Springfield Lanphier was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3A for much of the 2011-12 season. But many observers insisted that Peoria Manual, with three Division I players in its lineup, was the best team of all.Then Peoria Central stepped in and attempted to sway opinion. Two weeks ago, the Lions defeated Springfield Lanphier 70-59 and claimed the No, 1 ranking. They hoped to seal their standing by sweeping their regular-season series with Peoria Manual last Friday. But Peoria Manual won 55-43.So the debate still persists. Who is No. 1? Peoria Central and Peoria Manual have split their regular-season series six times in the last seven years. In a rivalry that dates to 1912, Manual holds a 52-44 edge since 1972. Both are top-seeded in their regionals and could meet for the sectional title in Peoria.There are other Downstate teams that could contend for the Class 3A title. Washington could upset Peoria Central and Peoria Manual. And East St. Louis, Mount Vernon or Chatham Glenwood could emerge from the Carbondale sectional. Meanwhile, can the Chicago area muster a contender? Orr, Marshall, Farragut, St. Ignatius, Lemont, Hillcrest and North Chicago head the list.At Carbondale, East St. Louis (20-8) has emerged as a favorite in the wake of its overwhelming 103-66 victory over O'Fallon last Friday. Deshawn Munson, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored 27 points and 6'4" senior Brandon Johnson and Johnny McCray each contributed 16."We played very, very well. We came out wanting to make a statement and we did that tonight," East St. Louis coach Ray Coleman told the Belleville News-Democrat. "We feel we have the ballclub that can make some real noise in the postseason, especially if we come out and play like we did tonight."O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson agreed. "The thing about East St. Louis is they're so deep. Most teams can go seven or eight deep before their level goes down. East St. Louis has that starting five but then they bring in the second five who are just as good as starters for a lot of other teams," he said.Mount Vernon (21-6) is led by 5-foot-8 senior Ty'riil Trimble (12 ppg), 6-foot-1 senior Leontae Badger (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 senior Clay Payne (9 ppg) on offense. But coach Scott Gamber's Rams rely on a packed in man-to-man defense that has allowed fewer than 40 points in 18 of 27 games.Chatham Glenwood (25-4), which has lost twice to Springfield Lanphier, has bounced back from last year's 12-17 finish behind 6-foot-4 sophomore Peyton Allen (17 ppg), point guard Tyler Thurston and 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore Daniel Helm (10 ppg, 6 rpg), a transfer from Kaneland.Look for Springfield Lanphier (23-3) and Lincoln (15-15) to meet for the third time in the sectional final at Lincoln. Lanphier won 51-38 last Friday and could regain the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A in the wake of Peoria Central's loss to Peoria Manual.Lanphier, which has split two games with Peoria Central and has beaten Peoria Manual, relies on its quickness, the exceptional guard play of sophomore Larry Austin Jr. and T.J. Davis and the scoring of 6-foot-1 senior Everett Clemons (21 ppg). Austin is one of the most recruited players in the class of 2014 with offers from Illinois, Bradley, Memphis and DePaul."Lincoln doesn't shoot the ball very well and their guards are 5'7". They aren't a very big team. But they are as quick as any team I've seen in a long time," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said.Despite its record, Alexander believes his Lincoln team can play with Lanphier or anyone else. In December, the Railsplitters lost four games by margins of 2, 1, 1 and 2 points. His ball-press defense is as effective as ever, allowing only 40 points per game. His team recently allowed only 30 points in back-to-back games but lost both of them. The offense is led by 6-foot-4 senior Christian Van Hook and 6-foot-1 senior Jordan Gesner.There will be a lot of fireworks at the Glenbard South sectional, arguably the most competitive in the state in Class 3A. Orr (19-4), which lost to Simeon in the Public League semifinals but has beaten Marshall and Farragut, is the favorite with 6-foot-7 junior Marquise Pryor (17 ppg, 19 rpg), 6-foot-7 sophomore Tyquone Greer (13 ppg) and junior point guard Jamal McDowell.Marshall coach Henry Cotton believes 