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).
Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.
Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.
Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.
Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.
"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.
"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."
The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.
Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.
But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.
"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."
Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.
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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.
Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.
Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.
"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."
Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday
With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.
Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.
Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.
The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.
The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.
And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.
"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.
"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."