Bulls

Illini not defeated by dismal record

932811.png

Illini not defeated by dismal record

CHAMPAIGN After seeing their chances of making a third straight bowl game disappear with a 30-point loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini (2-7, 0-5) have every right to be disappointed. In fact, the Illinois coaches and players could be forgiven for having a lackluster attitude, or a general reluctance to talk about their struggles this season.But thats not how Tim Beckmans team operates.
Instead of letting their plight dictate their demeanor, each member of the Illinois football team gathered for Mondays press conference exhibited a positive attitude and an eagerness to show improvement before the end of the season. Improvement was key for Beckman, the Illinois coach, and he made no excuses for his teams mistakes.
When you play undefeated teams, you cant not score when you get the opportunity in the red zone. You have to do more than just kick field goals and you have to play 60 minutes of football, he said. I was proud of the way our kids continued to play with OSU but it wasnt good enough.
Beckman went on to say it was incumbent on his team to show growth in these last three games of the season and learn from their mistakes. Though the opportunity to compete in a bowl game is no longer an option for Illinois, there is still the opportunity to end the season on a positive note.
For quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, not being able to play for a bowl berth means focusing on what he says should be a daily goal for all Illini.
Obviously we didnt reach our goals, but in a sense this should refocus us on what should be our goal every day: just going out and getting better performing to the best of our abilities, he said. We still can end the season on a positive note. We still can go out and win some games.
This Saturday the Illini get a chance to pick up a win with a return to Champaign for a Dads Day contest with Minnesota (5-4, 1-4). The Golden Gophers started the season with a flurry of wins but have cooled down since starting Big Ten play, beating only a winless Purdue team in five conference games.
Beckman has experience against Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill from their time as Mid-American Conference coaches (Beckman at Toledo and Kill at Northern Illinois). He described the Gophers as a typical Jerry Kill team: the kind of team that fights for everything and earns every success they have.
You see them get better and better each week. Theyre very competitive, Beckman said. Their defense is very aggressive and offensively theyre playing with a quarterback Philip Nelson that has taken over for them.
Senior defensive back Ashante Williams, who returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown in the OSU game, said Minnesota was a better team than he has seen in years past. He called them explosive, specifically comparing quarterback-turned-wide receiver Marquis Gray to the Buckeyes Braxton Miller.
Its going to be a challenge for the defense again this weekMarquis is the kind of guy who, when you get the ball in his hands in the open field, can make guys miss and create big plays, Williams said.
The Gophers feature several other playmakers, but Williams said their offense did not differ too much from other spread teams Illinois has faced this year. He expects the game to be played fast, but not to get out of Illinois hands.
The Illini at Mondays press conference all felt as though this weekends game and the teams two games afterward were important, and, more importantly, were winnable. The Illini avoided seeming despondent or as if the upcoming games were nothing more than necessary.
Beckman summed everything up nicely when he pointed out all of the various parties this team still has to play for, including some of the guests of honor at this weeks game. We want to win in the worst way. We want to win for our dads, for veterans, for Illini nation we want to win for ourselves.
Illinois and Minnesota will kick off Saturday at 2:42 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Illinois Notebook
-- Beckman chuckled when asked how he felt about his former team, Toledo, cracking the top 25 in the BCS, Associated Press and USA Today polls this week, the year after his departure.
Figures, he said with a short laugh. Those are my boys, my sons. Those kids playing there are now are a part of what were trying to get established now at Illinois. I cant be more proud of them, and Ill tell them to keep working to win.
-- The injury status of linebacker Jonathan Brown, a Butkus award semifinalist, is still uncertain. The junior was taken off the field in the first quarter of the OSU game and did not return to play. Beckman said Brown would see a doctor later on Monday and only afterward would his status be determined for this Saturday.
-- Running back Josh Ferguson, who is second on the team in yards per reception, should be able to play this week after sitting out two games to injury. Beckman said the freshman participated in lifting last week and ran with the team on Sunday. He said hes optimistic Ferguson would be 100 percent by Saturday.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

11-24_gsw_matchup_nba_chi_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

chicago-thankful.jpg
USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.