Three months ago, with the Western Big Six Conference boys basketball season set to tip off, Rock Island and Quincy High School split the first-place votes in a poll of media members who regularly cover the Western Big Six Conference.
That seems appropriate now.
The Blue Devils’ 71-68 victory at East Moline on Friday night gave the Blue Devils a share of the WB6 title with the Rocks, who Quincy beat last week to force the tie. Alex Miklius’ 3-pointer with three seconds to play highlighted the Blue Devils’ victory and overshadowed another sterling performance by Zach Forbes.
Forbes finished with 26 points and strengthened his case to be considered the league MVP. Rock Island’s Chasson Randle, Galesburg’s Victor Davis and Moline’s Thomas Lindauer fill out the ballot.
So who would you pick?
My vote goes to Forbes.
Now, you probably expected that, but let me make my case for that vote.
Forbes led the league in scoring, averaging 19.7 points per game — that’s nearly four points per game more than anyone else. He made 63 free throws in league play. No other player even attempted that many. And he was at his best when the Blue Devils needed it the most.
He scored 20 points in the victory over Rock Island, burying a 3-pointer with Randle defending to give Quincy the lead for good in the fourth quarter. His 26-point effort against East Moline punctuated it.
As for the other candidates, Randle is regarded as the league’s best prospect and you won’t get an argument if you say he is the most naturally gifted, but MVP awards are earned by delivering when it matters most. In Rock Island’s loss at Quincy, he got into foul trouble and finished with just nine points. In two head-to-head meetings with Forbes, Randle was outscored 45-24.
In fact, Jordan Hathorn played a bigger role than Randle (although Randle was very good in his own right) when the Rocks beat the Blue Devils at Rocky Fieldhouse. (There will be more on Hathorn later.)
Davis garners consideration for being the only player in the league to average a double-double with 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. However, the Silver Streaks were 3-7 in league play. It’s hard to give MVP plaudits when the team finishes fifth in a six-team league.
Lindauer helped the Maroons stay in the thick of things when they lost senior captain Mikel Wismer for the second half of the WB6 season with a fractured cheekbone. He led the league in 3-point shooting, making 25, and was second in the league in scoring at 15.8 points.
He’d be No. 2 on my ballot.
Here are some other players who deserve mention for their efforts in a highly competitive WB6 race:
The Toughman Award
Can it go to anyone other than Wismer? The Moline forward played in just six WB6 games, averaging 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. But numbers don’t do him justice. He was Moline’s most physical presence and showed more grit and determination than any player in the league.
He may have earned the toughman distinction before last Friday night, but coming back when doctors said he’d be lost for the season and helping Moline end the regular season with a victory sealed the deal.
Wismer is the type of player every coach loves to have on his team.
The Unsung Award
Forbes and Randle grabbed the headlines for their respective teams in the WB6 title chase, but it was Rocky guard Jordan Hathorn who had a major impact and often got overlooked.
Hathorn’s performance against Quincy at Rock Island — he scored 17 points and his five 3-pointers, including the go-ahead bucket in the final minute — was spectacular. It was so good that Quincy tried to take him completely out of the works when the teams met at Blue Devil Gym. Still, he finished with 10 points and hit a couple of big shots in the fourth quarter to keep the Rocks alive.
Hathorn averaged 8.4 points per game in league play and led the team with 15 3-pointers, but he deserves more credit for the Rocks’ share of the title than he gets.
The Beggin’ For More Award
This honor is going to be shared by a couple of players I’m anxious to see how they develop because the tantilizing way they helped their teams this season makes me wonder just how good they will be in the future.
Moline sophomore Tim Wages played in just five WB6 games, but he did enough in that time to grab everyone’s attention. He averaged seven points and nearly three rebounds per game, but it was the fearless way he attacked the basket and how much confidence he had shooting the ball that gave you an inkling he’s going to be a key contributor.
Meanwhile, Rock Island’s Denzel McCauley has the biggest upside — and biggest frame — of all the talented sophomores in the league. McCauley could help the Rocks not only win the WB6 next season, but make them a state tournament contender.
The No More Nightmares Award
Who is the one player most WB6 coaches would tell you is tough to match up against and they’ll be glad they don’t have to think about defending him next year?
I’m guessing it would be Victor Davis.
The Silver Streaks’ 6-foo-t5 power foward is a mismatch waiting to happen. He was arguably the strongest player in the conference and the most dominant rebounder, but he did more than just control the block. He extended his game, stepping out to hit six 3-pointers in league play and getting more comfortable handling the ball.
The ruined many defensive gameplans.
I’m anxious to see where Davis winds up playing college basketball. Quincy University has expressed interest in him, which not only would be a good fit, but I’d be excited to watch his development.
The All-WB6 Team
The media members who voted on the preseason poll picked Forbes, Randle, Davis, Lindauer and Alleman’s Keelan Prince as the all-conference team. I would stick with the first four, but I would put East Moline’s Nic Hoepfner in as the fifth member of the team. Some might argue the Panthers’ Shaq Lowery deserves it over Hoepfner, but the East Moline forward averaged 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds — both tops on the team — and played big when the Panthers needed him to.
My Favorite Five
The All-WB6 selections are based on numbers and performances, but what if you could pick a team based solely on how kids play the game? Who would your five be? The more I thought about, the more I found myself thinking of guys who are superstars but play the game with passion and effort.
So my five would be Quincy forward Nick Doellman, Galesburg guard Dalton Davis, Rock Island guard DeShawn Banks, East Moline guard Chase Pavelonius and Moline forward Mikel Wismer. This team might not have a lot of scoring punch, but opponents would have to work extremely hard to get good looks at the basket.