Batavia winning the J-Hawk MLK Showcase in Rockford last weekend shouldn't have come as a surprise considering the Bulldogs' stock has been rising as fast as the Dow.
Batavia improved to 18-3 on Monday with a pair of lopsided wins over Guilford and Belvidere, thereby clinching the showcase title.
The Bulldogs left Rockford with an 8-game winning streak. They've won 11 of their last 12 heading into Friday's Upstate Eight River matchup at St. Charles North (10-7, 3-2).
"I guess we've been a team that's been trending up since the end of December," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. "We've been going a certain way even since before Christmas. I'm happy with where we're at. The whole thing is to keep building yourself up and keep getting better each week."
Sophomore Jayden Johnson was named the MVP at Rockford Jefferson after scoring 73 points in 4 games. He entered the new year averaging a team-best 12.4 points per game, but what makes Batavia so hard to defend is its versatility. If teams try to take away Johnson, it opens opportunities for 6-foot-5 senior guards Eric Peterson (11.1 ppg) and Kyle LeFevre (10.9 ppg). Senior guard Riley Cooper averages 6.6 points and 2.2 assists and senior forward Blake Carlson contributes 5.3 ppg.
"If you key on Jayden, you have Eric and Kyle and Riley does stuff, too," Nazos said. "Blake is by no means an offensive liability. He had three big threes in the Jefferson game (a 75-64 win). He does a lot of things that go unnoticed like the play he made right before the first quarter ended (against Belvidere). He dives out of bounds and everyone thinks the play is given up, then we go down and we hit a three. It's those types of things that separate us from other teams."
Elgin vs. Larkin II: Elgin heads to the city's west side Friday night for a rematch at Upstate Eight River leader Larkin (13-5, 6-0), which won the Dec. 5 meeting 51-43.
The Royals have won 14 straight against their rival, though the Maroons still lead the all-time series 79-54.
Elgin (6-12, 0-6) is coming off a 2-2 showing at the Burlington Central MLK Tournament. Coach Mike Sitter said he has seen signs of improvement from his players of late and wants to see more regardless of the opponent.
"We try not to put more emphasis on a Larkin game than any other game," Sitter said. "We just want to get better. We've been slowly working our way to being more consistent on the court so I think Larkin will be a good test for us coming out of that tournament."
The Royals are coming off a stretch of 5 games in four days that ended Monday. They went 4-1. Can they extend their winning streak against the Maroons?
"It's just staying focused," Larkin leading scorer Anthony Lynch said. "We don't want to get too comfortable with any team we play. Of course, it's against Elgin, a rivalry game, so we just have to come in and play hard. It's going to be a competitive game either way. The most physical team gets the win so we just have to be ready."
They're No. 1: Aurora Christian (15-0) is the No. 1 boys basketball team in Class 1A, according to this week's Associated Press poll.
Coach Dan Beebe's Eagles have risen to the top of the small-school rankings behind Lipscomb-bound senior Jake Wolfe, who is supported by a roster deep in talent.
"In the years to come, you'll be able to look back and say that was really something, that was awesome," Beebe said of being ranked No. 1. "But it doesn't mean anything as far as wins and what the future holds for you."
It's a heady time for Aurora Christian athletics, which has two programs ranked No. 1 in the same week. The school's wrestling program, directed by coach Justin Pearch, is 20-3 and sits atop this week's Class 1A rankings by Illinoismatmen.com
The basketball Eagles have been paced by Wolfe's team-high averages in points (21.3) and rebounds (5.7). Meanwhile, his court vision and passing ability are among his best attributes. That's why he averages a team-best 6.1 assists per game. His offensive production has increased compared to a junior season in which he averaged 18.9 points and 4.9 assists.
Jake Wolfe's ability to share the ball benefits younger brother Will Wolfe, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who averages 13 points and shoots 46 percent from 3-point range (27 of 59).
It also benefits 6-foot-1 sophomore Taaj Davis (11.6 ppg), 6-foot freshman guard Jaehshon Thomas (6.3 ppg), 6-4 junior forward Michael Cruger (5.4 ppg) and 6-4 senior center Danniel Stevens (4.1 ppg).
While the offense is humming, the Eagles concern themselves with defense first. Their goal is to limit opponents to 43 percent shooting or less, which they've accomplished in 14 of 15 games.
The Eagles have a tough stretch coming up. They play Northeastern Athletic Conference road games Friday at third-place Mooseheart (8-2, 4-1) and Tuesday at Westminster Christian (13-3, 5-0), which is tied for first place with Aurora Christian.
Then come tests against IC Catholic Prep (13-5) on Jan. 27, a matchup against Oswego East (11-6) at East Aurora's Ernie Kvisto Hoopfest on Feb. 3, a rematch at Winnebago (13-1) on Feb. 8 and a nonconference game against future conference opponent Wheaton Academy (12-5) on Feb. 10.
The game at Winnebago should be interesting. The Eagles defeated the Indians 49-44 on Dec. 29 and went on to win the small-school bracket at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington.
"It's a good stretch of games that will test you pretty good, which is exactly what you want to get ready for the postseason," Beebe said.