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Sky-Em shuffle.

Byline: Steve Mims The Register-Guard

The Sky-Em League boys basketball standings could be turned upside down this season.

Or maybe the usual favorites will get back on top again.

There appear to be plenty of unknowns and few solid predictions as league play begins tonight.

"Nobody can sit there and say who is the best team," Marist coach Corey Anderson said. "Right now we have the top ranking among the league, but a couple of weeks ago we were third- or fourth-highest. At different times, we all seem to play good or bad, so it should be interesting."

Creswell won the league title last year and went on to defeat Junction City in the OSAA Class 3A state championship game, but both of those teams lost a lot to graduation. So did Marist, which qualified for state last season, and Cottage Grove, which finished fourth in league.

Pleasant Hill, Siuslaw, Elmira and La Pine took up the final four spots in the standings last season, but those four teams bring back the most experience.

"The teams in the bottom half of the league have everyone back and the top teams are good programs that reload," Siuslaw coach Bob McBeth said.

No team established itself as a clear favorite during the nonleague portion of the season, when all eight teams suffered at least three losses. The Sky-Em has had the state champion in four of the past six seasons, but seventh-ranked Marist is the only team ranked among the top 10 in the latest poll and Junction City is the only other team that even received a vote.

The Spartans have looked the most impressive during nonleague play and were picked as the favorite in The Register-Guard coaches poll, but three other teams received a first-place vote and it seems a case can be made for anyone to be a contender. Consider that La Pine, which finished in last place last season, defeated state runner-up Junction City 65-39 last weekend.

"I feel like it's wide open," La Pine coach Mark Williams said. "The difference between the No. 1 and No. 8 team is closer than it's ever been in the Sky-Em League. There has never been a year when realistically you would think that No. 8 would beat No. 1 or No. 7 could beat No. 2, but I really don't think there is much difference between the teams this season."

Marist is 7-3 with wins over No. 6 Philomath and No. 10 La Salle and a loss to top-ranked Wilsonville. The Spartans were blown out by 4A schools South Eugene and Crescent Valley at the Axeman Classic.

"With our preseason schedule, we're exactly where I thought we'd be," Anderson said. "We wanted to hopefully give Wilsonville a run for its money, and we knew we were in slightly over our heads against South Eugene and Crescent Valley, but chalk that up to experience. We knew Philomath and La Salle were top-10 teams that we could beat if we played well, and we played better than we expected on both counts."

The Spartans showed even more last week when they traveled to California and won the Martinez Invitational even without their head coach, who stayed home for the birth of his second child. The Spartans defeated three California teams that would be 4A schools in Oregon.

"We saw more than we expected out there," said assistant Chad DePaoli, who served as head coach in Anderson's absence. "In our last two games, Alhambra and Pittsburg were as good or better than any of the 3A teams we've played, and we knew if we could step up it would be fun to compete with them. To win both in overtime was good for our confidence."

Drew Tillman, a 6-foot-2 senior, was named tournament most valuable player after averaging more than 20 points per game. Tillman is the lone returning starter for the Spartans after earning second-team all-league honors.

"He took the team on his shoulders in the two overtimes," DePaoli said. "He had 11 of our 15 points in the two overtimes and scored all six in the championship game against Pittsburg."

Shay Black, a 6-3 junior, is the only other returner with much varsity experience on a team that includes only three seniors.

The Spartans do not have some of the star power of the past, when household names such as Kevin Harrison and Ryan Coldren - who both went on to play at Seattle University - and former league MVP Tyler Coleman were on the court.

"This is a blue-collar team," Anderson said. "We don't have some of the college recruiting we had recently, so we will try to get by with teamwork and character rather than pure talent. We have had a lot of talent come through and we've had a lot of success, but now they realize we have to get it done in other ways."

Junction City was without more than half of its roster until the football season ended on the last weekend of November.

Leading scorer Ryan Rauschert was the quarterback who helped the Tigers reach the state quarterfinals. Point guard Justin Kaping, wing Alex Nystrom and posts Kurtis Giambatista and Robert Hoepfl were Rauschert's favorite wide receivers.

"We had been running a lot of our summer basketball stuff, and now we are starting to run some stuff that we think we will actually run," said JC coach Craig Rothenberger, whose Tigers went 5-5 in nonleague games.

"Normally we would put those things in during November, but we did not start practicing all together until December, so consequently it is taking time to get there."

Rauschert, who missed much of last season with a broken foot, is one of the top players in the league. The 6-4 senior was a third-team all-league selection as a sophomore.

Guard David Benson is the only full-time player back off last year's roster, but there is plenty of talent moving into the lineup.

Creswell returns only 5-10 junior Tyler Sears, a third-team all-league selection, from last year's title team. Creswell won two of three games last week at the Stayton Invitational to improve to 4-6.

"This year, I feel like we're starting all over," Creswell coach Ron Lampe said. "Besides Tyler, there is nobody with any varsity experience whatsoever. There is a huge difference from JV to varsity, and if you are not used to that it can be quite a process in the preseason. We've tried everything, and I've been pretty happy with the results because we played our best basketball at the end of the preseason."

Siuslaw is off to a 6-4 start with all five starters back from last year, including Ben Voogd, the 6-foot-1 senior who averaged 27 points per game last year and signed a letter of intent to play at LSU.

On the other hand, Cottage Grove lost nearly 90 percent of its scoring and rebounding but has gotten off to a 7-3 start.

"It could almost be a flip-flop this year with some teams who finished lower in the standings last year like La Pine and Elmira jumping up," Cottage Grove coach Nick Garman said. "I think our kids are feeling really good about our chances right now. What will probably happen is one team will gain a lot of confidence as they go along and play real well, and that will make the difference as to who wins it. Whoever starts to believe in themselves."

COACHES RATE THE SKY-EM LEAGUE

BOYS BASKETBALL

1. Marist: Beat three bigger California schools to win tourney title

2. Cottage Grove: Lions are contenders in what once looked to be rebuilding year

3. Junction City: Late start due to football season has slowed the Tigers

4. Siuslaw: One more year of Ben Voogd before he's off to Baton Rouge

5. Pleasant Hill: Billies making strides in second season under Mike Nicksic

6. Elmira: Starting frontline for Falcons stands 6-4, 6-5 and 6-6

7. Creswell: Tyler Sears welcomes a new cast of teammates

8. La Pine: Win over JC showed Hawks can move up in standings

CAPTION(S):

Above: Shay Black, a 6-foot-3 post, brings experience to Marist's starting lineup. Right: Marist senior Drew Tillman enters league play after a stellar tournament in California in which he averaged more than 20 points per game. Wayne Eastburn / The Register-Guard Marist was picked by Sky-Em coaches to win the league title, but each team has shown strengths and weaknesses in nonleague play. SKY-EM BOYS BASKETBALL W L Pct. GB Overall Cottage Grove ... 0 0 .000 - 7 3 Marist ... 0 0 .000 - 7 3 Pleasant Hill ... 0 0 .000 - 7 3 Siuslaw ... 0 0 .000 - 6 4 La Pine ... 0 0 .000 - 5 4 Elmira ... 0 0 .000 - 5 5 Junction City ... 0 0 .000 - 5 5 Creswell ... 0 0 .000 - 4 6 TODAY'S GAMES La Pine at Pleasant Hill Marist at Elmira Junction City at Creswell Siuslaw at Cottage Grove B a s k e t b a l l p r e v i e w
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Title Annotation:Sports; The teams with more experience could shake up the league standings
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 4, 2005
Words:1505
Previous Article:OBITUARIES.
Next Article:SKY-EM LEAGUE GIRLS BASKETBALL.


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