Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

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Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

DEERFIELD, ILL.Offensively, this seasons edition of the Bulls have put an emphasis on execution, ball movement, players moving without the ball and of course, head coach Tom Thibodeaus rigid stance on inside-out playat least when theyre in a half-court set.
However, theyve also made a concerted effort to push the pace in transition.
Its only three games into an 82-game season, but through the preseason and the NBAs first week, one of the teams strengths has been fast-break basketball. In the admittedly small sample size, they are tied for sixth in the league in transition points, at 16.7 points per game.
That might not seem like much, but consider the fact that they only averaged an identically middle-in-the-pack 13.4 the last two seasons, when they had the services of one of the games most explosive talents, Derrick Rose. Sure, most coaches start each season with the intent to play at a faster tempo, a mission that often dissolves early, but the Bulls, with few players observers would consider elite in the open court, seem committed to getting up and down the floor in a hurry.
We work on it every day in practice. Thibs has got us running up and down, trying to get easy plays and easy layups, and we want to try to use our speed., Rip Hamilton said. We dont want to play a half-court game for 48 minutes. We want to try to get as many easy baskets as possible.
Joakim Noah added: For us, I think its all about getting out on the break, getting steals and just being able to run to the open spots, and just knowing what your teammates strengths and weaknesses are.
Im not going to be the kind of guy thats going to catch lobs and stuff like that, so Id rather my teammates just throw a little bounce pass or something like that.
One would think that a coach with the mindset of Thibodeau, so concerned with ball security, wouldnt want to loosen the reins enough to give his players the freedom to run, especially with a roster that doesnt seem suited for the task. But upon closer inspection, the Bulls do have the personnel equipped for a decent transition game.
Hamilton, while older, was never an elite athlete, but is regarded as one of the fastest and more well-conditioned players in the league, traits that lend themselves to sprinting the floor for layups and uncontested pull-jumpers on the break. His bookend wing, Luol Deng, is in similar shape and while he isnt an above-the-rim player either, his size enables him to finish at a high level.
Noah, as he himself acknowledged, doesnt necessarily catch many alley-oops or possess a lot of flash as a finisher, but he is one of the best players at his position in the NBA at running the floor, as well as one of the few centers who can both starthis uncanny ball-handling ability and passing skills have earned Thibodeaus trustand finish a transition opportunity. Fellow big man Taj Gibson also runs the floor better than most of his peers and is one of the few Bulls who is known as a pogo-stick type of athlete.
Meanwhile, Carlos Boozer showed up to training camp in much better shape; besides losing weight over the summer, hes also running the floor a lot better, which allows him to keep up on fast breaks and even when he doesnt see the ball, the power forward has been able to frequently carve out early and deep post position. Among the reserves, swingman Jimmy Butler offers an exciting and athletic, if seldom-used presence, while sharpshooter Marco Belinellis playmaking skills, slashing ability and solid size for his position have yielded signs of also being effective in transition.
But the key to the Bulls early success as a fast-breaking team has been the play of their point guards, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Both have employed significant ball pressure to opposing floor generalsthe Bulls rank seventh in opponents turnovers per game, at 18.3 a nightand whether its off a foes miscue or defensive rebound, the duo has been racing up the floor in search of easy opportunities.
Hinrichs style is more about making a hit-ahead pass to a streaking wing player or big man filling the lane, while the diminutive Robinson prefers to keep it in his own hands and making a drop-off to a finisher or kick-out pass to shooter. But whether its the starters more traditional hoops sensibilities or the backups speed-demon tendencies, the Bulls have been effective as a transition team.
They have not, however, been consistent with the approach. All too often, the team will start a game and establish a fast tempo, then fall into its grind-it-out habits as the game wanes onor, alternately, not push the pace early and adjust to playing faster after halftimean inconsistency Thibodeau would love to see disappear.
We want to get the ball up the floor quickly, Thibodeau said after the Bulls season-opening win over Sacramento. I thought we ran effectively early in the game, and I think weve got to do a better job running late.
Without Rose, the Bulls will need to manufacture points any way they can. While the offense-by-committee philosophy against set defenses is laudable when it works, on nights when it doesntlike Saturdays home loss to New Orleanstheyll need to speed things up, in order to avoid getting bogged down.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead