White Sox

1 'Cuse survives with help of some questionable calls

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1 'Cuse survives with help of some questionable calls

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Syracuse was missing its starting center. North Carolina-Asheville thought the Orange got help from three men in striped shirts. With Syracuse facing the kind of NCAA tournament history no team wants to make, the top-seeded Orange rallied for a 72-65 victory Thursday in the second round of the East Regional. Two calls by the officials had the sellout crowd of 18,927 at Consol Energy Center -- except for those wearing orange -- booing throughout the final minute but it didn't matter. Syracuse made it 109-0 for No. 1 seeds against No. 16s since the NCAA went to a field of 64 in 1985. "I don't think luck had anything to do with this game today," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, "and I think the better team won." The Orange were staring at NCAA tournament history. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, and they were trailing North Carolina-Asheville with just over 6 minutes to play. "We gave it everything we had. We battled the best that we could," Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said. "These guys are great. They deserved a better fate than they had today." Syracuse, which won the national championship in 2003, had already made negative history in the tournament, becoming the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 when it fell 73-69 to Richmond in 1991. The Orange managed to avoid adding another black mark by holding Asheville to one field goal over the final minute while they went 6 of 7 from the free throw line. Syracuse was playing without 7-foot center Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for academic reasons by the school and will miss the tournament. "The fact that this game was close had nothing -- nothing -- to do with the center position," Boeheim said. Syracuse (32-2) will play eighth-seeded Kansas State in the third round on Saturday. The Wildcats beat Southern Mississippi 70-64. The Bulldogs (24-10), who talked Wednesday about pulling off the upset, were led by J.P. Primm's 18 points. They led 34-30 at halftime -- the third 16 to do that -- but the Orange took the lead for good with 6:17 left on a turnaround jumper by reserve James Southerland, who had 15 points and a season-high eight rebounds. "James has to continue to make the shots and I think he will," Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine said. "I'm happy for him because he's a big part of our offense and today he showed it." Southerland, who scored 13 points in the second half, had three of the Orange's five 3-pointers. "James came in, gave us a huge lift off the bench," Boeheim said of the 6-foot-8 junior. The Bulldogs got within three points three times in the final 1:04 but could get no closer as Syracuse made its free throws and the officials made a couple of controversial calls. The first call that caused the crowd to react was a lane violation with 1:20 left. Jardine missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but Primm was called for passing the head of the key before Jardine let the shot go. Jardine got to shoot the front end again, made it, and made the second for a 64-58 lead. "They gave me a second chance to make the shot and I made it," Jardine said. "I got myself into a rhythm. I made every free throw from there on out because I do what I practice and believed in myself at that time and made the shots for us." Primm said: "They showed it on the replay, I think the crowd let him know that it wasn't the right call. ... Like I said, when it gets crunch time like that, like I say, everyone is human." With 35 seconds left and the Orange leading 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse's Brandon Triche but the officials pointed the other way and gave it to the Orange. Jardine made two free throws a second later. Coordinator of Officiating John Adams said he would have given the ball to UNC Asheville on the inbounds play. "The out of bounds is not reviewable and it is not a play we would discuss," official Ed Corbett told a pool reporter. "I'm not going to comment further because it is a judgment call. It was a clear (lane) violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call." Boeheim had his own take on the play with Triche. "First of all, all the noise about the ball going out of bounds, I mean, Triche got pushed. That's why it went out of bounds," he said. "Maybe they missed the out of bounds, they missed the foul call. Those things equal out." Inexplicably the Orange kept shooting 3-pointers and missing. Despite having a huge height advantage -- Asheville's talllest starter was 6-foot-5, bigger only than the Syracuse guards -- the Orange kept taking 3s against the Bulldogs' 2-3 zone, which isn't as well known as the one Syracuse has played for decades but was just as effective Thursday. The height advantage didn't do much for the Orange as far as rebounding went either as they had 33, one more than the Bulldogs. Then again, Syracuse was outrebounded by its opponents for the season. "We just played a good 2-3 zone and mixed it up a little bit, playing man-to-man on one possession, zone on the other, just enough to try to keep em off balance," Biedenbach said Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters both had 12 points for Syracuse, which played its fourth game this season without Melo, the Big East defensive player of the year who missed three games in January over academic issues. The Orange are 3-1 without him. "We (would) love to have him, but it's about us playing the game," Jardine said. "We got a lot of guys that stepped up today." Jaron Lane added 16 points and Jeremy Atkinson had 12 for the Bulldogs, whose leading scorer, Matt Dickey, went 1 for 13 from the field, 1 of 9 from 3. Asheville went 9 of 23 from beyond the arc. "The excitement of the game was crazy. It was March Madness at its finest," Dickey said. "It was awesome and we'll cherish this moment and the opportunity that we had but we'll always look back at this moment and say we should have won or could have won, but that's not enough." Other No. 1s have trailed a 16 at halftime, the last Kansas, which was behind by two points before going on to beat Holy Cross 70-59 in 2002. There have been two one-point wins by No. 1s over 16s -- Georgetown over Princeton and Oklahoma over East Tennessee State, both in 1989. And there was one two-point game -- Purdue over Western Carolina in 1996 -- and one that went overtime -- Michigan State 75-71 over Murray State in 1990. Boeheim earned his 46th win in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie with Bob Knight for seventh on the career list.

