High School Lites Preview: Public League Playoffs

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High School Lites Preview: Public League Playoffs

The IHSA playoffs might be a few weeks away, but playoff basketball is alive and well in Chicago. Simeon and Curie have the top seeds in this years Public League playoff bracket. Will there be a Cinderella this year? We will check in with the top-ranked Wolverines and a few games featuring teams from the stacked Red-West conference. Our CSN cameras will also bring you action from classic rivalries in the area: New Trier-Evanston and Elgin-Larkin. Plus, who will win the rubber match between Bloom and Rich South? Can H-F go on the road and tame Bolingbrook? 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

Hyde Park (9-8) @ 1 Simeon (21-1), 4:00pm (Public League Playoffs)

Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, Kendrick Nunn and company are sure to use the Public League playoffs as a test for the IHSA playoffs next month. Simeon had no problem in the first round, crushing Douglass 98-31. But Hyde Park could be one of those sneaky-tough teams that will cause problems. Like Simeon, Hyde Park dismantled their first round opponent, beating Schurz 88-21. Lamont Bryant no longer coaches the team, but the Thunderbirds still have a nice roster, including junior guard Kyle Davis.

Perspectives-Calumet (10-13) @ Taft (17-7), 4:00pm (Public League Playoffs)

Perspectives claimed one of the first mini-upsets of the Chicago Public League tournament, taking down a 12-8 Von Steuben team 59-43. You may know Perspectives-Calumet as the school that Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis once called home. Yehosua Craig, Terrence Sardin and Henry Crawford lead this years team. Taft, who won the Red-North conference title, has solid players in Tim Reamer and John Joyce.

Farragut (13-7) @ Orr (17-3), 4:00pm (Public League Playoffs)

Not many people had Orr among Chicagos elite when the season started. If they can get by Farragut, look out. The first of two Red-West battles in the Public Leagues second round features a high-flying Orr team paced by junior Marquise Pryor, a dominating rebounder and scorer. On Friday, he will match up against another premiere big-man, 6-9 Rashaun Stimage. Dont let Farraguts record fool you. They are battle-tested and can compete with any team in the city. This game will be a must-see Friday, along with...

11 Whitney Young (11-8) @ Marshall (19-6), 4:00pm (Public League Playoffs)

Marshall is the textbook example of a team peaking at the right time. The Commandos were on the incline when they stunned Whitney Young 79-75 in overtime on Jan. 18th on the Dolphins home floor. Can they do it again? Marshalls 6-4 guard Milton Doyle -- a Florida International recruit -- could give them an edge. However, Whitney Young has done a tremendous job this season playing with a roster hit by injuries. Sophomore center Jahlil Okafor is the real deal. It adds up to an epic matchup between Red-West foes.

Morton (9-10) @ 2 Proviso East (19-0), 6:00pm

Can any stop the 2 Pirates? Looking at their record, the answer is quite obvious. The biggest challenge for Proviso East, though, might be maintaining focus between now and the IHSA playoffs. It might make Friday's game against Morton all the more intriguing. East is loaded: Sterling Brown, Keith Carter, Trashaun Carroll, Paris Lee and Paris Burns are all contributors. Morton, who has battled injuries this year, has a talent in center Rocco Belcaster.

16 Bloom (19-3) @ Rich South (18-5), 6:30pm

Baseball season might be a few months away, but a true "rubber game" will take place in the Southland conference. Bloom defeated Rich South in the McDipper Holiday Tournament in December, but the Stars came back one week later and took down the Blazing Trojans in conference play. South is coming off a huge win against Crete-Monee on Tuesday, where John Ruffin (18 points, 20 rebounds) calmly sank two game-winning free throws with 10 seconds left. Bloom, behind guard Donald Moore, will be tough to stop.

Homewood-Flossmoor (17-5) @ Bolingbrook (13-8), 7:00pm

The Raiders may have one of the dominant girls programs in the area, but keep an eye on the boys basketball team. Bolingbrook won their sixth straight game, a 54-46 victory over Lockport Tuesday night. 6-foot-7 center Ben Moore is a force for the 'Brook and they get good production from their guards. H-F, behind forwards Devlon Rencher and Tim Williams, come in as the first place team in the Southwest Suburban Blue...but Bolingbrook is nipping at their heels. Vikings guard Tyrone Sherman is one of the area's best.

