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High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

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High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

Its Conference Showdown Week on High School Lites. Pivotal games dot the Chicago basketball landscape this weekend. The keys to the West Suburban Gold title could end up going to the Downers Grove South-Proviso East winner. In the Southwest Suburban Red, will Andrew remain undefeated after Fridays tilt at Thornwood? And who takes control of the Mid-Suburban West: Schaumburg or Barrington? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

Thursday games

No. 1 Simeon (16-1) @ Vocational (15-6), 4:00 p.m.

Simeon head coach Robert Smith said that Mondays loss to nationally-ranked Findlay Prep woke the team up a bit. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Wednesdays victory over Urban Prep-Englewood. Jabari Parker had a game high 32 points in the 83-39 victory. That sets the stage for Thursdays game against a Vocational team that took care of Carver on Wednesday, 67-55. The Wolverines will travel to Memphis Saturday for a game against Southwind (TN) in the Penny Hardaway Hoop Fest.

GIRLS: Lincoln-Way Central (10-8) @ Bolingbrook (14-1), 7:00 p.m.

Connecticut-bound senior forward Morgan Tuck is close to unstoppable. She had 32 points and 20 rebounds Tuesday night against Lincoln-Way East (a double-double at halftime) in a 78-48 victory. Lincoln-Way Central has stayed above water this season thanks to the efforts of players like Rachel Post and Autumn Schultz. If the Knights are to improve on their 77-22 loss to Bolingbrook earlier in the season, containing Tuck is a must.

No. 2 Proviso East (14-0) @ No. 10 Downers Grove South (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Not many teams can say that they will face two top-five opponents in one season, much less in one week. And back-to-back. Such is life for the 10th ranked Mustangs, who face the Pirates for first place in the West Suburban Gold Thursday, then turn around to battle No. 4 Warren on Saturday. Souths Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison comprise one of the top backcourts in the state, but Proviso Easts powerful lineup is one that could play in Peoria. Talented St. Louis-bound guard Keith Carter is every bit as good as advertised.

Friday games

No. 15 Whitney Young (8-6) @ North Lawndale (12-5), 5:30 p.m.

Both the Phoenix and the 15th-ranked Dolphins are coming off conference losses on Wednesday, which makes Fridays Red-West contest all the more important. 6-10 sophomore center Jahlil Okafor is coming off a 34 point performance for Whitney Young. Davonte Johnson, Kelvin Grayson and Alonzo Singletary are some of the key contributors for North Lawndale, who are among the teams chasing Marshall in conference play.

No. 5 Andrew (13-0) @ Thornwood (11-5), 6:30 p.m.

The weather forecasters are calling for snow Friday nightbut a thunderstorm might happen in South Holland. Cheesy references aside, the Thunderbolts and Thunderbirds tangle in a game for the outright lead in the Southwest Suburban Red. Both teams stand at 5-0 in the conference. Andrews Adekoya brothers (Jubril and Jawad) will be tested by Thornwood seniors Darrell Combs (G) and Khapri Alston (F). The two teams meet again in Tinley Park on February 21st.

No. 16 St. Ignatius (13-2) @ No. 9 De La Salle (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Which Catholic North team will be left standing at the top of the mountain? The Wolfpack and Meteors comprise two of the three conference leaders (St. Rita being the other). The game has added significance because it represents a rematch of the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament championship, won by St. Ignatius in overtime. Iggys Brian Howard hit a clutch three in that game but Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis of De La Salle are eager to answer the call this time around.

St. Patrick (7-7) @ No. 19 Notre Dame (14-4), 7:30 p.m.

Its one of the classic rivalries in the state. The visiting Shamrocks have won three of their last four, including Saturdays 62-45 triumph over Niles West. They have a pair of talented seniors in forward Ismar Seferagic and guard Royale Ewing. The Dons have won three straight and have wins this season over Crete-Monee, Brother Rice and Marist to their credit. And its all about balance with Notre Dame. No player on their roster is averaging in double figures, but keep an eye on junior guard Matt Mooney.

Niles North (12-5) @ Glenbrook North (13-3), 7:30 p.m.

