5 Questions with...WGN Radio's Mike McConnell

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5 Questions with...WGN Radio's Mike McConnell

CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guest ... a standout talk radio veteran whose vast knowledge of politics, pop culture, sports, and numerous topical issues affecting not only the city of the Chicago, but the entire country, has quickly made him a must-listen during his brief, two-year stint on WGN Radio 720 ... he's a man with an opinion who has no problem disagreeing with you on just about anything ... thankfully, he agreed to be a part of 5 Questions with ... MIKE McCONNELL!

BIO: Mike McConnell joined WGN Radio in August 2010 and can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

McConnell previously hosted middays for WLW-AM 700 in Cincinnati, one of the country's most respected radio stations, for 25 years. He also hosted the nationally syndicated "Weekend with Mike McConnell" for seven years. Known for his quick wit and common-sense approach to discussions, his show features a broad range of topics from in the news social issues to the oddities of everyday life. "I play it down the middle. If you're too far on one side of the middle, you're missing half the show," says McConnell of his style.

McConnell grew up outside of Philadelphia and attended the University of Dayton before starting his radio career in Cincinnati.

He enjoys everything there is to do in the great outdoors along with looking things up and being right all the time.

1) CSNChicago.com: Mike, you're coming up on your two-year anniversary at WGN Radio after spending 25 at WLW-AM in Cincinnati and were glad you're here! Now that you've been in Chicago a couple of years, what is the one thing about our city that has been a pleasant surprise to you ... and the one thing that has disappointed you?

McConnell:

Positive surprise about Chicago

I'd been to Chicago about a dozen times, mainly to watch baseball, so I didn't pay much attention to the where and how people live. So when you're thinking about moving, I thought my choices were high rise vs. suburbs. I'm not much of a high-rise guy and I don't like a commute. So the neighborhood situation is probably the most pleasant surprise. I have a 10-minute commute to downtown from Lincoln Park. And then there are all the other neighborhoods with their own unique attractions and quirks that are worth checking out.

Down side of Chicago

I have restaurants across the alley from where I live and I'm sure their dumpsters smell great. If I was a rat, I'd want to live in my backyard too. The city has worked hard to stay ahead of the problem, but I think it's a losing battle. I've looked at buying my own rat traps but my rats would just wear them like a necklace.

2) CSNChicago.com: It looks like the City Council will be moving forward to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to partially decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Good move? Bad move? Your thoughts

McConnell: Good move. I don't think people stop to think how being busted for small amounts of drugs can drastically change someone's future. The President has admitted he's smoked pot and snorted coke when he was young. If he'd been busted like the 18,000 Chicagoans who are each year, would he be President of the U.S. today? No. Would he have been a Senator from Illinois? No. Would he have been admitted to Harvard? I don't know. But the point is we've been drastically altering people's futures over youthful indiscretions for far too long.

3) CSNChicago.com: You recently went on a tour of Wrigley Field with WGN Radio contest winners. What was that experience like for you personally and, from what you witnessed, what is your opinion on if major renovations are actually needed to keep this historic landmark going strong for years to come?

McConnell: I've done the tour at least three times. Twice with friends from out of town. And I recommend it for any baseball fan, not just a Cubs fan. I've watched Cubs baseball on WGN since I first got cable in the early 80s. There's always that thrill of seeing something in person for the first time that you've seen on television for years. And having a chance to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was maybe the highlight of my sports fan life.

I'm no architect, but fans have come to expect more amenities than Wrigley Field provides today. The old scoreboard has to stay, but traditionalists have to allow for more electronic signage elsewhere. Update and expand the restrooms, and add a restaurant somehow. If you do the tour, you'll be amazed at what visiting teams get for a locker room. It's pretty much a closet. And the fact that the Bears played there all those years, and visiting NFL teams used the same room, leaves you wondering how everyone on the roster fit inside. They must have changed in shifts. The average fan won't care much for the quality of the luxury suites, but I've been in a few around the league and they don't measure up either. They're not even half the size on average, and don't have restrooms. And lastly, the Cubs have to figure out how they can sell more signage without messing with the rooftop experience. The rooftops are a larger part of the Wrigley atmosphere than perhaps the Cubs would want to believe.

4) CSNChicago.com: As an avid book reader, what are your top can't-miss suggestions you can pass along to us for a good summer read this year?

McConnell: Not to dodge a question, but I read so much for work that I don't have much time for leisurely reading. Last week, I had three books to read along with my usual prep work. So it gets to be that a day I don't have to read is like a day off.

