Hoop Screams

Hoop Screams

Thursday, March 11, 2010
10:32 PM

Winters over! Well, sort of. Were still going to have temperatures in the 30s here (probably until May!), but THE event that signifies that spring, on the calendar anyway, has arrived, is upon us: The Big Dance, a.k.a., March Madness has begun. This takes over the bar unlike any event of the year. Thats because everyone is in to it. Why? One word: brackets. Everybody has one. In fact, some people have more than one. While I frown on that practice, a MAN only needs ONE bracket, youve gotta do whatever you think it takes to win. Winning is the only thing that matters.

If youre like me, its been less than a stellar year for watching college basketball. Between my fantasy football addiction, the Blackhawks, (who knew that watching EVERY Hawks game on TV could be so much fun?) the Winter Olympics and the fact that locally the teams arent that good and nationally not that compelling, Ive spent less time this year watching college hoops. Thats about to change, big time! No matter what, I lock in during this weekend every year. Although they arent always an accurate barometer, watching the major conference tourneys is a good way to prep for the madness thats about to ensue. I especially like watching the Big East games, since its this years best conference and the fact that the games are at Madison Square Garden. Theres always a great energy in games played at the hoops Mecca. For as long as I can remember, the conference tournament that you needed to watch was the ACC on Tobacco Road, well now I think the one in New York is the one that you must tune in to. The teams Ill be watching are Villanova, go figure, and West Virginia. The Cuse has the ranking, the Ville has the momentum and Pitt always seems to flex their muscle there, but Nova and W.V. have me intrigued as to how far they can go.

In fact, the two seem to be heading in opposite directions of what I expected only a month ago. Im hoping theyll give me a clue this weekend as to what to expect from them when the games really matter. And thats the big thing to remember about this weekend. Winning this weekend looks good on the banner that you get to hang in your gym, but winning during the next three weekends is what everyone will remember, or care about. Winning conference tournaments usually takes so much out of a team, because of the compressed schedule and level of play, that they have nothing left. So I usually temper my enthusiasm about the winners, and dont hold it against some of the good teams if they exit early.

If that sounds like Im hedging my bet, then youre catching on, because as much as I study and watch, I sometimes think, I can do just as well picking all of the games by throwing darts at a board or using a monkey. There are no style points on a bracket. Pick the winner! Some wins are better than others obviously. Picking a correct upset can give you an advantage for several rounds, but what if youre wrong? You know that a team thats not expected to win matches up well with the one that is. Do you pick them? My favorite is when I pick the upset, and the game is close for 39 minutes, then the higher seed wins the game at the end, just like 96 of the people Im playing against have picked. It makes me understand why Phil Hellmuth, when after a bad beat, has uttered: If luck wasnt involved, Id win every time!

Ive had enough. So this year, while everyone is pondering bubble teams and whos this Joe Lunardi guy and where did he come from? (Philly! Hes the Mel Kiper Jr. of braketology!) Im coming up with a new strategy, new for me anyway. Why knock myself out? I need less stress in my life, not more, so if you cant beat em, join em. Just call me Chalk Boy! The numbers dont lie: In the last three years the number 1 seeds have made it to the Elite Eight every time. They made it to the Final Four eight out of twelve times. The other four slots were filled by three 2s and a 3. That doesnt sound like there were a lot of upsets. Well there were a few last year, you had a 13 beat a 4 and three(!) 12s beat a 5, but at the end, ALL of the 1, 2 and 3 seeds made it to the sweet sixteen. Add to that two 4s and Chalky had fourteen out of the sixteen teams last year without even trying. (I had plenty of people at the bar bragging that they had fourteen and Im thinking, Your telling people you picked all of the favorites? Arent you embarrassed? But that was last year!!) So while upsets are fun, because we love when David beats Goliath and know what it can do to everyones brackets, if the good teams are there at the end, where the biggest points in your bracket are to be had, why pick them? The 12 against 5 is always the popular upset, especially after last year, but will that happen again? More than likely, it will only happen once like it almost always does. The trick is which one? Guess right and youre in the lead, guess wrong and now youre missing two 5s and are playing catch up. If you dont take any, youve only lost one 5 and should be in the same position as almost everyone else. Sounds simple enough!

