Bulls

Yorkville eyes return to Sweet Sixteen

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Yorkville eyes return to Sweet Sixteen

All coaches can relate to what Dan McGuire has experienced in his first season at Yorkville.

"We have been up and down," McGuire said. "We have had moments where we said: 'Wow!' We are really athletic. But at other times we look like we should be playing sophomore basketball."

McGuire is saying 'Wow!' these days. Yorkville is 20-7 after beating Sandwich 45-31 in its Class 3A regional opener on Tuesday night and will carry a five-game winning streak into Friday night's final against Aurora Central Catholic.

Yorkville is seeking its third trip to the supersectional. The Foxes qualified in 1995 and 2002 under former coaches Chris Nelson and Jerry Farber. They were 25-2 and 26-2 in 2004 and 2005 under Farber but never got out of the sectional. Last year's 15-10 team lost to Morris in the regional semifinal.

Even though he graduated four starters from last year's squad, McGuire felt this year's team would be better than its third-place finish behind Rochelle and De Kalb in the Northern Illinois Big 12. Five of its seven losses are to conference rivals, two to Rochelle and De Kalb.

"We knew we had some good athletes," McGuire said. "Last year, we had a lot of seniors so these kids didn't play much. They had to take time to get used to playing varsity basketball and a new system. But they are a good group, a bunch of fighters."

McGuire, a 1998 graduate of West Aurora, played basketball for veteran coach Gordon Kerkman. But he didn't play basketball in college. Instead, he played football and tennis at Aurora University.

He was an in-school suspension teacher at West Aurora when he learned of a job opening at Yorkville. He was a volunteer assistant on the freshman team, then moved up to Farber's varsity assistant. When Farber retired last year, McGuire became head coach.

The Foxes are led by 6-foot-1 senior Stefen Jones (14 ppg), who played only three or four minutes per game last season but has developed into a major force this season. He had 11 points, all in the second half, to spark Yorkville's victory over Sandwich.

Other starters are 6-foot-6 senior Josh Williams (10 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot senior Brandon Holmes (6 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot senior Cody Bailey (10 ppg) and 5-foot-10 senior Derek Piszczek (6 ppg), a four-year varsity player who has come back after undergoing serious knee surgery last summer. Taylor Carter, a 6-foot-2 junior, is a sparkplug off the bench.

Against Sandwich, Williams had 11 rebounds and Carter converted two three-pointers in the fourth quarter and sealed the victory.

"We're not big but we're athletic and we play at a fast tempo," McGuire said. "We have five good players who start. Opponents can't zero in on one player. A lot of guys have stepped up in different games.

"To keep going (deep into the playoff), our seniors have to show leadership and step up and do things at the end of games that we need to do to win...contest shots, rebound, little things that separate wins and losses."

McGuire said the most important thing that has turned this team into a 20-game winner is chemistry, something he wasn't sure of when the season began with so many inexperienced players vying for playing time.

"These kids get along," he said. "They don't care who scores 20 points or no points. They just want to win. They make an extra pass for a kid to get a layup. There is no animosity. You never know what will happen when you are dealing with high school kids who are stepping into new roles of leadership. But these kids have handled the challenge."

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“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.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“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.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA playoffs are finally here for all of boys basketball as regionals begin this week in the Class 3A and 4A. Since Class 2A only has one team in the top 25, defending champion Orr, most of the focus on the Power Rankings falls on teams in the Class 3A and 4A fields. 

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- The heavy favorites in Class 4A, the Wolverines start the playoffs against Hubbard or Reavis before potentially facing Sandburg or Crete-Monee for a regional title.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- The Spartans won a regional in Class 2A as they move on to play Uplift in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday. The Titans might be the toughest team Orr faces in its quest to repeat as 2A champions. 

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The No. 1 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional of Class 4A, the Condors could face York or Riverside-Brookfield for a regional title as that could be a tough matchup. 

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- The defending Class 4A champions are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could face St. Joseph or St. Ignatius for a regional title next week. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) -- The Mustangs will try to repeat in Class 3A as they might face Vocational or Perspectives/Leadership for a regional title. Now that Ayo Dosunmu is healthy and back, Morgan Park should be the favorites once again.

6. Fenwick (19-7, 8-0) (6) -- Catholic League champion Fenwick is up in Class 4A this year as they're a No. 4 seed in a loaded Riverside-Brookfield Sectional. The Friars might have a showdown with Proviso East for a regional title if both teams win earlier in the week. 

