I'm going to ring in 2010 by getting the hell outta here for a few days. I'll be back Tuesday, Jan. 5. In the meantime, amuse yourselves with Cookie Monster singing Rammstein songs. Happy New Year, everyone!
December 2009 Archives
No. 25 Northwestern played its first game as a ranked team since 1969 Wednesday night at Assembly Hall in Champaign. Although the Wildcats showed well, they probably won't be staying in the rankings next week after the Illini prevailed 89-83 in overtime in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
What stood out about this game was Northwestern's reliance on the 3-point shot. Basically, perimeter shooting IS the Wildcats' offense. Northwestern hit 11 of the 23 shots it took from behind the arc in the first half, establishing a 42-33 lead at the break.
It would have been astonishing had the Wildcats kept that pace up for a full 40 minutes. They did not. They made just 4 of 17 threes in the second half and only 1 of 7 in overtime. For the game, Northwestern ended up 16 for 47 from downtown. That's a mediocre 34 percent clip.
As for the Illini, perimeter defense remains a problem. In the first half, way too many of those Northwestern 3s went uncontested. Even in the second half, the Wildcats got decent looks from outside. They just happened to miss. John Shurna scored 27 for Northwestern, but he had to take 23 shots (he made 9) to get those points.
Meanwhile, Illinois center Mike Tisdale (pictured) didn't miss much at all. The 7-foot-1 junior is just too big for Northwestern inside. He made 11 of 14 from the field and 9 of 11 from the line for 31 points. He also collected 12 rebounds. Wisely, the Illini got the ball to Tisdale and Mike Davis (20 points, 17 rebounds) inside Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone, and the duo's 51 points (including 10 in overtime) were enough to push Illinois into the win column.
Next up for the Illini (9-4, 1-0): A game at the United Center against Gonzaga Saturday afternoon. Northwestern (10-2, 0-1) has a tough one Saturday -- it hosts No. 11 Michigan State.
Ladies and gentleman, I have found the next Justin Cerasoli! Local basketball fans will certainly remember the nomadic Cerasoli -- the point guard who transferred into West Aurora from Providence St. Mel for his last two years of high school. Cerasoli played with future Illinois center Shaun Pruitt at West High when the Blackhawks finished third in the state in 2004.
Cerasoli (far left) continued his transferring ways throughout his college career as well. He played for Seton Hall, Mississippi and, finally, Loyola of Chicago before finally running out of eligibility.
Well, the next Cerasoli appears to be none other than Alex Legion, who announced Tuesday that he's transferring out of Illinois. Legion, you might recall, had transferred into Illinois from Kentucky just last year. What is with this kid? Dude was averaging 2.7 points per game. They tell us he's a shooter, but he's making only 29.7 percent of his attempts from the floor this year. I know it's shocking that a shooter who can't make shots doesn't get much burn, but that's exactly the case here.
Legion says the right things in public, but I've heard enough through the grapevine to know that he's unhappy that Illinois coach Bruce Weber is only giving him 9.9 minutes per game. The fact is, he hasn't earned any minutes. He didn't earn any minutes at Kentucky either. What makes him think he's going to be a big-time player somewhere else?
Whenever a kid like Legion comes along, I just want to slap him and say, "Hey kid, you have no future in pro ball. You think you do, but you don't. There's a reason you can't get off the bench. There's a reason you're picking splinters out of your rear end. The coach isn't the one holding you back. You were good enough to get a Division I scholarship, but this is where it ends. Get your head out of the clouds, use basketball to get your degree and then move on with your life."
I just cannot stand these players who transfer every time they get upset with a head coach, thinking that they are somehow a better player than they actually are.
On Saturday, I posted that the only reason to watch the Bears-Vikings game was to see the matchup between young left tackle Chris Williams and Minnesota's All-Pro defensive end, Jared Allen.
It's time to give Williams a tip of the cap. Allen was held without a sack and had only two tackles in the Bears' 36-30 overtime victory Monday night at Soldier Field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked just twice the whole game. Given time to pass, Cutler showed why the Bears traded for him, completing 20 of 35 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted just once.
Cutler hit receiver Devin Aromashodu (pictured) with a 39-yard TD strike in overtime to end the game. Speaking of strong performances, how about Aromashodu? He had seven catches for 150 yards Monday night. This is a kid who barely saw the field the first 12 games of the season. The last three games, he has 17 receptions for 236 yards and two scores. Why didn't Lovie Smith get this guy in there sooner?
