Cubs

Northwestern battles Maryland in Big TenACC Challenge

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Northwestern battles Maryland in Big TenACC Challenge

Fresh off its South Padre Island Invitational Tournament title, Northwestern will battle Maryland in the ACCBig Ten Challenge Tuesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The Wildcats (6-0) followed up a blowout win over TCU with a thrilling 72-69 OT victory over 2011-12 MVC runner-up Illinois State on Saturday.

Northwestern is led by senior guardforward Drew Crawford (13.7 PPG), who's taken over as the leader of the Wildcats after the departure of the school's all-time leading scorer John Shurna. Senior guard Reggie Hearn poses as a threat from the three-point arc, averaging 2.7 per game. The Wildcats don't have much depth in the frontcourt, with their leading rebounder Jared Swoopshire only pulling down 6.5 RPG.

The Wildcats have been unstoppable the last four years in the ACCBig Ten Challenge with victories over Georgia Tech (2010, 2011), North Carolina State (2009) and Florida State (2008).

With a senior-led squad, the Wildcats are searching for the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

On the other side, a young Maryland (4-1) team could use a win in Evanston to springboard the team to a competitive ACC schedule and a return to college basketball's elite.

Much news has been made concerning Maryland and the Big Ten over the last few weeks, but none of it has had to do with two teams competing against one another.

For Maryland, the game presents a set of challenges. It will be the Terps first true road game of the year, and the Wildcats will be the stiffest competition Maryland has faced since a season-opening loss to Kentucky.

Vegas set the Terps as five point underdogs, and with a young team Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon stressed the difficulty of the game.

"It's a tough challenge for our team where we are right now, Turgeon said to the press.

After an impressive comeback attempt fell short against Kentucky in the season-opener, Maryland has faced weaker non-conference competition at home in the last four games. Though the Terps won convincingly in three games, the Lafayette Leopards gave Maryland trouble.

Turgeon said that the game against Lafayette, which Maryland won 83-74, will help the Terps defend Northwesterns shooters.

They have shooters all over the floor, Turgeon said of Northwestern. You saw us against Lafayette against great shooters as the game went on. They got hot against us, and we had trouble guarding it.

Maryland should be better prepared for this game. The Terps will probably roll out a starting lineup with PeShon Howard, Nick Faust, Dez Wells, James Padgett and Alex Len and Turgeon has stressed closing out on Northwestern's guards.

While Maryland must focus on defending the Northwestern shooters, the Terps present offensive problems of their own. Big man Alex Len proved against Kentucky that he can dominate against any competition. If Len is on his game in Evanston the Terps could certainly pull off the upset.

Dez Wells and Nick Faust can also create problems on the wing, though both players are still figuring out there roles on the team and playing with one another.

Thanks to JP Finlay of CSN Washington for contributing to this preview.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.