Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lake Park Pulls Away From Bartlett, Advances To Regional Title Game

Lake Park might have the best high school gym mural I’ve ever seen.

Lake Park 57 Bartlett 50

Sparked by a furious finish to the third quarter, host Lake Park defeated Bartlett 57-50 Tuesday night in a Class 4A regional semifinal in Roselle.

After trailing the entire first half, Bartlett took a 28-24 lead with five and half minutes left in the third quarter. Lake Park responded with a 15-2 run to close out the third, and took a 39-30 lead into the fourth quarter. The run was led by Zach Wagner, who scored nine points in the third quarter.

“We picked up the defensive intensity and it just translated into momentum on offense,” said Wagner. “After that, we just went on a roll and got confident. We just kept on hitting shot after shot.”

The Lancers continued their run in the fourth quarter, opening up a 15 point lead (51-36) with four minutes left in the final frame. Lake Park outscored the Hawks 27-8 over a 10 minute stretch of the second half to take control of the game.

Dave Prentis made three three-pointers and had 11 points during that stretch.

“There was a point in that third quarter where the game could have gone either way,” said Lake Park head coach Josh Virostko. “If we didn’t get some stops, create some opportunities for ourselves, and they extended that four point lead, we probably lose tonight. We made a run, and got up double-digits pretty quick, and then we controlled the tempo the rest of the way.”

Wagner led Lake Park (19-8) with 19 points and six rebounds, while Dominique Spencer had 16 points and five rebounds for the Lancers.

Bartlett (14-15) was led by Jonathan Leigeber who had 14 points and seven rebounds. Marcus Aluquin and John Moss both had 10 points for the Hawks.

Lake Park will face York Friday night in the championship game of the Lake Park Regional. Virostko knows his Lancers must be up to the task defensively if they are to upset the higher seeded Dukes.

“We’ve hung our hat on the defensive end all year and if we think we’re a defensive team, we’ll prove if we’re fake or for real on Friday,” said Virostko. “York can score and they do an exceptional job of running their stuff. Obviously, we’re not going to stop them, we just want to try to contain them to a point where offensively we can score enough points to beat them.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times and It appears here.

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Kentucky and Syracuse Stand Tall: College Hoops Weekly Rankings and Outlook

Kris Joseph and Syracuse have won 9 straight since losing to Notre Dame last month.


1. Kentucky (28-1)

2. Syracuse (29-1)

3. Michigan State (24-5)

4. Kansas (24-5)

5. Duke (25-4)

6. North Carolina (25-4)

7. Missouri (25-4)

8. Marquette (24-5)

9. Wichita State (26-4)

10. Baylor (24-5)

11. Ohio State (23-6)

12. Georgetown (21-6)

13. Michigan (21-8)

14. Wisconsin (21-8)

15. UNLV (24-6)

16. Murray State (28-1)

17. Florida (22-7)

18. Temple (22-6)

19. Indiana (22-7)

20. Notre Dame (20-9)

21. Louisville (21-7)

22. Vanderbilt (20-9)

23. Creighton (25-5)

24. Gonzaga (23-5)

25. New Mexico (22-6)

Next In Line: Saint Mary’s (25-5), Virginia (21-7), San Diego State (22-6),  Drexel (25-5), St. Louis (22-6), Florida State (19-9), Iowa State (21-8), Memphis (21-8), Belmont (24-7)


A 2-0 week from John Shurna and the Wildcats would go a long way in sealing Northwestern’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.


Michigan State at Indiana, 6 pm, ESPN

The Hoosiers will be looking for their third win over a top-five team, having already knocked off Kentucky and Ohio State at Assembly Hall this season. Indiana has just one loss (Minnesota) at home this year. Most people didn’t think much of Michigan State before the season started, and the Spartans didn’t help matters by losing their first two games of the season to North Carolina and Duke. However, the Spartans enter their game tonight ranked third in the nation and in line to receive a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Izzo’s squad has already clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, and will win the title outright if they beat the Hoosiers.

Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 pm, ESPN

The second and third best teams in the SEC face off in Nashville. Vanderbilt might have lost Sunday, but they showed a lot hanging around on the road against No. 1 Kentucky. The Commodores seem to be playing their best basketball of the season and could be a dangerous tournament team. The ‘Dores will be looking to rebound from back-to-back first round tournament exits at the hands of double-digit seeds (13 Murray State in 2010, 12 Richmond in 2011). Florida came into this season with high expectations, but so far, they haven’t impressed much. The Gators will be looking to bounce back from their loss last Saturday to SEC bottom-feeder Georgia.


Marquette at Cincinnati, 6 pm on ESPN2, Ohio State at Northwestern, 7:30 pm on BTN, UNLV at Colorado State, 9 pm on CBS Sports

Three bubble teams will have an opportunity to knock off a ranked opponent on their home court. Cincinnati was able to beat Louisville last week, and a victory against top-ten Marquette may lock the Bearcats into the field of 68.

Colorado State went 1-1 last week, beating New Mexico at home before losing on the road to San Diego State. The Rams will have one more chance to beat a ranked conference foe when the face UNLV. A loss to the Rebels may kill any chance the Rams have of earning an at-large selection.

Northwestern blew a golden opportunity last week by losing in overtime to Michigan in Evanston. The Wildcats now face a critical week in the quest to make the school’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern plays Ohio State at home before traveling to Iowa City to face the pesky Hawkeyes. A 2-0 week might seal a tournament bid, while a 1-1 week will at least keep the Cats in the conversation, especially if that one win comes against the ranked Buckeyes. However, an 0-2 week most likely means the Wildcats will have to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the Big Dance.


Florida State at Virginia, 6 pm on ESPN2

As I mentioned in this space last week, Virginia has had a solid season but they have yet to beat one of the top three teams in the ACC. The Cavaliers are now 0-4 against the cream of the ACC crop after losing to North Carolina at home last Saturday. The Wahoos will have one more chance Thursday night when the Seminoles visit Charlottesville. Virginia is probably safely in the NCAA tournament field, but their resume is lacking. They beat a good Michigan team in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but what’s their second best win? A neutral site victory over Drexel, road wins at LSU or Oregon? Florida State will be looking to bounce back from an 0-2 week where the Noles lost to Duke at home and Miami on the road.


Georgetown at Marquette, 1 pm on ESPN3

It’s been an odd year in the Big East and there haven’t been many marquee, must-see match-ups. We’ll actually get one this weekend, and guess what, it’s not even on TV. Huh? A match-up between two marquee, top-15 teams, and it’s not even on ESPNU? I don’t get it. One reason we’ve been robbed of solid Big East match-ups this season is that the second and third best teams in the Big East (Marquette and Georgetown) only played the best team (Syracuse) once. And both games were in Syracuse. So when you’re looking at the Orange’s gaudy record, just remember that they didn’t play road games against their two closest conference competitors. Oh, and what happened when Syracuse played the No. 4 Big East team (Notre Dame) on the road? They lost. Imbalanced conference schedules suck.

North Carolina at Duke, 6 pm on ESPN

The first match-up between these two rivals was a classic. Duke/Carolina games are usually intense game, and this will be no different as a lot rides on the outcome. The game will most likely be a de-facto regular season ACC title game, and the result will impact NCAA tournament seeding. Duke would probably be a one-seed if the tournament started today, but one would think they’ll need to win this game and at least make the championship game of the ACC Tournament to maintain that seeding. I’d guess UNC could still earn a one-seed, but not if they lose to the Blue Devils again Saturday night.

Atlantic Sun and Big South Conference Championship Games

The first tickets to the Big Dance will get punched Saturday night. Belmont is the favorite in the Atlantic Sun, and if they make it, the Bruins could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins, no. 24 in the KenPom rankings, have NCAA Tournament experience – they lost to Wisconsin in the first round last year. UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina will be the favorites in the Big South tournament.


