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Hoops in Five

Un-Bracketology
by Jason Maslanka

One: Will I Ever Win?
I don't have time to go back through my columns from the past two years and see if in any of them I ever claimed to be good at picking winners. If I did, and someone catches it... well... I lied, I guess. I'm not, but the good thing is neither are you. My bracket was going great until Superman, Kevin Durant, and Texas lost. That was the moment I ripped up my bracket and decided to root for who I liked best. Just for your knowledge, that's UCLA, in the case you were wondering. Reader E. Moe is the current leader of the GB bracket pool, but his pick of Wisconsin to win the National Championship is probably going to hurt his cause. Pucks in Five's very own Jeremy Piniak is near the top of the leader board; maybe he should write about college basketball as well. I am humbled, fellow Sports in Fiver.

Two: Ugly Locale
The Fighting Illini were headed to the second round. They had led fifth-seeded Virginia Tech the entire game, but then something funny happened: Illinois stopped scoring. The Illini were outscored in the second half by 10, most of which came in the final minutes, and ended their season on a sour note, losing by two to the Hokies. Southern Illinois, however, yearned for a second round date with the Illini, but were denied. Illinois' loss meant SIU had to take on VT in the second round, whom they promptly defeated for another trip to the Sweet 16. In other news you already know, Notre Dame was destroyed by Winthrop.

Threeeeee: Nobody's Interested Tournament
Has that joke been used before? If not, I'm glad to have coined it, but I really doubt that's possible. It's so true, though, that it might not even be funny. I was at the Riverview Tap on Sunday and I actually scowled at the lone TV playing an NIT game in the corner. For what it's worth, DePaul is still alive in the consolation bracket, defeating tournament snub Kansas State 70-65 last night. They'll face Air Force in the West Region final for a chance to go to the NIT Final Four.

Four: No Excuse
Remember when I said that the Bulls should go undefeated on their little trip through the mediocre teams of the NBA? You should; it was last week. That didn't happen. After taking care of Boston twice and the 76ers, the Bulls lost a tough one to Memphis, the team with the worst record in the NBA... by far. The Bulls showed heart in coming back twice during the contest, but there's absolutely no reason for a supposed championship contender to lose to the worst team in basketball. This week is tougher, but only slightly, with contests at home against the Clippers, Nuggets and Trailblazers and a short trip to Indy to play the Pacers.

Five: Standings
The Cleveland Cavaliers are doing exactly what the Bulls should be doing right now. They've won eight in a row and sit only a game and a half behind Detroit for the best record in the East. The Bulls, at 39-29, are still only 4.5 games out of first, however. In historic standings news, it looks like the championship Bulls' all-time best record of 72-10 is safe again. The Dallas Mavericks are 54-11, and would need to finish the season 18-1 to tie the best record ever.

Pucks in Five

Let's Talk About the Wolves
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Wolves Leave Opponents Green with Envy
With St. Patrick's Day this past weekend, the Wolves broke out their traditional green jerseys for their two home games, and needed a little luck of the Irish in defeating rival Omaha 5-4 Friday in Nebraska to extend their division lead to four points over the Knights. Chicago earned the victory in overtime on a slap shot from defenseman Nathan Oystrick, after Omaha scored three third period goals to extend the game. The Wolves play Omaha once more this season, but with a 6-3 season record against the Knights; their division lead has a lot to do with beating their toughest competition, just as they did Friday. Chicago also beat the Peoria Rivermen 4-3 at home on Wednesday in a thrilling come-from-behind battle, capped by Brett Sterling's game winner with under a minute left.

The Wolves were at home on St. Paddy's Day itself, but were defeated by the Milwaukee Admirals 4-5 in the second game of a tough back-to-back following the Omaha trip. After battling back from a 3-1 deficit, Chicago gave up a pair of third-period goals to the Admirals and was unable to mount a second rally. The Wolves are off until Friday, when they play three games in three days, the first at Iowa, then a home series with Peoria over the weekend. The Stars and Rivermen are fighting for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, with Peoria up three points, so every victory is crucial for the teams. However, the Wolves have dominated the series against Peoria, going 7-1 this season, and lead Iowa 5-2 as well, and are in no position to have an off night in their battle for the top seed.

