Since I moved back to central Illinois in September, I’ve been waiting for this four-week stretch of pure basketball bliss. I grew up in the Springfield-area and was well aware of the deep basketball tradition that Peoria had and now I’m thrilled to be totally engrossed in the action.
I was at Carver Arena in 2004 when the Shaun Livingston led Central team completed a run of back-to-back titles. Since then, four big school teams have been back to the title game but haven’t held up a first place trophy.
Seven years after the Lions won, an undefeated Peoria Notre Dame team is the favorite to win the state title in 3A. The Irish would be the first undefeated champion in Peoria history. Central and Manual have won all nine of the city’s titles. Consider the dynasties - Manual’s titles teams loaded with Division-I talent from 1994 to 1997 are legendary, while the 2003 and 2004 Central teams were electrifying and have Peoria’s most notable NBA player in Livingston, who was the fourth overall pick out of high school in ‘04.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that times have changed - those squads won championships in a two-class system. Those teams had few measly losses, but are completely in a class of their own. It’d be hard to compare this year’s Notre Dame team against those aforementioned institutions.
Before any talk like that can even begin Notre Dame has to get through the gauntlet.