High School Lites Preview

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High School Lites Preview

Call it the Diamonds In the Rough edition of High School Lites, if you will. We will head out to two basketball powerhouses that you may not have heard of in 2012. Herscher and Immaculate Conception are part of a select few Illinois programs in that have put together 20-win seasons. Well bring you highlights of their games, along with conference duels in the DuPage Valley and Catholic North. And will Simeon or Curie claim the Chicago Public League trophy Friday night? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

FRIDAY GAMES

3 Curie (24-1) vs. 1 Simeon (24-1), 7:00pm (Public League Championship at Chicago State)

Its the rematch that Chicagoland -- and especially Public League -- basketball fans have waited for since the holiday tournament season. Simeon, coming off a 61-51 victory over Orr in the semis, took down Curie in the championship game in Pontiac thanks to a healthy rebounding edge and solid performances by Jabari Parker and Steve Taylor. Will Curie respond in the rematch? They held off Bogan on Wednesday night and will need sophomore center Cliff Alexander and senior guard Devin Foster to help contain one of the most talented teams in the nation.

8 Downers Grove South (19-4) @ 2 Proviso East (22-0), 6:00pm

The West Suburban Gold conference is up for grabs in Maywood. If Proviso wins, they take the league title outright. East, behind Paris Lee, Paris Burns, Trashaun Carroll, Keith Carter and Sterling Brown have been unstoppable this season. As for the 8 Mustangs, Jerron Wilbut is back from a suspension, but don't overlook Jordan Cannon, Kevin Honn and Jamall Millison, who have stepped up nicely in the Wilbut's absence. A win makes DGS the co-champ and it'll ease the pain of a 78-70 loss to the Pirates back in January.

16 St. Rita (14-8) @ St. Joseph (15-8), 7:30pm

The Catholic North figured to be a three-headed monster this season, with St. Rita, St. Ignatius and De La Salle fighting for the top spot in the conference. But St. Joseph is enjoying a huge late-season push, thanks to senior Reggie Johnson and sophomore Paul Turner. St. Rita has played a rigorous out-of-state schedule and is also 8-1 in conference. They have star-power in guard Tony Hicks. He scored 24 points for the Mustangs in the previous meeting between the two schools, won by St. Rita, 60-44.

Walther Lutheran (14-10) @ Immaculate Conception (22-3), 7:30pm

Many recall the winter of 1967 as a time when two feet of snow blanketed Chicagoland. Others recall this time as when the first Super Bowl took place. But for the folks at ICHS, it was the last time the boys basketball team won a conference title. Until now. Everybody is looking up at the Knights, the 2012 Suburban Christian-Gold champs. Forward Brian Harvey and guard John Cheng are tough to contain. As for Walther, 5-9 senior guard Patrell Green is the centerpiece of the Bronco attack.

West Aurora (19-4) @ Naperville North (17-6), 7:30pm

Expect a raucous Friday night in Naperville. The Huskies will have a chance to earn at least a share of the DuPage Valley conference with a win on their home floor. North, who hasn't won the DVC in 14 years, will look to senior forward Mike Keane and sophomore guard Anthony Rehayem to lead the way. However, the Blackhawks are more than battle-tested. Talented senior forward Juwan Starks is one of their go-to guys. West Aurora, who can tie North for the DVC lead, fell to NN 53-51 back on January 7th.

Peotone (10-14 TUES) @ Herscher (23-1), 7:00pm

Herscher has dominated teams in the Interstate Eight conference -- not to mention the Kanakakee Valley area in general -- rather thoroughly this season. They are part of only a handful of teams in Illinois who have won 23 games on the season. Ben Wenzelman, Justin Ruckman and Jordan Ruckman pace the Tigers. Peotone will have some momentum on their side though, after a 48-38 win over Grant Park Tuesday night.

4 Warren (20-2) @ Libertyville (14-10), 7:30pm

Everybody has talked about the success of Warren's Darius Paul and Nathan Boothe this season. But JoVaughn Gaines is another player in the Blue Devils' arsenal that can create mismatch issues for opponents. The 6-5 forward tallied 14 points in Tuesday's 60-38 Warren victory over Lake Zurich. Libertyville has been good in stretches. Senior guard Griffin Pils has had a solid season for the Wildcats. Warren took a 77-53 decision in Gurnee earlier this season.

