BENTON -- Now that Christmas dinner is over, basketball fans can have dessert the rest of the week at holiday tournaments in Benton and Pinckneyville.
Three days of action, including 12 teams and four pools, will highlight the 28th annual Rangerette Christmas Classic, which begins today (Wednesday). Six games each will be held in the East Gym and Rich Herrin Gym.
Benton, having posted a 2-8 record to date, will be in Pool A with Marion and Pinckneyville. Pool B includes Union County, Ky., Christopher and Carterville. Pool C includes Herrin, Hamilton County and Mt. Vernon; and Pool D includes top-ranked 2A Harrisburg, Vienna and Meridian.
The Rangerettes will play Marion at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the East Gym and will face Pinckneyville at 6 p.m. in Rich Herrin Gym. The Pool A third-place game will be at 3 p.m. Thursday in the East Gym, the second-place game at 3 p.m. in Herrin Gym, and the first-place game at 6 p.m. in Herrin Gym.
Overall placements will be determined on Friday, starting at 3 p.m. with the 11th-place game. The championship is set for 7:30 p.m.
"I think every pool is tough. This is by far one of the toughest tournaments in Illinois from top to bottom," said Benton girls coach Andy Sloan. "Both teams in our pool are much improved from a year ago and both come in with above .500 records. We are going to have to value the basketball and not get sped up by the way they play. It will definitely be two very difficult games for us."
Benton won the tournament back-to-back (2014 and 2015) before surrounding the title to Carterville last year.
Sloan said that unbeaten Harrisburg should be considered the favorite with Carterville the favorite from the opposite bracket.
"I have seen the majority of these teams play this season. It is a very good mix of 1A to 3A teams and a team from Kentucky. I'm looking forward to seeing some good games because I really think there is a lot of balance."
The Rangerettes haven't posted a victory (Herrin) in over a month, although they did take West Frankfort to overtime before falling.
"I don't know what we are going to have to do to turn this thing around. I know we have to guard better and not turn the ball over," Sloan said. "It has been a little disappointing to this point, but we are going to continue to work and fight."
Meanwhile, the Benton boys will participate in the Duster Thomas Hoops Classic at Pinckneyville on Friday and Saturday.
That tournament is also set up into four pools. Benton is in Pool B with Cissna Park and Greenville. Pool A consists of the host Panthers, Olney and Roxana; Pool C includes Wesclin, Carterville and Trico; and Jerseyville, Du Quoin and Elverado make up Pool D.
The Rangers open the tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the auxiliary gym against Cissna Park, 6-3.
"They are big and strong. Their post guys will give us issues with their size," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller.
Benton also plays in the final game on Friday in Thomas Gym, facing Greenville at 8:30 p.m. The Comets are 4-5.
"They are very athletic and play good defense," Winemiller said.
Pool B third-place game is scheduled at 9 a.m. Saturday in the auxiliary gym, the second-place game at 9 a.m. in Thomas Gym and the first-place game at noon in Thomas Gym. The championship game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
The host Panthers defeated Benton in last year's championship game and the Rangers returned the favor in the Benton Invitational.
Benton is coming off a 10-point victory over conference rival, Harrisburg, after leading by 22 points at the half.