The story line rarely changes when it comes to the Class 2A boys basketball playoffs for teams in and around Clinton County.
Throw the regular-season records out the window, forget what happened in the head-to-head matchups and get ready for some intense postseason action between bitter rivals.
Even with a run of five straight regional titles, a state championship in 2012 and fourth-place finish in 2010, the Central Cougars (20-8) are guaranteed nothing but another opportunity.
"Seeds don't mean a whole lot," said Carlyle coach Andy Palmer, whose 20-8 team is the No. 3 seed at the Mater Dei Regional behind No. 1 Mater Dei (18-9) and No. 2 Central. "We found that out last year going in as a No. 1 and then ended up getting beat."
How close is this regional? The top three teams have spent the season knocking each other off in a preview of what could be an entertaining week of hoops.
Central lost two of three games to Carlyle and split two games with Mater Dei. Carlyle, which has won six in a row and seven of its last eight, has its two wins in three games against the Cougars but did not play Mater Dei.
Mater Dei split two games with Central and has won four of its last six, including a 51-28 victory over Class 1A state ranked and No. 1 regional seed Okawville.
Mater Dei has superior height and balanced scoring, plus a mix of inside and outside threats. The Knights are led by Ben Lampe (11.5 points per game), Nolan Gerling (10.7 ppg), Zach Haake (8.1 ppg, 35 3-pointers), Zach Deiters (7.8 ppg, 50 3-pointers) and Eric Vandeloo (7.4 ppg).
The continued development of sophomore point guard Brendan Timmermann has also been key for the Knights.
Mater Dei will likely be facing Wesclin (11-16) in the semifinals, while the other semifinal on Wednesday is a showdown between Central and Carlyle.
Carlyle has beaten Central 57-50 and 44-43 and lost to the Cougars 40-32. The teams tied for the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title with 8-2 league records.
"You've got one game to win on Wednesday night and if you can do that, you worry about Friday," Palmer said. "Certainly the expectations are probably a little bit higher for Central and Mater Dei, being the No. 1 and 2 seeds, but you've got to play the games."
One of the top players in the regional is Carlyle senior Matt Hilmes, averaging 18.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. Hilmes recently became the Indians' third all-time leading scorer.
John Becker (9.6 ppg) and Logan Zachry (8.4 ppg) are Carlyle's other top threats along with Alex Voss and Deven Hicks.
Central coach Jeremy Shubert is wary of Carlyle's experience.
"They've been through the wars and the grind," Shubert said. "Our young kids are going to have to step up because Hilmes is just such a tough matchup for us."
Defense keeps Central in every game it plays and the Cougar have the best defensive player and best point guard in the regional in senior Jacob Timmermann (14.5 ppg).
Central sophomore Logan Kohrmann (15.3 ppg) has blossomed into another scoring threat, especially from 3-point range.
"Jacob's been solid all year, but it's Logan on one night and somebody else the next when it comes to scoring," Shubert said. "They're young, but they're all capable. They're just going to have to rise to the occasion and do it."
Wesclin played Mater Dei twice, losing 63-60 in overtime Jan. 22 and 81-61 on Jan. 11. The Warriors open the regional Monday against Dupo (4-24).
Wesclin's top scorers are Kyle Eversgerd (15.4 ppg, 28 3-pointers), Alex Smith (14.5 ppg) and Jarad Steenbergen (11.5 ppg, 64 3-pointers).
The winner of the Lebanon Regional could have a shot at advancing to the state tournament, based on the strong schedules of top-seeded Okawville (22-7) and No. 2 seed Gibault (20-8).
Another area team with state tourney hopes is Madison (14-9), which finished second at the 2013 state tourney and third in 2010. The Trojans play one of the toughest schedules of any metro-east team regardless of size and are the top seed at the Bunker Hill Regional.
In the lone head-to-head meeting this season Feb. 7 at Okawville, the Rockets knocked off Gibault 43-33.
"They have two really good offensive players, but their other kids are solid too," Gibault coach Dennis Rueter said. "They're well-coached and they've played enough good people that nothing's going to bother them."
Okawville freshman Noah Frederking (18.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, 48 3-pointers) has burst onto the area scene with a flourish of scoring and playmaking.
"He can really score -- and score in a lot of different ways," Rueter said. "He's pretty good."
The Rockets also have a solid point guard and defender in senior Jacob Brammeier (14.5 ppg) and other threats in Alec Wisneski (8.2 ppg) and Alex Rossel (5.3 ppg).
Gibault was 0-for-17 from beyond the 3-point arc in its previous meeting against Okawville. The Hawks fell behind by 10 and never fully recovered.
"We tried to get back, but it's hard to catch up when you don't make any shots," Rueter said. "We don't want to be in that position again."
The nucleus of Gibault's lineup has been part of state championships in baseball and soccer.
"I think it's a big plus to have that in our back pocket," Rueter said. "They've not only been there, but they've had some success there. You can overstate it, but you still have to get out and play.
"A lot of our kids have played in other big situations, so they shouldn't be overwhelmed by the moment."
Senior Wes Degener (16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game), who has been battling some back issues according to Rueter, was an integral part of both state championships.
The Hawks' other multi-sport stars include Nick Row (13.3 ppg), Mitch Meyer (9.6 ppg) and Tyler Enright (6.3 ppg). Freshman Trevor Davis has also shown flashes of being able to contribute.
Gibault had some hiccups down the stretch with losses to Triad and Wesclin, but also took highly regarded (Alton) Marquette to the wire in a 39-38 defeat.
"We played really well against (Alton) Marquette, really played the way you have to play in the playoffs," Rueter said. "We came up one stop short of getting a win."
Gibault could be facing a semifinal matchup against former Gibault all-stater Marc Derwort, coach of the New Athens Yellow Jackets (12-11).
New Athens had an unbeaten run to the Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division title.
New Athens' top scorers are 6-foot-4 senior Tyler Meyer, averaging 19.9 points and 13.3 rebounds, and 6-2 senior Ryan Reuss (10.3 ppg).
The Lovejoy-Lebanon winner will face Okawville in the semifinals on Wednesday.