Trying to decide who the top boys basketball team in the area is nearly an impossible task, but with a sufficient body of work completed, a number of teams are shining as conference play picks up in January.
Important games will become more frequent and less far between as those conference games play out, as well as multiple shootouts on Saturdays throughout the month. This past week, such shootouts featuring top local prep boys basketball squads took place in Highland, Clinton, St. Joseph-Ogden, to name a few and provided no shortage of big tests.
As IHSA prep hoops prepares for its stretch run, we’ve compiled our initial power rankings for both boys and girls basketball teams around the Peoria and Bloomington/Normal area, separated into large school and small school rankings. Read our girls power rankings here.
Mid-sized schools such Manual, Peoria Notre Dame, Canton, IVC and Normal U-High have been placed into the large school rankings in order to maintain an equal amount of teams between “large schools” and “small schools” in the CSM coverage area.
Note: This week's power rankings are free to read, as they are the first ones of the season. Subscribe to CSM Overtime to get access to our power rankings for the rest of the season, as well as news, feature stories, daily roundups and photo galleries for high school sports around the area!
Small School Boys
1. El Paso-Gridley (14-2, 4-0 Heart of Illinois)
There’s quite a few horses in the Heart of Illinois Conference race right now but EPG is making its case to be the leader of the pack for now. After starting 3-2, the Titans have won 11 in a row and picked up key wins over Prairie Central and Tri-Valley, plus state-ranked wins over Aurora Christian and St. Joseph-Ogden. The duo of 6-foot-9 junior forward Jonah Funk and 6-foot-5 junior Micah Meiss gives El Paso-Gridley versatility and size that few Class 2A teams can match.
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2. Illini Bluffs (16-3, 2-0 Intercounty Athletic)
Illini Bluffs is hot on the Titans’ trail and have carried over big expectations into the 2023-24 season. They too boast quite a bit of size with imposing 6-foot-10 forward Hank Alvey, a can’t-miss presence in the post. Toby Cooper, Wyatt Hendel and Jayden Washington help comprise a strong group of returning guards and even more experience. The Tigers are the top seed in the ICAC Conference tournament, which starts this week.
3. Fieldcrest (14-1, 3-0 Heart of Illinois)
The Knights have more than inserted themselves into the HOIC title conversation; they could arguably be frontrunners. Fieldcrest started the season by winning the Colmone Classic and has beaten conference opponents Heyworth, Eureka and Fisher all by at least 19 points. A 71-46 beatdown of Bloomington Central Catholic at the State Farm Holiday Classic helped prove the the Knights strength. A clash against El Paso-Gridley at home on Jan. 26 looms large, but the two teams could face even earlier at the HOIC Tournament, which begins on Saturday.
4. Peoria Christian (10-7, 2-1 Intercounty Athletic)
Peoria Christian has had a bit more of an up-and-down year in the win-loss column than the three teams preceding, but give the Chargers points for testing themselves with a tough schedule. They picked up a 67-58 win over a gritty Heyworth team at the Clinton New Year’s Shootout on Saturday after playing a brutal stretch against Class 2A powerhouses Prairie Central, Peoria Notre Dame and Tolono Unity. Malachi Persinger and Trae Brickner may be one of the best duos of shooters in the area.
5. Princeville (15-2, 3-0 Lincoln Trail)
Bloomington Central Catholic received strong consideration for the last spot, but the Princes earn it due to their consistency. Princeville has won 10 straight and took home their own holiday tournament title recently. They’re still looking for a marquee win on their schedule but nearly half of their wins have come by 20 points or more.
Receiving consideration (in order): Bloomington Central Catholic, Tremont, Farmington
Large School Boys
1. Normal Community (14-1, 4-0 Big 12)
The Ironmen solidified themselves at the top with a 57-43 win over Chicago Kenwood at the Highland Shootout on Saturday. Normal Community’s lone defeat came in a close 44-37 contest against Harvey Thornton, a Chicagoland Goliath. Two of the biggest tests in the Big 12, namely Champaign Centennial and Richwoods, are next on the docket for the Ironmen.
More on the Ironmen: Following milestone win, Witzig and Ironmen basketball prepared for key stretch
2. Metamora (13-4, 5-1 Mid-Illini)
The Redbirds were oh-so-close to doing what Normal Community couldn’t do: beating Harvey Thornton. Metamora led late in their game against Illinois commit Morez Johnson and company at last weekend’s Highland Shootout but lost in the final seconds. Still, Danny Grieves’ squad showed just how far ahead they are of most teams in the area with a dominating 78-36 win over Mid-Illini dark horse East Peoria last week.
How Metamora made a statement over the holidays: Championship in Chicagoland toughens Metamora for upcoming battles
3. Richwoods (12-3, 3-0 Big 12)
Richwoods also made the trip down to the Highland Shootout on Saturday with the Knights falling to St. Louis Vashon, one of the best teams in the Show Me State. It’s a big week for the Knights with games against Manual and Normal Community up next, both of which could be the biggest wins of the season so far for Richwoods if they can prevail in either one of those games. Lathan Sommerville versus Jaheem Webber, anyone?
4. Morton (17-2, 6-0 Mid-Illini)
Morton at the No. 4 spot shows just how loaded Central Illinois boys basketball is this year. The Potters don’t have the top-rated college recruits that Richwoods or Metamora do, but they play a well-rounded, deep group. Both of the Potters’ defeats (Peoria High, Roselle Lake Park) have came by less than five points. Wins over Metamora, Pekin, Champaign Centennial and East Peoria make it more fitting for the Potters to be a second No. 2 team, rather than in the fourth spot. They too have a pair of big games scheduled this week in Prairie Central and Washington.
5. Manual (8-6, 3-2 Big 12)
The Rams aren’t your typical Class 2A team and they have what it takes for a deep playoff run. Manual would’ve loved to have beaten Richwoods and Normal Community back in December, but an impressive finish to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament plus a 64-47 win over Normal West helps keep them in the mix. Richwoods, Rock Island and Champaign Centennial are all big opportunities for the Rams and blossoming junior Dietrich Richardson within the next week. Of note, Manual won a pair of games against Edwardsville on Nov. 25 and PND on Dec. 1, however both games were recorded as losses for the Rams due to a paperwork issue regarding the eligibility of a player that has since been resolved.
Richardson earns Athlete of the Week honor: Manual’s Richardson, Limestone’s West win CSM Winter Athletes of the Week
Receiving consideration (in order): Washington, Normal U-High, Pekin, Peoria High, PND, East Peoria