Schuckman: Rocks, Blue Devils top WB6 preseason poll

Posted: Nov. 29, 2012 2:24 am Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 4:15 am

Only one team in the Western Big Six Conference finds itself mentioned in the first Associated Press state rankings.

So Rock Island, ranked fifth in Class 4A, is clearly the class of the conference, right?

Well, a panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league doesn't wholeheartedly agree.

The Rocks are the preseason favorites to win their fourth straight WB6 championship, receiving seven of the 10 first-place votes. Quincy High School, which has shared two of the last three titles with Rocky, received the other three first-place votes. Neither team received lower than a second-place vote.

"What's great about the league this year is balance," WGEM Sports Director Ben Marth said. "Sure, QHS and Rocky are the preseason favorites, but beyond that, I think the depth of the conference should make for another fascinating race to the finish."

The finish line could be at Rocky Fieldhouse.

The Rocks play four of their first five WB6 games on the road, giving them a decided edge down the stretch. They end the regular season Feb. 22 by playing host to the Blue Devils, and having the homecourt advantage is certainly critical.

Last year, the Rocks had to visit Blue Devil Gym in the regular-season finale. With a victory, they would have won the title outright. A loss meant a shared crown. Using what Quincy coach Sean Taylor likes to call "Blue Devil Gym magic" and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Martin Kvitle, the Blue Devils scored a 51-49 victory.

Only time will tell if the Rocks return the favor. Some think that's just a matter of time.

"No question, the Rocks are the class of the league," said Daniel Makarewicz, a beat writer for the Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus. "The only question this season is who finishes second."

Others aren't sure Rocky's reign is a foregone conclusion.

"Based on the experience and depth Quincy returns in the backcourt and the potential I see in the Blue Devils' frontcourt, I give them a slight edge over Rock Island in the conference race," said Steve Batterson, a veteran reporter for the Quad City Times. "As long as they stay healthy, those two teams should again battle for the top spot."

They possess the firepower to do so.

Rocky placed two players on the preseason All-WB6 with junior guard C.J. Carr one of two unanimous selections. Galesburg sophomore forward Grant Gibson was the other.

Carr is joined by teammate Brian Richardson, as well as Moline guard Drew Owens and Kvitle in rounding out the top five. The depth of the league's talent is displayed by the fact five other players received votes.

Still, Carr's presence seems to the X-factor for the Rocks.

"Small in size, but huge in impact on a game," said Steve Tappa, sports writer for the Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus.

If the league gave an MVP, Carr would be the overwhelming favorite.

"At 5-5, he stands among the tallest when it comes to basketball talent," said Marc Nesseler, sports editor of the Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus.

Still, the size factor across the board for the Rocks seems to be a weakness.

Is it enough to let someone else take the throne?

"The Rocks will struggle to win the rebounding battle, but have enough offensive firepower to hang with anyone in the league," said Doug Green, sports writer for the Quad City Times. "Quincy might be the most consistent team in the league. Galesburg's Grant Gibson has stolen the show early on this year. If the Streaks can get him help, they will be tough."

And tough is what you expect every Friday night in the WB6 to be.

This year should be no different.




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