Cubs

Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

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Illinois hoping Big 10 season provides identity

CHAMPAIGN -- Who is Illinois? The schools new slogan is, "Our State. Our Team," but is this a team that even knows its identity?

The Illini are struggling to stay healthy in coach Tim Beckmans first year, which has led to many young players, including true freshmen, playing significant minutes. The biggest health issue, however, is at quarterback.

Junior signal-caller Nathan Scheelhaase returned to the starting lineup on Saturday for the first time since Illinois' win over Western Michigan on Sept. 1. His time behind center was brief, however. After a pair of turnovers, Beckman pulled the starter in favor of sophomore Reilly OToole.

After the game Beckman refused to be drawn into commenting about the quarterback controversy. He toed the party line, insisting that the starting position will be won over the next few days.

"We will evaluate the film and practice next week and make a decision against Penn State. We will make sure we have the one who performs best throughout the week at quarterback," Beckman said.

Likewise, the players played down any notion of a controversy at quarterback. OToole even praised his counterpart in advance.

"Scheelhaase just didnt have his burst tonight. He's close; hes getting better every day and next week, hell be great," the sophomore said.

As far as team identity goes, however, the players were not concerned that their non-conference season would define them. Likewise, the lack of clarity at the quarterback season was not going to distract the Illini from their goal of reaching a Big 10 championship.

"The only thing that affects the team is how many points we put on the board. Thats the only thing that matters at the end of the day," Scheelhaase said. "Everyones confident in what were doing at the quarterback position and we just have to go out as quarterbacks and execute."

Receiver Ryan Lankford echoed that sentiment, citing personal improvement as the key rather than consistency behind center.

"We have to do our job, we cant be worrying about who is starting. Youre one-eleventh of the team, youre just the position you play," he said.

The Illinois players indicated an eagerness to view the start of the conference season as a fresh start for the team. Each player mentioned 12112, the date of the Big 10 championship game in Indianapolis, as their primary goal and the only thing they want to focus on in the coming weeks.

Its still early, we have a lot of football left and we havent played our best yet, OToole said.

To get to their best football Lankford says the team should look to each other for support.

"Were a new team, this is a new era. We have to do things better, we have to come together. Were all weve got, so we have to band together," he said.

Hot Stove: AJ Pollock could be the player to fill the Cubs needs

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USA TODAY

Hot Stove: AJ Pollock could be the player to fill the Cubs needs

Six players turned down qualifying offers in baseball, and they are quality names in LHP Patrick Corbin, C Yasmani Grandal, OF Bryce Harper, LHP Dallas Keuchel, reliever Craig Kimbrel and OF A.J. Pollock. It’s the last name that piqued the interest of Cubs Insider Tony Andracki, who told me on our Hot Stove show on Facebook Live Tuesday at 12:30, that while all eyes are on Harper, Pollock is a player who could fit the Cubs’ needs. 

“The interesting name is A.J. Pollock, depending what the market is for him, because he’s a guy that when he’s able to stay healthy, and he hasn’t really been healthy for about five years now, but when he’s able to stay healthy, he’s a dynamic player who would really shake up that offense, and he’s also a leadoff hitter,” Andracki said. “The Cubs need a stable leadoff hitter and he’s a guy they could look at.”

Hot Stove

Time for your weekly dose of HOT STOVE! 1. The White Sox are shopping Avi Garcia...to make room for Bryce Harper? 2. BIGGEST Takeaways from the GM Meetings. 3. Will we be celebrating an Eloy 'Rookie of the Year Award' after next season?

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pollock has played in only 469 games over the last five seasons. He played 113 in 2018, and batted .257 with 21 home runs and 65 RBI, and broke his thumb in May. His all-star season was in 2015, when he played in 157 games, hit .315, had 20 home runs and 76 RBI. Pollock turns 31 on December 5. 

If the Cubs were to sign Pollock in the current circumstances, they would have to give up their pick after Competitive Balance Round B in the June 2019 First-year player draft, and $500,000 of their international bonus pool money. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, a team signing a player who turned down a qualifying offer would have to give up a supplemental first-round draft pick. 

NBA Power Rankings: Breakout stars re-shaping the league

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Breakout stars re-shaping the league

As we near the 15 games played mark, the league's top teams (and some of the struggling ones too) are being aided along by new developments in the playing styles' of their talent.

The Bulls have struggled mightliy with a large batch of regulars missing time but have seen tremendous growth from Zach LaVine, as well as rookies Wendell Carter and Chandler Hutchison. 

Over in the West, the Houston Rockets found out that success is not so easy to translate over to the next year. Their defensive efficiency has fallen and their offense has been largely ineffective, and it is no doubt connected to the loss of their defensive-minded wings in Luc Richard Mbah Moute and Trevor Ariza. It is not all on his shoulders, but the Carmelo Anthony experiment seems to be coming to an end just as quickly as it started. 

With the Bucks, Nuggets, Raptors and Sixers—following the massive news of the their Jimmy Butler acquisition—all looking to be real challenegers to the Golden State Warriors, the regular season wins race will be a little more interesting than usual. Home-court advanatge in the NBA Finals could be the difference between taking the Warriors 6+ games or being swept. 

So keep an eye on who is maintaining contol of the NBA's overall No. 1 playoff seed as the Dubs head into a tough three-game road trip in Texas. In this week's NBA Power Rankings, we take also take a look at which player has been on the verge of a breakout season for each team here.