The three-time defending Western Big Six Conference champion and preseason favorite, according to a media poll, visits Blue Devil Gym on Friday night with its sights set on moving into a first-place tie with Quincy High School.
Rock Island might be looking for a little revenge, too.
Last year, in the regular-season finale, Quincy’s Martin Kvitle buried a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to give the Blue Devils a 51-48 victory over the Rocks and a share of the WB6 crown. Had Rocky won, it would have captured the league title outright for the second year in a row.
Instead, it had to share the title with Quincy for the second time in the last three years.
Although Friday marks the midpoint of the WB6 season, several scenarios already are developing that could lead to these two rivals sharing the title or duking it out with the title at stake when Quincy visits Rocky on Feb. 22.
And don’t forget Galesburg could play the spoiler role for both. The Blue Devils got the better of the Silver Streaks at Blue Devil Gym in December, but a trip to Thiel Gym in February looms. Galesburg, meanwhile, handed Rocky its lone WB6 loss so far and figures to be 4-1 in the league after this week.
So what many saw as a two-horse race has another entry, one capable of winning the whole thing.
With that in mind, how does Quincy win its 21st league crown?
The Blue Devils will do it with size.
Jason Salrin, the 6-foot-7 senior forward, gets better day after day and is arguably the best rebounder in the league. He’s always been a presence on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards, but his offensive contributions are growing and his confidence is soaring. There may not be a big man in the league that can shut him down right now.
Add to that the presence of 6-3 junior Connor Mellon, who says he is getting more comfortable and really understanding his role. Mellon transferred from Quincy Notre Dame, enrolling at QHS the first week of school learning Sean Taylor’s offense and the coach’s demands on the fly. It gives Quincy a solid 1-2 punch.
Throw 6-3 junior Barnell Thomas in the mix and the Blue Devils possess three guys who know how to go get the basketball. Thomas’ emergence as a rebounder and finisher adds depth to a frontcourt that has gone from a question mark to a strength.
The veteran backcourt is a constant for Quincy and much will be expected from Kvitle, Cole Abbey and Mason Fairley down the stretch.
Yet, if the Blue Devils are serious about winning the WB6 outright and adding their number to the wall in Blue Devil Gym, they better go big to do it.