For me, the summer is for getting outside, playing golf, soaking in the sun, watching a ballgame or 10. Doing all those things you wish you could do from October to May. Watch something mindless on TV like "Wipeout." Drink beer on a sidewalk. Hit the festivals. Go to the beach. Ride a bike, take a walk. I could write a book about killing time in the summer. The last book I read for pleasure was Michael Crichton's "Timeline." It's about time travel back to the middle ages, and the book was a lot better than the movie.

5) CSNChicago.com: Your bio states your love for the great outdoors ... what was your most memorable outdoors experience ever and what was it that made it so special to you?

McConnell: For an adrenaline rush in the great outdoors, it's hard to beat white water rafting. A favorite spot for me is the Gauley River in West Virginia. I've done it about 10 times. Nothing beats putting your raft in at the base of the dam at 7 in the morning with torrents of water coming through the base of the dam, setting up the best rapids this side of the Colorado River. I've been dumped out of a raft on two occasions. You feel like a sock in the washer and gain a whole new appreciation for water and nature. If you have half a mind to try it, look up my friends 'the Rivermen' -- fantastic guides and accommodations.

Less stressful, but the most spectacular natural setting I've seen is Machu Picchu in Peru. I went about three years ago. You can hike all or part of the Inca Trail -- tough at high altitude. And climbed Huayna Picchu (if you Google a photo of Machu Picchu, it's the tall peak that's always shown in the background) -- its the greatest view on earth.

McConnell LINKS:

WGN Radio 720 official Mike McConnell page

Mike McConnell on Facebook

Mike McConnell on Twitter

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

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USA TODAY

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

Could a late-season surge get Illinois into the NCAA tournament?

As recently as a couple days ago, that question seemed pretty ridiculous. After all, the Illini have played poorly the majority of the campaign, are light on quality wins and sit near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, something that's especially damning in a year when the conference is nowhere near the strongest in the sport.

But John Groce's team has won three of its last four, a stretch that includes two wins over Northwestern, the in-state rival that seems destined to reach the Big Dance for the first time in its history.

The three recent wins — the other came at Iowa — have featured much better play than Illinois has turned in throughout the season, particularly on the defensive end. For the first half of the conference schedule, the Illini were among the worst defensive teams in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field for a long stretch. But that's changed recently. Granted, both Northwestern and Iowa have seen their own rough patches, but Illinois held those teams to an average of 59 points in three wins, letting them shoot a combined 34.9 percent from the field, a stellar number. And the Illini forced a total of 40 turnovers in those three games.

Plus, two freshman — Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols — have taken on expanded roles of late and had major impacts on both ends of the floor.

That's all well and good, but hasn't the damage already been done to stretch the program's streak to four years without an NCAA tournament appearance?

Well, that's where the mediocrity of the Big Ten comes in. After sitting firmly in the bottom four of the conference standings for the majority of this season — and seemingly barnstorming toward a spot in one of the league tournament's two Wednesday-night games — Illinois jumped all the way up to No. 10 after Tuesday night's win. Tenth in the standings is nothing to crow about, but considering the Illini were recently 13th, that's an improvement worth noting.

The interesting part of this is what happens if this relative hot streak continues? The three remaining games on the regular-season schedule come against Nebraska, Michigan State and Rutgers, with the first and third of those coming on the road. The bout with the Spartans stands out, though Tom Izzo's team is hardly what it typically is and could be on shaky tournament ground itself. So that makes for three winnable games, assuming Illinois doesn't revert to the poor play from earlier this season.

Let's say, for the purpose of this exercise, the Illini win out, ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak with wins in six of their last seven. They'd surely be freed from the Wednesday-night spot in the conference tournament and could manage a win in Washington. With the standings so bunched together, there's really no telling who their opponent would be, but again thanks to that league-wide mediocrity, it'd figure to be someone they could beat.

Seriously, with the Big Ten what it is this season, how much separation is there, really, between an Illinois team given three (or even four) more wins and teams like Michigan State or Michigan, teams that have been locked into bracket projections for months?

It's true that Illinois' resume isn't great. It has four good wins on the season: a non-conference, neutral-site victory over VCU, two wins against Northwestern and a home win against Michigan. It does have "good" losses in drubbings against highly ranked teams like Florida State, West Virginia, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland. The Illini are the No. 59 team in the country in the RPI rankings. KenPom has them at No. 66, which is behind Indiana and Ohio State, for some reason.

