Cubs

Sam: Top Prospects of the Sweet 16

Sam: Top Prospects of the Sweet 16

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 2:07 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

WithJune's upcoming NBA Draft on the minds of fans of pro teams without ashot to make the playoffs down the stretch of the regular season,here's a look at some of the top remaining pro prospects left in theNCAA Tournament.

Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8 freshman, North Carolina:Projected as a first-team All-American and the hands-down No. 1 pickbefore the season even started, Barnes endured early struggles, thenbounced back to show the potential--specifically, a sweet shootingstroke, good athleticism, a high overall skill level and solidunderstanding of the game--to restore him back to the draft's lottery.

Jon Diebler, 6-foot-7 senior, Ohio State:One of the most prolific shooters in NCAA history, Diebler has recentlybeen gaining steam as a pro prospect because of his near-unlimitedrange, good size for the wing, savvy game and underrated ball skills.

Jimmer Fredette, 6-foot-2 senior, BYU:There has been much debate about how Fredette, the darling of thiscollege basketball season, will fare in the NBA, but while hisdeficiencies of defense rightfully give teams some pause, hiscreativity and pure shooting stroke should enable him to be at least aninstant-offense guard in the league.

Justin Harper, 6-foot-10 junior, Richmond:A sleeper from a sleeper team, Harper's versatility, length andoutstanding shooting range for his size and position--he appearscapable of transitioning into a face-up power forward in the pros--hasNBA scouts very intrigued as of late.

John Henson, 6-foot-10 sophomore, North Carolina:Henson is far from a finished product, but the ACC defensive player ofthe year's length, shot-blocking prowess, athleticism and mostimportantly, potential somewhat mitigate concerns about how his skinnyframe will fare in the NBA.

Kyrie Irving, 6-foot-2 freshman, Duke:Thought to be the consensus top pick after his hot start to the season,a toe injury sidelined the talented point guard until the start of theNCAA Tournament and while he might not return to form before season'send, his return to health alone, combined with his previous blend ofplaymaking and scoring could return him to his throne in June.

Terrence Jones, 6-foot-8 freshman, Kentucky: Jonesstarted this season with a bang (some thought he could be the top pickin the draft), but despite the versatile forward's inconsistency, thesouthpaw's perimeter skills, rebounding ability, athleticism andoverall versatility still have him projected as a lottery pick.

Enes Kanter, 6-foot-10, Kentucky:Don't blame yourself if you're not familiar with the Turkish bigman--he hasn't suited up all year because of an NCAA suspension forbeing paid to play in Europe--but NBA scouts project him a consensustop-five pick, based on his strength, post-up game and reboundingability, which they viewed prior to this season.

Brandon Knight, 6-foot-3 freshman, Kentucky: The latest in John Calipari's point-guard tree (following Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall),

Kawhi Leonard, 6-foot-7 sophomore, San Diego State:A sleeper coming into this season, Leonard and his team are no longersecrets, especially to NBA teams, who view him as an athletic,versatile swingman with playmaking skills, rebounding prowess,defensive acumen and transition scoring ability worthy of a lotterypick.

Jon Leuer, 6-foot-10 senior, Wisconsin:After creating some buzz with a solid performance while scrimmagingagainst Team USA last summer, Leuer has built upon it with a solidsenior campaign, in which he has carved out a niche as a "stretchfour," a highly-valued role in the NBA.

David Lighty, 6-foot-5 senior, Ohio State:A jack of all trades, but master of none on offense, the fifth-yearsenior (he was a freshman on the Buckeyes' Final Four team with GregOden and Mike Conley) projects as a defensive-oriented wing in the NBA,where there should be a spot for him because of his maturity and highcharacter.

Marcus Morris, 6-foot-8 junior, Kansas:The Big 12's MVP broke out this season to become a true inside-outsideforce as a go-to scorer and rebounder and while pro scouts aren't surewhich forward position he's best suited for (there are questions abouthis speed in the wing and his athleticism inside), he has certainlysolidified himself as a first-round, if not lottery, pick.

Markieff Morris, 6-foot-9 junior, Kansas:"The big twin" (due to his one-inch height advantage and morepost-oriented game) came even further than his brother this season, ashe has developed into a dominant low-post presence, separating him fromhis brother, due to his projected NBA position, power forward, beinghis natural role.