The Spartans don't have to worry about Abdel Nader on the Niles North roster anymore. However, they have to be concerned about the Vikings' 5-6 point guard Malachi Nix. He is quick on both sides of the floor and has range with his shot. Niles North can tie Glenbrook North for first in the Central Suburban North with a win, but look for head coach Dave Weber and company to respond. Guard Kurt Karis and forward Mark Johnson have been on fire of late.

Glenbard West (11-2) @ Oak Park-River Forest (10-4), 7:30 p.m.

Now that Ka'Darryl Bell is back, look out. The Bradley-bound guard has returned to the OPRF lineup after missing a month with an injury to his right wrist. But this game might come down to the big men. The Huskies feature three players 6-7 and above, including Gabe Levin (16 points, 12 boards against Lyons on Saturday). The Hilltoppers boast twin towers Michael and Matthew Mache (both 6-6) and 6-8 center Pat Mazza.

No. 4 Warren (12-2) @ Lake Zurich (11-9), 7:30 p.m.

The Blue Devils continue to keep their foot on the gas in 2012. Their last two wins have been by a combined 49 points (Libertyville and Lakes). Seniors Nathan Boothe (C) and Darius Paul (F) continue to dominate opponents. But Lake Zurich has been sneaky-tough this year. They have nice wins over Barrington and Stevenson. Their go-to guy is 6-6 Mirko Grcic, a versatile player who can do damage in the paint and from beyond the arc.

Schaumburg (13-4) @ Barrington (12-6), 7:30 p.m.

First place in the Mid-Suburban West is up for grabs Friday night in Barrington, with the host Broncos coming off a 61-41 rout of Fremd. Future Western Illinois forward John Schneider is back in their lineup. He will be playing in his third game of the season after breaking his finger. The Saxons will counter with senior forward Christian Spandiary and junior point guard Kyle Bolger. Barrington took the December 16th contest at Schaumburg, 45-44.

Every Friday night at 10:30, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This week's episode will air just after the Blackhawks-Panthers game and SportsNet Central. We'll also have in-depth feature stories and take a look back down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment. This week, be sure to check out CSN's Muscle Milk Team of the Week, Crane High School. The Condors have several college prospects, including 6-9, 230-pound sophomore Cliff Alexander. Could they play in Peoria this March? Curie has only lost to one team: the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

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

Robin Lehner got best of 'reverse psychology' with Blackhawks familiarity in Game 1

Robin Lehner got best of 'reverse psychology' with Blackhawks familiarity in Game 1

On Tuesday, former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner and the Vegas Golden Knights got the better of the Hawks in Game 1 of their Round One Stanley Cup Playoff series, winning 4-1.

Lehner saved 19 of 20 shots from Chicago, but his own equipment made him more uncomfortable in net than his former team.

The 29-year-old goalie had to have a skate blade repaired twice in the second period.

"I was pretty frustrated. It's the first time that's ever happened to me," Lehner said following the game. ... "You kind of get into it and I didn't really know what happened there at first, but you have to battle through it. The rule is when we have possession they can blow it. Kind of tough for a goalie with one skate."

The Blackhawks hit a post the first time Lehner had blade trouble, but otherwise didn't capitalize on his skate malfunction.

Chicago got away from what worked in the Oilers series against goalies Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen in creating traffic in front of the net to take away the goalie's eyes and trying for deflections. Vegas' D did a good job of pushing the Hawks to the outside and away from the crease.

According to Lehner, when the Blackahwks did have chances, knowing their tendencies from playing with them earlier in the year — before he was traded to Vegas ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline — played to his advantage in Game 1.

"I think I'm foremost a reading goalie. I know a lot of their tendencies, I know what they're trying to do on the power play and etc.," The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist said. "But it becomes a little bit of reverse psychology. I knew that they know (that) and they were going to mix it up a little bit on me. On all the really in-tight chances today they tried to go five-hole, so I kind of anticipated that before the game and next game they're probably going to try something else."

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Bulls mailbag (once again): What's Jim Boylen's status? Is anyone on roster safe?

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USA Today

Bulls mailbag (once again): What's Jim Boylen's status? Is anyone on roster safe?

