Cubs

Kaplan: Predictions for Sweet 16 games

417220.jpg

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.

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

10-18_wade_davis_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”