Loyola is getting the headlines, but here are five other local Final Four angles


Loyola is getting the headlines, but here are five other local Final Four angles

Loyola has dominated the local Final Four talk over the last several days. But while the Ramblers have taken the Chicago sports scene by storm, there are still plenty of other angles to keep an eye on during this weekend's action in San Antonio—especially if you’re a Bulls fan.

The Bulls have two first-round picks in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft and there are also plenty of Chicagoland area players and coaches who are contributing to Final Four teams.

Here's a look at five local Final Four angles outside of Loyola to keep track of this weekend.

1. Bulls NBA draft prospects

One of the main reasons for Chicago fans to watch the Final Four this weekend is to see some of the potential targets the Bulls could be looking at in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.

Most of the elite one-and-done prospects have been eliminated from the field. But there are still some intriguing future first- and second-round picks to keep an eye on in San Antonio.

Villanova junior Mikal Bridges is the most highly-touted NBA draft prospect in the Final Four as the versatile 6-foot-7 forward projects as a perfect "three-and-d" prospect at the next level. Shooting 43 percent from three-point range and sporting a 7-foot wingspan, Bridges has some intriguing intangibles that could make him worth a serious look with the Bulls' first pick in the lottery. Bridges currently projects as a potential top-10 pick.

Besides Bridges, there isn't a first-round lock playing in the Final Four this year but a few others could sneak into that range over the next few months. Wildcat junior point guard Jalen Brunson (more on him in a moment) is a potential late first-round pick if he decides to go pro after this season. The son of former NBA veteran Rick Brunson is a lethal perimeter shooter and a crafty floor general with a knack for winning big games.

Kansas has a trio of players in Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman who could get 2018 NBA Draft looks. Graham, a point guard, and Mykhailiuk, a wing, are both experienced four-year players for the Jayhawks. Both are viewed as potential second-round picks at the moment. Newman, a redshirt sophomore and former McDonald's All-American, has generated national attention with a red-hot recent stretch. The 6-foot-3 Newman could play himself into the 2018 draft if he continues to knock down perimeter shots at a high level.

Most of the 2018 NBA Draft prospects are on the right side of the bracket but Michigan junior big man Moritz Wagner is also an intriguing NBA draft prospect. The 6-foot-11 Wagner stretches the floor and he's also improved defensively during his time at Michigan.

2. Jalen Brunson gets another shot at a title

Local audiences should already be familiar with Jalen Brunson thanks to his prolific high school career at Stevenson.

During his four-year varsity career with the Patriots, Brunson won an IHSA Class 4A state title, Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors and he was selected as a McDonald's All-American.

Brunson has continued his winning ways at Villanova as he already helped the Wildcats win a national championship in 2016. Also named national Player of the Year from some publications, Brunson has been arguably the best overall player in college hoops this season.

With three straight IHSA Final Four appearances and two NCAA Final Fours in three seasons, Brunson has been to the Final Four in five of his last six seasons of competitive basketball.

3. Charles Matthews gets a chance to shine at Michigan

Former St. Rita star Charles Matthews is making the most of his new opportunity with Michigan this season. After starting his college career at Kentucky during the 2015-16 season, Matthews opted to transfer so he could get more stable playing time.

Sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Matthews returned this season as a key two-way wing for the Wolverines. Putting up 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, Matthews is perhaps Michigan's best athlete.

Matthews will be a key for the Wolverines on the defensive end as he'll likely be asked to defend multiple perimeter threats for Loyola during the Final Four.

4. Familiar faces on the sidelines

The Final Four will also feature some familiar faces on the sidelines. Kansas head coach Bill Self and assistant coach Jerrance Howard both spent time coaching at Illinois earlier in their careers.

Howard, a Peoria High grad, played four years at Illinois as well.

Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich also has local connections. The LaSalle-Peru graduate coached at the high school level at Joliet West before moving on to the college ranks before the 2013-14 season. Yaklich spent four seasons on the Illinois State coaching staff before taking a job with the Wolverines before the 2017-18 season.

5. Kansas redshirt guard Charlie Moore awaits his chance

He won't be participating in the Final Four this weekend, but Kansas guard Charlie Moore has been a valuable member of the team's practice squad during his redshirt season.

The Mr. Basketball in Illinois winner in 2016, Moore played at Cal last season before transferring to Kansas last offseason. The former Morgan Park star had to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Moore should be a key player for the Jayhawks next season as he'll be asked to help replace senior starting point guard Devonte' Graham.

Illinois men's basketball cracks AP poll for first time in more than five years


Illinois men's basketball cracks AP poll for first time in more than five years

Illinois basketball has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and has endured losing records in three of the last four seasons. However, things are looking up for the Fighting Illini.

Three straight Big Ten wins have the Illini 4-2 in the league, good for second place and the No. 24 spot in the latest AP poll. It’s the first time the Illini have been ranked since Dec. 2014.

Coach Brad Underwood went 26-39 in his first two seasons in charge, but things have turned around this season. A win against Michigan on Dec. 11 gave the Illini a marquee win, but losses to Missouri and Michigan State followed soon after. The current three-game winning streak has featured a blowout win against Purdue, a one-point win at Wisconsin and a three-point win against a surprisingly good Rutgers team.

Illinois’ RPI is currently 42 so they’re far from a lock to get in the tournament, but the Illini are in good shape as of now. The last season the Illini were ranked, they had to settle for an NIT bid.

Chicago native and Morgan Park High School product Ayo Dosunmu leads the team with 15.5 points per game.

NCAA is taking steps to allow student-athletes to make money off their likeness


NCAA is taking steps to allow student-athletes to make money off their likeness

Bulls rookie guard Coby White has talent, an infectious smile and an afro that makes him stand out on the court. It’s a fair bet he could have made some money off his likeness while he played at North Carolina if the rules allowed it.

The NCAA is taking steps towards allowing its athletes to do so, but there’s still a long way to go in the process. The organization’s Board of Governors unanimously voted to start the process. That vote moves things to the NCAA’s three divisions “to consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies,” as it was worded in the NCAA's press release.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, the chair of the board and president of Ohio State. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

The board asked each division (Division I, Division II, Division III) to make any new rules immediately and no later than January 2021.

It’s important to note that none of the changes are final, or even imminent. It’s still relevant that the NCAA is going through the process at all, after being so strongly in favor of amateurism across the board for its student-athletes.

The potential changes would not allow for compensation based on performance or participation in a sport. Of course, the natural grey area is that higher performing athletes will be more marketable so they would be compensated on performance indirectly.

This comes after California passed legislation to allow college athletes to receive endorsement/sponsorship money and other states are pursuing similar.

This is still far from being official or finalized, but it will continue to be a major story in college sports over the next couple years.