Big Ten names All-Conference teams

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Big Ten names All-Conference teams

Northwestern and Illinois finished the regular season on opposite pages, with Pat Fitzgerald's upstart Wildcats sitting at a 9-3 record (5-3 in the Big Ten) and Tim Beckman's Illini losing the last nine games to close out 2012.

But each team featured two players on the 2012 All-Big Ten Conference Football teams.

Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien was the only player from either Illinois team to earn a spot on the First Team, while Wildcats running back Venric Mark and a pair of Illinois linemen -- offensive tackle Hugh Thornton and defensive lineman Michael Buchanan -- earned a spot on the Second Team.

Budzien was fantastic, making 17 of his 18 field goals and made all 46 extra points. The junior kicker converted multiple field goals in five games this year, including a 5-for-5 day against Boston College in the third game of the season.

Mark was everywhere for the Wildcats, rushing for 1,310 yards on a 6.2 average, catching 18 balls for 101 yards, and racking up 637 return yards (282 on punts, 355 on kicks). He also scored 14 touchdowns, 11 rushing, one receiving and two on punt returns.

Buchanan, a senior from Homewood-Flossmoor, recorded 48 tackles (6 for a loss), 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, five passes deflected and one interception.

Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence was named as an honorable mention after he netted 61 total tackles (5 for a loss), one sack and one forced fumble.

Northwestern featured four players on the honorable mention list -- Ibraheim Campbell, Brian Mulroe, Tyler Scott and Patrick Ward.

Campbell, a sophomore safety, racked up 81 tackles, two forced fumbles and 11 passes deflected. Scott, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior defensive lineman had 35 tackles (8.5 for a loss), seven sacks, three forced fumbles and five passes deflected.

Mulroe, a senior offensive lineman, was named a team captain and was recognized as an honorable mention for the second straight year. Ward attended Providence Catholic and the senior made the switch from right tackle to left tackle in the 2012 season. The two lineman contributed to Northwestern's 238.6 rushing yards per game.

What Cubs need to see during finals week before playoff test

What Cubs need to see during finals week before playoff test

PITTSBURGH – Winning or losing the final seven games of the regular season won’t change the perception of the Cubs as the on-paper favorites heading into the playoffs. It all goes back to the question president of baseball operations Theo Epstein got during his Opening Day media session: Will this year be a failure if the Cubs don’t win the World Series? 

The final judgments will come in October, but for now the Cubs will be running through postseason scenarios, adhering to Joe Maddon’s keep-everyone-fresh philosophy and trying to avoid any catastrophic injuries during this road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Before Monday’s 12-2 win over the Pirates, Maddon confirmed the Cubs are leaning toward carrying 11 pitchers and 14 position players for their first-round playoff series, with a 12-man staff being a possibility that hasn’t been ruled out yet. The manager had already scripted out the lineups for these four nights at PNC Park, beginning with Chris Coghlan as a leadoff guy, Willson Contreras as the cleanup hitter and Albert Almora Jr. starting in center field.   

“That fine balance between being rested and being sharp – we’re trying to thread that needle,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “There’s no guidebook for it.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

With the National League’s No. 1 seed, the best record in baseball and 100 wins already secured, the Cubs can focus on:

• Hoping to copy part of the World Series blueprint the Kansas City Royals used last year, the Cubs have built a dominant bullpen that can shorten games and might roll through October. But that depends on Pedro Strop (knee) and Hector Rondon (triceps) coming back from injuries and performing at full strength.   

After Strop pitched a scoreless seventh inning against the Pirates on Monday night, Rondon gave up back-to-back homers to Matt Joyce and David Freese in the eighth, which the Cubs will hope can be written off as lack of adrenaline coming into a 12-run game. Practicing the playoff script, superstar closer Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth inning with a 10-run lead.

• Maddon dropped into a hitters’ meeting last week at Wrigley Field to send a post-clinch message, stressing the idea of using this time wisely and focusing on the fundamentals the Cubs preached in spring training. That’s grinding out at-bats, understanding a two-strike approach and full-count situations and not relying so much on the home run. 

“That’s the key moving forward for us offensively,” Maddon said. “That’s the little nuance of the game as you get to this part (of the year) that really helps you separate.”

• Keeping a third catcher or not sounded more like talk-show filler than an actual debate around the Cubs. David Ross is locked in as Jon Lester’s personal catcher, but at the age of 39 “Grandpa” plays best in a backup role. Willson Contreras offers the most offensive upside and a rocket arm behind the plate, but the rookie would have to make up for his inexperience with energy and enthusiasm. 

Miguel Montero has caught more than 8,400 innings in The Show and finally seems to have found his left-handed swing – hitting .333 with two homers, three doubles and 10 RBI in his last 18 games – near the end of a disappointing offensive season. 

