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For those Corn Belt Conference boys basketball fans who just can't wait another 3 1/2 months for the league race to be settled on the court, here is all you need to know.

The champion will come from among Mahomet-Seymour, Pontiac, Central Catholic and University High.

Coaches contacted for this story like those four, but they don't like the thought of tangling with Prairie Central, Eureka or Olympia, either.

"I think it will be a battle all season long," said Mahomet-Seymour coach Brett Hersom, who won't even look past Rantoul, which went 1-23 overall and 0-14 in the league last year.

"I think Rantoul will be much improved. They won't win just one game this year."

A year ago Eureka won a spot in the Class A Elite Eight after finished fifth in the Corn Belt. The Hornets are off to a 2-1 start despite having five new starters.

"We're trying to figure out roles and substitution patterns," said 21st-year Coach Tim Meiss, whose leading scorer is 6-foot-3 junior Dean Eastman at 15 points per game.

Eastman saw plenty of action during last year's 19-11 campaign as did senior guards Brett Stewart and Nick Eeten.

"We've been a really quick team the first three games," Meiss said. "It allows us to put on more pressure. We're not a real deep team."

A 10-deep rotation has helped Olympia get off to a 3-0 start for fourth-year Coach Paul Swanson.

"We've played well in spurts," he said. "We've got some young kids playing. We don't have a lot of varsity experience. We don't have a lot of size."

The Spartans lost 60 to 70 percent of their scoring and rebounding from a 13-13 squad with the graduation of Josh Boudeman and Dane Litwiller.

The top returnees are 5-9 guard Alex Frantz, 6-0 forward Darin Stappenbeck and 5-8 guard Jake Schmidgall. Frantz and 6-2 freshman Matt Frahm are the top scorers at 10 points per game.

"I'm not sure we shoot the ball real well," Swanson said. "We are able to play tenacious defense and rebound."

The Spartans won't be able to play in their main gym until Jan. 10 because of water damage.

Pontiac has been doing damage under Jake Krause, who coached at Lexington last year. He replaces Joe Gura.

The 3-0 Indians have three returning starters from an 11-14 squad in 6-4 forward Rayme Mackinson, 6-5 center Chris Newsome and 6-0 guard Matt Weber. Mackinson earned all-league honorable mention last year.

The leading scorer is 6-5 junior Kody Strong at 14 points per game.

"We've got some big kids," said Krause, who has installed a man-to-man defense and an up-tempo offense. "We want to be at the top of the conference."

The top will be crowded, according to Mahomet-Seymour's Hersom, who hopes his team will be there.

The Bulldogs are 4-1 despite several players getting a late start because of the football team's advancement to the state semifinals.

"I'm excited about our effort," Hersom said. "It will take a while for us to get on the same page."

The Bulldogs went 23-7 last year and tied Central Catholic for second in the Corn Belt at 10-4 with help from second-team all-league star Jason Seaman, a 6-4, 230-pound forward.

Seaman led the Pantagraph area in field goal percentage last year, sinking 144 of 211 attempts for 68.2 percent and an 11.8 scoring average. He ranked seventh among area rebounders at 8.1 per game.

Mahomet-Seymour won its first Class AA regional title last year and hopes to duplicate its 12-0 record at home. Having Tanner Robberstad starting again at guard should help.

The Bulldogs have had a different leading scorer in each of their first five games.

Prairie Central is off to a 3-2 start while Rantoul is 0-4. Among the Hawks' four returning lettermen from an 18-11 squad is 6-3 junior Ben Herr, who shot .570 from the field last year.

Season previews for Central Catholic (2-2) and U High (1-3) appeared last month.


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