Bulls

Illinois drops eighth straight

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Illinois drops eighth straight

CHAMPAIGN Illinois and Purdue provided exactly the kind of game that could have been expected in a match-up of Leaders Division basement dwellers not much of one.

Aside from a six-minute stretch of great play and a late scoring drive from Illinois, both teams struggled to put drives together on offense. In the end, Purdue came up with a 20-17 win, extending the Illinis conference losing streak at least one more week.

Excuses for the loss were varied after the game, from turnovers (Illinois had three, Purdue had none), to big plays (Purdues touchdown drives features 60-yard plays) and an inability to create big plays (the Illinis longest play of the day went for 22 yards).

We cannot turn the ball over and win. Ive stated that since day one, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. The turnovers were hurting us. They were not giving us an opportunity to keep momentum and our opportunity to be successful. It deflates you.

Beckman's coaching staff agreed.

We gave up two big plays that were catastrophic. If we had to do it over again wed like to think wed make those plays, defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.

Right now, we dont have the one guy who stretches the field, offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. Its hard to call plays and be perfect all the time when we dont have guys to get those chunk yards.

Illinois started the game with two good drives, marching 24 and 48 yards before fumbles by wide receiver Ryan Lankford brought the drives to a halt. After the second Lankford fumble, the Illini lost momentum and did have another drive longer than 20 yards until the middle of the third quarter.

The Illinois defense made up for any shortcomings on offense, however. The Illini forced three straight three-and-outs, allowing the Boilermakers zero first downs in the first quarter. After one quarter, the Illini had as many first downs (7) as Purdue had rushing yards.

Purdue was the first on the board, however. The Boilermakers put together a 78-yard drive from their own eight down to the Illinois 14 before the hosts could halt their progress. Purdue settled for a 31-yard field goal from Sam McCartney, taking a 3-0 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.

The Illinois offense started to rally. After being pushed to third-and-14 on the first set of downs, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase broke off a 19-yard run to keep the drive alive. Another nine yards from running back Donovonn Young, along with a 15-yard facemask penalty put the Illini deeper into Purdue territory.

The Boilermakers defense stood up after the penalty, though, stuffing Illinois at the 37 before freshman Taylor Zalewski stepped up for his team, booting a 54-yard field goal just over the upright to tie the game with 6:45 left in the half.

On the ensuing possession, Purdue exploited a weakness in the Illini defense, throwing a bevy of receiver screens with success. The Boilermakers churned up yardage along the sidelines, marching to the Illinois 12 before McCartney came on and hit his second field goal of the day, staking Purdue to a 6-3 lead.

Scheelhaase got off to a good start on the ensuing drive, but after two first downs, he was pressured on his blindside and the ball popped loose. After review, it was judged Scheelhaase had, in fact, fumbled the ball and Purdue was awarded the ball at midfield.

Penalties and a sack from Michael Buchanan backed Purdue up, however, stopping the Boilermakers from taking advantage of Scheelhaases mistake.

Our defense did a really good job of staying in there, hats off to thembut turnovers put a lot of pressure on them, Scheelhaase said.

Illinois got the ball back at its own 15 with 45 seconds to play in the first half but let the clock run out without looking downfield, prompting boos from the home crowd.

Scheelhaase finished the game with 166 yards in the air, but had no pass longer than 22 yards. Beckman said the lack of a deep threat really came down to the pressure from Purdue and offensive line issues.

Weve gotta protect the quarterback and continue to protect him, he said. They were in a lot of man coveragesso theyre bringing five, six, seven guys. To go vertically, youre going to get your quarterback hit, so we felt we needed to get the ball out as quickly as possible.

The two teams combined for just 18 yards on the first three drives of the second half, but Purdue broke out in a big way with the fourth drive.

Quarterback Robert Marve took the first snap and rolled to the right, drawing the defense. With every Illini defender on the right, Marve tossed a screen pass to Akeem Hunt, who followed his blockers 63 yards for the games first touchdown. With eight minutes elapsed in the third quarter, the Boilermakers took a 13-3 lead.