I hope this Bears win does not save Lovie Smith's job (but it probably will). The Bears had a 16-0 lead at the half. Then, Lovie's defense got torched for 30 points in the second half. Minnesota scored those 30 points on five straight possessions. Unacceptable defensive effort. This game never should have gone overtime.
But the positives were Cutler's play, the continued breakout performance of Aromashodu and a strong effort from Williams and the offensive line. No matter who the coach is next season, at least the Bears can say they have a quarterback, a wide receiver and a left tackle as building blocks. There's A LOT of work to be done before this team can be considered anything resembling a contender, but that's a start.
ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine is reporting today that the Cubs are interested in former White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras. In an amusing choice of words, Levine says the Cubs "are in the planning stages of what needs to be done to bring them back to elite status."
Two points on that: 1) The offseason is about half over, so the Cubs should be past their planning stages by now. 2) If those plans include signing guys like Contreras and Scott Podsednik, they won't be anywhere near elite status in 2010.
Sox fans will always be grateful for the contributions Podsednik and Contreras made during the 2005 World Series run. However, both of those players are huge injury risks and past their prime at this point.
I just can't see the Cubs being foolish enough to sign Podsednik to play center field. That guy was afraid of the padded outfield walls at U.S. Cellular Field. How is he going to deal with the brick walls at Wrigley? Podsednik is still a decent on-base guy when healthy, but his stolen base percentage isn't what it used to be. His defense has always been bad. Cubs fans should be shrieking in horror if their team actually decides to put Podsednik in center next to Alfonso Soriano, a noted butcher in left field.
As for Contreras, he's almost certainly older than his listed age of 39. He can still pitch at times, but I've noticed the last couple years that he's no longer able to consistently repeat his delivery. That leads to wide variances in command from game to game and sometimes inning to inning. It also leads to a 5-13 record with an ERA of 5.42.
Contreras might be better than Carlos Silva, the stiff acquired recently in the Milton Bradley trade. But if the Cubs want to return to "elite status," they should stay far, far away from Peter Pods and Grandpa Contreras.
There are few good reasons to watch the Bears game Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. It will be a mostly pointless exercise, since the Bears are eliminated from playoff contention and the season has been been in a death spiral since the second week of November.
But if you must watch, keep an eye on the matchup between Bears left tackle Chris Williams (pictured) and Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen. This will be a good measuring stick as far as finding out whether Williams actually is the left tackle of the future for the Bears. Right now, we just don't know. Allen has 13.5 sacks this season. He's Pro Bowl player, the best defensive lineman in the NFC North. If Williams can hold his own, that's a good sign looking toward next season. If he gets dominated, then the Bears will have uncertainty at that position going into the offseason.
The Williams-Allen matchup is the only thing worth paying attention to in this game. If you're a Bears fan, you might as well cheer for the Vikings. A Bears win Monday night might save a few jobs at Halas Hall. A loss will continue the "It's time to clean house" momentum that has seemed to grow over the last few weeks. From my perspective, bring on the losing!
Not much news in sports on Christmas Eve. One item of note: Broadcasting pioneer George Michael passed away after a two-year battle with cancer, so we'll take a look back at some of George's work.
"Tonight, through the use of the sports machine...."
If you had asked me before the season what the Blackhawks greatest strength would be, I don't think I would have said team defense.
Well, guess what. The Blackhawks biggest strength is their team defense.
The Hawks recorded their fourth shutout in their last six games Wednesday night as they came away with a 3-0 victory at Detroit. This is the second time the Hawks have shut out the Red Wings in the last four days. They defeated Detroit 3-0 at the United Center on Sunday. That's the first time the Hawks have shut out the Wings in back-to-back meetings since January 21, 1971 and March 21, 1971.
And how about backup goaltender Antti Niemi? In 10 games, he's 8-1-1 with four shutouts after earning Wednesday's win. As much as I've bitched about starter Cristobal Huet in the past, he's been solid this year -- 16-8-2 with three shutouts. I'll always wonder about Huet until I see him win in the playoffs, but let's give credit where credit is due. Huet has been far more good than bad in the Hawks' net.
