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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

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.