So while I listen at the bar to everyone saying that this year is wide-open, that there are no dominant teams, that its going to be like 2006, when no 1 seeds made the Final Four, I just smile. Knock yourself out. History says thats not going to be the case, and This Guy is going to ride the trend! So instead of debating the merits of Butler, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, Murray State, Oakland and Sienna, teams in the past that would pique my interest, then break my heart after I picked them, Im going to play it safe. Bring on Kentucky, Syracuse and my pick to win it this year, Kansas. Nothing like living on the edge! But alas, I can only go so far, because if Duke ends up a 1, I cant go there. Some habits are hard to break.

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

Monday on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls introduce Denzel Valentine

The Bulls will introduce first round draft pick Denzel Valentine on Monday at the Advocate Center, and CSN has you covered all the way.

Tune in to CSN Chicago or catch a live stream on CSNChicago.com at 11 a.m. as GM Gar Forman and head coach Fred Hoiberg introduce Valentine, the Michigan State senior whom the Bulls selected 14th overall in last week's NBA Draft.

Valentine, last year's AP Player of the Year, became the first player in NCAA history to average at least 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a single season. The shooting guard's versatility and ability to shoot from the perimeter will make him a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg's system, and his passing will help in the wake of the Bulls dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Check out our coverage of Valentine and the rest of the Bulls draft:

Bulls 'absolutely thrilled' to land Denzel Valentine

Gar Forman shoots down Jimmy Butler trade talk

How the NBA cap spike will affect the Bulls

Bulls get 'a well-rounded player' in Paul Zipser

How the Bulls' Central Division foes fared in the 2016 NBA Draft

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

The White Sox have been adamant the baseball they’ve played the past six weeks isn’t far removed from their torrid start to the season.

Now they have something to show for it.

Courtesy of a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox have back-to-back series victories for the first time since they swept the Texas Rangers and Toronto two months ago. With five wins in their last seven tries, the White Sox improved to 38-38 as they head into a much-needed day off.

“It’s huge,” said outfielder J.B. Shuck, whose second homer in as many days provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. “You feel kind of a weight lifted off the shoulders in the clubhouse. We’ve been grinding. Even some of our losses, we’ve been in games. We’ve come back, we’ve given ourselves a chance and one thing here or there kind of led us to losing and now it’s starting to work for us a little bit.”

A week ago the White Sox were coming off yet another demoralizing road sweep against an AL Central opponent. They had played well in two of three contests against the Cleveland Indians but came up empty. That sweep followed one at the Detroit Tigers earlier in the month and another previous one during a hellish May weekend in Kansas City.

But starting with an extra-innings win at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the White Sox have started to put things together more consistently than they had of late.

They capitalized on good pitching in the first two victories over the Red Sox and then the offense did the heavy lifting in an 8-6 win on Wednesday. Though they didn’t close out a sweep of Boston, the White Sox carried it over to their home series against Toronto.

“We need some of those,” said closer David Robertson, who retired the side on 10 pitches in the ninth to convert his 20th save. “When you get your butt kicked and you get swept in places, you gotta come home and win some games. We’re playing a lot better baseball. We’re pitching better. Hopefully it continues and we stay strong.”

Sunday’s victory was full of quality play in all aspects for the White Sox.

-- Chris Sale was dominant for seven of eight innings and earned his 13th victory in 15 decisions.

-- Robertson’s inning aside, Sale gave the bullpen another critical day of rest.

“It’s kind of relaxing,” reliever Zach Duke said.

-- Beginning with Adam Eaton’s major-league leading 10th outfield assist in the first inning, the defense turned in several big plays behind Sale, including double plays in the fourth and seventh.

-- The offense provided several timely hits, whether Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the third or Shuck’s solo homer to increase the lead back to three runs in the eighth.

Now the White Sox have a day to rest before they continue their homestand on Tuesday with the first of three against the Minnesota Twins.

“I like the way we're playing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think offensively, we're swinging it a little bit, doing some things, and playing defense along with it. That's a good sign for us to be able to continue to do that. Pitchers are getting back to being healthy and getting after it. I like the way this is headed. I like the fire that these guys have shown and bouncing back in some tough situations.”