The holiday tournaments are in the rear-view mirror and area boys basketball coaches are now fighting snow and intense cold along with game-planning for opponents.
Let's take a quick look back at the first half of the season, which provided numerous big games, a few upsets and one of the most talented freshmen classes in some time:
Team to beat: Edwardsville (12-0) won the Carbondale Holiday Tournament by beating small-school power Madison in the championship. The Tigers also won the Waterloo Thanksgiving Tournament and are led by SIU Carbondale recruit Armon Fletcher (19 points and 14 rebounds per game), point guard Shawn Roundtree (17.3 points and 8.5 assists per game) and transfer guard Trevor Clay (10.8 ppg).
Keep an eye on: Alton (10-1), East St. Louis (10-4), Belleville East (7-5) and O'Fallon (7-6). Flyers senior guard Darrion Beane is a versatile playmaker with speed and scoring for a team playing a loaded schedule -- and with 6-foot-9 freshman Jeremiah Tilmon. O'Fallon's Donovan Franklin (19.5 ppg) continues to impress, as do East players Darreon Reddick (14.5 ppg) and Austin Cox (10.5 ppg).
Questions: Edwardsville has survived some close calls already, but who will be the team to step up and challenge the Tigers? Alton and East St. Louis can beat anyone on a given night and Belleville East and O'Fallon figure to keep improving.
Mississippi Valley Conference
Team to beat: Duster Thomas Classic tourney champ Jerseyville (8-3) has the firepower to win the conference. The Panthers ride the balanced scoring of Kyle Steckel (13.6 ppg), Luke Shively (12 ppg; 26 3-pointers) and Jake Varble (10.9 points, 9.1 rebounds per game).
Keep an eye on: Highland (9-5), Waterloo (5-5) and Civic Memorial (6-7) will have their opportunities to derail the Panthers.
Questions: Will Waterloo continue to add offense to supplement its tough defense? Will Highland's relatively young squad catch fire at some point and begin a win streak?
Team to beat: It's far too early to pick a winner in the Mississippi Division, where Central (9-4) and Carlyle (7-4) figure to battle Freeburg (5-6) and possibly Wesclin (6-5). New Athens (5-5) has asserted itself early in the Kaskaskia Division, but Steeleville (6-5) and Lebanon (3-7) are worthy adversaries.
Keep an eye on: Carlyle came in as the preseason favorite, but has struggled with outside shooting. If the Indians get hot from the outside, they already have one of the conference's top inside forces in Matt Hilmes (18.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game).
Questions: Can Central continue to get scoring from its young lineup to supplement senior guard Jacob Timmermann (16.1 ppg) and sophomore Logan Kohrmann (15.2 ppg)? Will Freeburg's 6-9 Division I center Ryan Diecker (15.9 points, 10.8 rebounds per game) become a dominant force on a nightly basis? Can Wesclin add enough defense to aid what has become a fun-to-watch offense?
South Seven Conference
Team to beat: The Centralia Orphans are 13-0 and playing as well as they have in years. No surprise with a Lee Bennett-coached team that won its own tournament and can shut teams down.
Keep an eye on: Cahokia (9-4) finished second in the state last season and has a similar talent base with Division I recruits Darius Austin (18.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game) and C.J. Rivers (12.3 ppg), plus sophomore guard transfer Tarkus Ferguson 911.3 ppg). Althoff freshman Jordan Goodwin (22.1 ppg) has been even better than advertised and the young Crusaders (8-4) gained confidence with a second-place finish at the Collinsville tournament. Carbondale (8-2) has lost only to Edwardsville and Centralia.
Questions: Which team will rise up to challenge Centralia and Cahokia? In a league notoriously tough for visiting teams, who will discover the winning formula away from home?
Team to beat: Right now it's tough to argue against Gibault. The Hawks are 11-1 with their lone defeat in Pinckneyville to the host Panthers at the Duster Thomas Classic. Gibault has an experienced lineup led by seniors Wes Degener (16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game), Nick Row (14.1 ppg) and Mitch Meyer (9.2 ppg).
Keep an eye on: Madison (8-2) outslugged some much bigger teams to reach the championship of the Carbondale Holiday Tournament before losing to unbeaten Edwardsville in the title game. Okawville (8-3) has one of the region's top freshmen in Noah Frederking (18.4 ppg) and Mater Dei (7-6) is gaining traction and wins under new coach Ronnie Schadegg.