Kentucky at Florida, 11 am on CBS

Kentucky has gone through the SEC like a buzz-saw. If they take care of Georgia at home on Thursday night (and they should), the Wildcats will be looking to complete a perfect conference season when they face the Gators in Gainesville. It’s been a disappointing season for the Gators, they’ve never looked like the top-ten team people expected them to be. But they still have the talent, and if they can knock off Kentucky, they might be able to gather some momentum in time for a run through the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

Missouri Valley Conference, 1 pm on CBS

Wichita State and Creighton are the top two seeds in Arch Madness, and there’s a good chance they’ll meet on Sunday for the conference championship. However, don’t discount a sleeper team that could steal an auto bid, to the despair of bubble teams everywhere. The Shockers and Blue Jays are both safely in the NCAA Tournament whether they win or lose the conference tournament. A more motivated team – such as Evansville, Illinois State or Northern Iowa – might be able to make a run and clinch a bid in the Big Dance.

Ohio State at Michigan State, 3 pm on CBS

What a great triple-header on CBS. It ends with a match-up of the two best teams in the Big Ten, arguably the best conference in the nation this season. If the Buckeyes beat Northwestern and the Spartans lose to Indiana, Ohio State will have a chance to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a road victory over Michigan State.


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Fun With KenPom: Final Four Edition

Will defense keep Ricardo Ratliffe and Mizzou out of the Final Four?

I went back to KenPom to analyze the offensive and defensive rankings of the teams that made the Final Four between 2003 and 2011. Again, I’m using KenPom’s rankings of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. If you want to know more about those stats, click here. Here’s some of what I found:

Average Ranks of Final Four Teams (2003-2011):

Offense: 13.89

Defense: 17.44

Outliers – Final Four teams ranking outside the top 30 in offense or defense:

2003 Marquette (3 seed): 1st in offense, 101st in defense

2003 Texas (1 seed): 3rd in offense, 44th in defense

2006 George Mason (11 seed): 49th in offense, 18th in defense

2006 LSU (4 seed): 50th in offense, 4th in defense

2010 Butler (5 seed): 50th in offense, 5th in defense

2011 Butler (8 seed): 50th in offense, 49th in defense

2011 VCU (11 seed): 32nd in offense, 86th in defense


– 2010 and 2011 were the only years where the average rank for both offense (26.25) and defense (41) were above 10.

– 2004 and 2008 were the only years where the average rank for both offense (9 in ’04 and 3.5 in ’08) and defense (6 in ’04 and  9 in ’08) were below 10.

– Of the 36 teams that made the Final Four between 2003 and 2011, just seven had an offense or defense that ranked outside the top 30. Four of those teams ranked outside the top 30 on one side of the ball, but made up for it with a top five ranking in the other category. One team, George Mason, ranked 49th in offense, but had a top 20 defense (18th). However, things got really weird in 2011. VCU and Butler had both offenses and defenses that ranked outside the top 30. Their runs to the Final Four were unprecedented, and tremendously fun to watch.

What Does This Mean For the 2012 Tournament?

Well, not too much. As we especially saw last season, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. It’s what makes college basketball so beautiful and exhilarating. But looking at the average rankings of previous Final Four teams, we can see which teams are in the best shape to make a deep tournament run.

Here are some teams that have similar or better rankings to the average Final Four team of the last nine years (These are teams that rank in the top 30 in both offense and defense, as of Feb. 25th):

Kentucky: 3rd in offense, 8th in defense

Ohio State: 14th in offense, 1st in defense

Michigan State: 12th in offense, 2nd in defense

Kansas: 10th in offense, 4th in defense

Syracuse: 9th in offense, 13th in defense

North Carolina: 11th in offense, 14th in defense

Wichita State: 8th in offense, 24th in defense

Marquette: 23rd in offense, 19th in defense

Baylor: 13th in offense, 30th in defense

Memphis: 25th in offense, 21st in defense*

*Surprising, huh?

