Preps Talk

Missed opportunities doom NU defense late

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Missed opportunities doom NU defense late

The Northwestern defense did just about everything right Saturday afternoon against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were held to their lowest point-total of the season (29), averaged only4.6 yards per rush and totaled 201 rushing yards, 78 below their season average. The Northwestern defense and special teams even forced three turnovers, including one inside the Wildcat 25-yard-line.
But for as good as the Wildcats defense was for 51 minutes, the last nine minutes were all too familiar for a defense that has struggled to play 60 minutes on multiple occasions this year.
After running back Mike Trumpy, filling in for the injured Venric Mark, rumbled in from 3 yards out to extend Northwestern's lead to 28-16, Taylor Martinez and Nebraska sliced through the Wildcats defense with ease on two straight possessions, scoring touchdowns on both, to take a 29-28 lead they never gave up.
In those two possessions, Martinez, the Big Ten's efficiency leader, was 10-of-13 with 143 yards and two touchdowns to Taariq Allen and Ben Cotton.
"The last two drives, they just made plays and we didnt," linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team with 12 tackles, said. "There is nothing more to be said. We were on top of every route, they just made plays and we didn't. We have to capitalize on that. We need to improve on that area of our defense."
That familiar feeling stemmed from two weeks ago, when the Wildcats allowed 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against Penn State. The week before that, Indiana scored 29 points in the second half to almost upset Northwestern before Kain Colter's heroics saved the Wildcats late.
In eight games, the Northwestern defense has allowed 63 points in the first half, but 121 after halftime.
Perhaps that's the reason that when the Nebraska offense took over, down 28-23, with 4:10 to play, Martinez was so confident in what would be the eventual outcome.
"Everyone knew we were going to score a touchdown," Martinez said. "We could feel it in our guts and throughout the offense. We knew once we have the chance, we were going to score again."
That's exactly what happened. Martinez was 5-for-5 for 74 yards (and ran once for 2 yards), including the game-winning touchdown pass to Cotton on the drive.
"I thought we battled and gave ourselves a chance to win," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "and down the stretch, just didn't make one more play that we needed to make."
The defense had a chance to make that one play. Twice, actually.
On Nebraska's first scoring drive in the fourth quarter, down 28-16, a Martinez pass was tipped by linebacker David Nwabuisi. As he went to grab it, Proby ran into him while also trying to make the catch. That sent the ball back into the air, but defensive lineman Sean McEvily couldn't pull it in.
Proby said the collision was "just one of those freak things," but he wasn't making excuses for the defense's late collapse.
"You can't leave anything in this game up to chance," he said. "We all have to fly to the ball, it's just something that happened on one play."
But the near-misses weren't over.
The very next play, safety Ibraheim Campbell undercut a route in the flat but couldn't come up with the Martinez pass. After those incompletions, Martinez would miss on only one pass the rest of the afternoon.
The Northwestern defense stopped Martinez and the Cornhusker offense most of the afternoon, relative to the firepower of Bo Pelini's group. But in the end, the cliche of having to play for 60 minutes will ring true for the Wildcats as long they fail to do so.
"I thought we were watching the Cats play volleyball, passing it back and forth," Fitzgerald said. "When you have a chance for a turnover and then you miss it, the football gods usually strike you with some lightning.
"We've got to make those plays to win."

Five unranked boys basketball teams to watch for

Five unranked boys basketball teams to watch for

The first week of the preseason Preps Power Rankings is always difficult to assess. There are plenty of teams who just missed the cut of the initial top 25. Below are a group of talented teams who should do enough to make their way into the Power Rankings at some point during the season.

Most of these teams have experience and star power, so watch for them in the next few weeks to see if they have strong starts to the season. 

DePaul Prep -- The Rams remain one of the major threats in the Catholic League this season as they return plenty of talent from a sectional finals team. Junior guard Perry Cowan and junior big man Pavle Pantovic make up a very solid one-two punch and sophomore guard Lance Mosley had some flashes of strong play during the summer. Seniors Spencer Cody and Anthony Papaioanou are steady contributors as well. The move up to Class 3A will be something to watch for with this team. Since the local Class 2A draw features Orr and Uplift, DePaul Prep might actually have an easier state tournament draw in the higher class.

St. Joseph -- There isn't one true star for the Chargers this season. Head coach Gene Pingatore has a lot of balance and experience but finding a go-to player could be the difference for St. Joseph this season. Senior Ahmad Muhammad will be asked to do a lot with the ball. Other returning seniors like Jalen and Jordan Boyd and Joffari Brown also have plenty of varsity experience. Losing junior point guard Marquise Walker to Curie definitely hurts. But not many teams in the state have four seniors who have already played in Peoria.

Geneva -- It was tough to leave the Vikings out of the preseason Power Rankings as they once again look like a major factor in the Upstate Eight River this season. New head coach Scott Hennig, a former assistant at Geneva, takes over for Phil Ralston (Glenbrook South) as he inherits a solid group of talent. Junior point guard Jack McDonald is an All-Area threat after a standout sophomore season. Another junior, guard Mitch Mascari, was one of the area's best three-point shooters last season. And Geneva also returns plenty of size, including 6-foot-6 senior Will Courter and promising 6-foot-7 sophomore Nate Santos. With the right blend of size and perimeter firepower, Geneva is a team to keep an eye on.

St. Viator -- Making the leap up to Class 4A this season, the Lions return some talented players from a team that made a surprising postseason run last season. St. Viator returns a Division I prospect in talented junior forward Jeremiah Hernandez while senior forward Peter Lambesis is also back. Finding stability at point guard could be the key to this season for the Lions as they have to replace J.R. Cison, who transferred to Lake Zurich. If junior Trey Calvin can step up, then St. Viator shouldn't miss much of a beat. The Lions already started the season with a solid win over Libertyville.

New Trier -- The most intriguing part about New Trier this season is the size on the interior as two junior big men have college aspirations. Ciaran Brayboy, a 6-foot-9 big man and Spencer Boehm a 6-foot-7 forward create one of the area's more talented frontcourts for the Trevians. The frontcourt is a plus and the backcourt, a senior-laden group, is also better and more experienced than last season. New Trier should crack the top 25 at some point this season. 

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

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USA TODAY

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

The White Sox farm system is baseball's best, according to one of the people making those rankings.

In the wake of Major League Baseball's punishment of the Atlanta Braves for breaking rules regarding the signing of international players — which included the removal of 12 illegally signed prospects from the Braves' organization — MLB.com's Jim Callis tweeted out his updated top 10, and the White Sox are back in first place.

Now obviously there are circumstances that weakened the Braves' system, allowing the White Sox to look stronger by comparison. But this is still an impressive thing considering that three of the White Sox highest-rated prospects from the past year are now full-time big leaguers.

Yoan Moncada used to be baseball's No. 1 prospect, and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez weren't too far behind. That trio helped bolster the highly ranked White Sox system. Without them, despite plenty of other highly touted prospects, common sense would say that the White Sox would slide down the rankings.

But the White Sox still being capable of having baseball's top-ranked system is a testament to the organizational depth Rick Hahn has built in such a short period of time.

While prospect rankings are sure to be refreshed throughout the offseason, here's how MLB Pipeline's rankings look right now in regards to the White Sox:

4. Eloy Jimenez
9. Michael Kopech
22. Luis Robert
39. Blake Rutherford
57. Dylan Cease
90. Alec Hansen