“It’s really tough to find guys like Miggy,” said Kyle Hendricks, a Cy Young Award candidate and projected Game 2 starter on Oct. 8 at Wrigley Field. “He controls the tempo (and) there aren’t many catchers that can control the tempo of a game. He keeps me in sync. He keeps me on time. He knows when to take a break and give me a breather. He just has a really good feel.    

“We go (in) with a good game plan, but I think his in-game adjustments are probably where he really picks it up the most. He’s been around. He’s seen all these hitters. He can feel when guys are trying to do certain things to you.”   

Getting Jake Arrieta back in the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year might require Montero’s presence as a game-caller, pitch-framer and ace whisperer.

• Will wild-card chaos reign? The New York Mets (83-74) and San Francisco Giants (82-74) woke up on Monday clinging to wild-card positions, with the St. Louis Cardinals (81-74) only a half-game behind. The playoff probabilities on FanGraphs project the Mets as a virtual lock (88 percent), making it a coin flip between the Cardinals (57.6 percent) and Giants (54.3 percent).

• If the wild-card winner gets hot and shocks the best team in baseball in a best-of-five series, the autopsy of this season will inevitably involve second-guessing how the Cubs handled success and if clinching by mid-September dulled their edge.   

But in trying to stack the odds in your favor, would you rather be scrambling after the season-ending surgeries (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom) that have decimated New York’s power pitching? Or worrying about the flammable bullpen (major-league-leading 30 blown saves) that might torch San Francisco’s even-year hopes? And if the Cardinals haven’t put it all together by now, what makes you think the flip will be switched in October?

“As a whole, this gives us a chance to get everybody healthy and on the same page,” Ross said. “Throughout the year, we’ve done a good job of focusing on the day and what’s to come. As long as we focus on being the best team that we can be, I don’t think we’ll have a problem.

“If you want to put a negative spin to clinching early, you can, but I’m pretty excited about it. I think the guys in here are very excited about it. I think there are a lot of other teams that would love to be in our position right now.”

Knicks' Derrick Rose on rape case: 'I feel like I didn't do anything wrong'

Knicks' Derrick Rose on rape case: 'I feel like I didn't do anything wrong'

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Derrick Rose said Monday he isn't worried about a rape trial set to start next week because he feels he "didn't do anything wrong."

Rose said he is instead focused on his first season with the New York Knicks. His first practice with the team will be Tuesday.

"My concern is just playing well this year," Rose said. "I can't think about the case. I feel like I'm innocent and I feel like I didn't do anything wrong, like I said, and I can't let that distract me with the year that I have ahead of me."

A woman sued Rose last year in California, contending the former MVP and two of his friends raped her in August 2013 while she was incapacitated after a night of drinking. Rose and the others say they had consensual sex with her that night.

The civil trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 4 - barring any settlement - the day the Knicks play their exhibition opener in Houston. It's unclear how much, if any, of the preseason he would have to miss if there is a trial.

"I'm not worried about it, but if I do have to miss time, it's a part of it," Rose said. "Of course I don't want to be in this position, but it is what it is and I'm going to let my lawyers and my team handle it."

Rose added that he hadn't heard anything about a possibility of criminal charges being brought.

The Knicks acquired Rose from Chicago in June. The point guard said he is healthy after a series of injuries, mostly to his knees, that have plagued him since his MVP season in 2011.

Because of the injuries, Rose hasn't played in more than 66 games a season since he first tore his ACL in the 2012 playoffs. Rehab has forced him to report early or stay late after practices and games for much of the last few years, which he said was tiresome.

But he was able to focus on basketball this summer while adding yoga to his workout routine, and Knicks who have been playing with him say Rose's quickness has returned.

"He's extremely focused right now," All-Star Carmelo Anthony said, adding that he's never played with a point guard with Rose's explosiveness. "He's healthy, he has a different mindset. He has a clear mind and he's ready to go out there and try to help us with our goals."

Rose was the biggest addition to a Knicks team that also signed his former Bulls teammate, Joakim Noah, and veteran guards Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings. If he remains healthy, Rose can get the Knicks playing at a quicker pace and create easier baskets under new coach Jeff Hornacek, after their offense often stalled while playing the triangle under Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis the last two years.

Lee said Rose, who once hit a game-winning shot over him while Lee played for Houston, has looked confident during offseason workouts.

"He kind of reminded me of that MVP D-Rose, especially in some of the drills that we were doing," Lee said. "He was able to get to his spots quick, explosiveness and knock down shots."

Rose averaged 16.4 points in 66 games last season, and most of the games he missed were unrelated to his knees. The Chicago native has been focused on learning a new city and team, traveling with a group of Knicks players to practice in Puerto Rico at Anthony's invitation.

Having to miss time in October would delay his ability to get comfortable. A settlement would prevent that, but Rose didn't discuss that possibility, praising his legal team for taking care of the details.

"They're handling everything and they're giving me time to focus on what I need to focus on and that's just straight basketball," Rose said.