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle is the best player in the state next to Simeon's Jabari Parker and few observers argue with him. Doyle (22 ppg), who will play for Isiah Thomas at Florida International, is complemented by 6-foot-1 senior Korbin McClain (14 ppg).Farragut coach William "Wolf" Nelson rates 6-foot-7 senior Rashaun Stimage (20 ppg, 12 rpg, 4 blocks) among the best players he has produced in 21 years. In fact, he rates Stimage and Simeon's Steve Taylor as the best players in the class of 2012 in Illinois. If the Admirals are to advance, Stimage will need help from 6-foot-5 David Scott and point guard Lavell Boyd.St. Joseph (18-8) has come on strong and coach Gene Pingatore, who has 890 victories in 43 years, is making another run at the state finals with 6-foot-1 Tennessee State-bound guard Reggie Johnson, 6'3" senior Jawaan Toney, 6-foot-5 sophomore Paul Turner and 6-foot-8 junior A.J. Patty.Riverside-Brookfield (22-4), which edged Ridgewood 60-56 last Friday to claim its 11th consecutive conference title, is led by junior point guard Damonta Henry (17 ppg), 6-foot-7 junior Miki Ljuboja (14 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Luke Nortier.Two of the most prolific scorers in the state could be matched in the Grayslake Central sectional if North Chicago's Illinois State-bound guard Aaron Simpson (26 ppg) meets Ridgewood's Andy Mazurczak, a 6-foot-1 senior who is averaging 24 points per game. In last Friday's 60-56 loss to Riverside-Brookfield, Mazurczak converted 14-of-14 free throws and scored a career-high 35 points for the Rebels (19-7).St. Ignatius (21-5) figures to dominate its own sectional with 5-foot-10 guard Brian Howard (20 ppg), 6-foot-8 Peter Ryckbosch, point guard Jack Crepeau, 6-foot-4 senior Marty McClure and sophomore shooting guard Lester Larry, who scored 20 in last Friday's 66-39 rout of Mount Carmel.Hillcrest (21-5) and Lemont (24-2) are the 1-2 seeds in the Rich East sectional. But Lemont defeated Hillcrest 58-57 last Friday behind junior Juozas Balciunas (17 ppg), junior Joe Hehir, sophomore Mike Wisz and 6-foot-3 senior Matt Lipowski. Coach Rick Runaas' team hasn't lost since Christmas, the best the school has produced since 1975.Hillcrest, which won the state title in 2010 and reached the sectional semifinal last year before losing to Morgan Park, is led by 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring (18 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jalen Loving (14 ppg) and 6-foot-6 senior Jayone Troutman. "We have as much talent as our state championship team," third-year coach Don Houston said.All of which brings us to the Peoria sectional.Peoria Central (21-3) has great size with 6-foot-10 senior Kevin Jordan (13 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-foot-7 senior Trey Kellem (15 ppg, 8 rpg) but coach Dan Ruffin is concerned about the consistency of his guard play. His floor leader is 5-foot-6 senior Jerrell White.Peoria Manual (20-5), which finished second in state in 2008 and 2010 and lost to Peoria Central in the regional final last year, is making the most of Loyola-bound point guard Jeff White (18 ppg, 4.5 assists), Wright State-bound 6-foot-5 Jacoby Roddy (12 ppg, 12 rpg) and 6-foot-3 junior guard A.J. Riley (12 ppg).In last Friday's duel, White scored 21 points and led all rebounders with 10 to spark Manual's victory. Kellum led Central with 15 points and Jordan had 11 points and nine rebounds. Central was limited to only five field goals in the second half and played without 6-foot-4 senior guard Adonis Foote, whose status for the regional is uncertain.Washington or Morton could be the spoiler. They earned a share of the Mid-Illini Conference title last Friday as Washington (23-5) trounced Canton 69-40 and Morton (22-5) crushed East Peoria 56-34.Washington, which lost a 51-50 decision to Peoria Central, is led by 6-foot-7 junior Alec Peters (17.5 ppg) and 6-foot-5 senior Ben Ryan (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who scored 32 points on 16-of-19 shooting against Canton on Friday. Coach Kevin Brown took Washington to fourth in state in 2008.At Morton, second-year coach Jarrett Brown's team has beaten Peoria Manual and split two games with conference rival Washington. The Potters are led by 6-foot-9 senior Brett Bisping (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who is committed to Siena, and 6-foot-4 senior Will Headean (14 ppg).
Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Friday night:
1. A sluggish start.
The Blackhawks have gotten off to some solid starts lately, scoring the game's first goal in the opening frame in five of their last six contests heading into Friday. But they were lucky to get out of the first in a 0-0 tie this time.
They had 15 shot attempts (six on goal) through the first 20 minutes while the Bruins had 30 attempts (17 on goal). Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Scott Darling stopped all of them that came his way.
Boston's third line of Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash and David Backes dominated possession, leading all skaters with a plus-12 Corsi in the period.
2. Scott Darling steals two points.
Joel Quenneville decided to go with Darling in an effort to give a slumping Corey Crawford a chance to reset, and the Lemont native an opportunity to play in front of his father away from home, where he's used to watching him shine. It's safe to say he made his papa proud by putting on a great show.
Darling turned aside all 30 shots he faced, including 17 in the first period, for his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career. He has now allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last 12 starts.
Asked after the game whether he will earn a second straight start Sunday when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks, Quenneville responded, "We'll see."
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
3. Special teams not a factor.
In a game that featured only one goal, you'd think the way to crack the scoresheet would be on the man advantage. That didn't happen.
The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Bruins failed to cash in on their only two opportunities. Boston entered the contest by going 7-for-17 on the power play in their previous five games, good for a 41.2 success rate.
It was a nice bounce-back game for the Blackhawks' penalty kill unit, which allowed a goal on the man advantage in their previous two games.
4. Third line steps up at crucial moment.
The Blackhawks' third line of Vinnie Hinostroza, Marian Hossa and Tanner Kero had the worst possession numbers among all skaters, each registering a 24 percent Corsi or below. But when their team needed them the most, they stepped up.
With 1:26 left in regulation, Hossa ended his 10-game goal drought by burying home a terrific feed from Kero to snap a 0-0 tie and give the Blackhawks their second consecutive win. It's Hossa's 17th goal of the campaign, which ties Artemi Panarin for second on the team, and his fifth game-winning goal of the year. His 83 career game-winning goals now ranks 24th in NHL history, surpassing Mike Bossy, and remains fifth among active players.
Hossa's goal also moved him within a tie of Pierre Turgeon for 37th on the all-time goals list with 516.
Kero has six points in his last six games, while Hinostroza has two goals and one assist in his past two.
5. Despite recent struggles, Bruins in good hands with Claude Julien.
It seems like this is a discussion every year, but firing Julien would be a huge mistake for a Bruins team that fell to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. They're still the No. 1 possession team in the NHL, controlling 55.42 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, and give up the fifth-fewest high danger scoring chances with 326, according the naturalstattrick.com. They average the second-most shots on goal per game at 33.9, and allow the second-fewest at 26.5.
To back it up, their PDO is 97.5 percent, the sum of a team's even-strength save percentage and shooting percentage that usually works it way toward 100, which indicates they're due for a fairly large correction. They're not getting bounces right now, but they're playing the right way and a change behind the bench would be a step in the wrong direction, considering Julien is easily a top-five coach in the NHL.
The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.
It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn’t enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23.
Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.
Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder’s 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scored 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.
Perhaps it’s the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.
The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.
The Bulls weren’t about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.
It wasn’t relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.
This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.
At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.
The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.
Even Jimmy Butler’s 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could’ve trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings and been better off than how they performed Friday night.
And for the Bulls, they can’t simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.