Marist (20-5) @ Marian Catholic (13-8), 7:00pm

Marist might be one of the quietest 20-win teams out there. They reached that landmark Wednesday night, beating Tinley Park 62-45. Junior guard LJ McIntosh will get a lot of looks for the Redhawks Friday night. Marian Catholic, like Marist, finds themselves close behind St. Viator in the East Suburban Catholic conference. Marian comes in with momentum as well. They defeated T.F. South 54-52 on Tuesday. Tyler Ulis, averaging over 22 points per game, is the go-to guy for the Spartans.

10 Elgin (18-3) @ Larkin (14-8), 7:15pm

This all-Elgin clash stands as one of the better rivalries in Chicagoland. The 10th-ranked Maroons are trying to come out of a mini-slump. After two straight defeats, theyve put together back-to-back wins against DeKalb and Batavia. Senior Kory Brown continues to impress. He had another 19 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and five assists Wednesday against Batavia. Larkin, coached by Deryn Carter, has put together a solid season behind guard Derrick Streety.

14 New Trier (18-4) vs. Evanston (14-9), 7:30pm at Welsh-Ryan Arena

It doesn't matter which sport it is. New Trier-Evanston is one of the best rivalries in the state and a new chapter will be completed in boys basketball on Friday. The Trevians took the first battle in Winnetka 58-48 back on January 6th. Senior forward Connor Boehm dominated the Wildkits, racking up 28 points and seven rebounds. Evanston will need stellar play out of Leonard Garron and Josh Irving to pull the upset in this Central Suburban conference tilt.

GIRLS: New Trier (18-9) vs. Evanston (14-11), 6:00pm at Welsh-Ryan Arena

Evanstons 46-44 win over New Trier last month was one of the signature wins of the year for the Wildkits. Can they do it again? Like the Bloom-Rich South matchup, this will be the rubber game in the series (the other game being the Dundee-Crown tournament matchup. Evanstons Sinclair Cunningham played well in the previous game, as did Alecia Cooley. New Triers Northwestern-bound star Maggie Lyon will get reacquainted with the court she will play on next season.

GIRLS: Glenbrook North (18-7) @ Maine West (11-16), 7:30pm

Its been quite a season for the Warriors of Maine West. They lost their first five games of the season and theyve come back to put themselves in a position to win the Central Suburban North title outright Friday night. West, who is guided by legendary coach Derrill Kipp, features one of the top sophomores in the area, center Brittany Collins. North has been very impressive as well. Senior Rachel Blitt, a guard, and center Gracie Sanchez lead the attack for the Spartans.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. Our Muscle Milk Team of the Week is New Trier High School. The Trevians have had many future Ivy Leaguers walk the halls in Winnetka over the years and this year is no different. Dartmouth and Princeton will be getting talented players over the next few years. Our Kip Lewis has that story. 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

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Corey Crawford will start but Marcus Kruger won't play yet when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

Scott Darling is coming off a 30-stop shutout in the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday night. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was some consideration given to start Darling in this one, too, but, "at the same time we want Crow playing as much as he can to get back to the great pace he had prior to being away."

"He hasn't been bad. But certainly that's what we're looking for him to get back to," Quenneville said on Crawford. "I like giving Darls some consideration. We'll see but [Darling] certainly enhanced his positioning."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger skated with the Blackhawks for the first time since hurting his hand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 30. He took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice but was not among the line rushes. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is for either Tuesday or Thursday but, "knowing we have that [All-Star] break, we'll see how he feels and what our options are."

Kruger said he felt, "pretty close."

"I tried to take it day by day and prepare to play," Kruger said. "Obviously not tonight, but the next game we will see." 

BLACKHAWKS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
6:30 p.m.
TV: WGN
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks
Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm).

Vancouver Canucks (via Canucks)
Forward lines

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Alex Burrows
Markus Granlund-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Brendan Gaunce-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Defensive Pairs
Alex Edler-Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa-Chris Tanev
Alex Biega-Nikita Tryamkin

Goaltender
Ryan Miller

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Anton Rodin (knee), Ben Hutton (hand), Jannik Hansen (knee), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (upper body), Derek Dorsett (back).

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

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USA TODAY

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

Remember when the season began and we were talking about the likelihood of Illinois ending a three-year NCAA tournament drought?

Yeah, about that.

The Fighting Illini were again walloped on the road Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, their fourth road defeat in as many games during conference play. Against Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland, the losses have come in extreme fashion, by a combined total of 73 points, an average of 18.3 points.

