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Auburn seeks second trip to state finals

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Auburn seeks second trip to state finals

It took more than a year for high school basketball fans and the media to finally figure out how to spell Fred Van Vleet's last name. Van Vleet, not Van Fleet. In fact, some people still get it wrong. It must be a typo, right? It can't be Van Vleet. It must be Van Fleet, right?

Maybe if Rockford Auburn advances to the finals of the Class 4A tournament in Peoria -- for the second time in school history--everybody will get it right. Once and for all. Fred Van Vleet.

The 6-foot point guard, who is committed to Wichita State, scored 26 points to lead Rockford Auburn to a 66-46 rout of Machesney Park Harlem on Tuesday night in the regional semifinal.

To win the Dundee-Crown sectional and advance to the supersectional at DeKalb, coach Bryan Ott's team likely will have to eliminate Huntley and Elgin, then could face highly rated Warren to earn a spot in the Elite Eight, a daunting task indeed.

It hasn't been easy for Rockford Auburn to get out of its own regional in the past. Legendary coach Dolph Stanley produced the only state qualifier in 1963. His 28-3 team, which was ranked No. 2 in the state, lost in the state quarterfinals. And the school always had to contend with West Rockford and East Rockford and Rockford Boylan and Rockton Hononegah.

In his 13th year at Auburn, Ott has been building for this moment. Last year, his 26-5 team lost to Glenbard East in the supersectional. Three years ago, his 21-5 squad lost to St. Charles North in the sectional semifinal.

This year's team is 27-2 and has won 18 in a row. Its only losses were to Rockton Hononegah by three points in December and to unbeaten and second-ranked Proviso East 75-56 in the semifinals of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"We're better than last year," Ott said. "We have one more year of experience with Van Vleet, who is a great player. We start five seniors, three of whom started last year. We pressure full-court and we get out I transition and finish."

Van Vleet is averaging 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds per game. He is one of the most underrated players in the state and the undisputed leader of a team that most observers overlook in the rush to heap praise on Class 4A powers Simeon and Proviso East.

"He is a coach on the floor, a dynamic ball-handler," Ott said. "His floor vision is second to none. He is a great passer and he does a great job of quarterbacking our man-to-man full-court and half-court defense, which requires a lot of talk."

Van Vleet is backed up by 6-foot senior LaMark Foote (14 ppg), 6-foot-2 senior Jaylin Marshall (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-foot-10 senior Elijah Smith (12 ppg).

Smith, who didn't play much as a junior, has come on strong to become another offensive threat in Auburn's four-guard offense. Marshall is the team's tallest starter and very athletic.

"Lack of size hasn't been a problem for us," Ott said. "We haven't faced any opponents with great size, teams with players who are 6-foot-6 or taller. If we face Warren (in the supersectional), they would be the tallest team we've faced."

Auburn averages 75 points per game but Ott is more concerned with his team's consistency on defense. "For us, we need to be consistent on defense. There are times when we are a shutdown team, then disappear for a quarter and give up silly shots. We aren't as consistent on defense as we were last year," the coach said.

As Auburn attempts to go deeper into the tournament, Ott also is calling upon Marshall and Smith to take more pressure off Van Vleet on offense.

"Marshall has to produce inside. He has to be a threat inside no matter who we are facing," Ott said. "And Smith has to average in double figures so opponents can't double up on Van Vleet and not respect anyone else."

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.