Mundelein (21-6) @ Stevenson (15-9), 7:30pm

Both teams are in the meaty part of the upper half of a tough basketball conference, the North Suburban-Lake. The visiting Mustangs, who beat Stevenson 59-51 in Mundelein earlier in the year, feature talented guard Robert Knar. He is the son of head coach Richard Knar. The Patriots will be a tough out, though. They have standouts in Michael Fleming and up-and-coming sophomore Matt Morrissey.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is Immaculate Conception. This Elmhurst school just won their first conference championship in 45 years. But the Knights goals are much higher in the postseason. Our Kip Lewis has their story. Also, Mark Schanowski catches up with a legend on the girls basketball circuit who has reached the 700-win mark: Maine Wests Derril Kipp. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Lovie Smith was clear: “Rex is our quarterback.”

Phil Emery was clear: Jay Cutler is an “elite” quarterback.

John Fox isn’t so clear: When Jay Cutler is cleared to return from his thumb injury, Cutler is not automatically still the Bears starting quarterback.

"I don't think there are any givens and that's not an indictment on anybody,” Fox said on Monday. “This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and so we’re just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory.”

Tough love is arguably the most effective management style with Cutler. Unlike the contracts and praise heaped on Cutler by prior administrations, current coaches and the organization withheld judgment on him after taking over in 2015. Cutler, who typically played worse after getting contract extensions and gaudy compliments, responded with the best season of his career.

Cutler watched from the sidelines as the Bears were beaten 31-17 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday behind Brian Hoyer, who was able to give the Bears some production in the second half for the first time this year, albeit only after the Bears were down 24-3.

“I thought [Hoyer] made good decisions,” Fox said, then qualified, “Not all of them. I think the very first play of the game didn’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I thought he did some good things. I thought the pass-pro and some of those things helped the situation. I think we did have some explosive runs — we had more explosive plays in this game than we did in the prior two. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward and prepare for Detroit.”

The ultimate question is not whether Brian Hoyer is as good as Jay Cutler.

The evaluation will be whether Hoyer had success because the pass protection and run game worked better, or the bigger question, did those phases of the offense work better because of Hoyer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated that a primary job of a quarterback is to get the other 10 players on the huddle to do theirs well. If the evaluation process, which could include another game next Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Soldier Field, points to the offense functioning better for Hoyer, the Bears will have a major decision to make.

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Cutler has been benched because of performance only once in Chicago, late in 2014, for one game. He started the following week because Jimmy Clausen sustained a concussion.

Some perspectives on Bears QB switches

Back in 2005, while over at a social event during Super Bowl week in Detroit, a prominent member of the Bears’ defense vented on a decision that in his opinion cost the Bears their season. That decision was to go back to Rex Grossman as quarterback from Kyle Orton, who had been the quintessential game manager as a fourth-round rookie filling in while Grossman worked back from a broken ankle suffered in preseason.

“We’d’ve been here [in the Super Bowl] if we’d’a stayed with Kyle,” the Pro Bowl defender said.

That didn’t happen in the “Rex is our quarterback” phase of Smith’s tenure.

Josh McCown by his own assessment was not as good a player as Cutler in 2013 when the best-chance-to-win decision had to be made between those two. Coaches wanted to stay with McCown, the GM insisted on Cutler; the team stayed on course with Cutler, accelerated that direction actually, letting McCown leave for Tampa Bay and giving Cutler the “Jay is our quarterback” max contract.

But while Smith was invested in Grossman, who did get the Bears to the Super Bowl the next year, and Phil Emery invested in Cutler, who has won just one playoff game in his seven Bears seasons, coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace have not gone all-in on quarterbacks they inherited. They stayed with Cutler without any real alternative last year, and Fox admitted that Cutler was perhaps one of the biggest positive surprises coming out of last season, when then-coordinator Adam Gase was the loudest voice in the room on that quarterback decision and the organization stayed with the quarterback to whom millions were guaranteed.

Now there is an alternative, who like McCown was vis’a’vis Cutler, is not Cutler’s football equal physically (“Have you seen him throw?” McCown answered one reporter asking what Cutler did that he, McCown, couldn’t).

Whether the Bears take that alternative will play out in practice and possibly a game over the next seven days.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

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As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”