Preps Talk

Hoop Screams

Hoop Screams

Thursday, March 11, 2010
10:32 PM

Winters over! Well, sort of. Were still going to have temperatures in the 30s here (probably until May!), but THE event that signifies that spring, on the calendar anyway, has arrived, is upon us: The Big Dance, a.k.a., March Madness has begun. This takes over the bar unlike any event of the year. Thats because everyone is in to it. Why? One word: brackets. Everybody has one. In fact, some people have more than one. While I frown on that practice, a MAN only needs ONE bracket, youve gotta do whatever you think it takes to win. Winning is the only thing that matters.

If youre like me, its been less than a stellar year for watching college basketball. Between my fantasy football addiction, the Blackhawks, (who knew that watching EVERY Hawks game on TV could be so much fun?) the Winter Olympics and the fact that locally the teams arent that good and nationally not that compelling, Ive spent less time this year watching college hoops. Thats about to change, big time! No matter what, I lock in during this weekend every year. Although they arent always an accurate barometer, watching the major conference tourneys is a good way to prep for the madness thats about to ensue. I especially like watching the Big East games, since its this years best conference and the fact that the games are at Madison Square Garden. Theres always a great energy in games played at the hoops Mecca. For as long as I can remember, the conference tournament that you needed to watch was the ACC on Tobacco Road, well now I think the one in New York is the one that you must tune in to. The teams Ill be watching are Villanova, go figure, and West Virginia. The Cuse has the ranking, the Ville has the momentum and Pitt always seems to flex their muscle there, but Nova and W.V. have me intrigued as to how far they can go.

In fact, the two seem to be heading in opposite directions of what I expected only a month ago. Im hoping theyll give me a clue this weekend as to what to expect from them when the games really matter. And thats the big thing to remember about this weekend. Winning this weekend looks good on the banner that you get to hang in your gym, but winning during the next three weekends is what everyone will remember, or care about. Winning conference tournaments usually takes so much out of a team, because of the compressed schedule and level of play, that they have nothing left. So I usually temper my enthusiasm about the winners, and dont hold it against some of the good teams if they exit early.

If that sounds like Im hedging my bet, then youre catching on, because as much as I study and watch, I sometimes think, I can do just as well picking all of the games by throwing darts at a board or using a monkey. There are no style points on a bracket. Pick the winner! Some wins are better than others obviously. Picking a correct upset can give you an advantage for several rounds, but what if youre wrong? You know that a team thats not expected to win matches up well with the one that is. Do you pick them? My favorite is when I pick the upset, and the game is close for 39 minutes, then the higher seed wins the game at the end, just like 96 of the people Im playing against have picked. It makes me understand why Phil Hellmuth, when after a bad beat, has uttered: If luck wasnt involved, Id win every time!

Ive had enough. So this year, while everyone is pondering bubble teams and whos this Joe Lunardi guy and where did he come from? (Philly! Hes the Mel Kiper Jr. of braketology!) Im coming up with a new strategy, new for me anyway. Why knock myself out? I need less stress in my life, not more, so if you cant beat em, join em. Just call me Chalk Boy! The numbers dont lie: In the last three years the number 1 seeds have made it to the Elite Eight every time. They made it to the Final Four eight out of twelve times. The other four slots were filled by three 2s and a 3. That doesnt sound like there were a lot of upsets. Well there were a few last year, you had a 13 beat a 4 and three(!) 12s beat a 5, but at the end, ALL of the 1, 2 and 3 seeds made it to the sweet sixteen. Add to that two 4s and Chalky had fourteen out of the sixteen teams last year without even trying. (I had plenty of people at the bar bragging that they had fourteen and Im thinking, Your telling people you picked all of the favorites? Arent you embarrassed? But that was last year!!) So while upsets are fun, because we love when David beats Goliath and know what it can do to everyones brackets, if the good teams are there at the end, where the biggest points in your bracket are to be had, why pick them? The 12 against 5 is always the popular upset, especially after last year, but will that happen again? More than likely, it will only happen once like it almost always does. The trick is which one? Guess right and youre in the lead, guess wrong and now youre missing two 5s and are playing catch up. If you dont take any, youve only lost one 5 and should be in the same position as almost everyone else. Sounds simple enough!

So while I listen at the bar to everyone saying that this year is wide-open, that there are no dominant teams, that its going to be like 2006, when no 1 seeds made the Final Four, I just smile. Knock yourself out. History says thats not going to be the case, and This Guy is going to ride the trend! So instead of debating the merits of Butler, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Murray State, Oakland and Sienna, teams in the past that would pique my interest, then break my heart after I picked them, Im going to play it safe. Bring on Kentucky, Syracuse and my pick to win it this year, Kansas. Nothing like living on the edge! But alas, I can only go so far, because if Duke ends up a 1, I cant go there. Some habits are hard to break.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.