Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.


Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.

From Comcast SportsNet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Jim Calhoun and Connecticut didn't expect their season to end this way. Their future is equally unpredictable. "We're talking about tonight's game. We're not talking about me," Calhoun said after Iowa State stunned the defending national champions 77-64 in the NCAA tournament Thursday night. "I'm going to get on the plane tomorrow, go home and do what I usually do and meet up with the team on Monday. My own personal thing, I don't think it has any relevance, to be honest with you." Chris Allen led four Cyclones in double figures with 20 points, and Iowa State scored its last 14 at the free-throw line to beat UConn, the first time since UCLA in 1996 that the defending champs have lost in the opening game. Calhoun didn't even wait for the final buzzer, heading for halfcourt with about four seconds left to congratulate Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. It is only the second loss in the opening game of the NCAA tournament for UConn under Calhoun. "I'm surprised as anybody, clearly," Calhoun said. "I imagine our players are, too." For the eighth-seeded Cyclones, meanwhile, it's their biggest victory in a season of them, having knocked off Kansas and Baylor during Big 12 play. Royce White had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Scott Christopherson also had 15 for the Cyclones. Iowa State shot 48 percent from the floor and had a whopping 41-24 edge in rebounds. "I feel like just we wanted it more," Allen said. "I felt like we was doing everything we needed to and played hard." Next up for Iowa State: Overall No. 1 seed Kentucky in the third round of the South Regional on Saturday. The Wildcats routed Western Kentucky earlier Thursday. For the Huskies, the future is far less certain. This could be Connecticut's last tournament until at least 2014, with the Huskies facing a ban on tournament play next year because of past academic problems. Although Calhoun insists he hasn't made any retirement plans, he's had a history of health problems -- he's a three-time cancer survivor and missed a month this season with back pain -- and he turns 70 in May. "This game was a disappointment; this season was not a disappointment to me," Calhoun said. "I knew this team could be really good, but we just didn't reach that level." Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 22, and Jeremy Lamb had 19. But Connecticut could never get into a rhythm and had no answer for the quicker, more aggressive Cyclones. "It's very disappointing to have to end the season this way," Napier said. The Cyclones arrived in Louisville with no shortage of swagger, smirking when asked if they were intimidated by the defending national champions. And they wasted no time backing up their big talk, jumping on the Huskies from the opening tip. It took Calhoun less than two minutes before he'd seen enough, jumping up to call a timeout. "We wanted to attack the boards more and whatever 3s we got, we took," Allen said. "At the end of the day, we were trying to get it in, get rebounds and do all the little stuff." After leading by as much as 22 in the first half, Iowa State (23-10) withstood a UConn rally in the second half. Ryan Boatright went on a one-man tear, making three straight baskets to pull Connecticut within 58-52 with 8:24 to play. "Once we cut it to six, I felt like if we dug down a little deeper maybe it would crack," Boatright said. But the Huskies (20-14) couldn't get any closer, missing their next four shots and going scoreless for more than five-and-a-half minutes. Iowa State, meanwhile, got a big layup from Bubu Palo and an even bigger bucket from Allen. Allen has played more NCAA tournament games than any player in the 68-team field after making back-to-back Final Fours with Michigan State in 2009 and 2010, and his experience showed. He chased down his miss on a 3 from the corner and went up and under the basket, scoring to put Iowa State back in front 63-52 with 4:15 to play. "Scoring in clutch situations always boosts your team's momentum," Allen said. "That's what I felt like it did and helped us just get back on track." UConn could never make another run, and all the Cyclones had to do was convert their free throws. As the game wound down, White pointed at Iowa State's radio crew and said, "I told you, didn't I?" NCAA investigations and questions about Calhoun's future have clouded the glow from UConn's third national title all season. Calhoun sat out the first three games of the Big East season for failure to maintain control of his program when it was charged with NCAA violations. Boatright missed nine games, including six at the beginning of the season, after an NCAA investigation found he and his family took more than 8,000 in impermissible benefits before he enrolled at Connecticut. Despite the turmoil, the Huskies won 12 of their first 13 games. Then things fell apart, in spectacular fashion. UConn lost 11 of its next 16, including a 21-point blowout by Louisville followed by an 18-point rout at the hands of Syracuse. Back problems forced Calhoun to take a monthlong leave, and the Huskies went 3-5 in his absence. He returned for the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh after back surgery, and UConn responded with three straight wins before losing a close one to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Though Calhoun talked about having a second chance in the tournament, Iowa State put a quick end to that. "You saw the game," Calhoun said, "we played very poorly. We deserved to lose the game."

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.