Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN

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Bulls wrap up preseason in South Bend on CSN

The Bulls know that for the first time in two seasons they may not be the favorites in the Central division. But that doesn't mean they're buying into the hype surrounding the othercontender for the division title.
And the chip the Bulls will wear on their collective shoulder this season perhaps begins tonight, when Tom Thibodeau's group takes on the Indiana Pacers in South Bend on Comcast SportsNet at 6 p.m.
NBA.com surveyed all 30 general managers last week, and 24 predicted the Pacers would win their division this season. Only six chose the Bulls. While it's just a preseason game, and many teams are shutting their players down on the last day before the regular season, Tom Thibodeau is insistent on playing his regulars to win each contest. A win over the expected Central division winners could go a long way toward gaining momentum heading into the games that do count.
The question hanging over the Bulls is point guard Kirk Hinrich's health. Hinrich went down with a groin injury in Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City, and is listed as a game-time decision tonight. With little on the line, there's a good chance Hinrich sits this one out to give himself eight days of rest before the Bulls open the season against Sacramento on Halloween.
The Pacers also are dealing with a slight injury concern at the point, as George Hill missed Tuesday's game against the the Cavaliers with a hip pointer. Mike Wells said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel "did not sound optimistic" Hill would play tonight. If he can't, the Pacers will roll out free agent acquisition D.J. Augustin and Sundiata Gaines in his place.
Hill, who could be ready for the regular season, was one of two major decisions the Pacers made this offseason. Hill reached an agreement on a five-year deal with the Pacers over the summer. Indiana then matched a max offer sheet the Portland Trail Blazers signed center Roy Hibbert to. Following a 42-24 record and second round playoff appearance a year ago, the Pacers opened their pockets to keep pace in the improving Eastern conference. Hill and Hibbert, combined with Danny Granger and rising young star Paul George give the Pacers a mostly-home grown core certainly ready to compete for the Central title.
Aside from Hinrich, who did not need an MRI on his "tweaked" groin, the Bulls enter their final 48 minutes of preseason play relatively healthy. With Thibodeau expected to play his regular rotation for most of the game, the Bulls will look to play well from start to finish, something that eluded them Tuesday.
A lackluster second half against Oklahoma City erased a 14-point third quarter lead before the Bulls hung on late. Richard Hamilton, the Bulls leading scorer this preseason, said part of that is the team's newcomers still feeling out each other and their own individual roles. Improvement in that department can be seen, as the Bulls have won three straight after a 1-2 start. But it won't be easy against an Indiana team that should give the Bulls their toughest test of the preseason (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sat for OKC).
Tonight's matchup, being played at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, won't officially count for anything, but it could act as a small gauge as to who reigns supreme in the Central Division until the teams meet on Dec. 4.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.