5 Peoria-area boys basketball teams with the best shot at state title

The El Paso-Gridley Titans hoist their trophy after defeating the Eureka Hornets 55-46 on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 at Eureka High School.
Adam Duvall
Journal Star

America's Original March Madness has moved south.

The Illinois High School Association returned the boys basketball state finals to Champaign for the first time since 1995. After 25 years in Peoria, the State Farm Center on the University of Illinois campus will house three days of hoops culminating with state championship games on March 12.

All four classes will play their respective titles on one day as part of the IHSA's new finals format.

Here is a look at five Peoria-area boys basketball teams with the best shot at winning a state title, plus their key wins, their losses and their road to Champaign.

Midland

In Class 1A, the Timberwolves (26-4) are trying to recreate the magic of 10 years ago when they last won a regional title. The trio of Brett Smith, Ryan Bella and TJ Guthman have helped set a new program record for wins in a season. Coach Allen Hattan guided the T-Wolves to the Tri-County Conference tournament and regular-season title. Midland, however, suffered back-to-back losses last week, snapping a 10-game win streak.

Key wins: Seneca (Class 2A, twice), Ottawa Marquette (1A, twice). Losses: AlWood-Cambridge (1A), Lexington (1A), Bloomington Cornerstone (1A), Flanagan-Cornell (1A). Road to Champaign: Potential meeting with Putnam County in the St. Bede Regional final.

Peoria Christian

No. 7 PCS (23-6) has been ranked among the top 1A teams by The Associated Press nearly all season. Jason Persinger's squad has seen consistent play from Kitan Isawumi, Malachi Persinger, Darren McClendon and Gavin Johnson. The Chargers started the season 10-0 before successive losses, then won seven more games in a row. This success has come without potential all-stater Wes Hunt (injury). 

Key wins: Eureka (2A), Lewistown (1A), Teutopolis (2A), Macomb (2A), Farmington (2A). Losses: East Peoria (3A), Williamsville (2A), Warrensburg-Latham (2A), Illini Bluffs (1A), Delavan (1A), Quest (1A). Road to Champaign: Potential meeting with host Brimfield in the regional final.

More:How this Peoria Christian star will handle basketball and baseball in college

El Paso-Gridley

Eureka's Trevor Heffren, right, moves to the basket against El Paso-Gridley's Jake Funk in the first half Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 at Eureka High School. The Hornets fell to the Titans 55-46.

The 2A fourth-ranked Titans (25-2) have not lost in 2022, going 13-0 with a trio of wins over 20-plus win teams. EP-G grabbed a Heart of Illinois Conference regular-season title for the second time in three seasons. Asa Smith, Jake Funk, Luke Ihlenfeldt and Micah Meiss have been the catalysts for coach Nathaniel Meiss. A regional title would give EP-G three in a row, but the program has never won a sectional title.

Key wins: Flanagan-Cornell (1A), St. Joseph-Ogden (2A), Fairbury Prairie Central (2A), Eureka (2A, twice). Losses: Metamora (3A), Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (3A). Road to Champaign: Potential meeting with Monticello in the Clifton Central Sectional title.

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Metamora

Metamora head coach Danny Grieves and the Redbirds bench watch as Ethan Kizer prepares to shoot a free throw in the final seconds of their game against Washington on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 at Metamora Township High School. The Redbirds defeated the Panthers 50-45.

The "core four" of Ethan Kizer, Zack Schroeder, Tyson Swanson and Drew Tucker have led the Redbirds (24-6), who have dipped in and out of the 3A AP poll all season. During its 12-game win streak, Metamora claimed an outright Mid-Illini Conference title for the second time in four seasons under Danny Grieves. After winning a sectional title for the first time in program history in 2018, the Redbirds will look to get back to the Elite Eight.

Key wins: El Paso-Gridley (2A), Morton (3A, twice), Washington (3A), Chicago Lindblom (3A), Bradley-Bourbonnais (4A). Losses: St. John Bosco (Calif.), Joliet West (4A), Wheaton Warrenville South (4A), Springfield Lanphier (3A), Washington (3A), East St. Louis (3A). Road to Champaign: Facing host Richwoods in the regionals semifinals.

'Pick your poison':How 4 stars bring balance to Metamora boys basketball

Peoria Notre Dame

Peoria Notre Dame head coach Tom Lacher shouts instructions to his players during their game against Richwoods on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 at PND High School. The Knights defeated the Irish 52-45.

PND (21-6), which was ranked as high as No. 3 in the 3A AP poll, heads into the postseason on a five-game win streak. This shouldn't come as a surprise as coach Tom Lacher will have the Irish geared up for a potential deep tournament run. Cooper Koch, Nelson Reynolds, David Williams and Colin Schuler have carried the load. Since 2011, PND has made five appearances in the Peoria Sectional with one title in 2014.

Key wins: Yorkville Christian (1A), Niles Northridge Prep (2A), Peoria High (3A, twice), Manual (3A, twice), Richwoods (3A). Losses: St. Louis Cardinal Ritter, Normal Community (4A), Richwoods (3A), Burlington Central (3A), Washington (3A), Morton (3A). Road to Champaign: Potential Peoria Sectional semifinal meeting with Rock Island.

Also see:This throwback player is the glue keeping together Peoria Notre Dame boys basketball

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at aduvall@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.