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.

Jonathan Toews' four-point night paces Blackhawks past Canucks

Jonathan Toews' four-point night paces Blackhawks past Canucks

Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of things right this season. The offensive production, however, has been hit and miss as the Blackhawks' captain looked for the same consistency on the score sheet he had in the rest of his game.

On Sunday, he hit pay dirt.

Toews recorded a four-point night, including the game-winning goal, and Corey Crawford won his 200th career game as the Blackhawks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night. The Blackhawks remain in second place in the Western Conference. They and the Minnesota Wild each have 65 points, but the Wild still have three games in hand.

It was a milestone night for a few Blackhawks. Marian Hossa had an empty-net goal late to record his 400th point in a Blackhawks uniform. Toews' three assists put him 13th all-time among Blackhawks in that category with 331. Brian Campbell recorded his 500th career point.

Richard Panik had a goal and an assist.

The Blackhawks had arguably their best start of the season in this one, outscoring the Canucks 2-0 (Panik and Patrick Kane) and outshooting them 18-9. But in less than a minute in the third period, the Blackhawks lost the lead, thanks to Troy Stecher's power-play goal and Bo Horvat's rebound goal.

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But Toews, who played his part in the Blackhawks' start, was there for the finish. Panik's late third-period shot caromed off the backboard and went right to Toews, who scored for the 3-2 lead with 1:18 remaining in regulation.

"I guess the goals have scored lately are just getting those bounces and being in the right spot at the right time. Nice to get that one on my stick," Toews said. "I just keep telling Hartsy (Ryan Hartman) and Panner to keep shooting — they both have unbelievable shots — and we're going to generate stuff whether it hits the end wall, goes in or hits the guy's pads. We'll find something around the net. It's nice to get that bounce late in the game."

The Blackhawks had some bad luck — and Michal Kempny had a rough shift or two — during the Canucks' third-period comeback. It was a bit of frustration at the time, but coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks kept their cool.

"I still thought we didn't get away from our game at that point, which could have happened," he said. "Finding a way to get it to overtime or scoring a late goal tonight is something our guys have been good at. Just (the) play at the net, Johnny in the right spot with the finish. I still thought we kept our composure at that point."

Crawford, meanwhile, stopped 25 of 27 shots and looked better than he has in some recent outings.

"We gave him some looks where he could feel comfortable again, and he had some great plays in close from post to post on their power plays, especially in the second," Toews said. "He was finding them all night. Nice to see Crow play the way he did tonight and obviously he was a big part, as usual, in the win."

The Blackhawks had a bit of a gaffe early in the third period, but they were able to weather it. Toews has been steady in most facets of his game this season but was looking to build on his production. Sunday’s game was a step in the right direction.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.