Fire

Mark Weems goes off as Seton tops Hales

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Mark Weems goes off as Seton tops Hales

By Patrick Z. McGavin
Yourseason.com

The state tournament is a different beast. Even the courts take on a magnified importance.

Seton coach Brandon Thomas played a shorter rotation than usual. It meant Mark Weems Jr. had an even greater role than normal. Weems responded in grand style.

The 6-2 junior guard scored a career-high 30 points that powered the Sting to a 62-55 victory over defending state champion Hales in a U-High Class 2A regional final at the University of Chicago Friday night.

We normally play a much deeper bench, but we press a lot, and playing on the bigger floor, we did not press, especially the kind of trapping defense we normally play, Thomas said. Mark usually plays about 19, 20 minutes a game. Tonight, he played 30 or 31.

Winner of five consecutive regional crowns, Seton (25-4) advances to play Herscher at the Tigers own sectional Wednesday night.

Thomas does not permit his players to talk to the media. Weems game spoke volumes.

The game often turned on a scintillating battle between top Catholic League guards, Weems and Hales 6-5 star Eddie Alcantara (23 points, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists).

Weems scored 16 points in the first half and Seton built an early 11-point lead in the second quarter. Alcantara responded by scoring 13 points in the first half. He nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key that pulled the Spartans (11-18) within 28-24 at the break.

Thomas is a protg of Hales coach Gary London. Weems outburst surprised London.

We knew he was a big part of what they do, but I knew he was capable of making shots, but not that many, London said.

Senior forward J.R. Tolliver added 11 points for the Sting. Junior guard Kamal Shasi contributed eight points and senior guard Jordan Foster scored seven.

Alcantara scored on a beautiful baseline drive and floater over 6-9 Russell Robinson Jr. that pulled the Spartans within 46-43. Weems, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, put the game away with a three-point play off a Hales turnover that capped a 7-0 Seton run with 2:57 remaining.

Hales junior guard Shaquon Alexander hit four three-pointers in the second half in scoring 14 points for the Spartans. Senior forward Willie Allen scored eight points.

Hales converted just 3-11 from the free throw line in the second half.

Weve struggled with our free throw shooting the whole year, London said. Weve had some games where we got up to 80 percent, but you just cant shoot free throws like we did tonight, especially in the state playoffs.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

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USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16