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Illinois Drops in Latest College Basketball Polls

Gonzaga and Baylor maintained their grip on the top two spots in The Associated Press men’s basketball poll Monday.

 

If third-ranked Villanova ever plays a game, perhaps it will make a run a them.

 

The Bulldogs again racked up all but the two first-place votes that went to the Bears, while the Wildcats remained firmly behind the preseason top two despite not playing a game since Dec. 23. They had a pair of COVID-19 pauses broken up by a single day, including one involving coach Jay Wright, effectively sidelining them for a month.

 

The last five in were Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, UCLA and Saint Louis. Illinois dropped two games at home in between a mid-week postponed game against Nebraska. 

 

The same teams made up the top 5 this week, though Iowa and Texas swapped places.

 

Tennessee climbed from 10th to sixth and was followed by Michigan, which remained No. 7 after losing its first game of the season to No. 17 Minnesota. Houston climbed three spots to eighth, Kansas fell three spots to ninth and Wisconsin rounded out the top 10 after following up a lopsided loss to the Wolverines with a gritty win at Rutgers.

 

Creighton was No. 11, followed by the Red Raiders and Virginia, which rose five spots after its blowout win over No. 20 Clemson. West Virginia and Ohio State were next, with Virginia Tech climbing four spots to No. 16 on the heels of a win over Duke, which knocked the Blue Devils from the Top 25 for the first time since Feb. 8, 2016.

 

The Golden Gophers were followed by Auburn, one of this week’s poll newcomers, Missouri and Clemson.

 

Duke dropped to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC after losing to the Hokies last week. Its streak of 91 consecutive weeks in the Top 25 was second only to Kansas, which extended its record to 229 weeks. Gonzaga is now No. 2 at 87 weeks.

 

This week’s AP poll is the first since Dec. 18, 1961 — when only 10 teams were included each week — in which Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina are all unranked.

 

 

 

On the strength of two quality wins in conference play this week, both Alabama and Ohio State jumped eight spots in the latest Coaches Poll released on Monday. The Crimson Tide rose from No. 24 to No. 16 after crushing Kentucky at Ruppa Arena then beating Arkansas at home in similarly dominant fashion. The Buckeyes went from unranked in the poll to No. 18 after beating Northwestern at home then claiming a signature win over Illinois.

 

Illinois, who had a postponed mid-week game with Nebraska sandwiched by two home losses to Maryland and Ohio State. Illinois goes from No. 13 last week to No. 24 this week. 

 

Ohio State was one of three teams to join the poll this week after being unranked last week.

 

Colorado and Florida State also cracked the poll, at No. 23 and No. 25, respectively. The Buffaloes extended their winning streak to four games after wins over Cal and Stanford this week, and FSU claimed wins over NC State and North Carolina in consecutive games to join the poll.

 

As for the top of the rankings, Gonzaga held steady at No. 1 once again, earning 28 of a possible 31 first-place votes, while Baylor garnered the remaining three first-place votes and stayed at No. 2.

 

Villanova also stayed at No. 3, while Iowa leapt four spots to No. 4 and Texas fell to No. 5. Rounding out the top 10 this week is No. 6 Tennessee, No. 7 Michigan, No. 8 Houston, No. 9 Kansas and No. 10 Wisconsin.

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Bulls Topple Harden-Less Rockets

Zach LaVine scored 33 points, and the Chicago Bulls overcame a strong effort by Victor Oladipo in his Houston debut, beating the Rockets 125-120 on Monday night.

 

LaVine led seven Bulls players in double figures and added seven assists. He scored nine points in the closing minutes of the third to help send Chicago to the final quarter with a 93-86 lead.

 

The Bulls made enough shots down the stretch to win for the second time in as many days after losing four straight by four points or fewer.

 

Lauri Markkanen finished with 18 points. The 7-footer from Finland nailed a 3-pointer in the closing minute to make it a six-point game, helping Chicago squeeze out a tight win after an easy victory at Dallas. And the Bulls hit 20 of 45 from beyond the arc.

