The complexion of the annual Interstate Eight Conference boys basketball tournament changed fairly dramatically last Friday night in Braidwood, where Reed-Custer defeated Coal City, 78-68.
Had the Coalers won, they would be one of two teams, along with defending champion Seneca, still undefeated in the conference entering the tournament. They would have at least been considered for the top seed that went to the Fighting Irish, and would almost certainly be in the top two.
Instead, the Coalers are seeded fourth, which is worst among the three one-loss I-8 teams, in a tournament they will host. Should both teams win their quarterfinal games Saturday, the Coalers would face Seneca in a semifinal game Tuesday.
“I don’t think you can argue with the seed we received,” Coal City coach Brad Boresi said. “[Reed-Custer has] only one loss, so that realistically puts them ahead of us. You also have a Herscher team that is 4-1 in the conference and their only loss is to Seneca. Overall, seeds 2-4 probably could have gone in any combination.”
Seneca got to 6-0 in the conference Tuesday with a 63-55 win over Sandwich. It has a half-game lead over 6-1 and No. 2-seeded Reed-Custer. Coal City and No. 3 Herscher are both 4-1.
“Being the only undefeated team in the conference is a nice thing, and the players have really worked hard to get to that point,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said. “But it does paint a big bulls-eye on our backs at this point in time, and we are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.”
Those challenges include a second-round game against either No. 8 Plano or No. 9 Manteno. Seneca defeated Manteno, 53-42, earlier this month and has not yet played Plano, which is 10-9 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Plano shared the conference title with Seneca in 2012-13.
“Going into the season, I think it was a consensus that Plano would be right there at the top, and they have struggled a bit this year,” Witte said. “We expect them to play us all-out, and if they can get all their players going at the same time, they will still be a force in this conference. It is a very difficult first-round potential match-up. I know their first game with Manteno was a three-point game, so who knows what might happen.”
For Seneca, the tournament is a chance to keep winning. For Coal City, it is a chance to return to winning. After starting 7-0, the Coalers have lost five of their last eight. They have yet to play the higher-seeded of their potential second-round opponents, No. 5 Peotone, but they were a 52-39 winner over the other, No. 12 Wilmington, in December.
“This tournament definitely could be a springboard for a strong finish,” Boresi said. “We know that there is not going to be any easy games. Playing at home, hopefully we’ll have great support from our crowd and fans. We’ve only lost once so far at home this season, so hopefully that will play to our advantage.”