High School Lites Preview: Championship weekend

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High School Lites Preview: Championship weekend

739 Illinois high school boys basketball teams had dreams of playing in Peoria in March. Only four of them get the right to call themselves state champs. Two schools have already been crowned. Two more will take home first place trophies on Saturday night. Who will get the honor? Will Hillcrest win their second title in three years? Can Simeon win their third state championship in a row? Will Proviso East finish off an undefeated season?

High School Lites will air on Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. this week and will feature highlights from the 3A & 4A championship and third place games.

The following capsules will be for Fridays semifinal games, which can be seen on NBC Chicago Nonstop (Digital Channel 5.2, Comcast 341, RCN 50, WOW 130 and AT&T U-Verse 1742). Rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by the Marines:

No. 7 North Chicago (24-6) vs. Springfield-Lanphier (28-3), 3A State Semifinal, 12:00 p.m.

The North Chicago Warhawks, who are making their second consecutive trip to Peoria, are putting up point totals that would make some college programs blush. N-C is averaging close to 80 points per game in the postseason. They put 91 on the board versus Marshall on Tuesday, 32 of which came from Illinois-state bound Aaron Simpson. The 5-10 senior guard can score from anywhere on the floor and is especially deadly from behind the arc. The key for Lanphier will be containing Simpson. Everett Clemons, who is the son of former Illinois guard Rennie Clemons, is their go-to guy, racking up close to 20 points per game. Larry Austin Jr. is also a threat. He is coming off a 24-point performance which helped his Lions defeat East St. Louis in the supersectional.

No. 5 Hillcrest (26-5) vs. Peoria (26-3), 3A State Semifinal, 2:00 p.m.

If Hillcrest is to advance to the state championship this weekend, they will have to focus on closing out the opposition. The Hawks, who are looking for their second state title in three years, let a 21 point lead slip away against DuSable in Tuesday's supersectional. But the Hawks survived, winning 47-44. Hillcrest does have balance and a few scorers who can create instant offense, namely Jayone Troutman, Jovan Mooring and Jalen Loving. But they could face matchup problems with Peoria High School. Four of their regular contributors are monsters. Seniors Shamar Hill (6-6), Trey Kellum (6-7), Kevin Jordan (6-10) and 6-5 junior Josh Augusta can overwhelm opponents. Kellum had 14 points and eight rebounds in the Lions' 77-59 supersectional victory over Rockford East on Tuesday.

No. 2 Proviso East (31-0) vs. Rockford-Auburn (31-2), 4A State Semifinal, 6:30 p.m.

Aside from a slim three-point victory over Glenbard North in the regional final, all of Proviso East's playoff victories have been by double-digit margins, including Tuesday's 62-51 triumph over West Aurora. Is Proviso East just that good or have they not been thoroughly tested yet? Whatever the case, they're going to face a major challenge against Rockford-Auburn. The Knights feature one of the top point guards in the state, Wichita State-bound Fred Van Vleet. He scored a game-high 27 points in Auburn's 49-43 supersectional win over Warren. That said, Proviso East is one of the deepest teams in the state and already own a victory over Auburn at the Proviso West Holiday tournament. First-year head coach Donnie Boyce, St. Louis-bound Keith Carter, Sterling Brown, Paris Burns, Paris Lee and Trashaun Carroll have had a dream season thus far. Carroll, though, will miss Fridays semifinal due to an ejection during the supersectional.

No. 1 Simeon (31-1) vs. No. 4 Bloom (28-3), 4A State Semifinal, 8:15 p.m.

A lot has been said about Simeon's offensive weapons this season --namely phenom Jabari Parker, who had another double-double to help his team take down Evanston in Tuesday's supersectional-- but their defense has been the proverbial x-factor in the playoffs. They held an upstart Evanston team to only 34 points in that victory and have defeated their playoff opponents by an average of 23 points. Their semifinal opponent, Bloom, has a lot of similar characteristics. They have scoring power with Donald Moore, but they also can put the clamps on the opposition. Blazing Trojans head coach Jasper Williams has said that this year's team has the best defense he's seen in his two decades-plus of coaching. But will it be enough to take down nationally-ranked Simeon?

High School Lites will also feature highlights from Saturdays semifinals of The Illinois State High School Hockey Championship, presented by Hinckley Springs." The boys championship will air on Comcast SportsNet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday March 23rd.

This week, we head to Glen Ellyn to feature our Muscle Milk Team of the Week, Chicagos Wheelchair Warriors state champion basketball team. The Warriors just won their fourth consecutive state championshippart of seven overall. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than. This week's segment will feature behind-the-scenes footage of their sectional win against Marist, and their supersectional victory over Evanston.

High School Lites streams live on CSNhicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.