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

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Specifics such as whom the Bears will draft at No. 3, or 36, or somewhere in between weren't going to be gleaned from this week's conversations with Bears Chairman George McCaskey, GM Ryan Pace or head coach John Fox. But more interesting, and important, too, are some the the more strategic takeaways from visits with the hierarchy most involved with Bears football fortunes.
 
More significant than anything regarding a player or position is the stability of the core, meaning Pace's and Fox's position under McCaskey. Because that ultimately affects draft choices, signings and myriad elements extending beyond the 2017 season. And some of all that involves understanding McCaskey's vision and history.
 
Realize: Pace was McCaskey's second GM hire in barely three NFL years. The first one of Phil Emery was an abject failure, as was the accompanying coaching hire. The absolute last thing McCaskey wants to be forced by circumstances into doing is replacing another general manager. Brother Michael lost his berth as president due to making the NFL's charter franchise into a laughingstock because of a botched coaching hire; Brother George has no wish to continue the kind of high-level turnover that both reflect, cause and perpetuate dysfunction, and losing.
 
Against that backdrop, one trail of breadcrumbs leads to a strong sense that Pace is secure in his job, barring something going epically wrong. McCaskey was clear that he approved of and likes the direction the Bears are moving under Pace, to the point of having Pace in a video directed to the fanbase. If Pace were on some sort of hot seat, McCaskey and the organization do not make him a short-term face of the franchise while they hope for a player to emerge as that "face."
 
McCaskey could not put a whole lot more pressure on Pace than the latter gets as part of his job and wanting to stay in Chicago for more than football reasons.
 
"Keep building through the draft," McCaskey said during the recently concluded owners meetings. "I told Ryan he should get ripped every time around this year, this time of year ever year for not being more active in free agency. And that's because we're developing our own guys and rewarding our own guys."

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The breadcrumbs from there lead to Fox's situation. Start with the thought that coaches operate for the present and GMs for the future. Not exactly true; GMs balance present and future.
 
But every indication, verbal and otherwise, has been that Fox was very much on board with the major makeover at one spot in particular — quarterback — and a coach with down to possibly a final season pounds the table for win-now material, particularly at that position. And when the Bears didn't re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, which may not have appeared to be benchmark non-move but was, at least one Bears coach was apoplectic at not staying a course with a quarterback who delivered 300 passing yards and zero turnovers in his brief Bears "career."
 
Fox, however, was clearly comfortable with giving the quarterback wheel a spin with Mike Glennon, and ultimately so is his staff. Because it is part of program plan.
 
Consider this scenario: The Bears rebound to a respectable seven or eight wins; not spectacular but the NFC North is the only division in either conference to send two teams to the postseason , meaning that Fox's Bears likely put up a couple wins over good teams, which can be construed as the "progress" that McCaskey referenced this week.
 
Meanwhile, Pace has a third draft with impact players, the Kevin Whites, Eddie Goldmans and others come back from injuries, the Bears go into the 2018 offseason and land Kirk Cousins or have Glennon be what they'd hoped, and the Bears are what McCaskey envisions: a challenger with an arrow pointing up.
 
All theoretical or hypothetical, but Pace has a plan that McCaskey knows and endorses, and best guess is that he gives his GM, and coach, time to have it play out.
 
"We have confidence in Ryan and John," McCaskey said, imposing only "progress" and "results" as his conditions. "We want to build through the draft. Ryan said that in his interview when he said he was interested in coming to the Bears. And we like how he has stuck to that plan."
 
Maybe that was the most significant tell; McCaskey has seen progress apart from the record: "Yeah," he confirmed. "Yes sir."

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

Tomas Jurco's reaction to his first goal on Monday night was as much celebration as a little bit of relief. The forward, acquired by the Blackhawks about a month ago, had had a few great scoring chances in recent games but just couldn't capitalize.

Finally, he got that first of the season against Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of a release, you know?" Jurco said on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of good chances and it would just never go in for some reason. Obviously I'm very happy that it went in and hopefully this is the start of, I would say, more luck for me."

Looking for consistency in his own game as well as a consistent spot in the lineup, Jurco was looking for a boost of confidence. Getting that first goal could be part of it, as a bit of a weight disappears with that zero in the goal column. 

"That's a hurdle that can be in the back of your mind a lot and all of a sudden it could be a nice release," coach Joel Quenneville said of that first goal. "He's progressing in our team game, technically. Whether it's his pace of play or going to the right areas quickly, we're looking for progression. We saw it [Monday] night and I think he'll continue to get better off that. But certainly that should help him get confidence as we go along here."

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Jurco's been around the net, something the Blackhawks always encourage, for most of those scoring opportunities. Perhaps some of that puck luck wasn't quite there. But Jurco is gaining confidence in recent games, and getting that goal could boost it that much more.

"I've always said, especially in my case, scoring helps that confidence come easier. It brings that fun to the game," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe if you're not feeling it or not playing with high energy, at a certain point in a game when you score, for some reason you get that jolt, you get that jump. For [Jurco], he's been playing well when he's been in, and no doubt that scoring a goal like that can help boost confidence and help him find his game, which we know he has and will continue to show."

The scoring hurdle has been cleared and Jurco is gaining confidence. Will he carve out a consistent spot in the lineup? Quenneville has some options through the bottom six. That, coupled with the Blackhawks playing inconsistent hockey lately and missing that four-line rotation, Jurco's been one of several who have been in and out of the lineup. But Quenneville said on Wednesday, "I don't see making constant changes once the [playoffs] begin." If Jurco keeps getting chances and capitalizing on a few, and if he ends up as part of a rotation that's successful again, he could stick.

Jurco waited a little bit for that first goal. He hopes it's just the start.

"You know eventually it's going to go in but it was just frustrating. Another game and another and another with good chances and it just wouldn't go in. So it's a big release," Jurco said. "Hopefully I'll keep going, keep producing."