It’s August. And we just set a record for most questions asked in a Bulls mailbag. You nutty people.

Christian J.: The front office has had all this time to watch games of Jim Boylen coaching to know deep down that he's not the right coach for this team. Do you think Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will give pushback to ownership to get a new coach once the guy they want becomes available and do you think AK will question Michael Reinsdorf on agreement of full autonomy during his hire?

Karnisovas does own full autonomy. And the criteria for presenting a coaching change to ownership is the same now as it was when ownership hired Karnisovas. He’s free to make a change if he wishes, but was told to take time to get to know Boylen and evaluate him fully before doing so. That’s what Karnisovas and Eversley are doing. The Bulls may not be playing, but the 2019-20 season isn’t over yet. The Bulls, as of now, aren’t allowed group activities. So what’s the rush?

I feel like there’s this perception of the new management regime already at odds with ownership. That’s simply not accurate. To think the coaching situation wasn’t discussed during the interview process would be naïve, in my estimation. Nothing has changed. The evaluation process is ongoing.

And here’s the thing: This unprecedented offseason affording Karnisovas plenty of time for this critical decision seems consistent with the reputation of his personality anyway. He’s known as a thoughtful, deliberate decision-maker who tries to develop substantive, genuine relationships before holding people accountable. With no known timeline for the 2020-21 season set yet, he has that luxury regarding Boylen and his staff. Yes, Gar Forman was out early in Karnisovas' tenure, and some staff shuffling has occurred in recent months — though most of the latter were based on option deadlines.

This is a longshot hypothetical: But what if the 2020-21 season start date gets pushed to March — because that will allow for a full season of fans in arenas — and a previously unavailable coaching candidate becomes available that Karnisovas loves? Doesn’t it make sense for him to take time on this decision?

It seems fitting that, unless he has a burner account, Karnisovas isn’t on Twitter. In this day and age of immediacy and absolutes, I understand the angst for some fans regarding this decision. But Karnisovas is taking the long view, not the 140-character one. Or is it 280 now?

Austin C.: Do you think Arturas is going to fire Boylen? I’ve seen a lot of rumors going around that we are going to keep him because of financial concerns.

From the start, I’ve taken Karnisovas’ words at face value. He has said he’s going to take time to make this critical decision. Each time I’ve done some reporting on this story, it has appeared to remain in the evaluation stage for him. But there are plenty of signs pointing towards a '20-21 collaboration. Management and the coaching staff have met to discuss player development. They’ve talked draft and free agency. And they’ve had discussions about the offense. 

Since you’re asking for my prediction, my guess is this: With the 2020-21 season so uncertain — when does it start? Will it be 82 games? — and the roster likely to look largely the same, Boylen returns. Karnisovas and Eversley use the 2020-21 season to evaluate the staff and roster during game action. Then, potential big changes arrive during the 2021 offseason. That’s when the deals of Otto Porter Jr. and Cristiano Felício expire and significant salary cap space is possible. The contracts of Thaddeus Young — if he’s not dealt this offseason — and Tomáš Satoranský are easily movable or waivable because of partial guarantees. You have another season of Zach LaVine data to determine if he’s a building block or trade chip. And you solidify the coaching situation long-term.

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The money is only one layer to Karnisovas’ decision on Boylen. Let’s not forget, ownership hired Karnisovas and Eversley during a global pandemic. So it’s not like the financial outlook changed from then to now for ownership. It’s not like ownership has moved the goalposts on management’s autonomy. My sense is, given the daunting, long-term financial ramifications of the pandemic, ownership conveyed during the interview process that any coaching change recommendation would have to be a thoroughly presented one, possibly with a proven candidate.

Also, as I’ve written this several times, it’s not just Boylen’s contract that ownership would eat. Assistant coaches Chris Fleming — who Karnisovas likes and worked with in Denver — and Roy Rogers just finished the first of three-year deals. This is why, at least for now, Karnisovas and Eversley have worked to empower Boylen and his staff. To me, that’s leadership. Coaching development can be a thing, too.

Timothy G.: If the Bulls keep Boylen, do you think some Bulls players like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen will demand a trade?

