This time, Althoff hopes to defend its No. 1 seed.
The Crusaders (7-1) are the class of the annual Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, formerly the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic. It’s the 32nd consecutive year that a tournament will be played at Fletcher Gym in the final week of December.
Althoff also was the top seed last year, but lost 64-61 to Collinsville in the semifinals en route to placing third with a 76-64 victory over McCluer North. The Crusaders then finished second in the Class 3A state tournament, losing to Westchester St. Joseph 67-63.
“What the No. 1 seed means is you play later in the tournament. That’s one benefit unless you’re someone like me who goes to bed early,” said 18th-year Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose team will face Urbana (1-7) in the first round at 8 p.m. Monday.
“It’s another loaded tournament,” Leib said. “It’s going to be tough. But these guys are very gifted basketball players. They love to compete. It’s a fun group and they have a great time. They enjoy playing basketball. I don’t have to sell them on what a great game it is.”
The Crusaders’ only championship in Collinsville was in 2008. Behind a talented cast that features seniors Tarkus Ferguson, Brendon Gooch and Keenen Young, and juniors Jordan Goodwin and Marvin Bateman, Althoff is poised to revisit the winner’s circle.
The 6-foot-3 Goodwin, averaging a team-best 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds, has received scholarship offers from Illinois, Missouri, Purdue, Virginia Tech and Illinois State.
“He’s so ultra-competitive, and it’s infectious,” Leib said of the three-year starter. “That being said, he gives the ball up and finds the open person. Jordan isn’t necessarily the type of leader that’s going to stand up and give you the Gen. Patton speech, but he does it in a drill and does it daily in practice. He’s got the type of personality that others like to follow, and he does it with a smile on his face. He has a lot of fun out there. That’s what you want.
“Tarkus is the same way, but he does it more in a quiet fashion. Gooch is the same way.”
The 6-4 Ferguson, averaging 15.6 points and 4.8 rebounds, has committed to Illinois-Chicago. The 6-6 Gooch, averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds, will play at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Young averages 10.4 points, while the 6-5 Bateman averages 12.5 points has 22 3-pointers. Young was injured and did not play in the Classic last year.
Juniors C.J. Coldon, Dante Ray and Ryder Goodwin add to the Crusaders’ depth.
Leib said the Crusaders are determined to expunge their memories of the narrow loss to Westchester St. Joseph in March.
“They’ve not allowed that to define who they are,” Leib said of the loss. “They’re still hungry and they still have that yearning to finish that task at hand of winning state. I hear them discuss that all the time. I tell them, ‘Look, it’s a process. You’ve got to be lucky in the process and you’ve got to work really hard.’ ... We’ve still got a way to go.”
Lincoln always a threat
Defending champion Lincoln (7-2) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Again this season, the Railsplitters aren’t blessed with size, but they negate that shortcoming with deadly perimeter shooting, an emphasis on sharing the ball and their patented 1-2-2 ball press.
“The team to beat, no doubt, is Althoff,” said Lincoln Hall of Fame coach Neil Alexander. “They’ve got everybody back from a state runner-up team. They’ve very skilled and talented and big and strong. They’ve got everything that they need to win a state championship. You’re going to have to go through them. Lucky for us, they’re in the other bracket.”
The Railsplitters open the tournament at 2:30 p.m. Monday against Fort Zumwalt North and could face East St. Louis (5-4) in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
Lincoln hardly resembles the team that defeated Collinsville 47-34 in the championship game last year. Tournament MVP Gavin Block and Will Cook graduated, leaving 6-1 senior point guard Aron Hopp as one of the Railsplitters’ few recognizable names.
“He was a starter last year and played major minutes, and (6-1) Isaiah Bowers was a freshman last year who came off the bench and played a little bit,” Alexander said. “Those two guys are the ones that create things and make things happen for our basketball team. And we’ve got some guys who can shoot the basketball. We have to be creative for them.”
Other starters are 5-11 seniors Garrett Aeilts and K.J. Fry and 6-5 sophomore Drew Baconm with Fry being Lincoln’s top 3-point shooter. Bryson Kirby, a 5-11 junior who is Alexander’s grandson, comes off the bench. Nolan Hullinger, a 6-0 junior, also is used as a reserve.