So far, the Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL with 74. The New Jersey Devils have allowed 75. No other team in the league has allowed fewer than 80.
With Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, etc., all on the roster, I figured offense would be the Hawks strength. As it turns out the power play is middle of the pack (17th coming into Wednesday's game). Overall, the Hawks are a respectable ninth in the league in goals for with 108, but it hasn't been the fireworks display that some might have expected.
However, the defensive performance has been far better than anyone could have dreamed. The Hawks will need that come playoff time, and if the power play ever clicks, this team will be a real tough out down the line.
Was anyone still actually watching Monday Night Football when the Redskins tried this last night? The only words that come to mind are "Chinese Fire Drill." Actually, that's not really fair. The Chinese are far more organized than the Redskins, and they are probably better at football, too.
I know the Cubs had to trade Milton Bradley this offseason. No way they could allow his cancerous personality back in the clubhouse. But leave it to the Cubs to actually get a WORSE player in return.
The Cubs dealt Bradley to Seattle today for overpaid, worthless pitcher Carlos Silva. I imagine Cubs fans are rejoicing now, but the joy may stop once they see Silva pitch. This guy is really a bum.
In 2008, Silva (pictured) went 4-15 with a 6.48 ERA in 28 starts for Seattle. Mind you, the Mariners play at Safeco Field, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of baseball. That bad season was no fluke either, as Silva went 1-3 with an 8.60 ERA last year before shutting it down to have shoulder surgery. No wonder Yahoo! Sports recently called Silva the ninth worst free agent signing of the last decade.
Bradley is a bad fit for Chicago, but at least there is some evidence that he might still be able to play the game if placed in right environment. Good ol' Milty is just one year removed from a season where he hit .321. Silva, OTOH, is four years removed from his best year (2005) and has been downright wretched for awhile.
There are two years left on Silva's deal. This pitcher won't be a problem in the Cubs clubhouse, but I dare say he'll be a big problem when he's on the mound at Wrigley Field.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced Tuesday that he's creating a 14-man committee to advise him on all "on-field issues." This group will reportedly work similarly to the way the NFL's Competition Committee does.
Selig said the committee would have influence on matters such as "scheduling, postseason format, umpiring, pace of play and instant replay."
Chicago Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers thinks this could spell the end of the DH. I find that hard to believe, although there are some old-school members of this committee who are anti-DH.
That said, this committee won't have any binding authority, and there's zero chance the MLB Players Association will ever allow the DH to be abolished. The union loves the DH because it extends the careers of aging players like Jim Thome (pictured), who can still swing the bat but can't handle the rigors of playing nine innings of defense on a daily basis.
Much like the union, I love the DH. I think it makes the game better. I want to see hitters hit and pitchers pitch. I don't see any benefit to watching pitchers take three helpless cuts and go take a seat.
One thing you have to keep in mind -- the National League is the only league left that doesn't have a DH. Pitchers don't hit at all in the minor leagues. Thus, the pitchers who make it to the big leagues have no business swinging a bat. A lot of times, a young pitcher who makes it to the show hasn't taken cuts at live pitching in several years. There are fewer good-hitting pitchers these days for just that reason.
In addition, getting rid of the DH would be a reactionary move. Why are we inclined to stop progress and go back to the old days? Should basketball get rid of the 3-point line and the shot clock? Should the NFL get rid of the 2-point conversion and instant replay? IMO, the answer to both those questions is a resounding, 'No.' Likewise, baseball shouldn't get rid of the DH.
It seems like we haven't had a hockey blog in awhile, so here's a link to Yahoo's top 10 best hockey fights of the last decade.
Coming in at No. 5 on the list, a fight between Jim Vandermeer (then of the Blackhawks) and Aaron Downey (then of the Blues) on Nov. 2, 2005. Given that St. Louis is visiting Chicago for the first time this season Wednesday night, I thought it would be appropriate to post this video.
And, speaking of Blackhawks-Blues fights, who can forget the St. Patrick's Day Massacre in 1991? One of my all-time favorite Blackhawks, Dave Manson, beats the crap out of Scott Stevens in this classic altercation. Pat Foley and Dale Tallon at their candid best in this video.
The small-ball freaks got their Christmas wish -- a speedy little slap hitter to bat leadoff for the White Sox. As for me, I'm still hoping GM Kenny Williams will find what I want -- somebody to hit in the middle of the lineup and knock the damn ball off the wall and over it.
