Backcourts key in Syracuse-San Diego State matchup on CSN

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Backcourts key in Syracuse-San Diego State matchup on CSN

It will take a few extra days to complete, but Sunday afternoon a pair of heavyweight head coaches will square off at No. 9 Syracuse and No. 20 San Diego State meet on the flight deck of the USS Midway. The game will air on Comcast SportsNet at 3 p.m., followed by postgame coverage at 5:30.

The teams hope to avoid the fates that befell other ranked teams on aircraft carriers Friday night. The game between No. 10 Florida and Georgetown aboard the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla., was stopped at halftime with the Gators leading, 27-23, because of condensation on the court. Meanwhile in Mount Pleasant, S.C., No. 4-ranked Ohio State and Marquette never tipped off after condensation on one end of the court persisted even after a near 30-minute delay in hopes of the situation improving.

Sundays Syracuse-San Diego State game was originally scheduled for Friday, but concerns about the weather (a 75 percent chance of rain and 16 mph winds) prompted officials to move the game. Sundays forecast calls for temperatures in the high 60s without rain.

When they do tip off, it will be the first matchup of the college basketball season that features two teams ranked in the preseason polls.

The Orange lost four of their six leading scorers from a year ago, including seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, standout sophomore Dion Waiters and 7-footer Fab Melo. But like any Boeheim-coached team, the Orange have spoils of depth on their roster and a handful of new faces will keep Syracuse in the national championship hunt for another year.

Steve Fisher's Aztec group was supposed to be rebuilding last season after, like Syracuse, losing four starters (Waiters was the sixth man but played starters' minutes). Instead, San Diego State won 26 games and made its third straight NCAA Tournament.

Now with four of five starters back and three Division I transfers gaining eligibility this November, the Aztecs won't be doing any rebuilding and they won't be sneaking up on any teams either.

Along with two Hall of Fame coaches battling one another, Sunday will also feature a matchup of two of the top shooting guards in the country.

San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin burst onto the scene his sophomore year, increasing his freshman averages of 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per game to 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in more than 30 minutes per game in Year 2.

An honorable mention All-American last year, Franklin will be targeted by defenses every night. He has good size at 6-foot-5, and may have to use that solid 3-point shooting against a Syracuse defense that won't play anything but a 2-3 zone.

Senior guard Chase Tapley and junior point guard Xavier Thomas both return as starters, and give the Aztecs one of the better backcourts in the country.

The Orange have always been a "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" offense, but senior Brandon Triche finally has the spotlight to himself in the back court and he should be in line for a stellar final season.

The combo guard had 23 points and seven assists in a tune-up exhibition over Bloomsburg College on Sunday. The Orange won handily, 103-60.

Triche can score in a variety of ways and has good bulk at 6-foot-4. He and Franklin should make for a fun back-and-forth matchup, with big stakes on the line between two ranked teams.

And a prime example of Boheim's ability to bold his raw talent into more experienced contributors will be Michael Carter-Williams. A top-30 national prospect out of high school in Rhode Island, Carter-Williams averaged just 10.3 minutes per game and scored in double figures just once. But the 6-foot-6 guard is expected to be a major contributor this year and he'll get his first test against the experienced Aztec backcourt.

Both teams have talented front courts as well, but Sunday's matchup -- despite being played outdoors -- will be won by either backcourt. Franklin is likely the best player on the court, but Syracuse's tough 2-3 zone won't make life easy on the junior standout.

Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

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Preview: Cubs-Giants Thursday on CSN+

The Cubs take on the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery vs. Jeff Samardzija

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ headline Cubs prospects ticketed for Arizona Fall League

Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ will headline the group of seven Cubs prospects ticketed for the Arizona Fall League.

As the Cubs project their next wave of talent, Jimenez is thought to be close to untouchable after a breakout performance at the All-Star Futures Game and a Midwest League MVP season at Class-A South Bend.

Jimenez – who originally signed out of the Dominican Republic and got a $2.8 million bonus in the summer of 2013 – is hitting .331 with 14 homers and 81 RBI through 111 games with the South Bend Cubs. At the age of 19, the dynamic outfielder reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman year at the University of San Diego with that 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and powerful right-handed swing.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – is a switch-hitter (.717 OPS at Double-A Tennessee) who has tried to increase his versatility by moving between second base and the outfield and become a Joe Maddon-type player.

