Teague, Belinelli come through in the clutch for Bulls

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Teague, Belinelli come through in the clutch for Bulls

Who would you attribute the following typical Tom Thibodeau postgame press conference description to?

Staying ready to play, going out there, knowing what your job is, doing your job, getting it done, listed the Bulls head coach after his teams 83-82 win Saturday night over the Nets at the United Center. Providing whatever the team needed, playing well within the unit and they played well on both sides of the ball, played well defensively and offensively.

The most likely suspects are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. But while that duo played well, it wasnt them, nor was it the power-forward tandem of Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.

With the injured starting backcourt of veterans Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton sidelined, it wasnt them either. Instead, it was a 19-year-old who some expected to log more minutes in the D-League than the NBA this season (Marquis Teague) and a free-agent acquisition that seemed so out of sync early in the campaign that it appeared he might be nailed to the bench.

Marco Belinellis late-game heroics he scored 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, with none bigger than his driving, surprisingly uncontested layup with 22.1 seconds remaining, as well as two free throws to seal the deal might be the headline, but as a six-year veteran, as fans in New Orleans, Toronto and Golden State can attest, hes capable of putting up big numbers, although the native of Italy hasnt done it on a consistent basis for his entire career.

But with his performance in the stead of the injured Hamilton, that might be changing, now that he firmly understands that defense is the way to Thibodeaus heart.

Everybody knows if you play defense, you stay on the court, so everybody wants to play defense, wants to be aggressive. When I was in New Orleans with Monty Williams, I think we played great defense, too. But right now, its like a championship team., he said afterwards. We want to be good, we want to do something big, so if you want to do something big, you need to play defense first.

Those are lofty aspirations in a season that began with Derrick Rose working his way back from ACL surgery, but after playing for a series of non-playoff contenders, you cant blame the guy. The smile on his face in the Bulls locker room, however, illustrated how much he starved to be on a competitive, winning squad.

Thats a great feeling. It was amazing. Im happy for me, but Im happy for everybody, he explained. It was a team win. We played good defense, we played good offense and the fans here are amazing, so we won the game for us and for our fans.

That was a good shot because I think Jo made a good screen for me, first of all, and the spacing on the court was good. I just tried to be aggressiveI was wide open to the basket, so those were good points, but I think most important was our defense. We played great defense in the last three, four minutes, so thats why we won the game, the candid Belinelli continued, before admitting to being wary of Brooklyns Gerald Wallace, who previously blocked two dunks from the weak side earlier in the evening. I was scared about that, to be honest. I was thinking to dunk a little bit, but I saw Gerald Wallace over there was coming, so I thought to float it for a layup with the left. It went in, so it was good.

Now, in the case of Teague, his play in clutch situations is close to becoming a pattern, as he was productive in crunch-time minutes during a November home loss to Boston, excelled as Thibodeau rode him down the stretch in Wednesdays road victory over Philadelphia in a hostile environment and continued to display that prodigal calmness in Saturdays contest.

That same serene demeanor he has except on the court, where the soft-spoken 19-year-old directs traffic firmly on most occasions is evident after games, too.

Its exciting. Its fun. It lets you know your coach has confidence in you and you want to go out there, and do whatever you can, whatever it takes to win, he said after the win, in which he contributed modest numbers of eight points and two assists, but only committed one turnover, again played big minutes in the fourth quarter and did a more than serviceable job defensively against Brooklyn All-Star point guard Deron Williams. My confidence is where its been from Day 1. Im always confident in my game, confident in my abilities, so I stayed the same, whether I play 20 minutes or zero minutes.

I was just trying to contain Williams, just keep him in front of me. Its hard to keep a player like that from scoring. I just wanted to make it as tough on him as possible, contest his shots, continued the Indianapolis native and point guard for last seasons University of Kentucky title team. I was just trying to take whatever the defense gave me, creating for one of my teammates or knock down the shot for myself and I had few silly fouls that I shouldnt have made. Ive got to do better and learn from it.

I see these guys his teammates every day in practice, I know what they like to do, I know their strengths and where to give them ball where theyre going to be most effective, he went on to say. It felt good. It was a lot of energy in the building. It just helped us, motivated us to play even harder than we were. It just felt good to get the win.

Besides the aforementioned questionable shooting foul on Williams They called it, so I guess its a foul, he said about the play and not taking a wide-open jumper as the shot clock ran down (he was looking for Luol Deng, who was tying his shoe at the time), its hard to find much fault with how he played, especially considering the competition.

The same goes for Belinelli, making the Bulls recent success even more remarkable, given that both players didnt look like theyd be big reasons for the team overcoming Roses extended absence.

But thats how the Bulls have prospered, not just as of late, but C.J. Watson being back in town was a helpful reminder over the past two seasons. It just shows how much Belinelli and Teague have not only bought in, but fit into the teams beating-the-odds, survival-at-all-costs, all-hands-on-deck mentality, a way of life here at the United Center, fostered at the Berto Center and that travels well to wherever the Bulls play, as evidenced by their early-season record, which is surprising to some, but not to anybody wearing that uniform.

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