 

Oladipo looked good in his first game for Houston, setting season highs with 32 points and nine assists. The two-time All-Star was acquired from Indiana as part of the four-team trade that sent James Harden to Brooklyn last week after he said the Rockets weren't ''good enough.''

 

Christian Wood scored 30 and grabbed nine rebounds. Eric Gordon added 21 points after missing back-to-back games because of tightness in his lower left leg. The Rockets lost for the fourth time in five games.

 

Oladipo nailed a 3 to cut it to 114-111 with 1:50 remaining. LaVine answered with a finger roll layup for Chicago.

 

Wood made a pair of free throws for Houston with just over a minute remaining. But Markkanen hit a 3 from the wing off a feed from LaVine after a driving Coby White passed out to the perimeter, making it 119-113 with 46.9 seconds left.

 

The Bulls held out rookie forwards Patrick Williams (bruised right hip) and Otto Porter Jr. (strained lower back). Williams, the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, started Chicago's first 13 games.

 

The Bulls play at Charlotte on Friday before the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers visit on Saturday.

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Blues Outlast Sharks

Jordan Kyrou got the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period, Justin Faulk scored twice and the St. Louis Blues rallied to beat the San Jose Sharks 5-4 Monday night.

 

Mike Hoffman scored his first goal as a Blue and Brayden Schenn also scored for St. Louis, which beat San Jose for the fourth straight time on home ice. Jordan Binnington made 22 saves.

 

Logan Couture had two goals and an assist, Brent Burns had a goal and two assists, and Kevin Labanc also scored for the Sharks. Devan Dubnyk stopped 27 shots.

 

Kyrou's wrist shot snapped a 4-all tie midway through the third. It was his second career game-winner after getting his first in the Blues' season-opener at Colorado on Wednesday.

 

Faulk got his second goal when he tipped in David Perron's pass with one minute left to cap a back-and-forth second period and give the Blues their first lead of the game. It was his first multi-goal game since recording a hat trick as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 13, 2018.

 

Couture countered with his second of the game, from a severe angle, to tie it at 4 at the 4:17 mark of the third period.

 

The Sharks took an early lead with first period goals from Labanc and Couture. Labanc deflected in Burns' slapshot with 8:22 left in the first period, and Couture followed with a power play tally a few minutes later.

 

The Blues tied it with quick goals by Faulk and Hoffman early in the second period.

 

Faulk got the Blues on the board at the 2:36 mark moments after he finished serving a tripping penalty. Ivan Barbashev hit him with a breakout pass as he exited the box, and Hoffman tied it at 2 just 93 seconds later, deflecting Colton Parayko's shot from the point.

 

Burns regained the lead for San Jose with a power-play goal with 7:54 left in the second.

 

St. Louis responded two minutes later with Schenn's shot that knuckled its way across the goal line.

The teams conclude their two-game set in St. Louis on Wednesday night.

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Padres Acquire Joe Musgrove in Three-Team Deal

The San Diego Padres are adding yet another pitcher to their rotation, agreeing to bring right-hander Joe Musgrove to his hometown team in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to a person familiar with the deal.

 

Another person confirmed the New York Mets were also involved in the trade, acquiring left-hander Joey Lucchesi from San Diego.

 

Musgrove, who played at Grossmont High in suburban El Cajon, California, will join a rotation that includes Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, who were obtained in blockbuster trades after Christmas.

 

Musgrove will head from a Pirates team that had the worst record in the majors during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to a Padres club that ended a 13-year playoff drought and believes it can contend for the World Series title.

 

Lucchesi is likely to compete for a spot at the back of New York’s rotation behind two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman and David Peterson. The Mets also expect to have Noah Syndergaard back from Tommy John surgery some time after May.

 

The 27-year-old Lucchesi made 56 starts for San Diego over 2018 and ’19 but struggled in limited duty last season. He made two starts and one relief appearance, going 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA.

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Ex-Cubs Pitcher Lester Agrees to 1-Year Deal With Nationals

Left-hander Jon Lester and the Washington Nationals have an agreement in principle in place for a one-year contract, pending the successful completion of a physical exam, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Associated Press.

 

ESPN was first to report an agreement between Lester and the Nationals, whose manager, Dave Martinez, was the bench coach for the Chicago Cubs when the starting pitcher helped that club win the 2016 World Series for its first title in 108 years.