Anyway, the Sox acquired outfielder Juan Pierre plus $10 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday in exchange for two players to be named later. Pierre, who has the most career stolen bases among active MLB players, figures to bat leadoff and play left field for the Sox in 2010.
It seems like most Sox fans like this deal, but I'm not sold. Pierre had a decent year last season, hitting .308 with a .365 OBP for the Dodgers. But that was his first good season since 2004. Pierre has had an OBP of .331 or lower in four of the past five seasons.
As an outfielder, he probably has the weakest throwing arm in baseball. White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez better get his running in this spring, because he's going to have to run three-quarters of the way out to the warning track to be a cutoff man next season with Pierre in left field. Also, Pierre is 32 years old, and I'm always wary of guys over 30 who make their living with their legs. In addition, Pierre has never played in the American League before. Will he be as good in the AL as he was in the NL? That's to be determined.
There are two years and $18 million left on Pierre's contract. The good news: The Dodgers are picking up most of that. The Sox will only be paying Pierre an average of $4 million per over the next two years. I hope there is still enough money in the coffers to go get a middle-of-the-order hitter. The Sox can't be counting on the injury-prone Carlos Quentin and the aging Paul Konerko to carry the offense. They need another RBI guy if they expect to be considered serious contenders.
Whenever somebody comes out with a list, it's usually good for a debate. I don't really want to talk about another pointless Bears loss tonight, so instead I'm going to link to ESPN Chicago's list of the top 10 White Sox players of this decade.
If you're too lazy to click on the link, here they are:
1. Mark Buehrle -- Two no-hitters, including a perfect game, four All-Star appearances and 135 wins in this decade.
2. Paul Konerko -- 2005 ALCS MVP, hit grand slam in the 2005 World Series, 235 home runs this decade.
3. Jermaine Dye -- 2005 World Series MVP, averaged 33 home runs per season over five years with the Sox.
4. Frank Thomas -- Greatest hitter in team history, should have won 2000 AL MVP, got screwed over by steroids-using Jason Giambi.
5. A.J. Pierzynski -- Biggest pain in the ass in the American League. Catches 130 games every year. Will rip off your skull and piss on your brain in order to win a game.
6. Bobby Jenks -- Recorded 146 saves since joining the Sox in July of 2005. Pitched the final inning of the 2005 World Series.
7. Jose Contreras -- Ace of the 2005 champs. Won 17 consecutive decisions from late 2005 through the start of '06.
8. Magglio Ordonez -- Hit 139 home runs over the first five years of the decade. Left in a contract dispute, allowing the Sox to sign three or four good players with the same money.
9. Jon Garland -- Won 82 games for the Sox this decade, including a career-best 18 in 2005.
10. Aaron Rowand -- Brought 'The Fire and the Passion.'
Here's my question: How is Joe Crede not on this list? ESPN calls Rowand "an important force in the decade." Huh? Rowand was only a starter with the Sox for two years. His legend grew after he was traded.
All Crede did was hit .368 with two homers in seven RBIs in the 2005 ALCS. His defense during that entire playoff run was brilliant. On that basis alone, he should be somewhere in this Top 10.
Unlike Rowand, Crede was a full-time starter for the Sox for six years. Not that these lists matter much, but I think "Clutch Crede" got overlooked by the people who put together this list.
The White Sox made headlines yesterday by signing former Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz to a one-year, $3 million contract. I think it was a good move because the Sox needed a little more help in set-up relief, and Putz also provides closer experience in the event something happens to Bobby Jenks.
But the move comes at a price. With addition of Putz, the Sox can no longer afford valuable swingman D.J. Carrasco (left). The Sox have decided not to tender a contract offer to the arbitration-eligible Carrasco by tonight's 11 p.m. deadline, thus making him a free agent.
Carrasco, 32, led all MLB relievers in 2009 with 89 1/3 innings. He was the garbage man last year, the guy who came in and ate up innings when a starting pitcher got knocked out early. Carrasco saved the Sox bullpen numerous times, and somebody else will have to step into that role.
The real shame of it is the Sox would probably prefer to keep Carrasco over Scott Linebrink. However, the high-priced Linebrink (and his 4.66 ERA) has two years left on his contract and is almost impossible to trade. Apparently, the Sox just don't have enough money to keep everybody, and Carrasco is the odd man out.
