The prep basketball season is past the halfway point and the postseason tips off in less than a month.
So far, we’ve learned that the Illinois Valley has several very talented teams, including Ottawa, Putnam County and Henry in boys hoops, and Putnam County and Mendota in girls basketball.
But we’ll learn a lot more about these teams and their potential for a postseason run in the near future as each faces tough tests before the state series begins.
Below is a look at some of the games to watch for in the coming weeks:
Putnam County boys
This is the first of three possible meetings between these two top-notch small school teams as the Panthers and Mallards could also play in the Tri-County Conference Tournament and again in the Class 1A Marquette Regional.
The first game at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Granville, will have significant implications in the TCC regular season race, and could help determine seeding for the TCC tournament and the regional, as well as possibly propel one of these teams from “others receiving votes” to top 10 in the Associated Press Class 1A Poll.
Both teams have impressive resumes entering the game as each has only two losses.
Putnam County has lost to Class 2A No. 10 Kewanee in the Marseilles Holiday Tournament final and in double overtime at Roanoke-Benson, while Henry’s lone losses were to ranked Brimfield and Kewanee Wethersfield.
Putnam County girls Week of Jan. 27
After last season’s success and an 18-1 start to this season, the Lady Panthers are receiving state-wide recognition as they are No. 5 in the Associated Press Class 1A Poll.
But PC hasn’t faced the level of competition it will see the week of Jan. 27, and it will be a good measuring stick for the Lady Panthers.
Putnam County starts the week against Class 2A No. 2 Teutopolis at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at Parkland College and then plays Class 1A No. 1 Annawan at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 in a make-up game.
The Lady Shoes are a perennial state power and the Bravettes - who are in PC’s sectional - placed third in state last season and feature one of the best players in the state in Celina VanHyfte.
After those two games, everyone will have a better idea if the Lady Panthers are capable of besting last season when they won a regional title and lost in a sectional semifinal.
La Salle-Peru at Ottawa boys, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24
The Cavaliers may be on a three-game skid, but they always play the Pirates tough, especially in recent years.
L-P won six in a row against Ottawa before the Pirates won 67-61 at L-P on Dec. 6. This next matchup will show if Ottawa is ready to fully put the struggles against L-P behind it and get ready for the higher pressure games the Pirates will face as they venture into the Class 4A postseason.
Mendota girls Week of Feb. 3
The Big Northern Conference West Division provides the Lady Trojans with plenty of competition, and the second-to-last week of the regular season is no different.
Mendota opens the week with a 7:15 p.m. game Feb. 4 at Rockford Lutheran and closes the week with a 7:15 p.m. game Feb. 7 at Byron.
The Lady Trojans have already split two close games with Rockford Lutheran and suffered their second loss of the season to Byron on Jan. 11 in Mendota.
Last season, a young MHS squad lost its first game in the Class 3A postseason, but if the Lady Trojans handle these tough tests well, it bodes well for a most successful state series this year.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.