Simeon, Proviso East eye state final

647044.png

Simeon, Proviso East eye state final

Simeon vs. Proviso East.

It smacks of Peoria Manual vs. Thornton, North Carolina vs. Duke, Bulls vs. Heat, Lakers vs. Celtics, Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson and LeBron James vs. Cleveland.

If Simeon and Proviso East reach the Class 4A championship game on Saturday night in Peoria, it will mark the first time since 1996 and only the third time in history that the two top-rated teams will meet for the state title.

Of course, they have to survive semifinal assignments on Friday night. Proviso East (31-0) has a date with Rockford Auburn (30-2) while Simeon (31-1) must get past Bloom (29-3). Proviso East defeated Rockford Auburn 75-56 in the semifinals of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

So how do Simeon and Proviso East match up?

Is Proviso East too quick?

Is Simeon too big?

Does four-time state champion Robert Smith of Simeon have an edge in coaching experience over rookie Donnie Boyce of Proviso East?

Can Proviso East's Keith Carter penetrate and exploit Simeon's defense?

Can Proviso East contain Simeon's Jabari Parker, arguably the No. 1 player in the nation?

Will the game be as dramatic and entertaining and exciting as CentraliaCarver (Anthony Smedley's steal and game-winning shot) in 1963 or West AuroraMorgan Park (Laird Smith's buzzer-beating shot) in 1976 or Peoria CentralEast St. Louis Lincoln (Vincent Jackson's last-second shot in triple overtime) in 1989?

Remember when No. 2 Peoria Manual with Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin defeated No. 1 Thornton 57-51 for the Class AA championship in 1996?

In 1997, they met in a rematch. But it was in the semifinals. No. 1 Peoria Manual edged No. 2 Thornton 65-62 for its unprecedented fourth state title in a row.

Previously, the state's two top-rated teams met for the state championship in 1945 (No. 2 Decatur 62, No. 1 Champaign 54) and 1950 (No. 1 Mount Vernon 86, No. 2 Danville 61).

So who will prevail on this memorable occasion if Simeon, seeking its third state title in a row and fifth in the last seven, and Proviso East, bidding for the school's fifth state title, reach the final game?

"On paper, should we get a Simeon vs. Proviso East match-up, it has the makings of being the best state championship game in recent memory -- perhaps the best since battles between Peoria Manual and Thornton in the last 1990s. It is the contest that everyone wants to see," said Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"With that having been said, we have to give the edge to Simeon. The biggest reason is because all of their players have been there before and therefore have more experience. That can prove to be a big psychological boost for Simeon as they know how to handle themselves on the big stage. Simeon does not fold under pressure."

The Schmidt brothers also lean toward Simeon because the Wolverines have played a tougher overall schedule, playing against some of the nation's top-rated teams, a deliberate plan by coach Robert Smith to prepare his team for the state tournament. They believe it has made the Simeon players that much better and that much hungrier.

"As for the match-up itself, the fact that Proviso East lacks size could prove to be a disadvantage against Simeon," the Schmidts said. "Everyone can best believe that coach Smith will utilize getting the ball to Jabari Parker and Steve Taylor in the post and we aren't sure if Proviso East has anyone capable of defending against them. Proviso East would have to be able to press and trap, hoping they could generate turnovers in the open court."

Marist coach Gene Nolan, whose team lost to Simeon in the sectional final at Argo, was impressed with how smart and how disciplined Simeon played. "They are the best team in the state for a reason," he said.

"They are talented and very well-coached. They are everything we saw on tape and scouted, so big and strong and long and athletic. They do a great job of disrupting what you want to do. They are a team with great players but they play so unselfishly together.

"What makes them so great is they have so many weapons...Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, a great point guard in Jaleni Neely, Jaylon Tate coming off the bench and Kendrick Nunn's ability to shoot and stretch a defense. They have so many ways they can beat you."

To seriously challenge Simeon, Nolan knew his team had to shoot well. But Marist was 6-of-22 in the first half. "The defense contested those shots. They made it very difficult for us to win. We went into the game knowing how good they are and they validated it," Nolan said.

Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh also heaped praise on the Proviso East team that ousted his Saxons in the sectional final at Schaumburg.

"They're unbelievable, the fastest team I've ever seen," Walsh said. "They play hard all the time. The defensive pressure they bring is tremendous. They put so much pressure on you. Beating their pressure is a feat in itself. You have to attack it and get off a good shot. If you hold the ball, they will trap you. You can't get into a track meet with them."

Walsh pointed out that Proviso East has five players on the floor at all times (usually Keith Carter, Sterling Brown, Paris Burns, Paris Lee and TraShaun Carroll) who are unbelievably fast and talented and skilled.

"I see no weakness," Walsh said. "Maybe Simeon can throw over the top of Proviso East's pressure. But what makes them so difficult to play is they always have five players on the floor who can handle the ball, pass it and shoot it. Their guards (Carter, Burns, Lee) are such a high quality. It is impossible to stop their dribble penetration."

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse