Preps Talk

Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

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Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

If youve been reading some of the national magazines and websites, you already know there isnt a lot of optimism about this years Bulls team. Most of the so-called experts are picking Tom Thibodeaus squad to finish seventh or eighth in the East, and get drummed out of the playoffs in the opening round. While thats definitely within the realm of possibilities, I think they will do better.

Yes, we know Derrick Rose wont be back until mid-February or early March, and he probably wont return to his peak form until next season. But the Bulls have one big factor working in their favor over the course of the marathon 82 game seasonthey have the hardest-working and best-prepared coach in the league, and that, in itself, could be worth about a half dozen extra wins.

Thibodeau will make sure his team is thoroughly prepared for each team they face, and he wont accept any shortcuts.

Take a look at what happened to the Lakers on Opening Night. They thought they could just put on those gold uniforms and roll to an easy win over a depleted Dallas team playing without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Instead, one of the other top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle, had his team ready to go, and the Mavs handed L.A.s super-team an embarrassing loss.

Thibs will catch any number of NBA teams napping during the regular season, and that will allow the Bulls to stay within striking distance of one of the middle seeds in the East. Seems like everyones conceding the Central Division title to Indiana, but Im not. The Pacers wont have their top scorer, Danny Granger, for an indefinite period while he seeks a second opinion for an ailing knee, and theyll miss departed point guard Darren Collison more than people realize. Im expecting the Bulls and Pacers to battle for first place all season long, and while I would give Indiana a slight edge, another division title is certainly a possibility for Chicago.

There has been a lot of concern about the Bulls' bench being a lot weaker than its been the last two seasons, and granted, the second unit certainly wont be as strong defensively. But Nate Robinson has the ability to score points in bunches, and Taj Gibson figures to increase his offensive production. Chicago native Nazr Mohammed had a good pre-season, and Jimmy Butler should be ready for regular rotation minutes after serving a rookie apprenticeship last season.

Of course, theres no way to replace Roses scoring, play-making ability and open court brilliance, but Kirk Hinrich will do a good job of running the half-court offense and playing solid defense. The frontline of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer is among the best in the league, and Rip Hamilton came to camp in great shape and figures to have a much better second season in Chicago.

Add it all up, and Im predicting a 47-35 finish, which should be good for the No. 6 seed in the East. And, if Rose starts building his confidence by playoff time, there isnt a team in the conference that will want to face the Bulls in Round 1.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.