 

Lester is expected to fill the need for a No. 4 starter in Washington, slotting into a rotation that is led by three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, 2019 World Series MVP and lefty Patrick Corbin.

 

Coming off a last-place finish in the NL East in 2020, Washington’s busy offseason already included adding outfielder Kyle Schwarber via free agency — like Lester, from the Cubs — and first baseman Josh Bell in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

Lester turned 37 this month and will be heading into his 16th season in 2021. He has a 193-111 record and 3.60 ERA for his career, which mostly was spent with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, plus part of one season with the Oakland Athletics.

 

Lester is a workhorse who has topped 200 innings in eight regular seasons and still threw at least 170 in each of the past three full years.

 

He’s also been a postseason star, putting up a 2.51 ERA across 154 innings while helping Boston win a pair of World Series championships before being a part of Chicago’s title run.

 

Lester pitched 61 innings across 12 starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, going 3-3 with a career-high 5.16 ERA for the Cubs.

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Optimism Growing Over High School Sports Resuming

Last week felt like a turning point in the fight towards the return of high school athletics in Illinois.

 

Jon Kerr of the Kerr Report has been following the up-and-down battle to bring back high school sports in Illinois and says last week felt like a turning point as several high-profile people began using their platforms to advocate for student athletes. Kerr is as optimistic as he's been in this whole process.

 

 

A lack of transparency from the Governor's office has long been a frustration for administrators, coaches, parents and athletes. Kerr points out the frustration is only growing watching all the surrounding states successfully execute sports seasons.

 

 

According to Kerr, the good news is that there is finally movement in the dialogue between the IHSA, IDPH and the Governor's office, as the three entities recently met to discuss what is next.

 

 

Kerr says the IHSA has kicked the can to the end of the road and now decisions have to be made. In about a month, the rescheduled high school football and volleyball seasons are tentatively scheduled to start back up. 

 

Friday, it was announced Illinois regions reduced their COVID mitigations, opening the door for some prep sports to return. 

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IHSA Executive Director Confident Outdoor Sports Will be Played This Year

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson feels confident about traditional spring sports like baseball, softball and track having seasons this school year.

 

 

The IHSA is still waiting on “return to play” and will meet again on Jan. 27. They are still hoping all sports--even “high risk” sports such as football, basketball and wrestling—can still have seasons this school year.

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Bradley Rolls Evansville

Ja'Shon Henry had 16 points off the bench to lead Bradley to an 86-55 wire-to-wire win over Evansville on Sunday.

 

The Braves built a 23-6 lead on a 3-pointer from Ville Tahvanainen seven minutes into the game.

 

Terry Nolan Jr. had 13 points for Bradley (9-4, 3-1 Missouri Valley Conference), which earned its fifth consecutive home victory. Tahvanainen added 12 points. Elijah Childs had 10 points.

 

Iyen Enaruna had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Purple Aces (6-8, 4-4). Noah Ferderking added nine points, Jax Levitch added nine rebounds.

 

Jawaun Newton, whose 12.0 points per game coming into the contest ranked second on the Purple Aces, was held to 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

 

Bradley defeated Evansville 69-60 on Saturday.

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Indiana State Beats Illinois State

Tyreke Key scored 18 points as Indiana State turned aside a late rally to defeat Illinois State 74-68 on Sunday.

 

Randy Miller Jr. had 13 points for Indiana State (6-7, 3-5 Missouri Valley Conference). Tre Williams added 11 points and three blocks. Tobias Howard, Jr. had 11 points.

 

Key scored four of the Sycamores last eight points as Illinois State cut a 15-point gap down to 72-67 on a Dusan Mahoric basket with 17 seconds left.

 

Dedric Boyd had 19 points for the Redbirds (4-8, 1-5). Antonio Reeves added 14 points. Mahorcic had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

 

Indiana State defeated Illinois State 73-65 on Saturday.

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Clippers Throttle Pacers

Marcus Morris scored a season-high 20 points to lead seven players in double figures, and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Indiana Pacers 129-96 on Sunday night for their first four-game winning streak of the season.

