Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

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Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

If youve been reading some of the national magazines and websites, you already know there isnt a lot of optimism about this years Bulls team. Most of the so-called experts are picking Tom Thibodeaus squad to finish seventh or eighth in the East, and get drummed out of the playoffs in the opening round. While thats definitely within the realm of possibilities, I think they will do better.

Yes, we know Derrick Rose wont be back until mid-February or early March, and he probably wont return to his peak form until next season. But the Bulls have one big factor working in their favor over the course of the marathon 82 game seasonthey have the hardest-working and best-prepared coach in the league, and that, in itself, could be worth about a half dozen extra wins.

Thibodeau will make sure his team is thoroughly prepared for each team they face, and he wont accept any shortcuts.

Take a look at what happened to the Lakers on Opening Night. They thought they could just put on those gold uniforms and roll to an easy win over a depleted Dallas team playing without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Instead, one of the other top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle, had his team ready to go, and the Mavs handed L.A.s super-team an embarrassing loss.

Thibs will catch any number of NBA teams napping during the regular season, and that will allow the Bulls to stay within striking distance of one of the middle seeds in the East. Seems like everyones conceding the Central Division title to Indiana, but Im not. The Pacers wont have their top scorer, Danny Granger, for an indefinite period while he seeks a second opinion for an ailing knee, and theyll miss departed point guard Darren Collison more than people realize. Im expecting the Bulls and Pacers to battle for first place all season long, and while I would give Indiana a slight edge, another division title is certainly a possibility for Chicago.

There has been a lot of concern about the Bulls' bench being a lot weaker than its been the last two seasons, and granted, the second unit certainly wont be as strong defensively. But Nate Robinson has the ability to score points in bunches, and Taj Gibson figures to increase his offensive production. Chicago native Nazr Mohammed had a good pre-season, and Jimmy Butler should be ready for regular rotation minutes after serving a rookie apprenticeship last season.

Of course, theres no way to replace Roses scoring, play-making ability and open court brilliance, but Kirk Hinrich will do a good job of running the half-court offense and playing solid defense. The frontline of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer is among the best in the league, and Rip Hamilton came to camp in great shape and figures to have a much better second season in Chicago.

Add it all up, and Im predicting a 47-35 finish, which should be good for the No. 6 seed in the East. And, if Rose starts building his confidence by playoff time, there isnt a team in the conference that will want to face the Bulls in Round 1.

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

For Notre Dame, prepare like a champion maybe 'should be our new mantra’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The “Play Like a Champion Today” sign in the cramped stairwell from the home locker room to the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium has been a staple of tradition on this campus for decades. But at 1-3, maybe the 2016 Irish need to change that slogan a bit. 

“You have to put everything that you can into each drill, each snap, each everything in this game,” offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said. “You can't overlook any detail. You can't leave any stone left unturned. It's so important that you prepare as a champion just as much as you want to play like one. And maybe that should be our new mantra.”

Notre Dame has had 10 underclassmen or first-time starters make starts this year, with a host of other inexperienced players seeing significant playing time, too. Right now, the team’s 1-3 record — with that only win coming over an entirely overmatched Nevada side — is a stern reminder of how sub-standard practices during the week can affect what happens on Saturday. 

“You wake up pretty fast when you're 1 and 3,” McGlinchey said. “… What we have felt that good preparation is hasn't been good enough, and we will continue to ramp that up and continue to fight for the best play that we can. And it's about getting that understanding throughout the entire football team, whether you're a freshman or a fifth-year senior, that preparation is the most important thing in this game, and games aren't won on Saturdays in September. They're won in January in the weight room or in the summer doing your drills. And then each week it's won Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when you're on the practice field. So if you can prepare the right way, prepare harder with the guys that we have on our team, I'm pretty confident that we can get our jobs done a little bit better.”

Linebacker and captain James Onwualu agreed with McGlinchey’s assessment. 

“We've always tried to prepare to the best of our ability,” Onwualu said. “We practice hard. I think it's just the fact that we need to start practicing a little bit smarter, and the coaches have made a couple of changes, like I said, so practices are a little bit different. Still practicing with great intensity and continuing to push these younger guys to focus in on their job.”

For Notre Dame, everything is on the table when all of a sudden bowl eligibility could be at stake. Including even tweaking, for themselves, one of college football’s most famous sayings. 

Cubs, Theo Epstein agree to five-year contract extension

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Cubs, Theo Epstein agree to five-year contract extension

PITTSBURGH - On the verge of what could become a historic run through October and a period of sustained excellence at Wrigley Field, Theo Epstein has signed a five-year contract extension that will keep him overseeing baseball operations for the Cubs.

While no one expected Epstein to bolt from the best team in baseball and a comfortable family situation on the North Side, the president could have become a free agent and disrupted what's now regarded as a model organization in professional sports.

Epstein initially signed a five-year deal worth $18.5 million in October 2011, seeking a new challenge and a fresh start after building two World Series winners for the Boston Red Sox.

Through a series of shrewd trades, first-round picks and free-agent megadeals, Epstein has turned around a 101-loss team in 2012 and constructed a World Series favorite that has already won 101 games and a National League Central title this year.

Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts are expected to speak with the media before Wednesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“In the five years under Theo’s leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said in a statement. "Now, the results are on the field.  My family and I have no doubt that we have moved closer to our goal of delivering Cubs fans the World Series championship they deserve.

"(This) ensures the baseball operations team assembled by Epstein will continue its remarkable tenure of building a consistent championship contender.”