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Fighting Illini jump nine spots in AP Poll

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Fighting Illini jump nine spots in AP Poll

John Groce and Illinois played just one time last week, but it paid off as a string of upsets helped the Fighting Illini shoot up in the national polls.
The Illini moved up to No. 13 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, nine spots higher than last week. Illinois played just one time during the week, defeating Georgia Tech, 75-62, at home, and is now one of just 20 undefeated groups left in Division I.
Voters are still undecided on the Illini's 8-0 start. Two voters, Dick Weiss of the NY Daily News and John Feinstein from NPR, ranked Illinois No. 10 in their respective ballots this week. The Illini received votes all the way from No. 10 to No. 25 at least once, while the New Haven Register's Dave Borges and the Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger had Illinois unranked. Last week 34 pollsters had the Illini unranked.
Shooting guard Brandon Paul continues to lead the way, averaging 18.3 points on 48 percent shooting from the field. He has also contributed a team-high 4.1 assists per game, while D.J. Richardson's 12.3 points and team-high 4.9 rebounds also have helped the cause.
Undefeated Indiana was voted No. 1 for the fifth straight week, receiving 45 of the 65 first-place votes. The other 20 first-place votes went to Duke, also 8-0 to begin the season.
Other Big Ten notables include No. 3 Michigan (no change), No. 7 Ohio State (down three spots), No. 14 Minnesota (up seven spots) and No. 19 Michigan State (down six spots).
Illinois plays just once this week, Dec. 4 at home against Western Carolina, but has a road date with No. 10 Gonzaga a week from today that could prove a better gauge for where the Illini stand.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

Fred Hoiberg, who coached Rose for one season in Chicago, weighed in before Friday's Bulls-Warriors game: 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.