Now for the good news: the Putz signing should move the inconsistent Linebrink into a less crucial role. Linebrink struggled mightily in the right-handed setup role last season and can no longer be trusted in close games.
I look for the Sox to use Putz and steady left-hander Matt Thornton to set up Jenks. Linebrink and right-hander Tony Pena will still be hanging around to pitch in middle relief. That leaves two more open spots in the Sox bullpen, one of which figures to go to a left-hander. Veteran Randy Williams is the top candidate among those currently in the Sox organization.
Santos, a converted infielder, is a wild card in the Sox bullpen plans. He throws 98 mph, and his fastball was rated as second-best in the Arizona Fall League (behind Washington Nationals hotshot Stephen Strasburg). However, Santos burned up all his options during his days as an infielder, so he will be subjected to waivers if he fails to make the Sox roster out of camp. Rest assured, someone will pick up Santos and his outstanding heater if it comes to that.
The guess here is the Sox are done addressing their pitching staff. Next on the agenda: finding another outfielder. Right now, it's Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios and ????. You have to figure those question marks will be filled in sometime soon.
Some members of Congress are like me: They are tired of the BCS and want a playoff to decide college football's national champion. A House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at making that happen.
Typically, you hear people say that Congress should be focused on "more pressing matters" whenever this subject comes up. Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush had a witty retort today.
"We can walk across the street and chew gum at the same time," Rush said. "We can do a number of things at the same time."
One would hope that would be the case. Generally speaking, I don't think Congress should get involved in stuff like this. But, frankly, I hate the BCS so much that I'm willing to waive political principles on this one.
I hope Rush and the bill's other co-sponsors ultimately succeed is changing the system in college football.
In case anyone needed a reminder, high major college basketball teams should NEVER schedule road games against in-state mid-major programs. Not for any reason. NEVER. I don't care how loud the fans of the mid-major teams shout.
A week ago, Wisconsin was the toast of the college basketball world after its upset victory of then-No. 6 Duke vaulted the Big Ten to a win in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. Today, Wisconsin is a national laughingstock after losing a road game to in-state mid-major Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Dumb scheduling, Badgers. I'm confident Wisconsin is a much better team than UWGB. If the two teams played a seven-game series, Wisconsin would win in five. There's no question in my mind about that fact. But none of that matters at this moment. Badger fans are being taunted by UWGB fans today. And come February and March, every time you see Wisconsin's NCAA tournament resume displayed graphically on ESPN, it will include the phrase, "Bad losses: UWGB." A loss like that is a black mark that doesn't go away all season.
Illinois has a similar loss -- an embarrassing defeat to a Bradley squad that has very little chance of making the NCAA tournament this year. Again, if those two teams played a seven-game series, Illinois wins in five. But for one night, Bradley was better.
One thing about these in-state mid-majors, they treat these matchups with Big Ten schools like "The Game of the Century." I know that's true from what happened in that Illinois-Bradley game. Bradley acted as if it was playing in the Super Bowl. Illinois treated it like a casual pickup game at the Y. The difference in intensity was noticeable. Playing against these "little brother" schools creates a classic trap game scenario that big schools like Illinois and Wisconsin should avoid at all costs.
Big Ten schools gain ZERO benefit from playing these games. If Wisconsin had won last night, no one would have cared. It wouldn't have even been considered a "quality" win. But since Wisconsin lost, it goes down as a "bad loss," and everyone laughs and points at you for the next 24-48 hours. You end up on SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons. It's a no-win situation and a headache a major college basketball program just doesn't need.
For years, Southern Illinois fans have been howling at their former coach -- current Illinois coach Bruce Weber -- about scheduling a home-and-home series between the two schools. To this point, Weber has wisely declined and should continue to do so. If SIU wants to play in Champaign, I can deal with that. But under no circumstance should Illinois play a game in Carbondale, for any reason. Everything to lose and nothing to gain from the Illini's perspective.
Frankly, I don't care if SIU fans (or fans of any other in-state mid-major) think Illinois is ducking them. Thus far this season, Illinois has played Utah, Clemson and Vanderbilt. Before the non-conference season is over, the Illini will play Georgia, Missouri and Gonzaga. That's a pretty good non-conference schedule. Illinois plays a schedule that prepares the team for the Big Ten and provides chances for quality wins that will boost an NCAA tournament resume. That's all I care about.