 

With sharpshooter Lou Williams sidelined, Morris came off the bench to hit four 3-pointers, tying his season-high. He was coming off an 18-point performance at Sacramento on Friday. The Clippers made 19 of 39 from long-range, outdueling the Pacers, who were 11 of 38.

 

Fellow reserve Luke Kennard added season highs of 20 points and five 3-pointers. Paul George also had 20 points. Kawhi Leonard had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Clippers.

 

Doug McDermott led the Pacers with 23 points, making five 3-pointers. Domantas Sabonis added 19 points and 14 rebounds.

 

Indiana had won two straight, but was idle since Thursday at Portland. The team's game at Phoenix on Saturday was postponed because of COVID-19 issues.

 

The Pacers host Dallas on Wednesday.

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Bulls Roll Mavs

Lauri Markkanen had 29 points and 10 rebounds, Garrett Temple scored 15 of his season-high 21 points in the second quarter and the Chicago Bulls ended a four-game losing streak with a 117-101 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

 

Dallas star Luka Doncic passed Michael Jordan on the career list with his 29th triple-double, finishing with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists, including a behind-the-back pass to Willie Cauley-Stein for a dunk. Doncic is tied with Grant Hill for 15th place.

 

Doncic had his European sidekick in Kristaps Porzingis, who scored 20 points, after both missed a loss at Chicago this month. But the 7-foot-3 Latvian was 0 of 7 from 3-point range as Dallas players not named Doncic shot 10% from deep (2 of 20).

 

Zach LaVine, who had 21 first-quarter points in the earlier win over Dallas, didn't get his first bucket until the third quarter while going 1 of 8 from the field and making all eight free throws to finish with 10 points and 10 assists.

 

Chicago native and Dallas guard Jalen Brunson, who scored a season-high 31 points when Doncic was sidelined by a quadriceps injury in Chicago, was listed as questionable on the COVID-19 list and didn't play. 

 

Chicago visits Houston on Monday to finish its fourth back-to-back. The Bulls have lost each of the first three back ends.

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Panthers Blast Blackhawks

Keith Yandle got his 100th career goal, Chris Driedger made 23 saves and the Florida Panthers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Sunday night.

 

Eetu Luostarinen scored his first NHL goal, and Aaron Ekblad, Patric Hornqvist, and Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for Florida, which had three goals in the third period to pull away in its delayed opener. The Panthers were to have played Dallas last week twice, games that were called off because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Stars.

 

Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy scored for the Blackhawks. Collin Delia stopped 24 shots.

 

As late as last Friday, it seemed as if Yandle was going to be scratched from this game and break his string of playing in 866 consecutive regular-season games, the longest active streak in the NHL.

 

Instead, Yandle scored the goal and extended his streak to 867.

 

The Blackhawks have given up 15 goals in three games.

 

The teams finish their two-game set on Tuesday.

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Illinois Football Coach Enters 'Return to Play' Dicsussion

A snap hasn't been taken and practice hasn't been held but recently hired Illinois football coach Bret Bielema is diving into the 'return to play' discussion in Illinois.

 

Bielema has been on the job barely a month but a tweet earlier this week from the Illini football coach is grabbing the attention of many and giving hope to many perhaps the hiring of Bielema will mean more than just wins on the football for the University of Illinois. 

 

Jon Kerr who runs his own sports website, The Kerr Report, says this week seems to be significant in people with a platform beginning to advocate for kids to be playing sports.

 

 

The move could have a two-fold purpose for Bielema. Bielema, who won three Big Ten championships in his time at Wisconsin and was Coach of the Year in 2006, has said he wants to keep the best and brightest high school football players in Illinois. Kerr says advocating for athletes to get back to playing football would allow him to see the players in Illinois and could help on the recruiting trail.

 

 

Kerr is optimistic about a meeting recently with the IHSA, IDPH, and the Governor's office. He hopes with mitigations expected to be lessened in the days ahead, plus cases dropping and the vaccine rollout there might be a possibility we end up playing sports very soon. 

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Packers Host Rams for Chance at NFC Title Again

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

 

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

 

The Packers have won six straight games and have been held below 22 points just once all season. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 victory at Seattle last week.

