Bears

Blues' ascendance truly a team effort

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Blues' ascendance truly a team effort

It would be so easy to say the St. Louis Blues are where they are right now because of Ken Hitchcock. The longtime coach is a proven winner with a Cup to his credit, and no matter where hes been he has a habit of bringing out the best in players.

But Hitchcock is hardly the only reason the Blues are now atop the Western Conference standings. From maturing young players to newly infused veterans to stifling goaltending, the Blues ascendance has truly been a team effort.

Its just everything coming together, said forward B.J. Crombeen. We brought in a couple core veteran guys who have all been winners in their careers and installed that mindset. Its also younger guys really maturing. Theyre in their fourth or fifth years and theyre figuring out what it takes to be a pro every day and what it takes to win.

The Blues arent here to dazzle anyone offensively. Its defense first, offense second -- David Backes is the only player with more than 20 goals this season. Hitchcock puts the emphasis on checking, and the results have been evident.

When you do that you can manage games properly, he said. I think mentally, when you cant check its really taxing on your team. And you always seem to end up on the wrong side of that. But this teams bought into that puck management-checking game and its allowed us to win these close games.

Having two excelling goalies doesnt hurt, either. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halaks goals-against averages are 1.61 and 1.84, respectively. Theyve been so consistent Hitchcock said he doesnt even worry about them anymore just flip a coin, whos up next?

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo credits Elliott and Halak with much of the teams success this season.

Its been our backbone all year, he said. We have two guys weve been able to depend on night in and night out and sometimes have won us games on their own. When you have that confidence in your goaltender, the guys in front of him feed off it.

And as far as Hitchcock, it was just the right coach at the right time with the right pieces already there. He came in with a simple message and a simple game plan, giving the Blues a chance to adjust in smooth fashion.

He just funneled everything together, Blues center Scott Nichol said. We had all the tools and everything, and he came in and had a system that we really bought into and weve won with it. Weve stuck with it and its not rocket science. Its just hard work and making the right plays at the right time.

The Blues are at the top for a variety of reasons. Theyre a confident bunch -- winning will breed that. But the only way the Blues will truly be satisfied with how far theyve come is when they get hardware to show for it.

No ones looking around thinking weve made it, Crombeen said. Even if we continue and play well through the end of the regular season, were not happy with that. Were working toward the final goal everyones after. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us and were focused on that.

Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

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USA TODAY

Vegas sets Mitchell Trubisky’s pass TD total at 26.5

If Mitchell Trubisky has the kind of break out year in his second season under Matt Nagy that Bears fans are hoping for, he should have no problem cashing an OVER 26.5 passing TDs ticket for bettors who want to back him.

Per Bet Chicago, Caesars is rolling out division props and they set Trubisky’s touchdown pass total for 2019 at 26.5 and his pass yard total at 3,744.5.

While both those marks would be career highs for Trubisky, this number will surely be seen as a slight by the hometown fans and continue to add to the polarizing nature of the quarterback formerly known as the Pretty Boy Assassin.

In Chicago, and if you’re team Mitch, this number is ridiculously low and you’re probably already pounding the over.

Outside of Chicago, and with some analytical support, there’s a lot of doubt about Trubisky’s future as a viable option as an NFL starter, so I’d guess the Pro Football Focus crowd is probably gonna take the under.

We rolled out some props of our own on the Under Center podcast last week including:

Will Mitch Trubisky pass for 10 or more touchdowns than Craig Kimbrel has saves? (Including playoffs for both)

26.5 regular season passing touchdowns probably gives Kimbrel the edge, but it’s right in range. 

And that Trubisky – Kimbrel prop prompted this bold response from our own Bears insider JJ Stankevitz:

I don’t think I’m in the 40 club with my guy JJ, but the OVER certainly feels like the move here. At least it better be if the Bears are gonna make any sort of NFC North title defense. 

 

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.

The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.

"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."

Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.

"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."

That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."

The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.

“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”

White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.

It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.

“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”

White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.

But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.

“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”

Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.

“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”