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The Mesa Solar Sox roster unveiled Wednesday also includes Victor Caratini, an advanced defensive catcher who drew interest around the trade deadline and could be packaged in a bigger deal for pitching if Willson Contreras continues to develop behind the plate and Kyle Schwarber comes back healthy next season.

Cubs officials trying to build a pitching pipeline for Wrigley Field will also get a look at right-handers James Farris, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Perakslis and Duane Underwood Jr. in the showcase league.

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Jason Hammel helps Cubs sweep Pirates and surge into September

Another quick hook left Jason Hammel seething over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, bringing back uncomfortable questions about how much manager Joe Maddon trusts him, and whether or not the Cubs would find a spot for him on a playoff roster.

Four days later, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system as Hammel warmed up before facing the Pittsburgh Pirates, with no guarantees about October or next season.

Hammel responded with another strong start during Wednesday’s 6-5 victory, completing a three-game sweep that left the Pirates staggering in the wild-card race and helped the Cubs cut their magic number to win the division down to 16.

Outside of a few extreme lows that distorted the perception of his superb overall season – 10-run outings against the New York Mets and at Coors Field and the 39 pitches he dismissively called a side day in Los Angeles – Hammel has been an integral part of the elite rotation that pushed the Cubs to such a huge lead in the National League Central.

Now up 15 games on the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs surged into September with an 85-47 record, an expectation their pitching staff will get healthy and become whole again and a sense of harmony within their clubhouse.

“That’s rearview mirror now,” Hammel said, wearing a Pearl Jam shirt during his postgame press conference. “Joe and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field BS or disagreements or to hold a grudge. 

“I told him how I felt. He told me how he felt and the reasoning for everything. We’re grown men. We solved it and have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would really mess up something special we got going on right now.”

Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) shut down the Pirates for six innings, allowing only one run, scattering three hits and showing the confidence that made him an All-Star-level performer in the first half. 

Hammel regained control of his fastball, spun some curveballs and incorporated a changeup to create doubt in hitters’ minds and add a different wrinkle to opposing scouting reports. He limited the damage to one run in the fifth inning, working around three walks and screaming and flexing his muscles after striking out Andrew McCutchen swinging at a 93-mph fastball to end the threat.

“Yeah, I wanted to get back out there,” Hammel said. “The last one just didn’t sit well with me. So far, so good.”

On a night when the crowd chanted “MVP,” Kris Bryant backed Hammel by launching his 36th homer and playing Gold Glove-level defense at third base. Bryant saved a run by diving to his left to catch a Sean Rodriguez line drive and end the second inning. Bryant began the fourth inning with his answer to Anthony Rizzo’s tarp catch, leaning over the wall and into the stands to catch a Josh Bell pop-up.

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But the defensive play of the night belonged to Addison Russell, who with the bases loaded and the Cubs trying to protect a 5-2 lead, raced over from shortstop and made a sliding catch near the left-field line to end the seventh inning.

“This team’s going to be really good for a long time,” said Hammel, who had been packaged with Jeff Samardzija – Thursday’s starter for the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field – in the Russell trade with the Oakland A’s in 2014. “These kids – I say kids now, because I can, because I’m old – they’re impressive and they continue to dazzle.

“You can’t really say surprised, because we’ve come to expect all these great plays and the big knocks that they’re driving in. We’re witnessing greatness.”

After getting 22 wins in a month for the first time since September 1945, this could become the next awkward conversation: If John Lackey (shoulder) returns to full strength – and the rest of the rotation doesn’t experience any setbacks down the stretch – what are the chances of Hammel making a playoff start?

“Stay healthy and we’ll see what happens,” Maddon said. “I don’t bet on the come. Let’s get to the playoffs first, make sure everybody’s well, and at that point then you look at the group you have. And then maybe at that point you look at the group you may be playing. And then you try to formulate the best plan of attack from your personnel versus their personnel. 

“I’ve not even thought about a playoff moment once.”

The Cubs will now have all of September to think about October.