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

Left, right, center: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo are dreaming of being the White Sox championship outfield of the future

GLENDALE, Ariz. — All that was missing was a dinner bell.

From all over the White Sox spring training complex at Camelback Ranch they came, lined up in front of the third-base dugout and all around the cage to see a trio of future White Sox take batting practice.

This is all it was, batting practice. But everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Micker Adolfo swinging the bat. And those three outfield prospects delivered, putting on quite a show and displaying exactly what gets people so darn excited about the White Sox rebuild.

How to sum it up if you weren’t there? Just be happy you weren’t parked behind the left-field fence.

Jimenez and Robert are two of the biggest stars of the White Sox rebuilding effort, with Adolfo flying a bit more under the radar, but all three have big dreams of delivering on the mission general manager Rick Hahn and his front office have undertaken over the past year and change: to turn the South Siders into perennial championship contenders. The offensive capabilities of all three guys have fans and the team alike giddy for the time they hit the big leagues.

And those three guys can’t wait for that day, either.

“Actually, just a few minutes ago when we were taking BP, we were talking about it,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “Micker and Luis said, ‘Can you imagine if we had the opportunity one day to play together in the majors: right, left and center field? The three of us together and having the opportunity to bring a championship to this team?’ I think that’s a dream for us, and we’re trying to work hard for that.”

“We were just talking about how cool it would be to one day all three of us be part of the same outfield,” Adolfo told NBC Sports Chicago. “We were talking about hitting behind each other in the order and just envisioning ourselves winning championships and stuff like that. It’s awesome. I really envision myself in the outfield next to Eloy and Luis Robert.”

How those three would eventually line up in the outfield at Guaranteed Rate Field remains to be seen. Adolfo’s highly touted arm would make him an attractive option in right field. Robert’s speed and range makes him the logical fit in center field. Jimenez will play whichever position allows his big bat to stay in the lineup every day.

Here in Arizona, the focus isn’t necessarily on some far off future but on the present. As intriguing as all three guys are and as anticipated their mere batting practice sessions seem to be, they all potentially have a long way to go to crack the big league roster. Jimenez is the furthest along, but even he has only 73 plate appearances above the Class A level. Adolfo spent his first full season above rookie ball last year. Robert has yet to play a minor league game in the United States.

The group could very well make its way through the minor leagues together, which would obviously be beneficial come the time when the three arrive on the South Side.

“We were talking about (playing in the big leagues), but also we were talking about just to have the first stage of the three of us together in the minor leagues first and then go to the majors all three of us together,” Robert said. “To have the opportunity to play there should be pretty special for us. We were dreaming about that.”

For months now, and likely for months moving forward, the question has been and will be: when?

Whether it’s Jimenez or top pitching prospect Michael Kopech or any other of the large number of prospects who have become household names, fans and observers are dying to see the stars of this rebuilding project hit the major leagues. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez made their respective jumps last season. Hahn, who has said repeatedly this offseason that the front office needs to practice patience as much as the fan base, has also mentioned that a good developmental season for these guys might involve no big league appearances at all.

And it’s worth remembering that could be the case considering the lack of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues for all three of these guys.

“In my mind, I don’t try to set a date for when I'm going to be in the majors,” Jimenez said. “That is something I can’t control. I always talk with my dad and we share opinions, and he says, ‘You know what? Just control the things that you can control. Work hard and do the things that you need to do to get better.’ And that’s my key. That’s probably why I stay patient.”

But staying patient is sometimes easier said than done. The big crowd watching Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo send baseballs into a to-this-point-in-camp rare cloudless Arizona sky proved that.

Dreaming of the future has now become the official pastime of the South Side. And that applies to fans and players all the same.

“I’m very, very excited,” Jimenez said, “because I know from the time we have here, that when the moment comes, when we can all be in the majors, the ones that can finally reach that level, we’re going to be good, we’re going to be terrific. I know that.”

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.