Would road games against Southern Illinois, Illinois State or UIC help prepare Illinois for conference play? Not really. Games against Vandy, Missouri, Clemson and Gonzaga serve that purpose just fine. Would games against in-state mid-majors help build a strong tournament resume for a team like Illinois? Nope, because Big Ten schools get no credit for playing and beating these guys. They do, however, get blame if they lose. That's the way the system is set up. It's too bad for the mid-majors, but that's how it is.
As Day 3 of baseball's winter meetings comes to a conclusion, Cubs GM Jim Hendry is still looking for someone to take the Milton Bradley headache off his hands. I still find it hard to believe ANYONE will take a chance on Bradley, unless the Cubs eat all of the $22 million he's owed over the next two years.
Nevertheless, reports surfaced Tuesday night that a deal with a "surprise American League" team was "three-quarters" done. Let me ask you this: What the hell does that even mean? When is a trade "one-quarter" done? When is a trade "half" done? "Three-quarters" done? Huh? What? If it sounds ridiculous, that's because it is.
Apparently, whatever deal was in the works didn't actually get close to being done. I'm looking at tonight's report from Sun-Times beat guy Gordon Wittenmyer, and it seems the tone has changed a little bit. Here's a direct quote from Gordon's piece tonight:
"And one day after a source characterized a two-team deal with an American League team as 'three-quarters' done and suggested a deal could get done Wednesday, Cubs people on Wednesday seemed anything but optimistic that a deal would get done in the next week or two, much less by the conclusion of the winter meetings (Thursday). The second source, in fact, backpedaled from his comments from the previous day and suggested that he didn't know when a trade might get done."
So, this saga is likely to continue on awhile longer. Maybe the Cubs could trade just "three-quarters" of Milton Bradley and keep the rest of him. That makes about as much sense as saying a deal is "three-quarters" done.
Two days into the winter meetings, neither the White Sox nor Cubs have made a major move yet. But there was one big three-way deal agreed upon today involving one of the Sox division rivals.
The Tigers are dumping salary, and they traded starting center fielder Curtis Granderson and No. 2 starting pitcher Edwin Jackson this afternoon. Here's how it all shakes out:
Yankees get: Granderson
Diamondbacks get: Jackson, RHP Ian Kennedy (from Yankees)
Tigers get: OF Austin Jackson and LHP Phil Coke (from Yankees), and RHP Max Scherzer and LHP Daniel Schlereth (from Diamondbacks)
I think both the Yankees and the Tigers win in this deal. Granderson will be an immediate positive for New York, which was looking to get younger in its outfield. Granderson is a top-notch defender, and his left-handed power swing is suited well to Yankee Stadium.
As for the Tigers, well, I doubt they win the AL Central in 2010 having subtracted two key pieces like Granderson and Jackson. But the return is pretty good. Detroit is adding three arms, all of which are useful, and Scherzer has the potential to become a top-of-the-rotation guy. Over the long haul, this move might very well be a plus for the Tigers.
However, Detroit is weakened in the short-term, and that opens the door for the White Sox to emerge as the main challenger to the defending AL Central champion Twins. So far, nothing much to report from GM Kenny Williams, although the Sox did agree to terms with 3B Mark Teahan today, avoiding arbitration.
I admit it -- I didn't pay any attention to the Bulls game Saturday night. The Blackhawks were playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Pittsburgh. (They won.) The Illinois basketball team was in action. (They won.) There was important college football on with the SEC and Big 12 championship games taking place.
So, it slipped by me that Toronto guard Jarrett Jack got away with tying his shoe during live action during the third quarter of Saturday night's 110-78 Raptors' victory. Unbelievable. First off, Toronto is 9-13 this season. How the hell is that team able to beat the Bulls by 32 points at the United Center? Secondly, I could probably steal the ball away from a guy who is tying a shoe, and nobody ever accused me of being John Stockton.