There is no good answer to the question, really, of whether Illinois miraculously gets on the right side of the tourney bubble. "Maybe" is the best that can be offered with some things left to play out. The point is this wouldn't have been a discussion a week ago. Now, if the chips fall the right way, Groce might be looking at snapping that drought — and keeping his job.

Overtime loss at Iowa continues Indiana's late-season free fall

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USA TODAY

Overtime loss at Iowa continues Indiana's late-season free fall

What a difference a year has made for the Indiana Hoosiers.

During last season's visit to Iowa City, Tom Crean's crew clinched the regular-season Big Ten championship.

Tuesday, things followed a familiar pattern for how things have gone in 2016-17. Indiana blew an early 13-point lead, coughed away a game in the final minutes of regulation and let Iowa star Peter Jok score 15 points in overtime — 11 of those coming from the free-throw line — in a 96-90 loss that served as the crimson and cream's fifth straight defeat and seventh in the last eight games.

So a season after they were the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers are barreling toward a bottom-four seed, which means playing in one of two Wednesday-night games.

It's got Crean predictably on the hot seat, though when hasn't he been the subject of that discussion during his tenure in Bloomington?

Truly, though, this season has reached the disaster stage for a team that was one of the preseason favorites to win the conference title. Those non-conference wins against Kansas and North Carolina now seem to have happened in a different season altogether. The midseason injury to OG Anunoby has loomed large.

But what's happened to Indiana hallmarks, like scoring a ton of points? During the seven-losses-in-eight-games stretch, two went to overtime — one went to three overtimes — inflating the point totals. In those six regulation games, all losses, Indiana averaged just 62.7 points, nearly 18 points lower than its season average, which still ranks second in the Big Ten.

Defense has never been Indiana's strong suit in recent seasons, and that showed Tuesday.

Out to a great start against a sliding Iowa team that entered on a three-game losing streak, Indiana couldn't make that early advantage stick. Iowa went on a 12-0 run in the middle of the first half to erase that double-digit gap. And though over the course of the remainder of the first half and the start of the second half the Hoosiers grew leads as big as seven and eight, none of those had long life either.

Indiana led by eight with under five minutes to play, but Iowa countered with six straight points to whittle the gap down to two in 40 seconds. A couple modest four-point edges for Indiana followed, but the Hawkeyes got a Tyler Cook dunk to tie the game at 70 with a little more than two and a half minutes to go. Iowa grabbed its first lead of the game on another Cook dunk a few seconds later. The teams went back and forth from there, with Josh Newkirk's free throws in the final minute of regulation sending the game to overtime.

The Hawkeyes kind of ran away with overtime. The Hoosiers at one point had an 81-80 lead, but from there the Hawkeyes outscored the visitors 16-9, getting 15 points from Peter Jok in the extra period. Jok poured in 11 free throws in overtime, half of his program-record-setting total of 22 on the night. Jok finished with 35 points, one of four Iowa players in double figures. The record he broke, set by former Hawkeye and NBA coaching legend Don Nelson, stood for 55 years.

Indiana's offense was good, shooting 53.6 percent from the field in the second half. But Iowa went to the free-throw line 24 times over those 20 minutes and another 16 in overtime.

Iowa's win said plenty about the mediocrity not just of this team but of the Big Ten in general this season. The Hawkeyes started conference play 3-2 before a three-game losing streak, then a three-game winning streak, then another three-game losing streak and now a big win over Indiana. After that three-game winning streak, Iowa sat in fifth or sixth place in the league standings, looking like a fringe tournament contender. But the typically high-scoring Hawkeyes scored just 66 points in back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Illinois, losing the latter on their home court. The Hoosiers are no defensive juggernaut and sit in the bottom four of the Big Ten standings, but the Hawkeyes got a big win Tuesday if only because it could keep them from playing one of those Wednesday-night games in the Big Ten Tournament. Of course, this could all change quickly, with the next two games coming at Maryland and at Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, what happens next for Indiana? Could Crean's future really be in jeopardy one year after winning a conference title? That, of course, is a decision for Indiana athletics director Fred Glass and not anyone else. But with games remaining against Northwestern and Purdue, two of the top four teams in the Big Ten, it's certainly a possibility that the Hoosiers end the regular season with losses in nine of their last 11 games. Hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament were dashed long ago, a shocking development considering Indiana was at one point a top-10 team this season.

How the mighty have fallen.