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NCAA Tourney sets up to be a memorable one

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NCAA Tourney sets up to be a memorable one

From Comcast SportsNet
Were they minor hiccups or something much bigger? Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina will sort that out over the next three weeks. For now, though, they have "No. 1" by their names -- top seeds and beneficiaries of a selection committee that all but ignored their weekend losses and put them in prime position for the NCAA tournament. "The win streak? That's done now," Kentucky coach John Calipari said after his team lost only its second game of the season, a setback to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament Sunday that ended a 24-game winning streak. "The fact that we were invincible? That's done now. We're going to be in a dog fight. That's how you have to approach this. Play each game like it's your last." It's what the NCAA tournament is all about -- a three-week free-for-all that gives little guys such as VCU, a Final Four team last year, and Iona, one of the last teams to squeak into the tournament this year, a chance against Kentucky, Carolina and the rest of the so-called power teams. Michigan State earned the fourth and final No. 1 seed and was the only top-billed team to win its conference tournament. The Spartans defeated Ohio State 68-64 in the Big Ten title game Sunday and earned top seeding for the first time since 2001. Michigan State is seeking its first national title since 2000. "We were playing for a No. 1 seed, which we knew was a possibility," Spartans forward Draymond Green said. "And we were playing to do something that hasn't been done here since 2000. That's all the motivation we needed." While No. 2 seeds Kansas, Duke, Missouri and Ohio State wonder whether they could have been rated higher, teams such as Drexel, Seton Hall, Mississippi State and Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington curse what might have been. Those bubble teams were left out, and all will be wondering how Iona, California, North Carolina State and South Florida made it in. The Big East led all conferences with nine teams, including defending national champion Connecticut, a dangerous No. 9 seed, conference tournament winner Louisville and, of course, Syracuse, which cruised through most of the season with only one loss. "I think it's going to help us a little bit," coach Jim Boeheim said of the second defeat, Friday to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament. "I think players, when they're winning, they kind of excuse their mistakes. I think we finally got their attention. I think they'll be a better team going forward than they were last week." There were 11 at-large teams from the so-called mid-major conferences, four more than last year and the most since 2004 when 12 made it. Though the committee claims not to consider a team's conference when it picks the bracket, this was nonetheless a nod to how unpredictable this tournament can be. Last year, 4,000-student Butler finished as national runner-up for the second straight season, while VCU, of the Colonial Athletic Conference, went from one of the last teams in the draw, all the way to the Final Four. Who might be this year's VCU? It's the question being asked across the country, as those 10- and 20-a-pop brackets start getting filled out in office pools and Internet contests around America. The tournament starts Tuesday with first-round games and gets into full swing Thursday and Friday, with 64 teams in action. "There were 112 teams with more than 20 wins," said Jeff Hathaway, chairman of the NCAA selection committee. "We talked a lot about parity at the high end of the field and about quality throughout the field. Bottom line, it was about who did you play, where'd you play them and how did you do?" Some results, though, were less important than others, and apparently, losing in the conference tournament didn't cost Syracuse, Kentucky or North Carolina. Those losses could have created chaos in the bracket, but the committee had the teams more or less cemented into top spots. "Seeding really doesn't matter too much," Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston said after Carolina's loss to Florida State in the ACC title game Sunday, but before he knew his team would have a 1' by its name. "As long as you get in the dance, it's an equal opportunity to get to the Final Four." The Tar Heels open their run in the Midwest regional against the winner of a first-round game between Lamar and Vermont. Led by freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, either of whom could be one-and-done in Calipari's turnover-heavy program, Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed. Kentucky was placed in the South region and potentially could play six games without having to leave the Southeast. Kentucky will open its 52nd NCAA tournament appearance in Louisville against the winner of a first-round game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky, but it gets tougher from there. A possible second-round opponent is UConn, with No. 4 Indiana and No. 2 Duke possibly waiting beyond that. Indiana handed Kentucky its first loss this year and anyone who knows college hoops knows about Duke-Kentucky: This is the 20th anniversary of Duke forward Christian Laettner's last-second catch-and-shoot game-winner against the Wildcats. In the West, Michigan State will begin its quest for its seventh Final Four since 1999 against No. 16 LIU. The bottom of the West draw features No. 2 Missouri, which won the Big 12 tournament but got penalized for a weak nonconference schedule. "That hasn't changed at all over the years," Hathaway said when asked whether the committee rewards programs that beef up their schedules. In the East region, Syracuse opens against UNC Asheville with a possible third-round matchup against Jared Sullinger and Ohio State. Other games include No. 3 Florida State, which went 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina this year, against No. 14 St. Bonaventure, which was a surprise winner of the A-10 conference tournament and took a bubble spot away. Maybe Drexel's? "There must be a lot of people on the basketball committee that don't know too much about basketball," said Dragons coach Bruiser Flint, whose team went 27-6. Others left out included Miami, Northwestern, Nevada and Oral Roberts. All had flaws, as did Iona, though the Gaels' strength of schedule appeared to carry them through. "We tried to play teams or conferences ranked above ours, and most of those games we really had to play on the road to get those games," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "We spent seven, eight weeks in a row on the road this year, but those were the teams we had to play to give ourselves a chance."

Tim Anderson won't stick to sports: 'This problem is bigger than baseball'

Tim Anderson won't stick to sports: 'This problem is bigger than baseball'

Tim Anderson is a baseball player. It’s how he makes a living for him and his family.

In this moment in history, he affirmed that indeed he is finding it difficult to try to care about baseball.

“I guess you could just say take care of what really matters,” he said during a conference call Monday afternoon. “I think this problem is bigger than baseball at the moment.”

