Wildcats hoping first Tournament berth is right around the corner

925007.png

Wildcats hoping first Tournament berth is right around the corner

ROSEMONT Northwesterns hopes for reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time took a hit nearly two months before its season opener.
Wildcats junior guard JerShon Cobb was suspended for the season stemming from violations of team policy, the school announced in late September. He was one of Northwesterns four returning starters.
The Wildcats feel they have other options to contend for that elusive NCAA tournament appearance.
We play a center and four guys around the perimeter, so we have a few freshmen who I think are good, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at Hyatt Regency OHare. Kale (Abrahamson) and Sanjay (Lumpkin) and with the addition of Jared Swopshire) I think were going to be OK in the perimeter. JerShon hasto take care of business, and we will welcome him back next year.
The Wildcats will have to replace Cobb, who averaged 7.1 points, and John Shurna, the 2012 Big Ten scoring champion who led the team with 20 points and 5.4 rebounds and is currently playing for the New York Knicks.
It definitely means I have to pick up some of that scoring were missing with him, not only with JerShon but Shurna leaving as well, sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski said. With those two guys going down, everybodys going to need to step up their role a little bit. Not one person is going to be able to replace them completely, especially Shurna. But if each of us do a little bit extra, maybe score even only 4-5 points extra a game, itll add up as a team and well be OK.
Northwestern just missed the NCAA tournament last season, finishing 19-14 and advancing to the second round of the NIT.
Its not frustration, Carmody said about missing the NCAA Tournament. Maybe back then it was, but you move forward. The program has gotten much, much better over the last four years. The program so stable, so well be in the mix every year. Were getting better and better players and better players make better coaches.
I have an endorsement from our athletic director and our president, so I feel fine, he said about his job security.
The Wildcats lost Shurna and Cobb, but welcome five newcomers, including 7-footers Chier Ajou and Alex Olah and Louisville transfer Swopshire and TCU transfer Nikola Cerina. After the Wildcats lost four players to injuries last season, Carmody is enjoying added depth; he said hes comfortable playing 10 deep.
With the added size, physicality and depth, Carmody feels theres potential to be an NCAA Tournament team.
Theres always pressure to win, he said. You always want to win and keep the program where it is, but now you have to move forward, not just incrementally. You have to make a jump here. Even though you lose Shurna, people say, Whoa, that was the year. But youd be surprised at our guys. Weve got some pretty decent newcomers.
Besides the five newcomers, Northwestern brings back three starters guardforward Drew Crawford, a third-team all-Big Ten selection last season, former walk-on Reggie Hearn and Sobolewski, who was on the Big Ten all-freshman team last season. Sobolewski said competing in the deep Big Ten could help the Wildcats postseason aspirations. Three conference teams are ranked in the top five of the USA Today coaches poll, and five teams are in the top 25.
It gives us so many chances at big wins, Sobolewski said. Those are so important at the end of the year, to come out of the conference with a certain amount of big wins. With all these ranked teams and really strong teams in our conference, its just unbelievably exciting to know we have a ton of big games on our schedule and were justgonna try to get better and try to beat those teams every night we play them.

Canadiens agree to six-year deal with former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw

Canadiens agree to six-year deal with former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw

The Blackhawks probably would've liked to be the ones to sign Andrew Shaw to a long-term deal. Instead, it was the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs announced Monday they agreed to terms on a six-year contract with Shaw, who according to reports will take home an annual average salary of $3.9 million.

"We are very pleased to have agreed to a long-term deal with Andrew Shaw," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in the announcement. "As I mentioned last Friday following his acquisition, we are adding a solid character player to our team, a reliable player who plays with grit and a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks over the past five seasons. Andrew will add more leadership to our team. I had the opportunity to discuss with him over the past few days, and I sense his determination and excitement in joining the Canadiens’ organization for many years to come."

The Blackhawks, in another salary-cap squeeze this offseason, traded Shaw to the Canadiens last week in exchange for a pair of draft picks.

In five seasons with the Blackhawks, Shaw totaled 137 points, scoring 70 goals and tallying 67 assists. He was a key member of a pair of Stanley Cup winners in 2013 and 2015. In 67 playoff games, he registered 35 points.

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

There’s no need to overreact when the injuries pile up and the Cubs lose 6-of-7 games in June, because Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are still possibly years away from their best seasons in an organization loaded with young talent.
 
Bryant and Russell have been such integral parts since debuting in April 2015 that it's hard to remember they're still around three-to-five years away from their prime. They're also in a perfect situation to keep developing, not having to worry about carrying the weight of the franchise on their shoulders, the way Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro used to feel those responsibilities.
 
The pressure is spread out among a young core, a battle-tested group of veterans and a manager that loves the spotlight. All of that can help explain why each player has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" that sometimes plagues second-year players in the big leagues.
 
