2023-24 NewsTribune boys basketball preview: 5 storylines to watch

Bureau Valley's Landon Hulsing (4) runs in front of Pontiac's Kerr Bauman (24) to score a basket during the Colmone Classic tournament on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022 at Hall High School in Spring Valley.

With the boys basketball season underway with tournaments this week, here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the 2023-24 season in the NewsTribune area.

John Senica takes over at La Salle-Peru

Alumnus John Senica has taken over the boys basketball program at La Salle-Peru. Senica played for the Cavaliers, served as an assistant coach under Jim Cherveny and has coached a bulk of the roster, including his son Josh.

John Senica said he’s bringing a more aggressive approach to the Cavaliers on both ends of the floor.

“It’s going to be a little bit different look,” he said. “We’re going to try to be a little bit more uptempo on the offensive end, and on the defensive end we’re going to try to pick up the aggressiveness and pace there as well.”

Senica has a solid nucleus to build around with three starters back in Josh Senica (17.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Seth Adams (10.7 ppg, 2.1 apg) and Jack Jereb along with several other players who saw action last year.

St. Bede returns to the Tri-County Conference

St. Bede left the Three Rivers Conference after last school year, and the Bruins now are competing in the Tri-County Conference.

The Bruins already have a rivalry with Marquette that will be amped up with conference implications on the line and will face other local teams such as Putnam County, Henry-Senachwine and Woodland as conference foes.

St. Bede coach Brian Hanson is looking forward to the Tri-County, including the league’s long-standing conference tournament.

“I think the move to the Tri-County will bring back some local rivalries,” Hanson said. “At the end of the day we will try to be as prepared as possible to compete with each and every opponent on our schedule. The Tri-County has one of the oldest running conference tournaments in the state, which we are really excited about. It’s so easy to find something wrong with every action or decision these days, but we are embracing the change and looking forward to our new digs.”

Can Princeton reload?

Princeton was one of the top small-school basketball teams in the state last season.

The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in Class 2A for large parts of the season, won 32 games and claimed a regional title before bowing out in the sectional final to Rockridge, which went on to advance to the state tournament.

Princeton lost three key components to that team in all-time leading scorer Grady Thompson, fellow all-stater Teegan Davis and a third starter in Kolten Monroe.

But the Tigers do return a strong point guard in senior Korte Lawson as well as an athletic all-around player in Noah LaPorte. Princeton also has junior Jordan Reinhardt, the leading scorer for the sophomore team last year who played some varsity.

Will the Tigers be able to reload for another successful season?

“The boys are excited having their own identity and having something to prove,” coach Jason Smith said. “I think there’s a lot of people outside that doubt it, because they don’t think we can do what we did last year. Which we can’t. But I think we’ve got a pretty good chance at being a pretty solid basketball team. I think the kids are ready to prove that.”

Will Fieldcrest build on last season’s turnaround?

Last season, Fieldcrest went from seven wins in 2021-22 to 23 wins under first-year coach Jeremy Hahn.

Luckily for the Knights, they return eight players who saw significant action last winter, led by All-Heart of Illinois Conference first-team pick Brady Ruestman (10.6 ppg, 3.1 apg).

Fieldcrest lost in its regional opener last season, and the Knights are looking to last longer in the postseason this winter.

“A deep roster will demand extraordinary team play and unselfishness as there is good basketball skill throughout the roster,” Hahn said. “Aggressive defense and efficient offense hopefully lead to a longer postseason run, a common goal among all in the program.”

Who’s going to score all the points?

The area was full of high-level scorers last season with Hall’s Mac Resetich leading the way at 23.8 points per game and Princeton’s Grady Thompson (21.8 ppg) breaking the school’s career scoring record. In all, eight of last year’s top 10 scorers in the NewsTribune area are gone.

So who will step up to fill those scoring voids?

The only top-10 scorers returning are La Salle-Peru’s Josh Senica (17.9 ppg), who ranked fourth, and Earlville’s Ryan Browder (13.9 ppg), who ranked ninth. Earlville’s Griffin Cook (12.8 ppg) finished just outside the top 10.

Some other names to watch this season are Princeton’s Noah LaPorte, Korte Lawson and Jordan Reinhardt, DePue’s Pancho Moreno, Bureau Vallery’s Landon Hulsing, Hall’s Payton Dye and Fieldcrest’s Brady Ruestman.