
That's because Carlyle boasts some of the area's top outside shooters led by senior guard Cody Huels (12.4 ppg, 75 3-pointers) and senior guard Tyson Boehne (7 ppg, 50 3-pointers). Huels went over the 1,000-point mark for his career last week.
The Indians have more firepower with junior John Becker (11.3 ppg) and junior Logan Zachry (8 ppg).
The Cougars suffered a blow last Monday when senior guard Austin Rickhoff injured his ankle in a rebounding drill. Rickhoff has been out of action since then while trying to rehab the injury.
"Optimistically he could be ready to play by Wednesday," Eagleson said, refusing to rule him out.
It's been that kind of year for Central, which also has battled through injuries to 6-foot-6 senior center Kyler Scheer (10.9 points, 5.4 rebounds per game, 51 blocked shots) and junior guard Jacob Timmermann (10.1 ppg, 115 assists).
Add in a fourth meeting with heated rival Mater Dei and things won't get any easier in the postseason.
Central defeated Mater Dei 47-35 and 54-45, losing the middle game 32-21 at the Nashville Invitational Tournament. The Cougars shot 64 percent and nailed six of 10 3-pointers in the most recent meeting.
Mater Dei has been building toward a strong finish, knocking off 4A Belleville West and 3A Centralia in the same week.
"That was a good week for us. We hit some shots and did enough things right," Perkes said. "We also made some free throws. We've counted a number of games, five or six games, where our poor free-throw shooting has cost us the game.
"We're sitting at 16-12 and quite honestly we feel like we could have 20 wins. We took (Adam) Etter out of the equation and the rest of the team is under 50 percent."
After losing to 1A state-ranked Okawville, the Knights closed out the regular season with a solid win over Springfield.
Mater Dei's top player is senior guard Adam Etter (13.2 ppg, 16 assists). Senior Mitchell Langenhorst has adapted well to coming off the bench and is the second-leading scorer at 6.6 points per game with a team-leading 39 3-pointers.
"Adam Etter is one of the best point guards around and when you have good guard play, you always have a chance," Perkes said. "I feel our chances are as good as anybody's in the regional."
Other key contributors are Eric Vandeloo (6.3 ppg), Zach Haake (6.4 ppg) and Ben Lampe (5.8 ppg).
Mater Dei lost to Central in the regional championship a year ago and can't seem to escape the Cougars in the postseason.
"When you're in the same classification and you're from the same town, you're going to end up playing each other in the playoffs," Perkes said.
Palmer is also wary of Central, despite his team having beaten the Cougars 40-37 and 54-42 this season.
"Central on their home court is going to be extremely tough, regardless of whether they're hurt or not hurt. They're defending state champions, I'm sure they're not going to forget about that.
While the Nashville Hornets are at home and also the top seed, things will definitely not be easy for coach Brad Weathers' club.
The River-to-River Conference/Mississippi Division champions had a five-game win streak ended Friday with a surprising 46-35 loss to league rival Du Quoin.
Nashville owns two wins over No. 2 seed Pinckneyville and split with third-seeded Sparta. Du Quoin also presents a potential darkhorse in the regional field.
Nashville has gotten a lot of mileage out of freshman Royce Newman, the team's top scorer at 11.8 points per game. The Hornets also feature Scott Brown (9.4 ppg, 31 3-pointers), Chance Reuter (8.9 ppg, 44 3-pointers) and center Devin Holle (6.3 ppg).
Sparta got a big win over Okawville and has several offensive weapons led by 6-7 senior Aaron Rushing, East St. Louis transfer Phillip Lockhart and 6-5 senior Christian Jackson.