And to think: Just a year ago at this time, videos of Boylen cannonballing off a dock into a pristine Finnish lake alongside Markkanen surfaced via social media. And Boylen had crashed LaVine’s vacation, their relationship never better.

Neither player possesses a rock-the-boat personality. But I do think the LaVine situation, in particular, is worth monitoring.

This, to me, is where Karnisovas and Eversley have to do their work if they choose to retain Boylen. They’ve talked about creating a players-first organization. They are also both known for developing strong relationships with players. You can create a positive atmosphere for players even if not all decisions are popular ones.

So far, the Bulls have received strong buy-in for voluntary offseason workouts, including a trip to Chicago from LaVine. Markkanen, who typically spends his offseason in Finland, has been here plenty.

It’s also important to remember that this regime isn’t married to any players. As mentioned above, I see this regime using this season to evaluate the roster more fully in advance of potential significant changes during the 2021 offseason.

Drew S: Do you think the Bulls’ brass believes any player currently on the roster is untradeable?

Not one bit. In fact, very few players currently on the roster fit the description of the type of players that Karnisovas values most, based on his own words. Here’s what he said in April:

“I already had a conversation with Jim kind of talking about what kind of style of play I would like, what kind of players I like. Obviously, I like high pace. Moving the ball. We were able to be a very good passing team in Denver. It’s a very entertaining brand of basketball. I like multi-positional players. I like guys with high basketball IQ that play off each other. But that takes time. Obviously, you’ve got a read-and-react kind of offense, which I like. So in the short term what needs to happen is we begin to establish a culture of who we are as a team.”

In that vein, I’d expect a tweaked offensive system for the 2020-21 season. Conversations between management and the coaching staff along those lines already have taken place. But both Karnisovas and Eversley are also on record as saying they're intrigued by the young talent on the roster — particularly as to why certain players underachieved. So internal improvement, not wholesale changes initially, is likely where the focus rests for now.

Blake C.: If we assume Boylen is the coach for 20-21, what might a successful year look like? Trading emerging stars for draft equity a la the Celtics? Hoping for a big splash in free agency for 2021? Or clear improvement and a possible playoff berth?

I’d say a combination of the latter two. The first scenario involves another total restart. Best case scenario: You get internal improvement from a couple of the intriguing, young pieces on the roster as the new regime determines which players it’s keeping and which it’s not. You compete for a lower-level playoff spot. And you significantly improve the roster through 2021 free agency.

Even more ideally, this all occurs as the new regime adds impactful young pieces via the draft. Look at the Nuggets’ roster. It’s teeming with homegrown players who are making an impact. Karnisovas played a significant role in that.

Alejandro Y.: How can the Reinsdorfs be hurting for money when they own one of the most valuable franchises in the world? I was wondering if you could summarize the Reinsdorfs’ situation. The Lakers are a family-run franchise too, and they never plead money issues. We're not at that monetized level, but it's not far either, right?

The Reinsdorfs run a business and are free to operate it how they see fit. For what it's worth, I’ve heard of no layoffs or furloughs throughout the Bulls. Also: Jerry Reinsdorf is chairman of the organization. He has other investors to consider. As previously mentioned, money is only one layer to the Boylen decision.

As for your other point, I don’t cover the Lakers so I can’t speak to their dynamic. But I will say: To suggest that an organization that applied for, received, and quickly returned a reported $4.6 million "small business" loan during the pandemic never pleads money issues is amusing.

Marcus C.: Hey KC, I know you’re sick and tired of Boylen questions and people flooding your mentions. But rehiring Boylen over a couple million would be the last straw for me and many others. Not only is it a slap in the face to the players, but it’s also a giant middle finger to this fanbase. Are the Reinsdorfs so out of touch that they’re willing to tank all immediate and future goodwill over a few million (dollars)? Millions are unemployed, but Jerry expects us to feel bad for him and continue to support this. Do they really think fans will be understanding and sympathetic to this move? Not only will this hurt the team in the short run, but it’ll be disastrous long-term given the negative stigma that’s already plagued this organization. Why as fans should we care anymore if the owners only view us as potential revenue?

