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Kaplan: Predictions for Sweet 16 games

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Kaplan: Predictions for Sweet 16 games

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 5:01 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com

Now that we have reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament it is time to break down the matchups before play resumes on Thursday evening. Several teams that I fully expected to see still standing are gone including Pitt who lost to Butler in one of the wildest endings to a game that we will ever see.

So who advances to the Final Four in Houston? Here are my predictions on the eight games that will be played on Thursday and Friday:

EAST REGIONAL

Kentucky vs. Ohio State: OHIO STATE
Marquette vs. North Carolina: NORTH CAROLINA

WEST REGIONAL

Duke vs. Arizona: DUKE
Connecticut vs. San Diego State: SAN DIEGO STATE
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL

Kansas vs. Richmond: KANSAS
VCU vs. Florida State: VCU
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL

Butler vs. Wisconsin: WISCONSIN
BYU vs. Florida: BYU

Coaching Tidbits...

Northern Illinois Closing in on Coach.Northern Illinois has narrowed their search for a new head basketball coach to four coaches with varying degrees of experience. Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, Wisconsin assistant Greg Gard, and South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy are all on the NIU short list to replace Ricardo Patton who was fired after four seasons on the job. Giacoletti has been an assistant coach at Gonzaga the past three seasons after head coaching stints at North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and Utah. He took the Utes to the Sweet Sixteen and was named National Coach of the Year in 2006.

He is considered one of the top assistants in the country and his hiring would be a huge coup for NIU athletic director Jeff Compher. Giacoletti is considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country and is expected to target the talent rich Chicago area as his primary recruiting base. He is a native of Peoria, IL and has extensive ties throughout Illinois high school basketball which should translate into a major talent upgrade for the Huskies who finished 7-22 this past season. Nagy has had an excellent run as the Jackrabbits head coach for the past fifteen seasons and has solid ties to the state of Illinois growing up in Champaign while his father Dick was the top assistant to Illini head coach Lou Henson. Both Gard and Lusk are considered to be among the best assistants in the country with solid records in recruiting and excellent knowledge of the game.

Loyola is also looking for a new head coach after saying goodbye to Jim Whitesell and their search has Indiana ties because the Ramblers new athletic director Grace Calhoun comes from Indiana University where she was the associate AD. Known to be on the Ramblers list of candidates are IU assistant coach Tim Buckley, IPFW head coach and former Hoosiers standout Dane Fife, and I am hearing from several sources that Hall of Famer and current Florida International coach Isiah Thomas is interested in returning to his hometown. However, sources also tell me that Loyola does not have serious interest in Thomas.

Finally, staying on coaching vacancies in the state of Illinois I did some homework on the Bradley job which opened a couple of weeks ago. Candidates on the Braves list include Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter who has emerged as the front runner for the vacancy. Several major boosters of the program are upset at the firing of Jim Les who had done a very solid job until an injury plagued season this year. In addition, Bradley's top returning player guard Sam Maniscalco who completed his degree requirements but has one year of eligibility remaining has decided to transfer to Illinois in the wake of Les' ouster. Bradley has also been in contact with IPFW coach Dane Fife and made a run at Long Beach State coach Dan Monson but he reportedly informed the school that he had no interest in the job. Other candidates for the job are Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard, Kansas assistant Barry Hinson, Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery, and Purdue assistant Paul Lusk. One drawback to the job appears to be meddling from the upper administration which has given the job a negative perception in the coaching world.

David Kaplan is the host of Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet. Follow him on Twitter @thekapman.

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.