Bulls guard Derrick Rose called the shoe-tying incident "embarrassing." Coach Vinny Del Negro explained what happened thusly:
"Luol (Deng) and Jannero Pargo were trying to make an exchange there, so they could match up a little bit, and Luol had turned his head, and as that happened Jack was doing that," Del Negro said. "That's not acceptable. But, it was also a unique situation. We were in a mismatch situation and (Deng) was trying to get Jannero so he had turned his back, really didn't see it. Otherwise, he would have been up on the ball."
Regardless of whether it was a "unique situation," it just looks BAD. Do people really want to spend their discretionary dollars on this Bulls team this year?
Yes, the Bulls have had injuries. Yes, it's been a tough early-season schedule. But look a little deeper at the team's 7-11 record, and you'll see the Bulls have been blown out in six of their last eight games. Yuck.
I wouldn't spend money on a Bulls game this year because you can't count on these guys giving you a honest effort. They say "NBA action is FAN-tastic." Not in Chicago. Not this year. I'll take a pass.
Oftentimes, a losing streak doesn't end with a spectacular performance. It ends when a struggling team finally runs into an opponent that's going even worse. That was the case for the Bears Sunday, as they ended a four-game skid with an ugly 17-9 win over the 1-11 St. Louis Rams.
It's really getting to a point where we all might as well find something else to do with our Sunday afternoons. The Bears are not only bad, they are boring. I could have fallen asleep watching this lame "slugfest" with the Rams.
The game was basically over after the first quarter, as the Bears turned over a new leaf, started off fast and grabbed an early 10-0 advantage. The Bears quite literally made three good offensive plays all day. All of them came in the first quarter, and that was enough to win this game.
On the Bears' first possession, Jay Cutler hit Devin Hester on a 48-yard completion. That was good play No. 1. Moments later, Cutler threw a pass into the end zone intended for Johnny Knox that resulted in a pass interference penalty on St. Louis. There's good play No. 2, a 35-yard gain that gave the Bears 1st-and-goal. A couple plays later, Matt Forte scored to put Chicago ahead 7-0.
Later in the first quarter, Cutler hit Earl Bennett on a 71-yard pass play up the seam. That put the Bears in the red zone, where they stalled out as usual. Robbie Gould kicked a field goal to make it 10-0. Game. Set. Match.
I suppose I shouldn't have been counting my chickens that early in this game, but I just had a feeling 10 points would be enough. I was right. After all, the Rams have Kyle Boller (pictured) starting at quarterback. That's right: KYLE BOLLER. The fact of the matter is Boller is Chad Hutchinson-bad. Boller has lost the last 10 games he has started, and he's completely incapable of making any explosive plays in the passing game -- even against the Bears' horrid secondary.
After getting the 10-0 lead, all the Bears really needed to do was prevent St. Louis tailback Stephen Jackson from running wild. They were able to do that, in part because of an 18-tackle performance from backup linebacker Jamar Williams.
The final three quarters of yesterday's game were entirely unremarkable, much like the Bears season. Four more games and this silliness will be over. The only real questions that remain: Will the Bears do enough to save the jobs of GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith? Or will they play so poorly down the stretch that the penny-pinchers at Halas Hall will be forced to make a change.
I'm one of those guys who hates the BCS and would like to see an eight-team playoff decide college football's national championship. So, that means this is the time of year that I root for an untidy finish that will cause multiple teams to have a claim to a spot in the title game.
Well, the title game is going to be Alabama and Texas, by virtue of the Crimson Tide's 32-13 spanking of Florida and the Longhorns' 13-12 nail-biter over Nebraska. Texas kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired to escape with the win.
It's a damn shame Nebraska couldn't have come through. Can you imagine if Texas had lost? Then, you'd have Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State all sitting there as unbeatens. Which one of those three would you take for a matchup with Alabama?
Due to the Texas win, that question won't have to be answered. There are five unbeaten teams, which is a fairly messy situation. But probably the only people who are going to bitch about an Alabama-Texas title game are the fans of Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State.
I would have much preferred the chaos that would have ensued with a Texas loss. It might have finally exposed the BCS as a bunch of utter nonsense.
Maybe the Bears should try this....
Don't you just love it when ESPN's biased agenda gets defeated? For years and years, we've been subjected to claims from certain broadcasters that the ACC (ACC, BAYBEE!) is the most dominant college basketball conference in the land -- even in years when it is not. And every year, those of us in Big Ten country get frustrated because our teams always find a way to blow it in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Not this year.
