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Expect close races to the finish in the River

On both the boys and girls sides of the UEC River, the table is set for a delightfully suspenseful second half of the conference hoops season.

You can make a good case for Larkin, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North on the boys' side. Larkin may be a slight favorite based on how the Royals played in the 2012 part of the schedule, but you still have to wonder if that early loss to Streamwood will come home to roost, and the Saints can deliver the Royals a big blow if East can do the job against Larkin on Thursday.

Geneva still has both matchups left with Larkin and the Vikings have given the Royals fits the past few years (granted, this isn't your older brother's Royals). The Vikings are on the match toward a possible 20-win season.

And then St. Charles North was probably the most impressive team in the area over the Christmas tourneys, going 3-1 to take fifth place at Pontiac. If the North Stars keep playing like that, you can book it that they'll be a factor in the race, but North will have to show it can recreate that downstate magic once the conference grind starts back up.

On the girls side, St. Charles East is 5-0 in the conference and alone in first, but you've got to wonder if the Saints can hold off the rest of the River if indeed their top scorer has left the building for good (kinda crazy that both the East boys and girls might be without their go-to scorers the rest of the way, albeit for much different reasons).

If East slips, there isn't much cushion with Streamwood, Batavia and Geneva all plenty capable of overtaking the Saints in the weeks ahead.

Hoping the other conferences produce some drama, too, but it doesn't look like the Kaneland boys or girls will have quite enough juice in the Northern Illinois Big 12 races. Maybe the Knights' boys can be a surprise contender since that conference looks like it's a little down this winter.

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