Here are some teams, assuming their rankings don’t drastically improve in the next three weeks, that would join the list of Final Four outliers if they were to make it to New Orleans:

Missouri: 1st in offense, 74th in defense*

Duke: 4th in offense, 56th in defense

Florida: 2nd in offense, 85th in defense

* That’s a similar profile to 2003 Marquette, but do the Tigers have anyone who can take over a game like Dwyane Wade? Marcus Denmon is good, but I’m not sure he’s Wade good...

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Fun With KenPom: Teams With Top 10 Offenses and Defenses since 2003

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky currently rank in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive ratings.

Since 2003 (the year KenPom’s database dates back to), there have only been 16 teams who have ranked in the top ten in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency.*

If you’re unsure of what those numbers mean, or how they are compiled, here’s an explanation from KenPom. “Any time you see something “adjusted” on this site, it refers to how a team would perform against average competition at a neutral site. For instance, a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) is adjusted for the strength of the opposing defenses played. I compute an adjusted offensive efficiency for each game by multiplying the team’s raw offensive efficiency by the national average efficiency and dividing by the opponent’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The adjusted game efficiencies are then averaged (with more weighting to recent games) to produce the final adjusted offensive efficiency.”

Here’s a list of those 16 teams and their rankings. I also included how they ended up performing in the NCAA Tournament:

2003 (AdjO Rank – AdjD Rank – Tourney Outcome)

Kansas: 6th – 1st – National Runners Up

Kentucky: 5th – 4th – Sweet 16


Duke: 2nd – 4th – Final Four

UConn: 4th – 5th – National Champions


North Carolina: 1st – 5th – National Champions


Florida: 2nd – 5th – National Champions

Texas: 4th – 10th – Elite Eight


North Carolina: 3rd – 4th – Elite Eight


Kansas: 2nd – 1st – National Champions

Memphis: 4th – 4th – National Runners Up

UCLA: 7th – 3rd- Final Four




Duke: 1st – 4th – National Champions

Kansas: 2nd – 8th – Second Round


Ohio State: 1st – 5th – Sweet 16

Duke: 4th – 8th – Sweet 16

Kansas: 6th – 9th – Elite Eight


As of Feb. 25, two teams rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency: Kentucky (3rd and 8th) and Kansas (10th and 4th).

Four teams are close to being in the top ten in both categories, and could reach that accomplishment by the time the NCAA Tournament begins next month: Michigan State (12th and 2nd), Ohio State (14th and 1st), Syracuse (9th and 13th) and North Carolina (11th and 14th).


– Not surprisingly, these teams have done very well in the NCAA Tournament. 15 of the 16 teams reached the Sweet 16 (2010 Kansas is the lone exception, they got Farokhmaneshed in the second round); 12 of the 16 reached the Elite Eight; nine of the 16 reached the Final Four; Seven of the 16 made the National Championship Game; and 5 of the 16 took home the National Championship

-2008 was one hell of a year. UCLA – with Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute – was just the third best team in the nation that season. Also, according to KenPom, 2008 Kansas (.9859) is the only team since 2003 to have a pythagorean winning percentage over 98 percent.

-2011 was odd. Three teams ranked in the top ten in both categories, yet none of those squads made the Final Four. 2008 was the only other time three teams fit that specification, and all three made the Final Four that year.

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East Aurora Ends Regular Season On High Note, Knocks Off Steamwood In OT

East Aurora 68 Streamwood 65

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for East Aurora, but the Tomcats were able to finish the regular season with a 68-65 overtime victory over Streamwood in an Upstate Eight Conference Crossover game in Streamwood Thursday night.

“We haven’t been in a lot of close ballgames this year, that was just our third win tonight,” said East Aurora (3-22) head coach Wendell Jeffries. “We lost a very close ballgame Saturday against Batavia where we had a 14 point lead and let it get away, and lost by one point. I think that experience on Saturday, the kids learned from it and they were able to prevail down the stretch. It’s a great thing going into the playoffs Monday at Oswego.”

The game went into overtime after East Aurora sophomore Jonathan Villezcas (8 points, 5 rebounds) made a lay-up as the fourth quarter buzzer sounded.

