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High School Lites: Quarterfinal Weekend

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High School Lites: Quarterfinal Weekend

It's down to the field of 64 in the IHSA football playoffs, but this week's High School Lites will have more of a "Sweet 16" feel.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will cover 16 games on Saturday as teams fight to advance further down the road to a potential state championship. Each class currently contains eight teams with dreams of playing in Champaigns Memorial Stadium. Our cameras will bring you action from class 8A all the way to 3A-- from Chicago's north shore all the way to Coal City and Wilmington. In 8A, who wins the Upstate Eight rematch between Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley? Or the 5A rematch between Marian Central Catholic and Montini? Lyons and Downers Grove North have gone from Cinderellas to legitimate contenders. How far can they go? And could Chicago's Brooks High School represent the Public League in a big way with a trip to the 4A semifinals?

Here is a snapshot of every game High School Lites will profile on Saturday night's 10:30 p.m. show. The rankings reflect the class seeds in the IHSA playoffs.

8A:

No. 3 Palatine (10-1) at No. 2 Loyola (10-1), 12:00 p.m.

It's going to be up to the defenses of both the Pirates and Ramblers to step up. For Palatine, it means finding ways to contain quarterback Peter Pujals and running back Julius Holley. Both contributed with big games last week in a 31-7 victory over Bartlett. For Palatine, quarterback Ethan Olles and running back Cam Kuksa form a potent duo. Both teams feasted on opponents turnovers last week. The turnover battle could be key here.

No. 4 Glenbard North (10-1) at No. 1 Maine South (11-0), 1:00 p.m.

This will no doubt be Maine South's toughest test to date. Their opponents have a combined 53-54 record and Glenbard North represents the first team the Hawks have played with more than eight wins. The key players to watch will be Northwestern-bound QB Matt Alviti on Maine South. But South's defense may have a little more work cut out. Stopping elite Panther running back Justin Jackson needs to be at the top of their to-do list.

No. 4 Waubonsie Valley (10-1) at No. 1 Neuqua Valley (11-0), 6:00 p.m.

It's a matchup that everybody --at least in Aurora and Naperville-- have been waiting for in the playoffs. The Wildcats survived two overtimes to stun the Warriors 35-34 at North Central College. Both schools won impressively in the first and second rounds-- and they each feature running backs that are sure to cause fits for the opposing defenses. Neuqua's Joey Rhattigan and Waubonsie's Austin Guido will get a lot of looks Saturday night.

No. 3 Mount Carmel (10-1) at No. 15 Lyons (7-4), 7:00 p.m.

Northwestern-bound Matthew Harris is back and that could make things real interesting for Mount Carmel. Harris, who missed regular season time due to a chest injury, is one of the top two-way players in the area. He has definitely changed the complexion of the Lions' attack, but will it be enough to stop the Caravan? Don Butkus, Matt Domer and Draco Smith have dominated on offense. And coach Frank Lenti's defensive corps could be one of the best in Illinois.

7A:

No. 5 Wheaton North (10-1) at No. 1 Glenbard West (11-0), 1:00 p.m.

Wide receiverbackup quarterback Clayton Thorson left last week's game with a reported broken collarbone. This will put more pressure on quarterback John Peltz and running back Patrick Sharp to step up. It will be a challenge against a Hilltopper defensive unit that has kept seven opponents to a touchdown or less on the season. Their balanced offense features Devante Toney, Nathan Marcus, Henry Haeffner and Scott Andrews.

No. 2 Boylan Catholic (11-0) at No. 6 Lake Zurich (9-2), 1:00 p.m.

This 7A tilt represents an intriguing rematch of last year's semifinal in Rockford, won by the Titans 16-10. They went on to win state and are looking to do the same in 2012. Slotback Danny Appino, nephew of former Boylan coach Dan Appino, is a threat out of the backfield. The Bears, traditionally tough on defense, are giving up a scant five points per game. Running back Connor Schrader has helped put a lot of points on the board.

No. 2 Benet (10-1) at No. 8 Downers Grove North (7-4), 1:00 p.m.

Just call this the "Cinderella Bowl." Both programs have experienced quite a renaissance in 2012. Benet's story might be a little more of a feat, considering this is their first winning season since 2006. Sophomore quarterback Jack Beneventi and an opportunistic defense lead the Redwings. DGN, one of three teams still alive from the West Suburban Silver, has a defense that kept good offensive teams in Batavia and Thornton in check.

No. 2 Edwardsville (10-1) at No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (11-0), 6:00 p.m.

Edwardsville shredded five years of mediocrity with an impressive 10-1 campaign that includes last week's win over East St. Louis, the lone team that beat the Tigers in the regular season. The Griffins will have to keep tabs on lightning-quick running back Bennett Gray, a proven track star. LWE has plenty of defensive accolades and a dynamic offense with NIU-bound Tom Fuessel at quarterback and Nick Colangelo out of the backfield.