Chandler Parsons, 6-foot-9 senior, Florida:The SEC's MVP is a big wing with finesse--range on his jumper, superbballhandling skills for his size--and underrated athleticism, but thereare persistent questions about his toughness, although his high skilllevel should earn him an opportunity, at the very least.

Mason Plumlee, 6-foot-10 sophomore, Duke:Some believe Duke's style of play inhibits the monster athlete, whileothers think he's simply not developed enough to be productiveconsistently, but regardless of which opinion is correct, hisrebounding, shot-blocking and agility have NBA scouts drooling,regardless of his current readiness for the pro game.

Thomas Robinson, 6-foot-8 sophomore, Kansas:The only non-starter on this list, Robinson's off-the-chartsathleticism, rebounding prowess and high-energy style make him asleeper among NBA personnel types, some of whom view him as theJayhawks' best NBA prospect, although his game still needs polishing onoffense.

Josh Selby, 6-foot-3 freshman, Kansas:After coming into the season as a projected lottery pick, then missingearly action because of an NCAA-mandated suspension, the athletic comboguard started his career with a bang, then dropped off to the pointwhere he fell out of Bill Self's rotation, almost ensuring he'll beback in a Jayhawks uniform next season to deliver on his potential.

Kyle Singler, 6-foot-9 senior, Duke:Some might question his decision to return to school after winning atitle last season, but while his stock took a slight dip because of aprolonged shooting slump, his polish, versatility, intangibles andwinning background make a coveted piece for NBA teams looking to add alow-maintenance young player.

Chris Singleton, 6-foot-9 junior, Florida State:One of the most versatile defenders in the country, his late-seasoninjury woes could push him back to Tallahassee, but if thesuper-athletic forward does leave school early, he has prototype lengthfor the wing in the NBA and adequate enough scoring ability to succeedas a rotation player.

Nolan Smith, 6-foot-2 senior, Duke:Throughout his career, Smith's talents were nit-picked by observers,but his improved all-around game and point-guard skills in Irving'sabsence showed he'll at least be able to function as a versatile andvaluable combo guard, particularly if he ends up sliding in the draftand getting picked by a playoff team.

Jared Sullinger, 6-foot-8 freshman, Ohio State:Although the freshman sensation is a tad undersized, not the mostexplosive player and could stand to improve his conditioning, hismassive frame, savvy beyond his years and dominance on the glass andwith his back to the basket justify his projections as a top-five pick.

Kemba Walker, 6-foot-1 junior, Connecticut:Probably a few inches shorter than his listed size, Walker's yeomanscoring efforts, shot-making ability, exciting ballhandling, nerves ofsteel and unbelievable heart have overshadowed his tough defense andplaymaking ability--prior to this season, he functioned as a pass-firstfloor general--which should allow him to be an effective NBA scoringpoint guard.

Derrick Williams, 6-foot-8 sophomore, Arizona:The Pac-10's MVP blend of solid athleticism, emerging perimeter skillsand a rugged low-post game has made believers of many, especiallycoupled with his ability to rise to the occasion in big situations,which has elevated him to a potential top-five pick.

Tyler Zeller, 7-foot junior, North Carolina:The rail-thin big man had been plagued by injuries prior to thisbreakout season, but his ability to run the floor, polished post moves,underrated toughness inside, soft touch and clutch play as of late hasopened eyes and have him pegged as an agile, high-energy, pick-and-popspecialist on the next level.

Honorable Mention:Kevin Anderson, Richmond; Jimmy Butler, Marquette; Matt Howard, Butler;Doron Lamb, Kentucky; Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut; Shelvin Mack, Butler;Vernon Macklin, Florida; Roscoe Smith, Connecticut; Jordan Taylor,Wisconsin; Patric Young, Florida.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation

daveleitaodepaulslidenew.jpg
USA TODAY

Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation

The DePaul men's basketball team has been placed on three-year probation and head coach Dave Leitao has been suspended three games for the 2019-20 season, the NCAA announced on Tuesday.

The program was found guilty of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while Leitao did not "prevent violations from occurring in his program."

A Division I Committee on Infractions panel concluded that a "former DePaul associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he knowingly directed the former assistant director of basketball operations to provide impermissible recruiting benefits to a recruit."

The NCAA found that three coaches knew about the situation but failed to report the infractions. DePaul will vacate all wins earned while the ineligible player competed and suffer recruiting restrictions. They were also fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men's basketball program budget.

In 2019, DePaul had their first winning season since 2007 by going 19-17.