Fire

On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

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On brink of elimination, will Hamilton get his shot?

DEERFIELD, ILL. Besides fan favorite and deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, the only player on the Bulls roster with a championship ring is starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton. With injuries to Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, one would think Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau would be leaning more on the veteran, but as in the regular season, Hamilton hasnt seen much action in the fourth quarter of the first-round series against the 76ers, only playing down the stretch in Fridays Game 3 loss in Philadelphia.

Hamilton, like most of his teammates, has struggled offensively against the athletic, defensive-minded Sixers. But along with reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver hes considered one of the Bulls best pure shooters, as well as a proven longtime scorer in the NBA and a clutch playoff performer. Still, Thibodeau was loathe to commit to playing Hamilton more in Tuesdays potential elimination contest, Game 5 of the series at the United Center.

Well see how its going. Depending on how the groups are playing, but if hes playing well, hell be out there. Kyles closed a lot of games, Lus closed a lot of games. I thought C.J. played very well in the second half. Carlos. Weve got a number of guys who can make shots, the coach said after Monday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. To me, theyve committed a lot of their defense to him. I think hes made the right plays. Hes not forcing things. To me, whenever theres two on the ball and youre a primary scorer, you have the responsibility to make the right play, hit the open man.

Theyre blitzing and weve gotten good, quality shots off of it, and we have to continue to do so, but thats what the playoffs are. Both teams are shooting a low percentage, but thats what you expect. Youve got to fight, youve got to get easy baskets, youve got to get second shots, youve got to execute, youve got to screen well, Thibodeau added. You have to do all those things and I think when you get to the playoffs, the guys who command the double teams, those are the guys you have to count on to create offense for you, so we have Rip and we have Kyle that do that, and theyre both unselfish and theyll make the right play. Carlos, he demands a lot of attention, too, and he also has the responsibility of finding the open man and creating offense for us.

That's not exactly a strong endorsement of Hamilton as the Bulls closer, something theyve sorely needed in the absence of Rose and even without Noahs underrated playmaking, but at least he acknowledged the veterans value. Earlier in the series, Thibodeaus counterpart, Sixers head coach Doug Collins who coached a younger Hamilton in Washington talked about making defensive adjustments after Hamiltons 19-point outing in Game 1 on just seven shots, albeit with Rose helping to set him up.

Rip is a jump-starter. He did that in Detroit, said Collins. He used to always get them going early in games and so, weve got to be aware of that.

Whether he did it intentionally or not, could Collins be tacitly implying that stopping Hamilton at the outset of games is key because Thibodeau wont play him late in contests? But reading tea leaves aside, Hamilton has continued to be diplomatic about his lack of minutes in the clutch.

After Game 1, playoffs are about adjustments, so what they try to do is every time I come off a pick-and-roll, they double. Every time I come off a pin down, they double. When I try to post up, they try to bring another guy and double. But its one of those things that, now, for me, youve got to make plays for your teammates and when guys get the ball, theyve got to step up and thats what the game is about, trusting your teammates, he said. You just look at it as our whole season, everything has been team, team, team. We never looked at the game as individuals, so we all know that in order to win, we all have to do it together.

You do want to be in the game late, but it is what it is. When I came here, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do, so my job is if Im not on the court in the fourth quarter, its to cheer for the next guy because I know the next guy would do the same thing for me. So, its one of those things where youve got to just stay in tune with the game, the 13-year pro continued. Whatever they need me to do, Im going to go ahead and do. Since I came back from injury, Ive been playing limited minutes.

As valuable Korver is as a pure shooter, Hamiltons playmaking ability, with Rose and Noah out, would seemingly be crucial for the Bulls. Better yet, why not play the pair together at times, shifting All-Star Luol Deng to power forward against the smallish Sixers from a size perspective, Deng matches up well with Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young or simply not tethering together the first and second units?

At this point, after losing three consecutive games for the first time all campaign and on the brink of elimination, it wouldnt be a bad decision to pull out all the stops such as trying out journeyman Mike James at point guard for a stretch, as his size, strength and experience could help slow Philadelphias Jrue Holiday to prevent an early summer vacation. But perhaps Hamilton summed it up best as he was leaving the assembled media at the Berto Center.

I didnt think a whole lot of stuff this year would happen, he said. But it did.

USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

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USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

Stadium talk is always circling around Major League Soccer and that goes double for the Chicago Fire, which has been criticized for playing in suburban Bridgeview since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

That's why the Chicago Tribune's story about a United Soccer League expansion team playing at a proposed 20,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in Chicago is such a big deal. According to the report and confirmed by a USL spokesperson, real estate developer Sterling Bay has purchased the rights to a USL expansion team. The stated goal is to begin play in 2020.

The details of the stadium are not finalized so the features and capacity could still change.

The proposed location of the stadium is along the North Branch of the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Kennedy Expressway. The stadium was previously mentioned as part of Sterling Bay's bid to bring Amazon's second headquarters to Chicago. Apparently, the stadium being built is not contingent on Amazon coming to Chicago.

Further information from Sterling Bay said that "announcements on ownership and team structure will come at a later date." The team does not yet have a name, but fans will be included in the naming process.

A 20,000-seat stadium and a retractable roof will make for a fancy and impressive, but also expensive venue and a USL team as a primary tenant may prove difficult to justify the cost. The location itself would be an easier sell to draw in fans than Toyota Park out in Bridgeview. However, minor league soccer may not excite local residents in large number.

The USL had 30 teams in 2017 with eight more teams planned to join by 2019. This past season, only two USL teams averaged above 10,000 in attendance: FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. Both of those are prime MLS expansion candidates and Cincinnati beat the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup in front of 32,287 fans in June.

Many USL clubs are either owned/operated by MLS teams or are affiliated with an MLS team. The Fire switched from Saint Louis FC to the Tulsa Roughnecks as its affiliated club in 2017, sending players to Tulsa to gain playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench with the Fire.

According to the Tribune's story, the stadium would also try to attract other events such as international soccer matches, college football, college basketball and concerts. Rugby and lacrosse were also named in documentation sent by Sterling Bay. Sterling Bay has also yet to present formal plans and still needs to gain zoning approval.

At the Fire's end of the season media availability on Nov. 7, general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about the proposed stadium and if he or MLS had been contacted about it.

“I can’t speak about MLS," Rodriguez said. "I don’t know if they have or have not. I have not. I haven’t spoken, been approached by anyone. I’m not sure I would be the person they approach or speak to, but I’m not aware of any conversations.”

The Fire moving to this stadium could be an ideal solution for both parties. An MLS team with an existing fan base would have an easier time drawing big crowds. Boosted by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Fire drew crowds of 20,000 or more six times in 2017. The regular season average of 17,383 was the highest since moving to Toyota Park and highest since the club's inaugural, championship-winning season in 1998.

However, things aren't that simple. The Fire are locked into a 30-year lease with Bridgeview and Toyota Park, which the Fire have played in since 2006. Getting out of that would require a significant buyout or a breach of contract.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?