Blackhawks

Northwestern enters 2012-13 season with added size

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Northwestern enters 2012-13 season with added size

ROSEMONT When asked how his basketball team will improve its rebounding, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody responded with his own question.

Just throw out some raw steaks on the court? What are you going to do? he said during a press conference Thursday at Big Ten Media Day.

You can do rebounding drills forever. You gotta get the ball. The guys have to go after it. Thats all I can tell you.

The Wildcats could improve their rebounding this season after adding size and physicality through recruiting. And their frontcourt is considered a strength, despite the loss of the schools all-time leading scorer, John Shurna.

Thats exactly what we needed. We needed some rebounding and inside presence. Im the only normal-sized guy weve got now, guard Dave Sobolewski said. Its a lot of fun playing with bigger guys. Seeing the Big Ten last year as a freshman and seeing how big those other teams are, I know this is exactly what we needed to make that next step.

Northwestern added two 7-footers, 7-foot-2 Chier Ajou, who is the cousin of the Chicago Bulls Luol Deng, and 275-pound Alex Olah. Other newcomers are 6-foot-8 Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, 6-foot-7 Kale Abrahamson and 6-foot-6 Sanjay Lumpkin.

With the newcomers, the Wildcats have the potential to quality for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, Carmody said.

As valuable as John was, when he was down in the low post, he got knocked around a lot, Carmody said. These guys are stronger, maybe not as talented, definitely not in the same way. But that interior will help our outside shooting. We wont take as many threes as weve done in the past. Itll help if our guys down there can score inside.

Carmody noted Olah, a freshman center, has been impressive in practice recently. Olah has been receptive to coaching and doesnt need to be a star right away alongside the Wildcats veterans, Carmody said.

Hell only get better, Carmody said. Hes 7 feet, he can run, hes 275 pounds. He can actually make a shot at the top.

The Wildcats also added size and experience with the arrival of Swopshire, who averaged 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds as a reserve for Louisville last season. As a sophomore, he averaged 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. He missed the 2010-11 season due to injury. Hes a graduate student at Northwestern.

Hes got really long arms, Sobolewski said. He moves well. He runs the floor well, and he finishes around the rim pretty well. Im fully confident hell be able to bring a new physical nature to our team, and hes already been showing that in practice.

The added size and physicality could help the Wildcats shore up their issues last season. Northwestern went 19-14, 8-10 in the Big Ten, and qualified for the NIT.

With these new guys at center, the frontcourt is looking great, Sobolewski said. Its something we didnt have last year. We have a really good backcourt and our wings are strong as well. I dont see any major weakness with our team. Last year, our weakness was our defense and rebounding, mainly rebounding. We gave up too many second and third chances, but with our size and physicality, thatll really be an advantage for us.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs need Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to produce or else their reign as defending World Series champs is over

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USA TODAY

Cubs need Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to produce or else their reign as defending World Series champs is over

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are the yin and yang of the Cubs lineup, the right- and left-handed forces that feed off each other, two huge building blocks for a World Series team, the smiling faces of the franchise, an ideal brand for social media and two friends close enough that Rizzo became a groomsman at Bryant’s Las Vegas wedding in January.

With the defending champs now down 0-2 in a best-of-seven National League Championship Series – and the Los Angeles Dodgers looking like an updated version of the 2016 Cubs – winter is coming if Bryzzo Souvenir Co. doesn’t start producing soon.

Like Tuesday night in Game 3 at Wrigley Field. Take away the 9-8 outlier against the Washington Nationals – where an intentional walk, a passed ball on a swinging strike three, a catcher interference and a hit by pitch sparked a big rally – and the Cubs have scored 11 runs in six playoff games this October.

“Everybody in the lineup, they feel the same way: When you don’t produce, it’s like you let the team down,” Bryant said. “But that’s not the right way to feel, because not one person makes or breaks the team.

“I put that in perspective all the time, and realize it’s not what you do in the playoffs, it’s what the team does. And, obviously, we haven’t been getting it done so far in the series. But this is a totally unselfish team. I don’t think anybody here is pouting or down on themselves.”

Bryant (.179 average) has struck out 13 times in 28 postseason at-bats while working only one walk and hitting zero homers. Rizzo – who shouted “RESPECT ME!” at Dusty Baker and the Nationals during the divisional round and went 0-for-6 over the weekend at Dodger Stadium – dismissed the idea that he feels any extra responsibility to jumpstart the offense.

“I think that is selfish if you did,” Rizzo said. “One through nine, all 25 guys, we got to get going. Our pitching is doing a heck of a job. You need help from everyone in the lineup, not just one or two guys.”

But Bryant and Rizzo can certainly make Joe Maddon’s job a lot easier, not forcing the pinch-hitters as early for Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, creating some breathing room for the middle relievers or just getting the lead and taking the guesswork out of the equation: Give the ball to All-Star closer Wade Davis.     

Even without launching home runs, Bryant and Rizzo also happen to be very good on the bases, with enough speed and instincts to make things happen when the Dodgers keep putting zeros on the scoreboard. The Cubs are already sacrificing offense for defense at second base (Javier Baez) and in right field (Jason Heyward) and don’t have their World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) in peak condition.    

Bryant is exceptionally available to the media, and usually shrugs almost everything off with an upbeat answer, but even he sounded and looked a little different in terms of tone and body language on Sunday night in Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse.

Whether it was the nature of that walk-off loss – Where’s Wade? – or the reality of a different Dodger team or the jet lag, the Cubs seemed a little shell-shocked.

It was almost exactly a year ago when Bryant stood in the same room in front of the cameras and purposely said, “Nope,” when asked if there was any sense of panic creeping into the clubhouse after seeing Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in back-to-back shutouts.

[MORE: Wade Davis won't second-guess Joe Maddon]      

But Bryant even admitted that defending a World Series title is more taxing than chasing a championship ring.  

“I wouldn’t say emotionally or mentally,” Bryant said. “Physically, yeah, I think some guys are tired. It’s been a really long year, (but) you only notice that before and after the game.

“During the game, there’s so much adrenaline and the fans cheering that you don’t really notice it. But then you sit down after a game, you feel pretty tired and beat. And then you wake up and do it all over again the next day.”

That has been the story of 2017 for Bryant, who followed up an MVP campaign with a 29-homer/.946 OPS season that drew attention for his lowered RBI total (73). But just like Rizzo, he has a tenacious competitive streak and a unique ability to separate one pitch from the next. The Cubs need all of that now, or else their reign as defending World Series champs is about to end.   

“I’ve put some good swings on some balls, but sometimes you just get beat,” Bryant said. “Sometimes you go through good stretches, bad stretches, stuff like that. I realize it’s all part of the game.

“It just stinks. You want to go out there and perform right now, because if you perform now, you’re winning. But you can’t force it.”