Preps Talk

Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

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Despite slow start, Bulls won't underestimate Bucks

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
1:01 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After their end to last years campaigna first-round playoff loss to Atlanta in seven games, despite star center Andrew Bogut out with a season-ending injurymany observers assumed the Bucks, along with the Bulls would be competing to be the class of the Central Division. After a productive, if not flashy, offseason, expectations were even more optimistic.

However, things havent gone as planned in Milwaukee, as Chicagos closest regional rival has struggled out of the gates, although their play has picked up as of late. Chief among the Bucks issues have been injuries, as Bogut still isnt completely healed from his gruesome fall last spring, young floor general Brandon Jennings is currently sidelined and swingmen John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Carlos Delfino have all battled a litany of ailments.

One Bulls player with insight into the Bucksregardless of the fact that he claims not to have watched them much this seasonis well-traveled veteran Kurt Thomas, who spent last season in Milwaukee. In fact, Thomas filled in for Bogut late in the year and did an admirable job, including a late-season road win over the Bulls at the United Center in the first game of Boguts absence.

The year before, we got off to a hot start in Milwaukee and there were a lot of new faces there and this year, again, there were a lot of new faces, but they got off to a slow start. It could be a lot of new faces or it could be the strength of the schedule, so you just never know and then sometimes it just takes guys the first 10 or 20 games before they really get into a rhythm. But I think theyve been playing a lot better lately. Theyve kind of been hit with the injury bug, but every team has to face that, Thomas said after the Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning. Theyre definitely going to play hard, theyre going to compete. Scott Skiles is a great coach and he doesnt accept anything less than them being very competitive.

Thomas spoke fondly of his time in Milwaukee.

Oh, it was great. A lot of fun. Fans in Milwaukee were insaneFear the Deer. It was just a great time. It was a great group of guys I was playing with last yearunfortunately, seeing that Bogut had a major injury thereyou never knowwe probably could have went deeper in the playoffs, said Thomas.

Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffinwho played under Skiles in Chicagowas also with the Bucks last year, serving as an assistant coach. Like Thomas, he believes Milwaukee will overcome their so-so start to the season.

Right now, I would say they miss Brandon. Hes a big piece of what theyre doing. I wouldnt worry about Milwaukee too much. Typically, Scotts teams start a little slow in the beginning of the year and mid-season, and toward the end, they start picking it up a lot. It just takes them a minute to play the type of style that Scott wants and thats hard-nosed defense, committing to the defensive end, playing hard and executing on offense. It looks like theyre moving in the right direction, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Griffin, who was still with the Bucks through the majority of the offseason, likes the moves Milwaukee made over the summer, though he highlighted some players one wouldnt immediately expect.

One particular player they got in Keyon DoolingI was there this summer when they brought him in for workoutsand he looked great. He plays hard, a professional and I think he plays the type of style that Scott likes. Obviously Earl Boykins, youve got to respect him. People see his size, but hes a threat out there on the floor. They got some nice piecesLarry Sanders, Maggettewhen they get all those guys healthy and if they can get Delfino back, theyll be a force in the East, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Of course, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his preparedness, doesnt underestimate the Central Division foe.

Theyre a great defensive team, so you can start there. Theyve had a ton of injuries this year, said Thibodeau. Bogut inside, hes getting healthier. He poses a lot of problems with the post-up and of course, their backcourt.

Doolings playing really well for them and Boykins has played terrificat times, theyre playing them togetherand of course, Salmons, so you have three guys who can do damage off the dribble. Maggette, hes coming off a concussion and hes back. Hes a guy who can attack the basket and Ersan Ilyasovas a range-shooting four. Theyre a quality team. I think theyre playing very well right now.

Just how well Milwaukee is playing will be measured Tuesday night, as the Bullswho last faced their primary competitor in the division in the preseason opener at Milwaukeehost the Bucks at the United Center.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

High School Lites is down to the final week of the regular season in local high school hoops as the Class 3A and 4A schools finish up conference play. The boys basketball playoffs have also started as the Class 1A and Class 2A regional championships will be played on Friday night.

The girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals will also be featured. You can catch all of those games on NBC Sports Chicago on Friday beginning at 11 a.m. with the 1A semifinals. High School Lites will air Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago

East Aurora at No. 11 West Aurora, 7:00 p.m. -- These two rivals meet for the 225th time. The Blackhawks (20-4, 9-0) won the first matchup by 22 points as they try to finish the season on a 12-game winning streak. 

Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, 7:00 p.m. -- Fox Valley rivals match up as Jacobs tries to go unbeaten in the conference. The Eagles (23-3, 15-0) has been playing very well as they've won 20 of 21 games heading into this one -- including an earlier win against Dundee-Crown. The Chargers (14-11, 10-4) has won seven consecutive games since dropping to the Golden Eagles as they're second in the Fox Valley heading into this one. 

Yorkville at DeKalb, 7:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East play in this one. DeKalb (16-11, 11-1) has already clinched a share of the conference title as the team's only league loss has come against Yorkville. The Foxes (17-8, 10-2) knocked off DeKalb at their place on Feb. 3 as they try to win again to get a piece of the division title. 

T.F. North at Lemont, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the South Suburban Blue battle on the eve of the playoffs. Lemont (17-8, 9-3) has picked up three straight wins entering this one. T.F. North (11-9, 9-3) is trying to build some momentum after recent close losses to Hillcrest and T.F. South.

Carmel at No. 10 Benet, 7:30 p.m. -- The ESCC closes out its season with this one. Benet (22-4, 7-1) is coming off a nice road win at Marian Catholic earlier this week. Carmel (17-10, 4-4) knocked off Joliet Catholic during the week as they've been a dangerous team in the ESCC. 

Class 2A Boys Basketball Regional Championships

Leo vs. Marshall, 6 p.m. -- The Lions are the favorites but the Commandos are the host of this regional title game. Leo (20-5, 8-0) has a 13-game winning streak as they won the Catholic League White. Marshall (8-17, 4-5) struggled in the win column but they were a competitive 4-5 in a very deep Public League Red-South. 

Uplift vs. Northridge, 7 p.m. -- This should be an interesting battle as Uplift is playing on the road at Northridge. Uplift (17-9, 6-3) has played an extremely competitive schedule that includes a recent close loss to No. 1 Simeon as Kansas commit Markese Jacobs and senior forward Toraze Dobbs are one of the best combinations in the Class 2A field. Northridge (22-5, 12-0) went unbeaten in the Independent School League this season as they're riding a 13-game winning streak.

Class 1A Boys Basketball Regional Championships 

Aurora Christian vs. Harvest Christian, 7 p.m. -- These two teams play for the third time this season in what should be an interesting regional title game. Aurora Christian (23-1, 10-0) is the host as they only lost to Winnebago this season. The Eagles beat Harvest Christian twice in a six-day span in December. Harvest Christian (18-8, 8-2) finished third in the Northeastern Athletic as they played the second game within two points. 

Class 1A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Okaw Valley vs. Stockton, 11 a.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Okaw Valley (29-5) is making its first state appearance after winning its first regional title in school history. Stockton (31-2) finished under .500 last season (13-15) and had an amazing turnaround that includes a current 15-game winning streak. 

Lebanon vs. Schlarman, 12:45 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- These two teams have combined for two losses this season as this should be a good one. Lebanon (31-1) just won its first sectional title in school history as they've now moved on to state. Schlarman (31-1) is led by junior Anaya Peoples, a Notre Dame commit and five-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Class 2A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Harlan vs. Eureka, 5:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two red-hot teams play in the first semifinal in Class 2A. Harlan (25-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak as this is its first appearance at state for girls basketball. Eureka (28-3) has a 19-game winning streak as they make their first state appearance since 1988.

Marshall vs. Teutopolis, 7:15 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two storied programs in the state match up in this one. Marshall (20-7) will be making its 21st state appearance as head coach Dorothy Gaters is one of the most storied coaches in Illinois. Teutopolis is making its 17th appearance at state as the Lady Shoes (28-6) seek their first title since 1995. 

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.