 

Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a ''great quarterback that's playing lights out this year.''

 

Donald leads a defense that allowed the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

 

This will be the first time the NFL's top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that year.

 

This also will be the Rams' first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning 28-7 in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

 

John Wolford started at quarterback for the Rams against Seattle, but left early in the game with a neck stinger that will prevent him from playing Saturday. That means the Rams will turn to Jared Goff, who is less than three weeks removed from thumb surgery.

 

The Rams' most important offensive players right now might be rookie running back Cam Akers and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Although both are recovering from recent injuries, they're the keys to a revitalized ground game that racked up 164 yards rushing last week.

 

Green Bay has outscored opponents 299-163 in the first half this season, including a 219-92 edge in the second quarter. The Packers actually have been outscored 124-107 in the fourth quarter and overtime, but they've made up for that by building such big early leads.

 

The Rams are 37-0 in games they've led at halftime during McVay's four-year tenure.

 

The Packers won't have All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Dec. 31.

 

Green Bay's offensive line fared well without Bakhtiari in a 35-16 victory at Chicago to close the regular season, but his absence is more of a concern against a Rams team that led the NFL with 53 regular-season sacks.

 

Donald left the Seahawks game last week with injured ribs, but the Rams have expressed confidence the six-time All-Pro will play Saturday.

 

The Packers will be playing a home game in front of paying spectators for the first time this season. The Lambeau Field crowd will include about 6,500 season-ticket holders as well as invited frontline health-care workers and first responders plus a league-mandated allotment for the visiting team.

 

Green Bay hadn't allowed any spectators for its first four regular-season home games due to the pandemic. In late November, the Packers made seating available to team employees and their immediate family members. The last two home games also featured hundreds of frontline workers who were invited to attend.

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Pacers Get By Blazers

Domantas Sabonis had 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Indiana held Portland's dynamic backcourt duo in check for a 111-87 victory Thursday night.

 

Malcolm Brogdon added 25 points and seven assists for the Pacers, who improved to 4-1 on the road this season and snapped an 11-game losing streak in Portland. Indiana led by 25 in the second quarter and maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way.

 

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard each scored 22 for the Blazers, playing the second of a back-to-back.

 

The loss was costly for Portland: During the third quarter, center Jusuf Nurkic left the court holding his right wrist and the Blazers later announced he had sustained a fracture.

 

The Trail Blazers (7-5) won in Sacramento 132-126 on Wednesday night. Lillard had a season-high 40 points in that one and Portland tied a franchise record with 23 3-pointers.

 

The Blazers lead the NBA in 3s but they were off against the Pacers, making just 13 of 43 (30.2%).

The Pacers (8-4) were coming off a 104-95 road victory over the Warriors on Tuesday night, when Myles Turner had a season-best 22 points. He finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Blazers, along with four blocks.

 

The Pacers traded Victor Oladipo to the Rockets as part of the four-team blockbuster Thursday that sent James Harden from Houston to Brooklyn. Indiana got guard Caris LeVert from the Nets and a draft pick in the deal.

 

Indiana led by six in the opening quarter, but the score was tied at 26 going into the second. A 12-0 run capped by McDermott's layup put the Pacers up 40-28.

 

Indiana extended its lead to 25 before going into halftime up 59-36. The Pacers outscored the Blazers 33-10 in the second period.

 

Portland was hurt in the third when Nurkic headed to the locker room after appearing to injure his right hand. The Blazers announced he fractured his wrist, but additional details were not available.

But the Blazers chipped away at Indiana's lead, pulling to 82-71 late in the third on Carmelo Anthony's 3-pointer.

 

The Pacers were scheduled to play the Suns in Phoenix on Saturday, but that game was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols. Indiana's next game is at the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

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Former Cubs Executive Epstein Hired By MLB

Former Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox executive Theo Epstein has been hired by Major League Baseball as a consultant for on-field matters and will evaluate possible rule changes.

 

Epstein will work with baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners’ competition committee and analytics experts, MLB said Thursday.

