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Simeon, Proviso East eye state final

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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."

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: 

Yu Darvish finally has his first win at Wrigley

Yu Darvish finally has his first win at Wrigley

Yu Darvish blew a 98 mph fastball by Yasiel Puig, pumped his fist emphatically and let out a primal yell as he walked off the mound while 37,260 fans at Wrigley Field backed him up with maybe the loudest "YUUUU!!!" chant of the season.

It was the final pitch he threw on the afternoon as he completely dismantled the Reds lineup in a 4-2 Cubs victory.

"How 'bout it? Good for him," Joe Maddon said. "Yu just keeps trending in the right direction. That last out, he pretty much — as they say — emptied the tank and it worked out pretty well.

"The people yelling for him coming off the field was awesome and I know he feels that in a positive way and he deserves it."

Since the All-Star Break, Darvish leads Major League Baseball in ERA — he hasn't allowed a run in 12 innings while striking out 15 and giving up only 4 hits and a walk. 

Oh yeah, and he finally picked up his first Wrigley Field win in a Cubs uniform...in his 14th start at the Friendly Confines (28 starts overall).

"It's amazing," Darvish said. "First win at Wrigley — I was always looking for that first win."

In both outings to start the second half, he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and they're also the only two scoreless starts he has as a member of the Cubs (he gave up 0 earned run April 27 last year against the Brewers, but was charged with an unearned run).

The last time Darvish went back-to-back outings with at least 6 scoreless innings was April 2014, his final season before Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs are now 5-1 since the All-Star Break on the heels of their starting rotation, which has churned out a quality start in each of the six second-half games.