It was a man coverage and somebody lost their eyes, Banks said, explaining how Purdue got an open field to work with on the touchdown pass. They didnt see him and everyone was running to the ballwe were in man and we gotta go to our man. It hurts.

A fourth down conversion by Illinois on a 10-yard pass from Scheelhaase to Young helped Illinois get some momentum going on the next drive before An impressive 22-yard reception to Darius Millines set the Illini up at the Purdue 16.

On the very next play, freshman Dami Ayoola ran for his second touchdown of the year and the Illinis first offensive touchdown in seven quarters. The 16-yard run brought Illinois within three at 13-10.

Purdue hit right back at Illinois, however, with Ralph Bolden breaking out for 63 yards on the first play of the next drive. Akeem Shavers reached paydirt two plays later with a six-yard run to give Purdue a 20-10 lead.

Late in the game Illinois made things close with a 95-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown by Scheelhaase, but it proved to be too little, too late. The onsides kick attempt did not bounce the Illinis way and Purdue ran out the clock to give Illinois its eighth straight loss.

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

When the White Sox drafted Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft he was known as an elite contact hitter who could play good defense on the infield.

In nearly a year in the minors, that has mostly held true, but not exactly according to plan. Madrigal raced through three levels of the minors in 2018 and hit .303 in 43 games between those three stops. He only had five strikeouts.

This season has not gone as smoothly. Madrigal is hitting .261 for Single-A Winston-Salem, but he still isn’t striking out much at all. In fact, according to a write-up on Milb.com, Madrigal leads of all minor league baseball with a 3.3 percent strikeout rate.

“Madrigal has plus speed, and that should lead to more hits as his sample increases, but he'll have to hit a lot more to provide value from his specific profile,” Sam Dykstra wrote.

So what’s with Madrigal not hitting for higher average? How can a batter strikeout so rarely and not find more hits?

White Sox director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, one of the key decision makers in drafting Madrigal, talked about Madrigal’s progress on an episode of the White Sox Talk podcast earlier this week.

“The one thing he’s still doing is making contact,” Hostetler said. “So that is what we expected. We expected that out of him. I’m not sure he was probably expecting the streaks. I think he’s dealt with a lot of streaks in his offensive game this year. I think he had one stretch that was 0-for-16 or 17 and he came back with a couple hits. So he’s been a little streaky this year. But I think he’s starting to learn. He’s starting to develop. He’s had one home run. He’s starting to hit some doubles, but he’s starting to learn to get the ball in the air a little bit. He’s learning how teams are shifting him, how they’re playing him.”

The shifts Hostetler referred to are another interesting part of Madrigal’s unusual profile. He is actually going to opposite field more than pulling the ball down left field and opposing defenses are playing him accordingly. That could be one reason to explain why Madrigal isn’t getting more hits out of all the balls he is putting in play.

He is showing a bit more power this year as opposed to last year (11 extra base hits vs. 7 in only 10 more plate appearances). His spray charts for 2018 and 2019 show he is pulling the ball more than he used to, a sign that he is adjusting.

2018 spray chart:

2019 spray chart:

Note that Madrigal has more balls resulting in hits getting pulled down the left field side than he had last year. As defenses are shifting him to hit the ball to opposite field, as Hostetler noted, this will be a key part of his development.

He is showing progress in other areas. He is drawing more walks (14 this season vs. 7 last year) and is showing off his speed with 12 stolen bases.

Hostetler isn’t pushing the panic button on Madrigal.

“This is part of development,” Hostetler said. “Unfortunately the new wave we’re in everybody thinks ‘well, they’re a college guy and he’s drafted so high he needs to hit like this and go right away and be there in a year.’ Some guys just take a little bit.

“The one thing I’ll say is the defense has been exactly what we thought it would be. It’s Gold Glove caliber defense and he’s making contact. As long as he keeps making contact, keep fielding those balls like he is, he’ll figure out the rest.”

 

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