Originally Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012, 10:23 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 15, 2012, 10:01 am

Big 6 questions for Big 6 boys' basketball

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By Daniel Makarewicz, danmak@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Rock Island's head boys' basketball coach Thom Sigel keeps an eye on the progress of his players during practice Monday Nov. 12, 2012.

Pegged by some as the Western Big 6 Conference favorite a week before the season starts, Rock Island boys' basketball coach Thom Sigel scoffed at the thought.

Just like everyone else in the league, the Rocks suffered heavy graduation losses.

"So there are a lot of question marks," Sigel said.

No one in the league is safe from that uncertainty.

Two years removed from a banner year that produced the second state championship and Illinois Mr. Basketball winner in conference history, the Big 6 appears to be trending downward. The league produced no regional champion for the first time ever last year, plus each team enters the season with holes to fill in their starting lineups.

Those factors make some wonder if this could be one of the lowest points this league has ever seen since each team has significant questions hovering with the season starting next week. During the Big 6 Coaches Banquet at the Quad City Botanical Center on Wednesday night, the coaches attempted to provide an answer to those doubts.

Alleman Pioneers: Graduation took four starters from last year's team that finished 18-11, split its 10 Big 6 contests and reached the Class 3A regional championship game. Senior guards Adam Hoogerwerf and Sam Pirmann are the only returning players who saw playing time a year ago.

Plus, the Pioneers are without six players because of the football team's run to the Class 4A state semifinal. So the preseason offers more challenges to a rebuilt roster.

Despite the hurdles, second-year Alleman coach Pat Rangel sees the biggest question mark surrounding his team as not who will comprise the starting lineup, but who will step up and lead.

"We expect Hoogerwerf to be our leader, but we're without him now," Rangel said. "We have a lot of young, inexperienced guys who have to be called upon. It will be fun to see who rises to the occasion."

Galesburg Silver Streaks: The rebuilding phase continues, but the Silver Streaks did win their final two league games last year to salvage some momentum after a 20-loss season. However, they return one full-time starter -- sophomore guard/forward Grant Gibson -- and two players who saw minutes last year.

Obviously, experience is Galesburg's question mark right now.

"We have a good group of juniors, sophomores and freshmen we have high hopes for, but who knows how they will react," Galesburg coach Mike Reynolds said. "We're more athletic than we have been. We have more depth than year's past. We just don't know how we'll react under the lights."

Moline Maroons: Guarded optimism appears to be the theme during Moline's preseason practice. First-year head coach Jeff Schimmel likes the "energy and enthusiasm" during practice, saying "everything is good to go right now."

With that being said, Schimmel is realistic about the lack of experience on the roster. The Maroons have three players -- seniors Drew Owens, Josh Larsen and Devin Struble -- with varsity experience. What Schimmel sees as a lingering question is how Moline will be when games start.

"They're practicing with a lot of confidence. We need game confidence," Schimmel said. "They play together and they play for each other. But when things go wrong, are they going to fight through adversity? How are they going to handle that because of the inexperience?"

Quincy Blue Devils: A last-second 3-pointer from then-junior guard Martin Kvitle allowed Quincy to tie Rock Island for the league title last year. In order to compete for another league championship, Quincy coach Sean Taylor believes the defense must step up.

The Blue Devils do have pieces that excite and intrigue Taylor, but their biggest question mark is whether they can stop opponents on the defensive end, especially away from the basket.

"Our interior defense will be OK because we have some height," Taylor said. "It's the quickness we're going to struggle to replace. We've got some guys who are capable, but they don't have the experience. It will be interesting to see how these guys develop."

Rock Island Rocks: The three-time reigning Big 6 champions return a plethora of guards and eight players who comprised the league's deepest team a year ago. With so many guards, Rocky coach Sigel said he will use a four-guard lineup this season.

What that means is the Rocks lack height.

Gone are 6-foot-8 center Denzel McCauley and 6-4 forward Marquel Beasley, who both graduated and led the team in scoring and rebounding. So Rocky must find some height to complement a roster full of guards. As of now, the list includes 6-3 forwards Raahsaan Brown, Robert Johnson and Keenan Shorter, but none of them were full-time post players last year.

"We don't have have a lot of size," Sigel said. "The one fortunate thing is we played a lot of good teams with size in the summer. That helped us adjust and figure out what we need to do."

United Township Panthers: A program blessed with athleticism and depth the last four years appears to be starting from scratch. UT lost nearly all of its scoring from last year and has one senior on the roster.

Several current juniors earned minutes last year, but mostly in reserve roles. With 12 juniors and sophomores comprising the 13-player roster, the Panthers are relying on youth to carry them this season.

What UT coach Marc Polite wants to know is if this group is ready at the varsity level.

"We're doing things well in practice," Polite said. "Will it translate into game situations? That's yet to be determined."