Despite having plenty of returning experience from a team that finished second in the state last season, Cahokia High basketball coach Darian Nash would still like to see the Comanches take a lot of the roller-coaster ride out of their game.
With the playoffs set to begin this week, Nash has seen far too many ups and downs and inconsistencies from the Comanches (20-8).
"If we come to play as a team and play for each other, prepare our minds for what's ahead of us, we're unstoppable," said Nash, whose team is the No. 1 seed at the Class 3A Althoff Regional. "But if we come in and let the crowd get into it, try to play for the crowd instead of trying to play to win the game, that will be a problem.
"We take every team as a threat. We try not to look past anyone."
A 61-59 loss to Carbondale on Friday gave Cahokia a second-place finish in the ultra-talented South Seven Conference with a 7-3 league mark.
Cahokia's top scoring threats are as good or better than anyone's in this regional led by 6-foot-5 Missouri-Kansas City recruit Darius Austin (17.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game), Drake recruit C.J. Rivers (13.1 ppg), sophomore guard Tarkus Ferguson (8.6 ppg) and senior Gary Hickman (8.2 ppg).
Althoff (19-9), the No. 2 regional seed, lost twice to the Comanches this season during South Seven play. One of those games was 71-70 in overtime as Cahokia overcame a five-point deficit in the final 30 seconds.
"It's their experience," Althoff coach Greg Leib said. "Sure they're athletic, sure they're skilled, but they've been battle-tested. Rivers and Austin have been playing for four years and they've seen it all. It's a daunting task against them when they're hitting on all cylinders."
Nash is counting on Cahokia's tough schedule and last season's long playoff run to provide additional inspiration.
"Hopefully it's a positive with the all the experience, the pressure, the game speed," Nash said. "We had four or five guys in the same situation last year. During the playoffs you're one-and-done, and that's a lot of pressure on the kids that aren't used to it."
Althoff (18-9) will face No. 3 seed Waterloo (17-9) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the regional semifinals. Waterloo won its first conference basketball championship since 1981 by taking home its first Mississippi Valley Conference title.
Althoff battled inexperience and inconsistency at various times with a freshman and two sophomores in the starting lineup, but also posted some impressive wins.
The Crusaders beat East St. Louis and lost to Lincoln, one of the top-ranked 3A teams in the state, while finishing second at the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic.
However, Althoff was only 3-7 in the South Seven with back to back losses to Centralia and Marion to close out the regular season.
"We're able to compete with the really good teams and really good programs in the state and maybe are even a little bit further along than I thought," Leib said. "I've got to remind myself from time to time that I'm dealing with 14- and 15-year-old kids out there and I try not to get mad at them for what I haven't taught them."
The Crusaders are looking for their first regional title since 2009. They lost 71-70 in overtime to Cahokia on Feb. 14 and 67-50 on Dec. 20.
Althoff's leading scorer all season has been impressive freshman Jordan Goodwin (19.7 ppg).
"He came out and really got after it and continued that on from the start," Leib said of Goodwin, already receiving Division I recruiting interest. "I know it's new to him playing this long of a season and this grueling of a season. It's really made him much more competitive and he was already a competitive kid anyway."
Althoff sophomore Brendon Gooch, another Division I prospect, averages 14.4 points and senior veteran guard Kevin Renner averages 11.5 points.
Sophomore point guard Keenen Young averages 8.5 points.
Waterloo lost two of its final three MVC games, including 56-40 at Civic Memorial on Friday.
Waterloo's top threats are 6-3 senior Shane Lenhardt (12.2 ppg), 6-3 senior Zach Schaab (9.9 ppg) and junior Rick Wiegand (7.4 ppg).
The regional is scheduled to begin Monday with a first-round matchup between Cahokia Conference rivals Freeburg (16-10) and Columbia (7-20).
Freeburg has won three straight and six of its last seven, including a 53-48 win over Columbia on Feb. 21. The Midgets have beaten Columbia three of four times this season and are led by 6-9 senior Kennesaw State recruit Justin Diecker (19.5 points, 11.4 rebounds per game, 62 blocked shots).
Freeburg junior Jacob Mueller averages 12.7 points with 45 3-pointers.
Columbia has lost eight straight games and its top scorer is Korbin Farmer (10.1 points, 9.1 rebounds per game).