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High School Lites preview: Suburban schools square off

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High School Lites preview: Suburban schools square off

With the bulk of Chicago teams on hiatus until the start of the Public League playoffs start next week, its time to showcase some key suburban battles on High School Lites. Our CSN cameras will be all over Chicagoland Friday night. The hottest team in the area might be York high school. Can they win their 12th straight game? Can Minooka get revenge on Plainfield East? And how loud will the fans be at the Illiana Christian-Timothy Christian battle royale? 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 GAME

Benet (15-4) @ St. Viator (17-3), 7:30pm

The host Lions are holding onto first place in the East Suburban Catholic conference. Nipping at their heels: Benet. The Redwings no longer have Dave Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, but they do have another D-1 prospect in 6-8 sophomore Sean OMara. St. Viator has a talented point guard in D.J. Morris, along with fellow senior supporting cast members of Kevin Walsh and Chris Myjak. Look for a very competitive division battle in Arlington Heights.

FRIDAY GAMES

Rich East (9-11) @ 17 Bloom (18-3), 6:30pm

Lejavious Johnson and Donald Moore are the keys to success for Bloom this season, but players like Johnny Griffin have stepped up to support the Blazing Trojans cause this year. Griffin had 10 points and six rebounds as Bloom drilled Kankakee 77-27 on Tuesday. Rich East played well against Bloom earlier in the year, falling only by nine (59-50). The Rockets, a well-balanced team, have already upset fellow Southland conference mate Rich South.

Minooka (17-6) @ 6 Plainfield East (18-1), 7:00pm

It's been a dream season so far for sixth-ranked Plainfield East, a school that has only been in existence for four years. The Bengals, who are coming off a 64-37 win over Plainfield Central Tuesday night, figure to be tested against Southwest Prairie rival Minooka. The Indians, led by guard Ben Heide, will be looking to avenge a 54-53 loss to East in December. They will match up against a talented group of Bengals, including center Brian Bennett and guard Dee Brown.

Lake Park (15-5) @ Waubonsie Valley (14-7), 7:30pm

The Lancers of Lake Park have been -- very quietly -- creeping into the fabric of upper-tier basketball program conversation in Chicagoland. It makes Fridays game at Waubonsie all the more important. LP, winners of five of six, feature a strong forward in Dominique Spencer. Waubonsie had won eight of nine but currently carry a two-game losing streak. Seniors Jared Brownridge and Demetrius Gray look to carry the load for the Warriors.

Glenbard North (13-4) @ West Aurora (16-3), 7:30pm

Friday is Senior Night at West Aurora, so it figures to be an electric atmosphere. One of those seniors, Jawan Starks, is having an exceptional season. He scored 21 points in Tuesdays 75-40 win over Naperville Central, but twisted his ankle in the second half of that game. He hopes to return Friday against a Glenbard North team featuring high-flying senior forward Josh Fleming. The Blackhawks, who defeated the Panthers 66-52 on December 16th, will look to keep pace with Naperville North in the DuPage Valley.

10 De La Salle (14-3) @ St. Rita (11-8), 7:30pm

If there was a ranking of the top 10 most thrilling games of the 2011-12 season in Chicagland, the St. Rita-De La Salle game on December 2nd have prime real estate on the list. Rita's Tony Hicks scored 31 points as the Mustangs took down the Meteors 66-64 in double overtime in the season opener for both teams. Gavin Schilling and Alex Foster power De La Salle's attack. St. Rita currently has a one game lead over DLS in the Catholic North.

Timothy Christian (11-11) @ Illiana Christian (10-10), 7:30pm

It has been said that classic rivalries are so much better when the two teams are evenly matched. Given the records, what's not to like about Timothy Christian vs. Illiana Christian? The gym in Lansing should be rocking Friday night, as usual. Illiana is coming off a 67-60 win over Fenton. Jon Zandstra is deadly from behind the arc. He had six threes against Fenton. Timothy will respond with junior guard Danny Leach. Timothy beat Illiana in Elmhurst on December 9th.

Buffalo Grove (9-12) @ Rolling Meadows (12-7)

The staff at Rolling Meadows picked a good time to have 'Pack The Place' night. The host Mustangs, first place in the Mid-Suburban East, are balanced top to bottom. Senior guard Brian Nelms is one player that will carry the offense. Buffalo Grove is on a tear. The Bison have won four straight, including Saturday's 49-39 win against Niles West. Guards Luke Potnick and Andrew Apel have contributed nicely this season.

Schaumburg (16-5) @ Fremd (13-8)

A three-way tie atop the Mid-Suburban West could be in the books Friday night if Fremd beats Schaumburg and Barrington beats Palatine. The visiting Saxons, 6-1 in the league, have won seven of their last eight. Forward Christian Spandiary and guard Kyle Bolger. Fremd is coming off a 61-30 walloping of Carmel. Adam Gorecki and Garrett Peters are two of the leaders on the Vikings, who are 5-2 in the MSW.

York (16-7) @ Lyons (8-10)

Kudos to York head coach Tom Kleinschmidt. After his team was pretty much forgotten in December, the former DePaul standout has guided his young Dukes to 11 straight wins. Junior David Cohn, one of the top point guard prospects in the state, has fueled the resurgence. Lyons is also hot, winning six of their last seven. Senior guard Kenneth Smith will lead the Lions into this West Suburban Silver showdown.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. Well also take an in-depth look at Plainfield East High School, our Muscle Milk Team of the Week. Amazingly, East has only been in existence for four years and yet they boast a top-10 program. What has been the key to their success? Plus, well feature a former 6-8 Morton Mustang star in our Flashback segment, and youll get caught up on the top-ranked Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than. This weeks episode will appear at 11:30pm, just after our Chicago Blackhawks hockey coverage.

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

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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USA Today Sports Images

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
 
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
 
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
 
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
 
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
 
2. Multiple weapons
 
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
 
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
 
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
 
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
 
3. History repeating itself
 
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
 
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
 
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
 
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”