Preps Talk

Wildcats breeze past South Dakota

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Wildcats breeze past South Dakota

EVANSTON Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter ripped open a plastic bag and popped some Swedish Fish into his mouth.

After a 38-7 rout of FCS opponent South Dakota on Saturday, Colter was able to enjoy the gummy candy during his postgame interview.

Now comes the hard part.

The Wildcats open Big Ten play next week after going 4-0 in their non-conference schedule.

As we go into Big Ten play, we expect to win games, expect to win the conference, Colter said. Were not going to get too high when we have success.

Northwestern was the only college football team to go 3-0 against BCS teams in beating Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College, but the Wildcats understand a new season begins Saturday against Indiana.

While we did go 4-0 in the non-conference, it doesnt mean much if you dont do well in conference, defensive end Quentin Williams said. Its gratifying to be 4-0. Were in a great place right now, but we have a long way to go and were going to work toward it.

In their non-conference finale, the Wildcats wanted to establish their running game and get younger players on the field. They met their goals Venric Mark rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns, and Northwestern finished with 277 yards on the ground. Several reserves got playing time, as third-string quarterback Zack Oliver made his first career appearance.

Weve been running the ball really well, Colter said. The offensive line has done a great job opening up some holes. The running backs have been running hard. If its not broke, dont fix it, so were going to keep coming back to that (running game).

If you can dominate the run game, you have a great chance of winning. The running game is working for us, so were going to stick to that.

Mark finished six yards short of his career high for single-game rushing yards, set two weeks ago against Vanderbilt. He rushed for three touchdowns and 97 yards before halftime.

Venric is playing at a very high level right now, coach Pat Fitzgerald said. The way hes been able to run the ball between the tackles hes proven that he can. He has great speed, great vision. The way hes gone about his business the first four weeks has been outstanding. The heavy lifting starts in Big Ten play.

With its running game marching down the field, Northwestern didnt need much of a passing game. The Wildcats five rushing touchdowns were their most since 2009. The three quarterbacks combined to pass 15 times, completing 12 for 131 yards. Northwestern has yet to throw an interception.

Both Colter and backup Trevor Siemian got banged up but OK. Colter came out in the first quarter with a wrist injury. He said he might have landed on the wrist wrong and irritated a previous injury. Siemian went down after getting hit with a blitz late in the first quarter and nearly threw an interception, but he also returned.

A week ago, Northwestern kicked five field goals and scored its lone touchdown on its final play on offense against Boston College. This time, the Wildcats had no trouble finding the end zone, scoring touchdowns during three of their first four drives and commanding a 28-0 halftime lead.

Number one, we ran the ball more efficiently, Fitzgerald said. We were able to control the line of scrimmage, which obviously if you can run the ball, it makes things a lot easier. Number two, we just executed. A week ago, we just werent executing.

Fitzgerald also liked his teams focus against an FCS team. While fellow Big Ten teams struggled against supposedly lesser opponents, as Iowa lost to Central Michigan and Michigan State held on against Eastern Michigan, Northwestern had little trouble Saturday.

Weve gotta get better and keep embracing that through this journey, Fitzgerald said. We got better this week. Now the challenge gets a lot harder.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”