“We’re awfully small. I’ve never had a team this small,” said Alexander, who has 751 career victories. “The rebounding side of the ball is a big (concern). We’ve got kids who are 5-10, 5-11 and 145, 150 pounds. Sometimes we play three of them at a time. ... These guys know how we want to play. Our program is structured to play a certain way and kids fit into it.”
Third-seeded Springfield Southeast reeled off six wins in its first eight games. Led by senior guards D’Angelo Hughes, Malik Williams and Andre Booker, the Spartans play with pace. Coach Lawrence Thomas also relies on juniors Isaiah Walton, Trevyon Williams, Jordan Stapleton and Mark Johnson, and freshman Stephon Sims.
Southeast, opens the tournament at 9 a.m. Monday against McCluer North and could face the MacArthur-Belleville East winner in the quarterfinals. The Spartans already have played MacArthur twice, losing 66-56 and winning 63-37.
The No. 4 seed is Quincy, which won eight of its first 10 games and returns plenty of experience in seniors Mike Dade, Jacob Jobe, Carson Gay, Cameron Gay and Elliot Briddle, juniors Cameron Waggoner and Garrett Gadeke and sophomore Aaron Shoot.
The Blue Devils are coached by Andy Douglas, in his second season. Quincy is seeking its first tourney championship since 1997. It dropped title games in 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2012.
East St. Louis and Belleville East could be poised to make a run at the tournament title.
The Flyers, under new coach Phillip Gilbert, have won four straight. Senior guard Kenny Roberson averages 13.1 points, while players like seniors Patrick Baxter, Antonio Johnson, Karon Randolph and Marquis Chairs also are dangerous. Chairs averages 6.6 assists and had 14 in East Side’s season opener against Pekin.
The Lancers are 6-3 and are led by Javon Pickett, a 6-4 junior who already has received a scholarship offer from Illinois. Pickett is averaging 22.2 points and 4.7 rebounds. Another junior, EnRico Sylvester, averages 10.6 points.
“There’s a lot of good teams in the tournament once again. Whoever wins it and gets to the finals is going to have to play some great basketball for four games,” said Lancers coach Abel Schrader, whose team will face MacArthur at 10:30 a.m. Monday.
“I’ve had a chance to see them. They’re very athletic. They’re a little bit bigger than us. They want to play up and down quite a bit, so we have to do a good job of making sure they can’t get to the basket very easy and we have to rebound the basketball. They’re pretty good.”
Schrader is encouraged by the progress East has made.
“I’ve said from the start that we’ve got some kids that are capable of doing some things on both ends of the court,” he said. “It’s about being consistent and doing the best we can. But we do have some kids who can score the ball.”
Namely Pickett, who has had two games of 40 points or more.
“He’s gotten stronger physically,” Schrader said. “He had a good summer and has gained some confidence in his game. He’s just mature as a kid and as a basketball player. He just needs to continue to work at it, and I think he will. You’ll see him continue to improve. He’s had a good start to the season and has done some really good things for us. He’s a tough matchup.”
Seniors Drew Millas, Jalen Jones and Isaiah King and sophomore Malachi Smith also have stepped up for the Lancers. Millas averages 7.6 points and leads East with 16 3-pointers.
Other locals, top players
Granite City is 5-3 behind the stellar play of senior Kenny Berry, averaging 20.5 points. The Warriors open the tournament against Hazelwood East (4-2) at 9:30 p.m. Monday. Senior Ron Allen and Tra’ron Allen also star for coach Steve Roustio.
Collinsville (3-4) has been inconsistent but has legitimate scorers in junior Ronnie Midgett, averaging 17.3 points, and senior Tommy Maden, averaging 14.4 points. The two have combined for 32 3-pointers, with Maden accounting for 20.
The Kahoks will play Oakville (2-3) at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Other players to watch in the tournament include: senior Zeke Moore of Riverview Gardens, a St. Louis University recruit averaging 24 points; senior Harry Ballard of McCluer North; and seniors James McKelvin and Corey Shepherd of Hazelwood East.
A new name for the tournament isn’t the only change this year.
For the first time, all 16 teams will be guaranteed four games during the three days of action. Also debuting this year will be the championship semifinals on the second day of the tournament. In past years, they were held on the third day.
Under the new format, every team will play two games on the second day.