The Southwestern Conference season begins at the same site for the second year in a row Saturday when the SWC @ the E boys basketball event takes place at the Vadalabene Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
The brainchild of SWC commissioner Bill Schmidt and league athletic directors, SWC @ the E is a four-game SWC boys basketball marathon as all eight league schools open conference play on the same day at the same location.
“When we came up with this idea, it was hoped that it would be an opportunity to showcase Southwestern Conference boys basketball. We feel the SWC is one of the best conferences around,” Schmidt said. “We discussed with the other athletic directors in the conference, who endorsed it. When we contacted SIU Edwardsville about possibly hosting it, they said they would be glad to do it.
“This was a two-year deal, and we were very pleased at how the first one a year ago was received. We had a very good crowd, and the fans, players and coaches really enjoyed it.”
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The matchups will be the same as last year with games beginning at 3:30 p.m. when Alton (3-1), coming off a second-place finish at the Alton Tip-off Classic, takes on Granite City (1-3). The Warriors are led by high-scoring Emmitt Gordon (23.0 PPG).
Off to a 4-1 start, Collinsville will take on O’Fallon (2-2) at 5 p.m. Belleville East, which finished 3-1 last week at the Centralia Tournament, will take on East St. Louis (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. The Flyers are led by two of the top players in the St. Louis area in senior Joe Reese (17.3) and junior Terrance Hargrove Jr. (21.0).
The day of basketball concludes at 8 p.m. when Edwardsville (2 -0), led by Jack Marinko (34.5) and Caleb Strohmeier (12.5), takes on Belleville West.
West coach Joe Muniz said he has nothing but respect for an Edwardsville program that has been among the top programs in the Southwestern Conference for a long time. His Maroons upset the Tigers at SIUE last season, Edwardsville’s only loss before a season-ending defeat at the hands of Chicago Simeon in the 4A super-sectionals.
“Edwardsville has been the top dog in this conference for a while now. They lost three very good players from last year, but they return two players in Marinko and Strohmeier who had they been on any other team might have contended for all-conference honors,” Muniz said. “I have all the respect in the world for Coach (Mike) Waldo. You know that his team will always play hard and that they will try to exploit our weaknesses.”
West is 3-1 after a strong second-place finish at the Washington Tournament of Champions. The Maroons are led by one of the premier juniors in the nation in 6-foot-7 forward EJ Liddell. The tournament MVP at Washington, Liddell is averaging 27 points and 9.8 rebounds.
“I thought last year for it being the inaugural event and with the level of talent that there is in this conference, that with the matchups that we had, it went very well,” Muniz said. “I think our (Southwestern) conference is special. The best south of Chicago.”
Tickets for SWC @ the E are $5 and are good for all four games. Tickets will be available at the gate.