Charleston and Mattoon will face several tough opponents in the highly competitive Christmas Classic, among the best boys holiday events in the state.
The Christmas Classic in Effingham and Teutopolis rivals the State Farm Classic for top-tier talent.
Nine of the 16 teams competed in an IHSA Regional Championship last season.
Last season, Chicago Brooks defeated Lincoln Way East, 53-46, in the championship. Both Mattoon and Charleston will have their hands full. Let’s take a look at the complete field right now.
Here’s a breakdown of first-round games scheduled for Wednesday with commentary from competing coaches.
(Note: For tourney updates, you can access the tournament’s Facebook page.)
Belvidere (4-8, 2-4) vs. Oak Lawn (7-3, 1-2), 3 p.m. at Teutopolis High
Belvidere competes in the Northern Illinois 10 Conference and does not have any familiar opponents on the schedule. The team finished in last place last year after losing 52-44 in the 15th-place game. Ryan Beaudet was the team’s leading scorer last year.
Oak Lawn competed in the 1-2 South Suburban Conference. Last year, head coach Jason Rhodes led the team to their first conference title in 39 years. Last year, Oak Lawn finished in third place and both of their All-Tournament selections have graduated. Oak Lawn lost four collegiate players and nine seniors from last year’s 25-7 team. Davion Lawrence and Nicco Reyes play at Moraine Valley Community College, Isaiah Thompson is at Olive-Harvey Community College, and John McGowan is at the University of Dubuque. This year’s team is led by senior transfer student Xavier Sulaiman with 19.6 points per game. Ayham Salah was an All-Conference player last year and is averaging 14.4 points, while Junior Lee adds 11.0 points and Robert Wagner brings 10.4 points.
“We’ve been a bit up and down thus far this season,” said coach Jason Rhodes. “We like to play with pretty good pace offensively, but need to be consistently locked in defensively as a unit if we want to reach our ceiling. I think Lincoln-Way East is your tournament favorite. They have size, skill, speed, and shooting, and are well-coached with senior leadership and experience.”
St. Anthony (8-4, 3-1) vs. Lutheran North (8-4, 1-0), 4:30 p.m. at THS
The Bulldogs are fighting for a National Trails Conference title this season. The team relies on two primary scorers. Brock Fearday is averaging around 15.0 points per game, while Collin Westendorf adds about 15 points a game. Fearday is a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard while Westendorf is a junior guard. The team also relies on Jonathan Willenbord, Ryan Schmidt, and Max Koenig. Last year, St. Anthony finished eighth last season. The team’s lone All-Tournament pick, Kyle Stewart, has graduated.
Lutheran North finished in 13th place last season after defeating Horizon Southwest 70-45 in the 13th/14th place game. The team owns an impressive 63-49 win over Peoria Notre Dame this season, who owns a Division I prospect on their team. Lutheran North did not have any All-Tournament selections last season and competes in the Big Northern Conference.
Dixon (8-3, 1-0) vs. Chicago Brooks (4-6, 1-4), 6:00 p.m. at THS
Dixon played in the Consolation Championship last season but came up short despite Jacob Gaither’s 30 points. Gaither was an All-Tournament pick last year but has since graduated. The two returning players from last year are Wyatt Wetzell and Austin Hicks.
“We graduated several seniors last year,” said coach Chris Harmann. “The start of the season for us has been a good one to date. We went to the Quincy Thanksgiving Tournament and played against quality competition that provided us with some needed feedback for our team. Since then, we have won 8 straight games and have been playing good basketball. From what I know about the field, Oak Lawn, Lincoln Way East, and Brooks play a tough schedule and look to be playing well. Teutopolis puts a high-quality team on the court every year and on their home court will always be a tough out.”
The defending tournament champions have had a slow start to the season. The team lost both of their All-Tournament picks Jerrett Moore and Anthony Vaval. With that said, the team has played some high-quality opponents in Peoria Notre Dame, Chatham Glenwood, and Chicago Curie, which were all losses.
Charleston (3-6, 2-3) vs. Teutopolis (9-1), 7:30 p.m. at THS
The Trojans have been fairly competitive this season. The team’s last four games feature wins over Sullivan and Effingham, while their two losses are overtime losses to both St. Anthony and Newton. Last year, Charleston finished in 11th place. The team has three double-digit scorers. William Applegate leads the team with 12.1 points. Caleb Oakley adds 11.6 points and Luke Bonstetter brings 10.8 points.