After DaJon Talbert (19 points, 6 rebounds) missed a three-point attempt, Villezcas grabbed the rebound and put in the lay-up to tie the game at 59-59.

“I knew we were down two, so I just grabbed it and put it up there,” said Villezcas

Talbert made a three-pointer on the Tomcats’ first possession of overtime. East Aurora then did the rest of their scoring from the free throw line, making six of their seven attempts in the extra frame. Streamwood’s Brent Kiesel missed a three-pointer as time ran out, clinching the Tomcats’ third victory of the season.

The Tomcats trailed 27-20 at halftime, but came out of the locker room on fire. East Aurora went on a 16-2 run to take a 42-35 lead midway through the third quarter.

However, Streamwood (4-21) fought back. Brandon Larkin-Guilfoyle (24 points, 6 rebounds) knocked down two free throws to tie the game at 48-48 with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter.

The Tomcats immediately responded with a 6-0 run to take a 54-48 lead, matching their largest advantage of the contest.

The Sabres came right back with a 7-0 run, capped off by a jumper by Jacob Siewert that gave Streamwood a 55-54 lead with two minutes remaining.

After East Aurora recaptured the lead, Siewert hit another go-ahead basket, this time a three-pointer that put the Sabres back on top, 58-57, with just 30 seconds left in the fourth. Ace Agdagdag later split a pair of free throws to extend the Sabres’ lead to 59-57 with 10 seconds remaining.

On the ensuing Tomcat possession, Talbert missed a three-pointer before Villezcas made the game-tying lay-up.

The Tomcats frustrated the Sabres with a pressure defense all night, forcing 21 Streamwood turnovers.

“We’ve got to execute better on offense, that’s our big thing,” said Streamwood coach Tim Jones. “I know we did some decent things, but we need to rebound better and be aggressive. We can’t turn the ball over like we did, it’s not acceptable”

Zach Harris (18 points, 12 rebounds) was able to notch a double-double for the Sabres, who face South Elgin on Monday in the St. Charles North regional.

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Don’t Be Shocked, Wichita State Is For Real

Sharp-shooting Joe Ragland leads a dangerous Wichita St. squad

Meet The Shockers:

F Ben Smith – Senior, 6’5 – 9.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG

C Garrett Stutz – Senior, 7’0 – 14.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG

G Joe Ragland – Senior, 6’0 – 13.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.4 APG

G Toure’ Murry – Senior, 6’5 – 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.3 APG

G Demetric Williams – Junior, 6’2- 5.4 PPG, 2.4 APG

F Carl Hall – Junior, 6’8 – 9.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG

G David Kyles – Senior, 6’4 – 8.8 PPG, 3.5 APG

Where They Rank:

AP – 19th Coaches – 19th RPI – 16th KenPom – 8th Sagarin – 10th

There are a few things you look for in a possible mid-major party crasher: experience, strong guard play, sharp-shooters, solid defense and an interior presence. Wichita State has all these things and more. In fact, the Shockers might have the best portfolio, from a statistical perspective, of any mid-major team in the last decade.

The Shockers have excelled on both sides of the ball this season. They rank eighth in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In comparison, only seven other teams (Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State, Kansas, Syracuse, North Carolina and Marquette) rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season.

Wichita’s success on offense can be explained by their high shooting percentages and their ability to take care of the ball. The Shockers rank 10th in two-point field goal percentage, 57th in three-point field goal percentage, 12th in effective field goal percentage* and 38th in turnover percentage. The Shockers have excelled on defense by allowing a low field goal percentage (43rd in effective field goal percentage allowed) and few second chances (9th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed).

*Effective field goal takes into account the extra value of a made three-pointer.

According to KenPom, the Shockers are the third most experienced team in the nation, and most likely, they’ll be the most experienced team in the NCAA tournament since Lamar and Nebraska are ranked first and second. Of the Shockers’ main rotation of seven, five players are seniors and two are juniors.