"Last year, I thought both of them fought through some really different moments their first year up," Joe Maddon said. "And that's what it's really all about. The sophomore slump, for me, is where the league adjusts to you, and then you adjust back to the league. That's the definition."
 
Bryant currently has an OPS that’s 19 points higher than his 2015 numbers, while Russell's OPS is 23 points higher entering play Monday, and both second-year players have seen major improvement in important areas.
 
Bryant led the league with 199 strikeouts last season, but has seen his strikeout percentage drop from 30.6 percent to 23 percent this season. He's on track for about 162 strikeouts in 2016.
 
Russell, meanwhile, has experienced just an incremental decrease in strikeout percentage (from 28.5 to 27.2 percent), but he has seen a nice jump in walk rate (from 8 percent in 2015 to 11.2 percent this season). Despite drawing only one free pass in his last eight games, Russell is on track for 68 walks, which would've ranked 12th in the National League overall last season and first among shortstops. 
 
"The guys that don't adjust back quickly enough really have an extended period of negative moments," Maddon said. "I think they learned a lot last year. They made a lot of adjustments. Both of them made swing adjustments last year. And that, I think, is permitting their success this year.
 
"Addison's propensity to get big hits is unbelievable, and now he's using the whole field. He's not chasing balls out of the strike zone. Those are the adjustments he had to learn how to do last year when he was going badly, and now he's doing them.
 
"They're both going to hit a bad stretch, there's no question. But I think they're better able to handle that based on their experience from last year."
 
Bryant has settled in as one of the premier offensive threats in the game by following up his 2015 campaign (26 homers, 99 RBI) with a pace for 39 homers and 112 RBI.
 
In spring training, he said he considered 2016 an extension of his rookie season, just with a three-month break off in between. But as the regular season hit, he took that sort of thinking to another gear.
 
"I feel a lot more focused this whole year," Bryant said. "I don't know why. I don't know if it's a whole other level or just extra determination or the fact that I know we have a good team and we really want to win.
 
"I just feel really good up there. I feel like I'm having some quality at-bats. I'm doing all I can to help. I'm in a good spot."
 
Russell, meanwhile, has developed a reputation as a clutch hitter, posting a .429 average, 1.237 OPS and 23 RBI in 54 plate appearances in high-leverage situations. 
 
He's taken his game to another level at the biggest moments, not something often said about a 22-year-old with only 210 big-league games under his belt.
 
"Just a slow heart beat," Maddon said. "If you talk to the kid any time, he's always 'suavecito.' There's nothing really hurried about him. He's just got a great way about him.
 
"Again, he's going to keep getting better. Everybody's liking it when he's doing good. I'm here to tell you: He's going to get better."
 
However, Russell also just went through one of those bad stretches at the end of May/beginning of June where he hit .161 with a .569 OPS through 18 games, striking out 23 times. He felt he had gotten too passive during that span.
 
When the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week, Russell stared at strike three right down the middle during his first trip to the plate. He instantly made a mental adjustment to be more aggressive and responded with three straight hits to close out that first game.
 
"I've been feeling good," he said. "I've been seeing the ball well. Just taking an opportunity of swinging the bat at the right moment. I felt like early on in that game, watching two balls go by that I would normally do some damage with, I kind of took it hard and realized maybe I'm letting these pitches go too frequently. 
 
"I still feel more comfortable [overall this season]. It's just a daily grind, man. You're going to go through these funks. You're going to hit balls day-to-day that don't tend to fall. You normally don't want to change anything, so my approach is just to stay the same, and I want to take my walks as well."
 
The Cubs understand this is a long season filled with adversity, injuries and losing streaks. But if Bryant and Russell cannot be considered sophomores anymore, would their maturity and advanced approaches put them at a junior level?
 
"I think so. Favorite year in high school, by far," Maddon said. "You're totally free your junior year. SATs don't matter. PSATs are OK. I got my license, among other things. It was a really good time."

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta nominated for two ESPY Awards

Jake Arrieta had a 2015 season for the ages, and was rewarded for it by winning the National League Cy Young Award, becoming the fifth player in Cubs history to accomplish that feat.

He's also been nominated for a pair of ESPY awards because of it: best breakthrough athlete and best MLB player.

After struggling to find his groove in four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles (20-25, 5.46 ERA), Arrieta turned it around in Chicago, particularly in 2015 when he erupted for a 22-6 record with a 1.77 ERA. 

The Cubs ace followed that up in 2016 by jumping out to a 9-0 start, and went nearly a calendar year without a loss.

He's also one of 26 pitchers in MLB history to have thrown more than one no-hitter, and did so 11 starts apart from each other.

The voting ends at 7 p.m. CT on July 13, when the ESPY Awards will take place. Cast your vote here.