This edition of “This Week in Sports” is filled to the brim with your weekly digest in sports news. The Cubs have been quietly getting it done during spring training, with solid performances from Willson Contreras, while the White Sox are still finding their everyday right fielder. In the NFL, the Bears continue to miss on opportunities. In the NBA, the Bulls have been exciting to watch and are showing small glimpses of their future, but have struggled to hold a large lead. In the NHL, the month of March has not fared well for the Blackhawks. March Madness is underway and the behind the scenes of the tournament has been a nightmare.
The Cubs and Sox look ready to start the season.
With only two weeks left of spring training, the Cubs have made noise winning games against two of the top teams in baseball: The San Diego Padres and the defending World Series champs the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs sit second in the Cactus League standings, trailing the 12-6 Kansas City Royals, but have had stellar spring training performances from their catcher Willson Contreras. Kyle Hendricks is the only pitcher for the Cubs to notch a hit in spring training this year and he did it in his first at-bat. The Cubs’ first game is their home opener on April 1, at 1:20 p.m. CST.
The White Sox have had their own success during spring training. Luis Robert has continued to build off his impressive 2020 season by hitting .295 with a home run against Los Angeles Angels star, Shohei Ohtani. Lucas Giolito looks to be ready for the season after striking out six batters in his last appearance. Newly acquired closer Liam Hendriks has shown no signs of adjustment issues, posting four strikeouts in the three innings-worth of work he has put in this spring training. Aaron Bummer has made a case for himself to be a dependable reliever on the White Sox roster this season, striking out six batters in just over six innings pitched. The Sox open their season on the road against the Los Angeles Angels on April 1, at 9 p.m. CST.
Bears doing Bear things: Chicago Bears stay quiet during free agency and frustrate their fanbase.
Free agency has started for the NFL and the Chicago Bears have done nothing but take steps backward. The Bears opened free agency making minor moves resigning depth players like offensive lineman Germain Ifedi and outside linebacker James Vaughters. They went out and got quarterback Andy Dalton, whose last good season was in 2015, where he had a career high pass completion percentage of 64 percent and had the fewest number of interceptions in his career. The release of All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller has Bears players and fans shocked and confused on what general manager Ryan Pace is doing. The salary cap is very tight this season dropping $13 million, but they still went ahead and signed Dalton to a $10 million contract.
The Bears have failed to trade for Russell Wilson, and Mitchell Trubisky has signed in Buffalo. This leaves the Bears with arguably the worst quarterback tandem in the league with Nick Foles, who was exceptionally bad last season, and Dalton. Neither quarterbacks are mobile, leaving their trust in an already average offensive line. Bears fans were elated upon hearing the news about Dalton’s $10 million signing and have started petitions to get Pace fired from his role as GM. The last elite quarterback the Bears had was 70 years ago with Sid Luckman.
Radio host Laurence Holmes of 670 The Score spoke for most Bears fans when he said “Ryan Pace should’ve been fired today. What is it that he has done in his career as GM of the Bears that says to you, he deserves another opportunity to pick the future of your [Ted Phillips and George McCaskey] franchise? They should have fired him today.”
Ups and Downs: The Bulls struggle to stay consistent.
The Bulls have been exciting to watch with rookie Patrick Williams and Zach LaVine. For a rebuilding team, the Bulls are exceeding expectations sitting just outside of a playoff spot and are only trailing the New York Knicks for the eighth spot. Thaddeus Young has been excellent for the Bulls this season and has only improved, despite being one of the older players on his team.
With the ups come the downs. The Bulls have been very inconsistent in the 2020-21 season and have lost several games due to squandered leads, including a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs where they blew a 23-point lead. The team lacks the ability to stay consistent and finish. They saw an 18-point lead vanish in their dominating win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 16, and blew a 22-point lead against the Thunder in an overtime loss on Jan. 16.
The Bulls have improved vastly since hiring Billy Donovan and have shown signs of faith and respect that was not there during the Jim Boylan era. The playoffs are not out of the question for the Bulls, but they will have to tighten their game and need more production from Coby White. White has struggled this season following up his stellar rookie year.
Running into a Wall: The Blackhawks struggle this month.
The Blackhawks knew heading into March that they would be facing the largest test of the season: Having 13 of their games against legitimate playoff contenders that were ahead of them in the standings. They showed glimpses of promise in the beginning of the month when they took three out of six possible points from the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning, but blew two leads during that series.
The special teams and discipline have been costly to the Blackhawks, who have taken over 30 minutes in four games since playing Tampa Bay Lightning at home. The penalty kill has struggled all season and taking so many penalties have been the Achilles heel for the Blackhawks. A power play that is top five in the league has also struggled to score and become too predictable. The hawks are only five for 29 on the power play for March so far and gave up a short-handed goal 11 seconds into one of their power play opportunities in a 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Even though the month has been difficult for the Blackhawks, there have been a few positive moments. Brandon Hagel has helped create havoc in front of the net and Patrick Kane continues to make his case as a Hart Trophy finalist. Kirby Dach returned to the ice for practice after being out since Dec. 23, when he broke his wrist playing in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Dylan Strome returned against Tampa Bay Lightning on March 18, and potted his first goal in his first game after missing a month with a concussion. There still is no timetable on Jonathan Toews and Alex Nylander is out for the year after knee surgery.
March Madness gone wrong: Poor hotel service and accommodations has athletes fuming.
March Madness is the largest collegiate tournament in the world. Unfortunately, for athletes and coaches competing in this year’s tournament, they’ve voiced their displeasure of how the tournament was arranged off the court. Players traveled all the way to Indianapolis, Ind. with the promise that they would be taken care of.
Players arrived at their designated rooms to nothing but jigsaw puzzles, snacks, and the very minimum when it comes to entertainment. The NCAA tournament normally has gourmet food and takes care of its athletes. This year, players expressed their frustration when they were given boxed lunches and Wendy’s as part of their meals. Teams reported that they ordered room service breakfast and it arrived over a half-hour late, cold, and came with no utensils to eat it with.
Players have acted by spreading awareness about the situation on Twitter and other social media platforms saying the NCAA has had over a year to prepare for the 2021 tournament after last year’s tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. Rutgers University player Geo Baker took to Twitter to express his frustration, saying, “The NCAA OWNS my name, image, and likeness. Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on an academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say, ‘An athletic scholarship is enough.’ Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am not #NCAAProperty.” Many players have used the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty and have given the NCAA until July 1, to act on this situation.