Cubs

Proviso West adds eight more teams to holiday tournament

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Proviso West adds eight more teams to holiday tournament

Who's next? Who will be the last eight teams fill out the 32-team field for the 2012 Proviso West Holiday Tournament? Chicago Public League? Chicago Catholic League? Downstate? Out-of-state?

"We added eight suburban teams. Now we can focus on non-suburban schools...city, private, Downstate and out-of-state," said tournament director Joe Spagnolo after announcing eight new schools that marks the first expansion of the state's premier holiday basketball event since it went from eight to 16 teams in 1962, a year after it was founded by then athletic director Walt Sawosko.

"We never have had an out-of-state team, either from Indiana or Missouri or Iowa or Wisconsin. And we wouldn't invite a prep school. We like to have geographic balance. For example, in the Public League, we'd like to have two from the north, two from the south and two from the west. We have three now--Morgan Park, Von Steuben and Brooks. We like the first group of teams we have gotten."

Downers Grove South, Glenbard East, Maine South, Nazareth Academy, Oswego, St. Charles East, Stevenson and Wheaton Academy will participate in next December's inaugural six-day, 32-team event.

They will join this year's 16 teams--Proviso East, Proviso West, Benet, St. Patrick, New Trier, Brooks, Fenwick, Glenbrook North, Hillcrest, Hinsdale Central, Morgan Park, Morton, Homewood-Flossmoor, Rockford Auburn, St. Joseph and Von Steuben.

Downers Grove South and Maine South played at York last month. St. Charles East and Wheaton Academy played at Glenbard West, Oswego and Glenbard East played at Bloomington, Nazareth played at Hinsdale South and Stevenson played at Wheeling.

"We had to wait until other tournaments were over before officially making this announcement," Spagnolo said. "We didn't solicit teams. We talked in the summer that if we expanded and an opening came up, would you be interested? But we didn't want to take too many teams from any one tournament, not more than two."

Spagnolo said he received letters and inquiries from several schools over the summer. He knows some desirable schools are committed. Simeon coach Robert Smith has made it clear that his team will play at Pontiac "for as long as they will have us." De La Salle will play in Florida. And Blue Island Eisenhower is leaving Hinsdale South for Centralia.

He said the response to Proviso West's new 32-team, six-day format has been largely positive. "People like the the atmosphere and the idea of seeing different teams. We ran the idea before our workers because we made the final decision, the ones who have to take the brunt of the expansion, and we got few complaints. They are all basketball fans," Spagnolo said.

But who will he persuade to fill the last eight spots? Possibilities are Farragut, which was a great attraction in the mid-1990s when future NBA star Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields were there, St. Rita, Orr, North Chicago and Crane.

In fact, the addition of the GarnettFields team was a stroke of luck. In 1994, Collins dropped out and Proviso West was looking for a team and ended up getting Farragut at the last minute, before Garnett made his decision to transfer from South Carolina to Farragut for his senior year.

"Sometimes you get a diamond in the rough," Spagnolo said. "You don't want to move too quickly to fill the last few spots because something can open up or kids transfer at the last minute. Summer basketball has turned into free agency. There always are diamonds in the rough that come up in the summer."

He said he plans to announce a few more schools before the state tournament begins, then complete the 32-team field during the summer. He has gotten interest from out-of-state schools in the past so he isn't in a big hurry to fill the last few spots.

Meanwhile, Spagnolo has forged ahead to make preparations for the 2012 tournament. He already has filled all 183 officiating assignments for the six-day, three-officials-per-game, 61-game event.

"Traditionally, we are the first holiday tournament to announce our assignments (on Jan. 1), before anyone else," he said. "It gives other tournaments an opportunity to contract their officials."

And he is in the process of renting two wooden portable floors, portable scoreboards, NBA baskets and seating for 1,000 spectators for the 18 consolation games that will be played in the adjacent fieldhouse. All first-round and championship round games will be played in the main gym.

His biggest fear? Now that the tournament has been expanded from four to six days, there is more chance of being affected by bad weather. The tournament will start on Saturday, Dec. 22 with play continuing on Dec. 26-29 and the championship being conducted on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 31.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.