Well, you don’t have to. That’s your choice as a fan. Also, fans may not be allowed into arenas next season. So there’s that.

Your larger point is a valid counterpoint, though. Retaining Boylen would not be welcomed by a loud segment of the fan base. (I covered the player dynamic in a previous answer.) It would affect, at least in the short-term, some of the goodwill created by the managerial changes.

But what if the team stayed healthy and improved? What if Boylen tweaked the offense and, focusing strictly on coaching, showed growth? Winning changes everything. And if he’s retained and it went off the rails, could management make a change then, perhaps on an interim basis?

I disagree retaining Boylen would have disastrous long-term impact, though. I expect a new-look Bulls organization to more fully take shape by the 2021-22 season.  

Oscar, Sydney AUS: Howdy. Firstly, why are fans so fickle? Obviously it’s frustrating when your team has not been successful in recent times. But when you really look at it, the Bulls actually have a decent core of promising young talent that ended up losing a bunch of close games while having key guys out all year. With that said, my actual question is if things get back on track and Markkanen returns to form next season, do you see the Bulls re-signing Wendell Carter Jr. the following year after signing Markkanen to what you would assume would have to be a relatively significant contract?

I think you paint a slightly-too-rosy picture of all things Bulls. They have a long way to go. Yes, injuries hurt them. Yes, they have some intriguing young pieces and were in a ton of close games. But the roster isn’t exactly flush with two-way players. And the intriguing pieces they do have need to show they can thrive together.

I’m less worried about the Carter-Markkanen fit than some. I think they can complement each other well. They both are willing passers with high basketball IQs. Carter may be undersized, but he can be an effective rim protector with his wingspan and instincts. He needs to learn how to avoid foul trouble.

@BullsNationOZ, via Twitter: I’m sick of everyone asking for Jim to go. Steve Kerr would only get five more wins out of this roster. Now, a new coach would be great, but the more pressing issue is this roster.

As I said, a lot of work remains. And actually, that’s another thing to consider regarding the coaching situation: Might management want to wait to bring in its hand-picked choice until the roster is more to its liking? Just a thought.

Shannon R.: Due to financial ramifications of the pandemic and the draft class being considered as weak, it’s been reported/speculated that teams may be willing to sell their first-round picks. Do you think there’s some truth to that?  What do you think would be easier to sell to ownership — firing Boylen or buying an additional pick? If I had to choose, I’d choose an additional pick.

I don’t think it’d be an either/or, but if I had to choose, I’d agree with you.

Wilfred B.: From the very start of when the Bulls hired AK and Marc Eversley we have heard from them and Michael Reinsdorf that they wanted to modernize the front office to get with the times. Apart from the two hires at the very start, we haven't heard much on that front and how they are building out the front office and what hires they are making. Do you have any insight into that process and do you know if they have decided on who's worth keeping and who's not from the past regime?

From what I’ve been told, they plan to build out the player development department. As for the timeline on that, I’m not sure. I do know the coaching staff has been asked for input on player development philosophy.

Karnisovas and Eversley are using holdovers like Brian Hagen and Jim Paxson and Steve Weinman for draft meetings and analytics projects. Karnisovas is on record as saying he plans no additional front-office changes this offseason. They do need to hire an athletic trainer

@thegeorgeyou, via Twitter: There’s no winning in the NBA without a superstar. We can draft well, but the only realistic path to contention is signing Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis. Do you think the Bulls will be players this offseason or in 2021?

Is Nikola Jokic a superstar? Karnisovas worked for the Nuggets when that franchise nabbed him in the second round. But your larger point remains: The Bulls need to upgrade the roster. As it stands, it’s filled with intriguing young pieces, but no superstars as of yet. LaVine is the closest to All-Star level.

As for free agency, the Bulls project to have cap space in 2021, not this offseason.

Matt A., Australia: Assuming Otto opts in, which we all agree is pretty much a given, what free agents do you see the Bulls going after this offseason?

Given the injury history of Porter and Chandler Hutchison, I’d guess wing depth will be a focus. Moe Harkless, Wesley Matthews, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Jae Crowder are names that make sense at the price point for teams that will be using exceptions, like the Bulls.

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