Two: Sterling is as Good as Gold
Wolves forward Brett Sterling has been making his case for Rookie of the Year all season long, and this past week he all but sealed the hardware with his powerful performance. In Wednesday's victory over Peoria, Sterling netted his third hat trick of the season, then notched a goal and two assists in the victory over Omaha, giving him his first 50 goal season, and only the AHL's fifth 50-goal rookie scorer. Sterling is also one of three Wolves to ever tally the big five-oh, joining former players Steve Maltais and Rob Brown in the team's record books. Sterling leads the league in goals and is second in overall points; his offensive aptitude is a big factor in the Wolves successful season.

Three: None Hotter Than Haydar
While Sterling has been shining, his goals have a lot to do with his linemate, Darren Haydar. Haydar leads the AHL in points with 104, and his 69 assists places him at the top of the leaderboard as well, with many of those helpers on Sterling's goals. Haydar's 104 points is a career high, and he joins former Wolves Brown and Maltais as one of only three Chicago players to notch triple digits in a single season. Haydar had another prolific week, notching an assist on every goal of Sterling's hat trick Wednesday, then turned the tables in Friday's win, picking up a pair of power-play goals from Sterling, as well as an assist on the overtime game-winner. Despite Saturday's loss, Haydar added another goal and assist, giving him eight points in the three games this week.

The terrific twosome has great chemistry together, and it's rare that the Wolves earn a win without one or the other contributing. While their performances this week are being highlighted here, it's typical of their season week in and week out, and how far the Wolves go in the playoffs will have a lot to do with the duo's continued offensive onslaught.

Four: Listless and Losing
The Blackhawks are turning into a Jekyll and Hyde team in these closing weeks. Three weeks ago, some unbearable efforts led to a closed door meeting with coach Denis Savard, and the Hawks responded with a three-game win streak and some inspired play, albeit against some poor teams. However, the past week saw the Hawks revert to old form in a 1-7 slaughter by San Jose and a 2-5 beating by Anaheim. The team did pick up a win at Los Angeles, besting the cellar-dwelling Kings in a 4-3 shootout, but only after giving up a two-goal first period lead.

The cons far outweighed any positives last week, including a pitiful two-shot first period against the Sharks in a game that could have been even worse than it ended up being. The Hawks also struggled against the Kings, and the Ducks jumped out to a 5-0 lead against an exhausted defense and Nicolai Khabibulin after the previous night's shootout. The Blackhawks complete the five-game road trip with a game at Columbus tonight, then come home to the United Center to host rematches against the Sharks Wednesday and the Kings Friday, along with a Sunday afternoon game against the Calgary Flames.

Five: Blackhawk Cup Brings High School's Best to UC
This weekend will see a championship won at the United Center. Unfortunately, the only thing the Blackhawks have to do with the title is affixing their name to it, as the Blackhawk Cup is awarded to the top high school team in the state. And with the way the Hawks have been playing lately, I'm not sure they could win their namesake Cup anyway. Following Monday's semifinal games with Glenbrook North against Glenbrook South and Fenwick against Loyola Gold, the winners will square off Saturday at 2pm at the United Center. While it's a chance for high school players to battle for a title in a professional environment, it's also a great chance for hockey fans to see some talented teens playing for the love of the game and a state championship. Also, with general admission seats only $7, it's the only way to sit on the glass without breaking the bank.

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Comments

jeremy / March 20, 2007 10:27 PM

Yeah, I'm in good shape. My brackets normally fall apart in the 2nd round.
I guess it's easy to look at the tourney when no one cares about hockey. ;-)

I don't know how I ended up with two on there though.

Jason / March 21, 2007 7:38 AM

Yeah I was going to mention in the column how having two should invalidate your opinion, but I figured it was a mistake. :)

 

About the Author(s)

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he executes a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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