“There are lots of great teams in the tournament,” said coach AJ Alexander. “Not sure who would be my favorite because being from Wisconsin. I don’t know a ton about a majority of the teams at the tourney. From being at it last year, I know it’s extremely competitive and well run.”
Teutopolis brings back one of the better players in the state last year. Caleb Siemer was a Third-Team All-State selection last year. Two other starters come back from a team that made an Elite 8 appearance. James Niebrugger and Brendan Niebrugge round out three of the five starters while Garrett Gaddis is back after playing a reserve role.
“We are getting better each practice, but we still have lots of room for improvement,” said coach Chet Reeder. “Lincoln-Way East is my favorite.”
Mattoon (2-10, 1-4) vs. Lincoln Way East (10-1, 0-0), 3 p.m. at Effingham High
The Green Wave will have a tough task as the team opens up against the presumed favorite of the tournament. Last year, the team finished in 12th place after a 53-47 loss to Charleston. The team is led by Christian Larson, Blaine Powers, and Tareik Grace. Mattoon is reeling on two losses to Mount Zion (75-43) and Rantoul (65-51).
“Our start to the season hasn’t been what we had hoped or expected, but know there is a lot of games left,” said coach Brandon Jones. “I would think Lincoln Way East has a real good shot at winning it all this season.”
Lincoln Way-East looks pretty solid on paper. The team lost in the championship last year 53-46 to Chicago Brooks but looks like they have the talent to make a run to the title game once again. The team returns four starters from last year’s team Kaiden Ross, Ty Toliver, Kyle Olagbegi, and George Bellevue. Sophomore Mac Hagemaster rounds out the starting lineup. Both Toliver and Bellevue were All-Tournament selections last year.
“We are focused right now on the first game against Mattoon,” said coach Richard Kolimas. “I know, from seeing them play this summer, that Oak Lawn is very good. From last year’s tournament, Teutopolis returns a strong team and will be extremely hard to beat.”
Champaign Centennial (2-5, 0-2) vs. Newton (10-2, 2-0), 4:30 p.m. at EHS
The Chargers were the Consolation Championship winners with a 68-60 win over Dixon last season. The team has some quality losses to Normal West, Apollo favorite Mount Zion, and state-ranked Decatur MacArthur.
Last year, Newton had two All-Tournament selections in Evan Schafer and Ben Meinhart. Leading scorer Mason Schafer also graduated but the loss in seniors hasn’t stopped Newton from taking off to a 10-2 start to the season. Eight juniors make up the team with one senior.
“We have played closed games and have come out on the good side more often than not,” said coach Troy Bierman. “We compete hard and hopefully give ourselves a chance each night. I feel there are a handful of teams that can compete at a high level over the course of the tournament.”
Knoxville (7-3, 0-0) vs. Pleasant Plains (6-1, 0-0), 6 p.m. at EHS
All-Tournament pick David Hise scored 21 points to lead the team to a seventh-place finish last year. Hise has since graduated but the team owns a strong start to the season. Knoxville has won six of their last seven games with their one loss coming by two points.
Pleasant Plains started the year with five straight wins. The team recently beat Tolono Unity in overtime before blowing out Beardstown. The team finished in 15th place last season.
Highland (7-4, 1-3) vs. Effingham (4-8, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. at EHS
Highland replaced Horizon Southwest as a tournament entry. The team is 1-3 in the Mississippi Valley Conference. The team started with a 48-36 loss to Teutopolis and then beat Mattoon 55-28 at the St. Anthony Tournament. Highland also owns a 56-44 win over St. Anthony.
Garrett Wolfe is the team’s leading scorer from last year and was an All-Tournament pick last year. Wolfe was an All-Apollo selection as a junior and has been a starter since he was a sophomore. All-Apollo cross-country runner Andrew Donaldson returns as a starter as well. The team has four freshmen on the roster. Effingham finished in sixth place last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
(* – All Tournament last year)
Tylon Tolliver (Lincoln Way-East)*
George Bellevue (Lincoln Way-East)*
Xavier Schuliaman (Oak Lawn)
Garrett Wolfe (Effingham)*
Caleb Siemer (Teutopolis) *
Brock Fearday (St. Anthony)
William Applegate (Charleston)