DePaul picked 13th in Big East, Melvin earns second team honors

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DePaul picked 13th in Big East, Melvin earns second team honors

DePaul may not have a winning record or NCAA Tournament berths in the past two seasons to prove it, but people are beginning to take notice of the Blue Demons' improvement under head coach Oliver Purnell.
The Big East Preseason Coaches Poll was released today, and the Blue Demons were picked to finish 13th, in front of Seton Hall and Providence.
It may not be much, but it's the highest the Blue Demons have been picked in a preseason poll since Purnell took over in 2010. Last year DePaul was picked 15th, in 2010 and 2009 were picked dead last and in 2008, picked 15th in the preseason poll.
It may not signal the start of potential postseason tournaments, but it's a step in the right direction for Purnell, who took over a job needing plenty of roster turnover and, more important, a philosophy makeover.
"First couple days have been good," Purnell told CSNChicago.com. "Obviously I'm optimistic because of our core guys returning; that leadership group of Moses Morgan, Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin."
The Blue Demons finished last in the Big East a year ago with a 3-15 record, but even that was improvement from the last two seasons, when Purnell's groups won just two conference games combined. In 2008-09, the Blue Demons went winless before upsetting Cincinnati in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
But this year's preseason slotting, 13th out of 15 (West Virginia is now in the ACC), is indicative of a DePaul team returning its top four scorers, including junior Cleveland Melvin, who was selected as a second team All-Big East member.
Melvin averaged 17.5 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Blue Demons last year. He is the high scorer and fifth best rebounder returning to the Big East this season.
Melvin was the key piece to Purnell's first recruiting class, but his supporting cast has been almost as good.
Point guard Brandon Young and forward Moses Morgan, both of whom joined Melvin in the 2010 class, return as the Blue Demons' second and third leading scorers. Jamee Crockett, the team's fourth leading scorer a year ago, returns for his sophomore season as well.
"We feel like offensively we're going to be good. We feel like our pressure will be even better because of the experience we have, but we've got to make our half court defense a staple," Purnell said. "We've got to guard penetration, which can lead to teams really hurting you on the offensive glass which happened last year."
Last year the Blue Demons ranked second in the Big East in scoring offense (74.1 points) but ranked last in scoring defense (76.7 points). Young, who was in New York City this morning with Melvin, Morgan and Purnell, said the team understands their defensive struggles and has focused on improving it early in team practices.
"Coach has been stressing defense, defense, defense," he said. "And the first couple days of practice we had defensive mini-camp, everything is straight defense. So we're just trying to make sure our defense is much better this year."
One player Purnell noted would help on the defensive end was point guard Worrel Clahar, saying "what he gives us in addition to shooting is a lot of toughness defensively."
Purnell also gave his thoughts on incoming freshman forward DeJuan Marrero, who should be part of the rotation from Day 1: "He's part of the core of freshmen we've got. He has to give us some depth."
Purnell is confident that if the team can improve their defense and penetration, combined with the returning core, the Blue Demons will prove their voters right and be out of the cellar in the Big East standings.
"We've got to correct those 2 areas. If we do that, automatically we're a much better basketball team," Purnell said. "And in Year 3, we're really looking to make a jump."
Here are how the coaches voted on preseason polls and awards from this morning.
2012-13 Preseason Coaches Poll 1. Louisville (14) - 196 points 2. Syracuse - 175 3. Notre Dame (1) - 166 4. Cincinnati - 152 5. Georgetown - 136 6. Pittsburgh - 132 7. Marquette - 121 8. USF - 96 9. Connecticut - 83 10. St. Johns - 73 11. Rutgers - 63 12. Villanova - 61 13. DePaul - 48 14. Seton Hall - 42 15. Providence - 31 (First-place votes in parentheses)  2012-13 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year Peyton Siva, Louisville   2012-13 BIG EAST Preseason Rookie of the Year Steven Adams, Pittsburgh   2012-13 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati, G, Jr., 6-4, 221, White Plains, N.Y. Otto Porter, Georgetown, F, So., 6-8, 205, Sikeston, Mo. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville, C, Jr., 6-10, 225, Dakar, Senegal Jack Cooley, Notre Dame, F, Sr., 6-9, 244, Glenview, Ill. Vincent Council, Providence, G, Sr., 6-2, 180, Brooklyn, N.Y.   2012-13 Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, G, Jr., 6-1, 171, Roxbury, Mass. Cleveland Melvin, DePaul, F, Jr., 6-8, 208, Baltimore, Md. DAngelo Harrison, St. Johns, G, So., 6-3, 202, Missouri City, Texas Anthony Collins, USF, So., G, 6-1, 175, Houston, Texas Brandon Triche, Syracuse, G, Sr., 6-4, 205, Jamesville, N.Y.   2012-13 Preseason BIG EAST Honorable Mention Chane Behanan, Louisville, F, So., 6-7, 250, Cincinnati, Ohio Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, G, Jr., 6-5, 185, Bowie, Md. Tray Woodall, Pittsburgh, G, Sr., 5-11, 190, Brooklyn, N.Y. C.J. Fair, Syracuse, F, Jr., 6-8, 212, Baltimore, Md.

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”