 

MLB is considering possible rule changes such as expanding the designated hitter to the National League. The DH was adopted by the American League for the 1973 season and was used by the NL as an experiment last year during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

 

Manfred would like to speed to pace of play, which rose to a record average of 3 hours, 5 minutes, 35 seconds for nine-inning games last season, up from 3:00:44 in 2018 and 2:46 in 2005.

 

Epstein was the Red Sox general manager from 2003-11, putting together the team that won the 2004 World Series for Boston’s first title since 1918, and then another championship team in 2007.

 

He was the Cubs’ president of baseball operations from 2012-20 and guided Chicago to the 2016 World Series title, the team’s first since 1908.

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Urban Meyer Hired to Lead Jaguars

Urban Meyer agreed to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, leaving the broadcast booth and returning to the sidelines after a two-year absence that followed another health scare.

 

The 56-year-old Meyer was team owner Shad Khan’s top target for weeks, maybe even months, and the deal was signed shortly after their third and final meeting in seven days. They met last Friday on Khan’s yacht in Miami, again Wednesday and once more at the facility Thursday.

 

Hiring the longtime college coach with three national championships signifies a new direction for a franchise that has lost 105 of 144 games since Khan took over in 2012.

 

Meyer went 187-32 — a staggering winning percentage of 85.3 — in stops at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-18). He ranks seventh all time in collegiate winning percentage, trailing only Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy among coaches at major programs.

 

But some doubts remain about Meyer’s ability to make a smooth transition to the NFL, where motivational tactics tend to be moot and losing multiple games every year is a given. Meyer never lost more than five times in any season as a college head coach; he went 83-9 at Ohio State.

 

Still, Meyer has been eyeing an NFL move for months. He researched the league with help from former players and friends, started assembling a potential staff and learned how the front office works. Meyer and Khan have been friends for years, building a relationship while both were living in Big Ten country.

 

Jacksonville was the most attractive opening. The Jaguars have 11 picks in the 2021 draft, including five in the top 65, and are nearly $100 million under the projected salary cap. Adding to the appeal: Khan, a billionaire businessman, has shown a penchant for patience and a willingness to spend big.

 

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a lock to land in Jacksonville with the top pick and will be the centerpiece of the team’s latest rebuild.

 

Khan also interviewed Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

 

Meyer’s health remains a concern, though. He stepped down at Ohio State in 2018 mostly because of a congenital arachnoid cyst in his brain, which required surgery in 2014 and bothered him throughout his final season with the Buckeyes. He also resigned at Florida for health reasons in December 2009 only to change his mind the following day and instead take a leave of absence.

 

He returned to coach in 2010 and then walked away again at the end of the season, a move that eventually angered many Florida faithful because he took the job at Ohio State less than a year later.

 

Meyer spent the last two years in an analyst role for Fox Sports, appearing weekly on the network’s college football pregame show.

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Niemann Finishes Strong, Shares Lead at SONY Open

Four days after a pair of pars on the final hole at Kapalua led to a playoff loss, Joaquin Niemann holed a 50-foot chip for eagle on the 18th hole Thursday for an 8-under 62 and a share of the lead with Jason Kokrak and Peter Malnati at the Sony Open.

 

Niemann’s only bogey was when he fell asleep on a 25-foot birdie putt above the hole at No. 12, ran it 10 feet by the hole and three-putted. The finish was exquisite.

 

Kokrak played bogey-free, and he was as pleased with a 15-foot par putt on No. 1 — his 10th hole of the round — than any of his nine birdies. He had a 25-foot eagle putt for 61 on his closing hole that narrowly missed.

 

Malnati was the only one at 62 who played in the morning, though conditions were similar for much of the day.

 

The group at 64 included Daniel Berger, among the 31 players in the Sentry Tournament of Champion last week on Maui, and Jim Herman, who should have been there.

 

Harris English, hopeful of being only the third player to sweep the Hawaii swing, had three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on his second nine and had to birdie two of the last three holes for an even-par 70.

 

Scoring was so low that only 30 players from the 144-man field were over par.

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Pebble Beach to Be For Pros Only This Year

The only stars at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year will be the players and the golf course.