6A:

No. 4 Crystal Lake Central (9-2) at No. 1 Cary-Grove (11-0), 1:00 p.m.

The mission for the 9-2 Tigers is simple: find a way to stop --or mildly contain-- Cary-Grove's Kyle Norberg. The senior fullback piled up another 205 yards and three scores in last week's win over St. Patrick. The Trojans have two state berths since 2004 (won in 2009). The CLC program has rebounded very nicely over the last six years. Running back Matt MacAlpine has returned after a left leg injury sidelined him early this season.

No. 2 Ottawa (11-0) at No. 1 Crete-Monee (11-0), 6:00 p.m.

For the host Warriors to win, they will have to cut down on turnovers. Against Richwoods last week, they gave the ball away seven times but came back to secure a 35-32 victory. C-M will look for another strong game from their do-everything superstar Laquon Treadwell. Ottawa has an exceptional talent of their own in Illinois-bound slotback Miguel Hermosillo. Both schools are gunning for their first-ever 12-win seasons.

No. 3 Lemont (10-1) at No. 1 Oak Forest (10-1), 7:00 p.m.

It'll be back-to-back South Suburban Conference playoff games for Lemont, and this time it's a rematch from a September 21st game against the divisional foe Bengals. The Indians, who beat Oak Forest 17-14 in that game, clinched a win late in the game when LSU-bound lineman Ethan Pocic pounced on a fumble off a Bengals handoff. Both teams are averaging over 36 points per game, so the defenses have to step up once again.

5A:

No. 12 Joliet Catholic (7-4) at No. 9 Lincoln-Way West (8-3), 1:00 p.m.

The Hilltoppers are back. Namely, the ones in the backfield. Ty Isaac, Tyler Reitz and Mike Ivlow --all back from various injuries-- were on the field together for a complete game for the first time all year in a 42-21 victory over Tinley Park. But an interesting foe awaits. Lincoln-Way West proved they could hang with the big boys as they shocked Kaneland last week. The Warriors are led by Notre Dame-bound offensive tackle Colin McGovern.

No. 3 Montini (9-2) at No. 2 Marian Central Catholic (11-0), 5:00 p.m.

"We know state goes through Montini." That's what Marian coach Ed Brucker told the Sun-Times after last week's win over Woodstock North. And he's right. Montini has won three straight titles and will remain champs until proven otherwise. But this is a special year for the Hurricanes. Minnesota-bound quarterback Chris Streveler piloted a 49-24 victory over Montini in week seven. But Montini, with players like WR Joe Borsellino, will look for their fourth straight playoff knockout of MCC.

4A:

No. 1 Alleman (10-1) at No. 2 Coal City (10-1), 2:00 p.m.

This has potential to be a serious black-and-blue match. Rock Island's Alleman Pioneers can bring it on defense. They have kept seven opponents to a touchdown or less this year, including four shutouts. Coal City has solid defensive numbers on the year, but can they break through on offense? Coalers quarterback Brennen Shetina will have his work cut out behind center. The Coalers defeated Geneseo last week 12-10.

No. 5 Brooks (8-2) @ No. 7 Evergreen Park (8-3), 6:00 p.m.

Ahmad Bradshaw can play. Pay no mind to the New York Giants running back with the same name. Bradshaw, the Brooks quarterback, has D-1 potential and is one of the many reasons Brooks could represent the Chicago Public League in the semifinals and beyond. But to get there, the Eagles are going to have to beat a Mustangs team that is peaking at the right time. Road wins at North Chicago and Richmond-Burton are no fluke.

3A:

No. 2 Newman Central Catholic (11-0) at No. 11 Wilmington (9-2), 5:00 p.m.

Both schools are long-time football powerhouses. Newman Central Catholic has won four state championships since 1990, including a 14-0 season in 2010. Brian Bahrs is a solid rusher and contributor on defense for the Comets. Wilmington, making their 17th straight playoff appearance, is a juggernaut on offense. Running back Mike Wolfe had four touchdowns last week in a 48-8 victory over St. Joseph Ogden.

We'll have more on Brooks High School in our Muscle Milk Team of the Week segment. After close losses against playoff teams like Kaneland and Rock Island earlier in the year, the Eagles want to prove that they're for real. How far will this Chicago Public League team go in the IHSA playoffs? Plus, well also catch you up with Joliet Catholic in this weeks Drive segment, presented by Northern Illinois University. And well take a drive down Memory Lane in Flashback and bring you up-to-the-minute scores from across Chicagoland.

High School Lites streams this Saturday night on CSNChicago.com.

Follow CSNChicago.com preps writer Joe Collins on Twitter: @JoeCSN.

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

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."