And those numbers would be much bigger if not for a garbage-time 18-6 run to close out Saturday's 66-57 loss to the Wolverines. The game saw Michigan's lead grow as big as 21 with fewer than six minutes to play. It was another blowout, even if the final margin of defeat was in single digits.

How this continues to happen is frankly somewhat mind boggling. Illinois entered the season with experience, health and depth and have kept all of those traits throughout the campaign. But the experienced players who were believed to lead the Illini to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013, Groce's first season, simply haven't shown up.

Malcolm Hill has, and he deserves a pass in this critique. Hill, the only Illinois player who scored in double figures Saturday, ranks fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.8 points a game. He also ranks in the top 20 in rebounding (5.9 rebounds a game), free-throw percentage (79.4 percent) and minutes played (32.4 minutes a game).

Maverick Morgan, too, has been a bright spot. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and is averaging 13 points a game over the last 10 games.

But where has everyone else gone? After a stellar non-conference season, Tracy Abrams' production has fallen off a cliff, and he's just 1-for-21 from 3-point range against Big Ten competition. Jalen Coleman-Lands hasn't been very reliable, averaging almost two points fewer per game and shooting almost five percent lower from 3-point range than he did during his freshman season a year ago. Mike Thorne Jr. was supposed to be the team's starting center, but he's not even averaging 15 minutes a game. Second-year guys like D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan have barely seen the floor. Michael Finke has had good games and quiet games. This veteran team is more and more reliant on freshmen Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols for sparks that only rarely come.

The biggest issue has been the defense, with the team allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field. That number has been significantly worse in conference play, up to 50.8 percent. Saturday was better, Michigan shooting only 45.1 percent and only 40 percent in the second half, when its lead grew largest. But the Wolverines, also a poor defensive team, clamped down on the Illini, who only shot 45.8 percent and more importantly turned the ball over a whopping 17 times, leading to 22 points for the home team.

With consistently subpar defense and inconsistent offense — a win over the same Michigan team just 10 days earlier saw Illinois drop 85 points on red-hot 64.2-percent shooting; where was that Saturday? — has been a recipe for disaster.

Coming into the conference season, it seemed Illinois was a prime contender for a spot in the Big Dance's field of 68. After all, only one disastrous week prevented the non-conference season from being a success. The Illini scored wins over name-brand opponents North Carolina State, VCU, BYU and Missouri, with that nightmarish week featuring losses to West Virginia and Florida State, the current Nos. 7 and 10 teams in the country.

But despite the high rankings of the Mountaineers and Seminoles, that resume has weakened. North Carolina State is just 2-5 in ACC play, and Missouri has just five wins this season, a nasty record that includes 10 straight losses. BYU and VCU aren't at the top of their respective mid-major conference standings.

That has made Illinois' conference showing all the worse as the tournament hopes flicker. The two wins have come at home against Ohio State and Michigan teams that stumbled out of the gates themselves. The losses, as chronicled above, have been convincing to say the least, and the one that came at the State Farm Center, against Maryland, featured an ugly second-half collapse after Illinois went to the locker room with a lead.

With typical bottom-feeders like Penn State and Nebraska improving their play this season, there aren't many noticeably winnable games remaining on Illinois' schedule, with just the season-finale at Rutgers looking like a surefire win, though the Scarlet Knights are no longer winless in Big Ten play after beating the Huskers on Saturday. What it means is a gauntlet the rest of the way for the Illini. There are plenty of home games, but does the venue matter when the Illini are playing like this and their opponents are of a significantly higher caliber?

Groce's seat is undeniably warm, and the heat could crank up if the campaign progresses as it has played out to this point. Would a fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite mean Groce's tenure would be over in Champaign? That's difficult to say, as Groce has secured one of the best recruiting classes in the country for next season. Illinois' best recruiting work in years would be in real danger if he's axed before his Class of 2017 arrives on campus.

But the on-court results are starting to get predictable, and not in the way games were predictable back during Illinois' glory days a decade ago. 

How about this: Last week's 23-point shellacking at Purdue was the 12th loss by 20 or more points of the Groce Era, which is in its fifth season. Bruce Weber, who coached the Illini for nine seasons, had three such losses during the course of his entire tenure. Prior to Weber, it was Bill Self, who had one such loss in his three seasons. Prior to Self, it was Lon Kruger, who had four such losses in his four seasons.

You have to go all the way back to 1980 to find the last time Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in four straight years.

Right now, the future is a mystery. What we do know is that the present is not going well.