It’s fair to say Western Big Six boys basketball teams fared pretty well at holiday tournaments.
The Quad-City contingent had an overall record of 11-5, with Alleman winning the Sterling Newman Holiday Classic. At Pekin, United Township took third and Moline fourth. Rock Island finished sixth at the State Farm Holiday Classic.
Here's a closer look at each team's post-holiday outlook before conference play picks back up next Friday:
It was a very important week for the Pioneers. If their season turned around, it did so at the KSB-Sterling Newman Classic. Coupled with a win at Rockridge before Christmas and one over Davenport West at the Genesis Shootout, the Pioneers have now won six of their last seven games to suddenly have a 9-7 record.
What they got out of tourney: Coach Patrick Rangel believes his Pioneers are growing as a team, learning how to take care of the basketball and having good and smart possessions.
Noteworthy: Leading scorer Ryan Hodge returned, but it was more than just his points that came back with him after missing the United Township game due to injury.
“He’s our floor leader. He gets the job done at both ends of the court,” Rangel said.
Other Pioneers playing important roles during the six wins include forward Nathan Graves, whom Rangel cited for his inside and consistent play; forward Jake Sheldon, for his work at the offensive end; and junior guard Andrew Barrett, who has come on strong in a multitude of ways, Rangel said.
“He has been doing the intangibles that a lot of people don’t notice, getting the offensive and defensive boards,” Rangel said. “He’s averaging three steals and three assists a game and is just making big plays whether it’s an offensive rebound put back in or a blocked shot or a key defensive rebound. He’s been a very consistent player the last seven games.”
Still working on: Rangel wants to see the Pioneers continue to take better care of the ball and avoid lulls in games where they don’t.
“If we can tighten those gaps, we will be even tougher to play against,” he said.
The Pioneers definitely have some confidence now, especially after beating a previously unbeaten Sterling Newman team on its home floor.
“It showed a lot of maturity in our game,” Rangel said. “That’s what you hope for out of Christmas break, that you are ready to turn the corner.”
Rock Island had hoped to get junior Lacey Watson back after the holidays, but that won’t happen. Watson was suspended six games several weeks back for a team rules violation. He won’t return, Rocky coach Thom Sigel confirmed Wednesday. A junior and the team’s leading scorer prior to his suspension, he can return for this senior season, Sigel said.
What they got out of tourney: Rocky is remaking its team on the fly without Watson. It’s like losing a player for the year mid-season due to an injury, Sigel said. “It’s just a little tougher when it’s the middle of the season and you have to change roles,” Sigel added. Rocky played great competition, he added, “and hopefully we take some confidence into January.”
Noteworthy: Jacob Ellis, the 6-foot-7 senior center, was named to the all-tourney team at the State Farm Holiday Classic. He had 22 points in a loss to Zion-Benton. “He stepped up,” Sigel said. “We had a lot of guys getting used to what their expectations are.”
Still working on: Clearly, with the Rocks, it is a matter of developing confidence in their new roles. “I saw some strides in the right direction,” he said. “We used the tournament for what we had hoped, to go down there and get better. Now we have a tough stretch in January, it won’t get any easier.”
What they got out of tourney: Moline may have improved its depth, or continued the development of it as junior guard Nolan Griffin was 2-for-2 from the 3-point line in two different games and Drew Wiemers rediscovered his scoring punch early on at the Pekin Insurance Holiday Classic.
Noteworthy: The Maroons lost to the eventual champion, undefeated Springfield Lanphier, before losing to conference rival United Township in the third-place game. His own team’s development pleased coach Sean Taylor the most. He expects that to be an ongoing story “because of our youth and inexperience.
"They think they are playing much better and much better together,” he said. “They are hungry and want more.”
Still working on: Rebounding, Taylor said, is one area he’s concerned with the rest of the way. “We are going to have to really be committed to good box-outs and going after the ball,” he said. “It’s going to take all five because we don’t have one guy who can just go and get us 10 every night.”
What they got out of tourney: The Panthers are one team that left the Quad-Cities after Christmas in search of a title. Though they came up short, placing third at Pekin, they did develop some depth, getting more playing time for Jesse Desilva, Zion Duckworth, Cajzon Barajas and Shamar Grant, coach Ryan Webber said.
Noteworthy: UT (13-1) faced a number of different styles of play at Pekin, Webber said. They also developed some depth while learning some lessons.
“We are trying to create some bench depth and got some guys who are new to the varsity level some confidence to come in and give us some quality minutes,” he said. “Moving forward we are excited about that.”
Still working on: The Panthers learned they need to keep the ball moving offensively, Webber said. When they moved the ball well, good things happened. “When it got stuck in one spot, we kind of settled for bad shots,” Webber added. “That was one thing coming out of the tourney we wanted to improve on as well as make every effort to guard multiple sides of the floor."