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).
If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003.
Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.
UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.
The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.
Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.
Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.
1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn) Markelle Fultz PG Washington
2. LAKERS Lonzo Ball PG UCLA
3. SUNS Josh Jackson SF Kansas
4. MAGIC Jayson Tatum SF Duke
5. 76'ers De'Aaron Fox PG Kentucky
6. KINGS Malik Monk SG Kentucky
7. KNICKS Dennis Smith PG N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans) Frank Ntilikina PG France
10. MAVS Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.
11. HORNETS Jonathan Isaac SF Florida St.
12. BLAZERS Justin Jackson SF N. Carolina
13. PISTONS John Collins PF Wake Forest
14. BULLS OG Anunoby SG-SF Indiana
Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?
Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player?
Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.
Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.
AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.
Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.
Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.
Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.
Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.
It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.
But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.
It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.
These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.
Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses
(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)
20+ point wins 20+ point losses
2016-17 6 7
2015-16 3 7
total 9 14
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)
2014-15 7 1
2013-14 7 4
2012-13 5 5
2011-12 14 0
2010-11 8 1
total 41 11
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".
The coach's response? "It's miserable."
Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Joe Maddon made the obvious choice and named Jon Lester as the Opening Night starter, the Cubs manager joked about Kyle Hendricks reacting to the news by throwing stuff around the weight room.
So imagine how last year's ERA titleholder and a World Series Game 7 starter responded to the idea of being slotted fifth in the rotation.
"I heard things rattling in there," Maddon said with a laugh.
The Cubs revealed their alignment before Wednesday afternoon's Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke matchup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, confirming Brett Anderson will work as a starter (for as long as he's healthy) while Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen for the defending champs.
The Cubs want John Lackey to face the St. Louis Cardinals, so he will open as the No. 3 starter at Busch Stadium. To break up the lefties in the rotation, Anderson — who once tweeted: "Kyle Hendricks looks like he'd celebrate a World Series win with a glass of 2% milk, Oreos and a book" — will start Game 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
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Whether or not the Cubs are overthinking this and overplaying their hand with a mild-mannered personality, don't expect Hendricks to rage against the pitching infrastructure.
"That's the point about our group," Maddon said. "Everybody buys in. Everybody's good. They understand being a part of the puzzle in your own unique way.
"It's kind of neat when you can have these conversations, knowing that ego's not going to play a part of it from the player coming back at you. They know it is part of the overall picture. They also know that the purpose is to try to do what we did last year.
"It's a unique situation. I'm not saying we're taking advantage of it, because everybody kind of digs it."
Whether or not Hendricks repeats his 2.13 ERA and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award vote, the Cubs see 200 innings as his next level after throwing 180 in 2015 and 190 last season (plus seven playoff starts combined).
"Everybody gets hung up on numbers," Maddon said. "He's definitely better than a No. 5 starter. It just happens that we're going to slot him in the five-hole coming out of camp. It's not a pecking order regarding ability by any means.
"A lot of it is just comfort zone for us with Kyle doing so well there last year. But, listen, Kyle can be a lot of people's No. 2s or even a 1 in a situation right now, too."
All along, the Cubs have coached up and managed Hendricks to the point where he could beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the franchise's first pennant in 71 years.
"Why mess with that?" Maddon said. "As long as his ego doesn't force you to attempt to try to do something differently, and it doesn't, outside of throwing things a little bit. He's beautiful. We're all good."