Anderson, the reigning big league batting champ and the only Black American player on the White Sox roster, sees what’s happening across the country, watching the thousands of protesters demanding an end to police brutality against and the police killings of Black people in the wake of the death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.

“Definitely witnessing something I only have heard about but I never have lived in,” he said. “It was definitely crazy. Just to see the things that are going on and how the world is reacting, I think there are a lot of angry people out there who feel like they are going unheard.

“I think that’s why it’s boiling down the way it is and things are happening the way they are. There’s a lot of angry people out there.”

It’s impossible to think about athletes and the issue of police brutality against Black people and not think of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who took a stand by taking a knee during the national anthem at NFL games. He enraged plenty in the process and has remained jobless despite being a Super Bowl quarterback in a league constantly searching for answers at the position.

RELATED: White Sox's Tim Anderson: 'You have to show the good, the bad and the ugly'

Anderson hasn’t gone that far. He said he hasn’t participated in any of the protests. His public response to the current climate can be summed up in a few tweets, the most striking of which featured four pictures of him posing in front of the aftermath of Saturday night’s protests and separate acts of destruction and vandalism in Chicago. Monday, he described “the good, the bad and the ugly” of that aftermath as a piece of history, as well as art.


But as he’s made clear before, he’s not going to “stick to sports,” the instruction often lobbed at athletes who dare speak about anything but their chosen profession. Fans are always hungry for a baseball player’s comments on baseball. A certain subset of them has zero tolerance for their comments on just about anything else.

It’s a ridiculous way to act, as if all people should reserve their thoughts to their job and nothing more. And in these times with sports on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Anderson perfectly explained why.

“We stand for more than just sports,” he said. “If you remove the sports, as you can see now, then what are we? We're human beings. We stand for more than our job title.

“People are trying to be themselves instead of just being ‘the baseball player.’ … I think it's just allowing more people to be themselves.”

Who knows how prevalent the tough conversations that lead to change are in clubhouses across Major League Baseball. Some players have spoken out on Twitter, including White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito. Asked about his conversations on these subjects with his teammates, Anderson singled out Giolito as someone he’s talked to before and someone who “gets it.”

“Gio is the person … we kind of conversate on a different level when it comes to certain things,” Anderson said. “You hear his perspective, and always using that as a learning tool. … He’s understanding it and kind of speaking out because we have talked about things, what it’s like growing up being black and how things are just not always what they are now.

“Definitely bold of him to speak out. Let me know he felt the love. I always knew how Gio felt about things and certain situations because that is a person I talk to. Just to see that, I definitely felt the love. He gets it and he understands it. So, I think that’s why he posted it. He wants what’s best, as well. I think we all do.”

Anderson isn’t even participating in the protests, and it's unfair to ask him to speak for Black America just because he’s the Black guy on his major league team.

But he’s an American citizen like the rest of us, and he’s choosing not to stick to sports and to act in a way he hopes can help solve what’s plaguing our country.

“We're at a moment where we need everybody's love, regardless of what race,” he said. “I think we're at a moment where we need to hold hands, every race, every color, it don't matter. I think we move better as one.”

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How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

The Ricketts family, more than any other owners in the NL Central, should be intrigued by the MLB Players Association’s economic counterproposal.

Overall, the proposal is the second step in a fiery tango, in which the players association and owners begin on opposite sides of the room and hopefully end up somewhere in the middle. The players’ response, which the union reportedly delivered to the league on Sunday, will almost definitely not be adopted in whole. But, in the midst of both sides’ hard-lining, the players extended the option to defer some player salaries if the postseason is cancelled.

As one of the top five spenders in MLB, the Cubs would be one of the teams most affected by that aspect of the proposal.

The prospect of losing the playoffs to a second wave of COVID-19 is the stuff of baseball owners’ nightmares. The postseason supplies especially lucrative TV deals, which become especially important as the league braces for a massive loss of revenue this year.

The MLBPA counterproposal addressed that fear by including deferrals, according to multiple reports. Contracts calling for salaries of $10 million or more (before proration) could be deferred, with interest. High-payroll teams could enjoy up to $7 million each in relief, The Athletic reported.

The Cubs have 10 players poised to make at least $10 million before their salaries are prorated this year, per spotrac.com.

– Jason Heyward, $23.5 million

– Yu Darvish, $22 million

– Jon Lester, $20 million

– Kris Bryant, $18.6 million

– Anthony Rizzo, $16.5 million

– Craig Kimbrel, $16 million

– Tyler Chatwood, $13 million

– Kyle Hendricks, $12 million

– Jose Quintana, $10.5 million

– Javier Baez, $10 million

That’s the most in the league. Twice as many as the White Sox. In the NL Central, the Cardinals (8) are the closest to catching the Cubs, followed by the Reds (5). On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates don’t have any players with $10 million salaries.

There is, however, a Catch-22. According to chairman Tom Ricketts, 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from gameday operations. With such a high payroll, and fans banned from attending games for the foreseeable future, the Cubs organization is poised to take an especially large financial hit.

Still, Ricketts said on CNBC last week, “We’d definitely like to see baseball back." 

A presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players association, obtained by the Associated Press, projected $199 million in local losses for the Cubs alone, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That estimate was based on an 82-game season without fans and with players taking prorated salaries.

If that number is accurate – the players continue to call on owners to open their books – $7 million wouldn’t be much relief in the face of a cancelled postseason. And, as mentioned before, it would come with interest. But by mentioning deferrals in a counterproposal, the MLBPA introduced an area for potential compromise.

The players quickly dismissed the league’s sliding scale proposal, which could reportedly pay the highest-paid players merely 20-30 percent of their salaries. But deferrals could help ease owners’ financial challenges this season without axing players earnings so drastically.