NCAA Talk

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

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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.

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

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Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

Loyola battles Valparaiso in a Missouri Valley Conference clash that airs on NBC Sports Chicago Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The Ramblers (10-7, 3-1) are fighting for the top spot in the Valley with the Crusaders (11-6, 4-0) as the top two teams in the conference play an important early league game.

Coming off of an important home win over Illinois State on Saturday, the Ramblers are hoping to make another move by taking a crack at the Valley's only unbeaten team. Veterans Marques Townes, Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig are all having strong seasons for Loyola as the Ramblers attempt to position themselves for another potential NCAA tournament bid.

Valparaiso has put together a strong five-game winning streak, including a good road win at Southern Illinois over the weekend. The Crusaders have a balanced group of scorers, led by forward Ryan Fazekas, and center Derrik Smits -- the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits.

These two teams will also play on Feb. 10 as the Ramblers will make a trip to Valpo for the rematch. For now, this matchup could provide an indication of the team to beat in the Valley.

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.