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Kaplan: Predictions for Sweet 16 games

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Kaplan: Predictions for Sweet 16 games

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 5:01 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com

Now that we have reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament it is time to break down the matchups before play resumes on Thursday evening. Several teams that I fully expected to see still standing are gone including Pitt who lost to Butler in one of the wildest endings to a game that we will ever see.

So who advances to the Final Four in Houston? Here are my predictions on the eight games that will be played on Thursday and Friday:

EAST REGIONAL

Kentucky vs. Ohio State: OHIO STATE
Marquette vs. North Carolina: NORTH CAROLINA

WEST REGIONAL

Duke vs. Arizona: DUKE
Connecticut vs. San Diego State: SAN DIEGO STATE
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL

Kansas vs. Richmond: KANSAS
VCU vs. Florida State: VCU
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL

Butler vs. Wisconsin: WISCONSIN
BYU vs. Florida: BYU

Coaching Tidbits...

Northern Illinois Closing in on Coach.Northern Illinois has narrowed their search for a new head basketball coach to four coaches with varying degrees of experience. Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, Wisconsin assistant Greg Gard, and South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy are all on the NIU short list to replace Ricardo Patton who was fired after four seasons on the job. Giacoletti has been an assistant coach at Gonzaga the past three seasons after head coaching stints at North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and Utah. He took the Utes to the Sweet Sixteen and was named National Coach of the Year in 2006.

He is considered one of the top assistants in the country and his hiring would be a huge coup for NIU athletic director Jeff Compher. Giacoletti is considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country and is expected to target the talent rich Chicago area as his primary recruiting base. He is a native of Peoria, IL and has extensive ties throughout Illinois high school basketball which should translate into a major talent upgrade for the Huskies who finished 7-22 this past season. Nagy has had an excellent run as the Jackrabbits head coach for the past fifteen seasons and has solid ties to the state of Illinois growing up in Champaign while his father Dick was the top assistant to Illini head coach Lou Henson. Both Gard and Lusk are considered to be among the best assistants in the country with solid records in recruiting and excellent knowledge of the game.

Loyola is also looking for a new head coach after saying goodbye to Jim Whitesell and their search has Indiana ties because the Ramblers new athletic director Grace Calhoun comes from Indiana University where she was the associate AD. Known to be on the Ramblers list of candidates are IU assistant coach Tim Buckley, IPFW head coach and former Hoosiers standout Dane Fife, and I am hearing from several sources that Hall of Famer and current Florida International coach Isiah Thomas is interested in returning to his hometown. However, sources also tell me that Loyola does not have serious interest in Thomas.

Finally, staying on coaching vacancies in the state of Illinois I did some homework on the Bradley job which opened a couple of weeks ago. Candidates on the Braves list include Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter who has emerged as the front runner for the vacancy. Several major boosters of the program are upset at the firing of Jim Les who had done a very solid job until an injury plagued season this year. In addition, Bradley's top returning player guard Sam Maniscalco who completed his degree requirements but has one year of eligibility remaining has decided to transfer to Illinois in the wake of Les' ouster. Bradley has also been in contact with IPFW coach Dane Fife and made a run at Long Beach State coach Dan Monson but he reportedly informed the school that he had no interest in the job. Other candidates for the job are Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard, Kansas assistant Barry Hinson, Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery, and Purdue assistant Paul Lusk. One drawback to the job appears to be meddling from the upper administration which has given the job a negative perception in the coaching world.

David Kaplan is the host of Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet. Follow him on Twitter @thekapman.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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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

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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.