When sizing up the opposition at the Class 1A state tournament, Madison High School basketball coach Jaime Cotto is certain his Trojans are battle-tested.
"I think we've got the toughest 1A schedule in the state," said Cotto, whose 20-11 squad takes on the (Lanark) Eastland Cougars (30-3) in a 12:15 p.m. semifinal Friday at Carver Arena in Peoria. "I'd like any 1A team to compare their schedule to ours."
Madison played Missouri state finalist Madison Prep of St. Louis, Memphis University High, Arlington, Tenn., 2A super-sectional qualifier Teutopolis, 3A sectional qualifier Centralia, 3A regional finalist Marquette twice and beat 1A sectional finalist Gibault twice.
Madison and Eastland also were matched up at the 2010 1A state tournament, with Madison winning 75-56 in the third-place game.
"They're awfully athletic and very well coached," Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said. "They play a brutal schedule and they're really, really quick and hard to handle. I don't know if I'm happy to see them again, but it beats not playing so I'm happy to get the opportunity."
Playing a strong schedule helps, but it won't guarantee the Trojans anything once they step onto the court in Peoria.
Especially against a fired up Eastland team that has won 19 straight thanks to high-pressure defense and 6-foot-1 all-state forward Dalton Shaner (17.9 points per game with 37 3-pointers).
"He reminds me of (Cody) Hildebrand of Payson-Seymour," Cotto said, referring to the top scorer on the team the Trojans knocked out Tuesday at the Jacksonville Super-Sectional. "They're very fundamentally strong, they're very smart and they're very disciplined in their man defense."
Madison has a first-team all-state selection in senior guard Marquis Borney. Besides averaging 19 points with 60 3-pointers, Borney is one of the team's best rebounders, passers and defenders.
The Trojans also feature a solid inside player in 6-5, 235-pound junior Deontay Starnes (10 ppg, 10 rebounds per game) and get solid scoring from junior guard Tyvon Powers (8.2 ppg, 34 3-pointers) and 6-3 senior DiJon Bryant (8 ppg).
"I'm concerned about their overall quickness and they're getting 18-20 offensive rebounds a game," Dunlap said. "They just get to the basket and get there so quickly. Their team speed and team quickness are the big concerns of mine."
Cotto hopes Madison's big men, Starnes and Bryant, can take advantage of some potential room to operate inside.
The Eastland Cougars' only losses were 64-47 to unbeaten 2A state qualifier Winnebago, 68-63 to Erie --a team it later smashed 62-41 in the sectional semifinals -- and 62-47 to Hinckley-Big Rock.
Along with Shaner, the top players on a balanced scoring team are 6-4 senior forward Ty Hartman (13.3 ppg), 6-2 senior guard Austin Hansen (9.4 ppg, 47 3-pointers) and 6-3 junior Skylar Paulson (8.8 ppg).
"When we've been at our best over the years we've had a balanced team that all could score and all could defend -- and it's no different this year," Dunlap said.
With just two losing seasons in 19 years at Eastland, Dunlap said his team takes pride in man-to-man defense.
"We want to be accountable for the things we do on the basketball floor, so I don't think there's any better way than matching up and trying to defend the other team the best way possible," Dunlap said.
This will be Madison's 13th state tournament trip and the Trojans won state championships in 1977 and 1981 under former coach Larry Graham. They also finished third in 2010 and fourth in 1980.
One of the top players for 2A state finals qualifier St. Joseph-Ogden is junior guard Nate Michael. Michael is the son of former Carlyle High all-state player and University of Illinois standout Tom Michael, now a Senior Associate Athletics Director at Illinois.
Tom Michael was the state tourney MVP of Carlyle's 1989 Class A state championship squad, scoring 28 points and hitting 10 of 12 field goal attempts in the Indians' 65-56 title game win over (Rock Island) Alleman.
He also helped the Fighting Illini to two NCAA Tournament appearances and a 70-49 record. He holds the Illinois all-time record for 3-point field goal percentage, sinking 75-of-152 (49 percent) attempts in 1991-92.