Only one boys basketball team in the Western Big 6 Conference finds itself mentioned in the first Associated Press state rankings.|
So Rock Island, ranked fifth in Class 4A, is clearly the class of the conference, right?
Well, a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league doesn't wholeheartedly agree.
The Rocks are the preseason favorites to win their fourth straight WB6 championship, receiving seven of the 10 first-place votes. Quincy High School, which has shared two of the last three titles with Rocky, received the other three first-place votes. Neither team received lower than a second-place vote.
"What's great about the league this year is balance,'' WGEM Sports Director Ben Marth said. "Sure, QHS and Rocky are the preseason favorites, but beyond that, I think the depth of the conference should make for another fascinating race to the finish.''
The finish line could be at Rocky Fieldhouse. The Rocks play four of their first five WB6 games on the road, giving them a decided edge down the stretch. They end the regular season Feb. 22 by hosting the Blue Devils, and having the homecourt advantage is certainly critical.
Last year, the Rocks had to visit Blue Devil Gym in the regular-season finale. With a victory, they would have won the title outright. A loss meant a shared crown. Using what Quincy coach Sean Taylor likes to call "Blue Devil Gym magic'' and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Martin Kvitle, the Blue Devils scored a 51-49 victory.
Only time will tell if the Rocks return the favor. Some think that's just a matter of time.
"No question, the Rocks are the class of the league,'' said Daniel Makarewicz, a beat writer for The Dispatch/The Rock Island Argus. "The only question this season is who finishes second.''
Others aren't sure Rocky's reign is a foregone conclusion, thinking Quincy could contend with a solid, experienced backcourt. The Blue Devils could possess the firepower to do so.
Rocky placed two players on the preseason All-WB6 list with junior guard C.J. Carr one of two unanimous selections. Galesburg sophomore forward Grant Gibson was the other.
Carr is joined by teammate Brian Richardson, as well as Moline guard Drew Owens and Kvitle in rounding out the top five. The depth of the league's talent is displayed by the fact five other players received votes.
Still, Carr's presence seems to the X-factor for the Rocks.
"Small in size but huge in impact on a game,'' said Steve Tappa, sportswriter for the Dispatch/Argus.
If the league gave an MVP, Carr would be the overwhelming favorite.
"At 5-5, he stands among the tallest when it comes to basketball talent,'' said Marc Nesseler, Dispatch/Argus sports editor.
Still, the size factor across the board for the Rocks seems to be a weakness. But will that be enough to let someone else grab the throne in what promises to be a tough Big 6 race?
A lot of the little factors usually go a long way to determining the Big 6 boys basketball champ. And this year should be no different.
Here is the Western Big 6 Conference boys basketball preseason poll, as voted on by members of the media who regularly cover the league:
1. Rock Island (7) 57
2. Quincy (3) 53
3. Galesburg 36
4. Moline 34
5. Alleman 16
6. United Township 14
C.J. Carr, G, Jr., Rock Island
Grant Gibson, F, Soph., Galesburg
Martin Kvitle, G, Sr., Quincy
Drew Owens, G, Sr., Moline
Brian Richardson, G, Sr., Rock Island
Others receiving votes: Raashaan Brown, F, Sr., Rock Island; Adam Hoogerwerf, G, Sr., Alleman; Trey Sigel, G, Jr., Rock Island; Mason Fairley, G, Sr., Quincy; Deveric Rogers, F, Jr., United Township.
Media members participating in poll: Matt Schuckman, Quincy Herald-Whig; Marc Nesseler, Daniel Makarewicz, Steve Tappa and Dan Tomlin, The Dispatch/The Rock Island Argus; Steve Batterson and Doug Green, Quad City Times; Ben Marth, WGEM; Steve Campbell, CBS 4 News; Tim Kinscherf, Staradio.