While Wichita hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 – before any of their current members were on the team – the Shockers won the NIT last season. In my eyes, the squad gained more tourney experience from that run to Madison Square Garden than they would have from a loss in the first round of the NCAAs.

Led by seniors Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry, the Shockers have the type of backcourt that long tournament runs are made of. The sharp-shooting Ragland has been one of the best, most-efficient guards in the nation this season. The senior has an effective field goal percentage of 67.0 (5th in the nation), a true shooting percentage of 70.0 (2nd in the nation) and an offensive rating of 127.3 (25th in the nation).* In comparison, sweet-shooting Steph Curry had a 60.7 effective field goal percentage and 64.0 true shooting percentage in 2008, the year he took Davidson to the elite eight.

*True Shooting Percentage is like effective field goal percentage but throws in trips to the line and converts it to a shooting percentage that approximates what two-point field percentage a player would need to have to score the points he produces on all his shooting attempts. Offensive Rating is a measure of personal offensive efficiency. Explanations from KenPom.

The Shockers also have a solid interior presence, led by 7-footer Garrett Stutz. As mentioned earlier, Wichita allows very few second chances on defense, ranking 9th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. A lot of that can be attributed to the strong defensive rebounding ability of Stutz. The senior center has a defensive rebound percentage of 26.4, which ranks 17th in the nation. Stutz also does a nice job on the offensive glass, grabbing 9.4 percent of his offensive rebounding opportunities. Stutz also uses his size to take a good number of high-percentage shots and he converts on them, posting an effective field goal percentage of 60.1 and a true shooting percentage of 64.2.

The Shockers will be under-seeded in the NCAA Tournament, most likely receiving a four or five seed, while their statistical profile deems them worthy of a two or three seed. Don’t sleep on the Shockers in March, and don’t be surprised if they follow in the footsteps of George Mason, Butler and VCU by making it all the way to the Final Four.


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Dundee-Crown Bounces Back With A Victory Over Cary-Grove

Dundee-Crown 51 Cary-Grove 34

Dundee-Crown bounced back from two straight heart-breaking defeats with a 51-34 victory over Cary-Grove Tuesday night in Carpentersville.

Brandon Rodriguez led the way for the Chargers with 16 points, including 10 in the first quarter.

“I just wanted to be aggressive after our loss to Crystal Lake South, that was a really tough one,” said Rodriguez. “Plus it was our senior night, I just wanted to give our seniors a night to remember.”

Ben Bradshaw’s lay-up gave Cary-Grove (6-20, 3-9) an early 5-4 lead, but then Rodriguez went off for the Chargers. The guard scored 10 straight points, including a three-pointer as the first quarter buzzer sounded. The Chargers (16-9, 9-3) led 14-5 going in the second quarter.

The Dundee-Crown run stretched to 13-0 after Kyle Bernhard (12 points, 7 rebounds) knocked down a three-pointer early in the second quarter that gave the Chargers a 17-5 advantage.

Ryan Arquette hit a jumper late in the third quarter, capping off an 8-2 Cary-Grove run and the Trojans went into halftime down 21-14.

Arquette then hit a three-pointer early in the third quarter that pulled the Trojans within four at 21-17.

However, Rodriguez quickly responded with a lay-up that sparked an 8-0 run. The Chargers never looked back and led by as much as 19 points in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers’ defense forced the Trojans into 18 turnovers, including 12 steals. Bruce Dantzler and JT Beasley each had three steals for Dundee-Crown.

“I thought we did some good things defensively, the guys played hard,” said Dundee-Crown head coach Lance Huber. “We’ve still got some room to improve on defense, but anytime you keep the other team to 34 points like we did tonight, you’re going to have a pretty good chance to win.”

While Huber was happy his team was able to snap their losing streak, he was more pleased they were able to notch a win on senior night.

“It was nice to see us come out on top, especially for the seniors, they’ve been here for four years busting it hard,” said Huber. “We have a couple of them who don’t play a lot, and it was nice to get them all some minutes tonight. I think it’s more about them, it’s nice to send them out on a high note.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times and

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