Thanks to wins by Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern, Ohio State and, most importantly, Wisconsin and Illinois, the Big Ten won this year's Challenge over the ACC 6-5. The Big Ten has been on the upswing the last couple years, and hopefully, the conference is on the verge of gaining more national respect.
Wisconsin's grinding 73-69 upset of No. 6 Duke was certainly a big key. Underrated guard Trevon Hughes stepped up big and scored 26 points to lead the Badgers, who have been exceptionally hard to beat in Madison during the Bo Ryan era. As a matter of fact, Wisconsin is now 60-5 in non-conference home games under Ryan. Not even the Dukies could overcome that kind of domination.
The most remarkable win definitely belongs to the Illini, who trailed 51-28 early in the second half before rallying for a 76-74 victory over No. 18 Clemson. Illinois looked miserable in weekend losses to Utah and Bradley, and never in a million years did I think they were capable of rallying from such a deficit on the road.
Illinois got big performances from freshmen Brandon Paul (20 points) and D.J. Richardson (14 points), but the key was getting strong efforts in the same game from all three junior starters for the first time this season.
Mike Davis (pictured) led the team with 22 points and nine boards. Mike Tisdale made the go-ahead basket and provided 12 points and four blocks -- including a big one in the final minute. Point guard Demetri McCamey finally realized he doesn't need to score to be an impact player. He played the final 13:49 of the game with four fouls and displayed floor leadership that had been previously unseen.
"The big three -- McCamey, Davis and Tisdale -- acted and played like they should," Illinois coach Bruce Weber told Sun-Times reporter Herb Gould after the game. "Give credit to Demetri. He had two points, but he might have played the best game of his career. He took care of the ball. He led us. He talked. Maybe he's grown up a bit. Maybe we grew up a little bit as a team."
I hope so, Coach, because you can't be losing to Bradley. But tonight was a great win for Illinois. Wisconsin also had a great win tonight, and it's really nice to see the Big Ten finally beat the damn ACC.
What is this fascination with Mike Singletary? Why do Bears fans so firmly believe his presence would turn around the fortunes of the slumping Mediocrities of the Midway? Singletary was a great middle linebacker for the Bears, no question. But what evidence do we have that he'd be a great head coach? Frankly, I see none. That doesn't stop people around Chicago for longing for his return.
The following Letter to the Editor appeared in Monday's edition of the Tribune:
"What the Chicago Bears really need is not another Dick Jauron, Dave Wannstedt or Lovie Smith but a Ditka-era coach to wake up this team.
"Just look at what the Ditka-era Mike Singletary is doing as coach of the San Francisco 49ers to bring a team together again.
"I rest my case."
What's really comical is how the letterwriter closes by saying, "I rest my case," as if the point he made can't possibly be refuted.
OK, let's look at what Singletary is doing as coach of the 49ers. He's 10-10 lifetime. Yay. In many ways, Singletary is exactly in the mode of Wannstedt, Jauron and Smith. He's a guy who had success as a defensive assistant, who was willing to work cheaply as a head coach. In my mind, that's not what the Bears need at all. They need an offensive-minded coach who can harness quarterback Jay Cutler's immense physical skills.
And do we really want to be like the 49ers? This year's San Francisco team is 5-6, one game better than the Bears. The Niners are likely to be joining the Bears on the golf course come January. No playoffs forthcoming.
Did people watch the head-to-head matchup between San Francisco and the Bears this year? The Niners won because Cutler threw an interception on the last play of the game. It was a terrible game between two terrible teams, arguably the worst exhibition of football the NFL has seen all season. Even the game between the woeful Detroit Lions and the even-more-woeful Cleveland Browns provided more entertainment value.
That San Francisco team is the one you want the Bears to emulate? Seriously? I know, I know. Singletary has the "fire and the passion" that Lovie Smith lacks. And without a doubt, Smith's see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach has worn thin in Chicago.
Nevertheless, the Bears aren't losing because of Lovie's sideline and press conference demeanor. They are losing primarily because their players stink. They are a combination of old, injured and bad. You can bring Singletary in and have him grab facemasks, scream at people and pull his pants down in the locker room if you wish. But that won't change the fact that the Bears need a personnel overhaul on both sides of the ball.
Even if the Bears had Singletary as coach, they would be destined for 6-10 this year. I'm sorry, but that's how it is.