7. Evanston (21-5, 8-2) (8) -- The Loaded Maine East Sectional will be tough but Evanston is the No. 1 seed. The Wildkits could have a tough regional title game ahead of them as Maine West and Notre Dame are both capable of making it a close game.

8. Oak Park-River Forest (22-5, 12-0) (9) -- Knocking off Hinsdale South for the West Suburban crown, the Huskies have a lot of positive momentum entering the Class 4A playoffs. OPRF is the No. 3 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could play Lincoln Park for a regional title.

9. Benet (23-4, 8-1) (10) -- With a 14-game winning streak entering the playoffs, the Redwings are red hot. Benet is the No. 2 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional in Class 4A as they could match up with Naperville Central or Glenbard West for a regional title. 

10. West Aurora (21-4, 10-0) (11) -- Winners of 13 straight, West Aurora is the No. 2 seed in the Romeoville Sectional. The Blackhawks could face Andrew or Plainfield North for a regional title at Plainfield South. 

11. Marist (24-4, 7-2) (12) -- An impressive 24-win season has Marist as the No. 2 seed in the Thornton Sectional as they host a Class 4A regional. The RedHawks might play Thornwood or Bloom to win that regional on Friday night. 

12. Niles North (24-4, 6-4) (13) -- The Vikings took down New Trier to pick up a great win right before the loaded Maine East Sectional in Class 4A. Niles North, a No. 3 seed, might have to face ESCC champion St. Viator for a regional title, which would be one of the most-anticipated matchups in Class 4A. 

13. New Trier (22-5, 8-2) (7) -- Dropping two games during the week, New Trier is limping into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Maine East Sectional. It won't get any easier for the Trevians as they might face Mid-Suburban champion Prospect for a regional title.

14. Naperville North (24-2, 15-1) (15) -- The top seed in the Glenbard East Sectional, Naperville North hosts its own regional in Class 4A. The Huskies might play Geneva or Downers North for a regional title. 

15. DePaul Prep (21-6, 5-3) (16) -- The No. 1 seed in the North Chicago Sectional, DePaul Prep hosts its own regional in Class 3A. The Rams could face Foreman or Sullivan for a regional title as DePaul Prep has a winnable sectional. 

16. Loyola (22-6, 5-3) (17) -- Loyola is the No. 4 seed in the Maine East Sectional. The Ramblers could have a tough regional final against host and No. 5 seed Maine South as that would make for a great matchup.

17. Marian Catholic (20-5, 5-4) (14) -- A No. 1 seed in the Pontiac Sectional of Class 3A, the Spartans will be one of the teams to watch in that field. Marian Catholic could potentially take on Thornridge or Rich Central for a regional title during the week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (18) -- The Hawks are a No. 2 seed in the Pontiac Sectional in Class 3A as they try to make another deep run in March. Hillcrest could face Rich East or Oak Forest for a regional title.

19. Homewood-Flossmoor (19-6, 9-1) (20) -- The Vikings had some close wins during the week preparing for the Class 4A field. Homewood-Flossmoor could play Oak Lawn for a regional title at T.F. South this week. 

20. St. Viator (23-5, 9-0) (22) -- The unbeaten champs in the ESCC, the Lions are on a six-game winning streak. A No. 6 seed in the Maine East Sectional, St. Viator could have a major test against Niles North for a Class 4A regional title. 

21. Bolingbrook (19-6, 7-3) (23) -- Top seed in the Romeoville Sectional, the Raiders have been a major threat in the postseason the past few years. Bolingbrook might play Lemont or Plainfield East for a regional title.

22. Maine South (21-7, 6-4) (24) -- The Hawks have the recent win over Niles North as they're the No. 5 seed in the Maine East Sectional. As the host in the regional, Maine South could get a home game against No. 4 seed Loyola.

23. Hinsdale South (20-6, 10-2) (21) -- Hinsdale South dropped a close one to OPRF right before the postseason. The Hornets might face Willowbrook for a regional title as the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional as the two teams split the season series. 

24. Willowbrook (23-5, 9-3) (25) -- The Warriors had an outstanding season as they are in the tough Glenbard East Sectional. A No. 5 seed, Willowbrook could face Hinsdale South for a regional title, which could be the best title game of the entire week. 

25. Jacobs (24-3, 16-0) (NR) -- Winners of the Fox Valley for the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles are on a roll as they're a No. 2 seed in the Jacobs Sectional in Class 4A. If Jacobs gets senior Ryan Phillips back from hand injury they could be dangerous.