 

The spike in COVID-19 cases in California led organizers to cancel the pro-am portion of a tournament with a long history of entertainers, celebrities and CEOs mixing with the pros on one of the most famous and picturesque landscapes in America.

 

That means no antics from Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake breaking out into song while waiting on a tee box or even the latest fashion statement from rap singer Macklemore.

 

The tournament also is losing one of its golf courses. The 156-man field on Feb. 11-14 will be held only at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. It typically includes the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

 

Pebble Beach, which already had announced it would not have spectators, is the second PGA Tour event to lose a pro-am format during competition. The American Express next week in La Quinta, California, previously announced it would have only professionals on two courses instead of three in the desert.

 

This was to be the 75th anniversary of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947 as the Bing Crosby Pro-Am, and celebrities have been a major part of the scene ever since.

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Bears to Bring Back Pace, Nagy

The Chicago Bears plan to keep general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy for at least another season.

 

The team opted against sweeping changes in leadership after the Bears slipped into the playoffs despite going 8-8 for the second year in a row, chairman George McCaskey said Wednesday.

 

The announcement comes on the heels of the Bears’ wild-card loss at New Orleans on Sunday, their second playoff appearance in three years. Chicago won the NFC North at 12-4 in 2018 — Nagy’s first season.

 

The Bears have two playoff appearances and a 42-54 regular-season record in six years under Pace, while Nagy is 28-20. They have not won in the postseason since the 2010 team played in the NFC championship game.

 

There was speculation Pace or Nagy could be on their way out when the Bears lost six in a row this season — their worst skid since 2002. Chicago regrouped by winning three straight against struggling teams before closing the regular season with a 35-16 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

 

The Bears made the playoffs because Arizona lost to the Los Angeles Rams. Chicago then got knocked out in convincing fashion by Drew Brees and the Saints.

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Blues Open 2021 Season With Win Over Avalanche

Oskar Sundqvist scored twice and blocked four shots, Jordan Binnington made 26 saves and the St. Louis Blues beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams.

 

The Blues had to juggles things around when they found out forward Mike Hoffman couldn't play due to visa issues. The team was looking forward to having him in the lineup, too. He signed a one-year contract Monday after signing a professional tryout agreement with St. Louis on Dec. 27.

 

Jordan Kyrou also found the net after being recalled from the taxi squad, and new addition Kyle Clifford added another goal as the Blues scored four unanswered.

 

Andre Burakovsky scored early in the first period for the Avalanche, whose streak of season-opening wins was halted at four.

 

It was a surreal start to the season inside a mostly empty Ball Arena, where artificial noise was pumped in and on occasion would suddenly cut out. There were good-luck signs from fans lining the glass near the net before the game.

 

Binnington was brilliant all night, including a stop of Nathan MacKinnon's shot in the second period after the Colorado forward sped coast-to-coast, weaving through traffic.

 

Kyrou was recalled from the taxi squad Wednesday morning after making the trip with the team. His goal at 13:15 of the first gave the Blues a 2-1 lead. It was a nifty bit of passing that set up the score, as Kyrou sent the puck to Tyler Bozak, who sent it right back to Kyrou for the goal.

 

Philipp Grubauer stopped 28 of 32 shots in a rough start for Colorado.

 

The Blues placed forward Vladimir Tarasenko (upper body) on long-term injured reserve.

 

The Blues stay in Denver to play Colorado again on Friday. Last season, the Avs and Blues split their four meetings, with the home team winning every matchup.

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Lightning Blast Blackhawks To Open Season

Steven Stamkos had a goal and two assists in his return to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup, and the defending Stanley Cup champions opened the season with 5-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

 

Stamkos underwent surgery in early March that kept him out of all but one game in the playoffs before undergoing surgery again in October to repair the same core muscle. Wednesday's game was the first full game Stamkos played since Feb. 22.

 

Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat and Mathieu Joseph also scored to help Tampa Bay win its seventh consecutive season opener. Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn each finished with two assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy had 23 saves.

 

Dylan Strome scored for Chicago, and Malcolm Subban stopped 28 shots.

 

Tampa Bay raced out to a 3-0 lead in the opening period on Palat's rebound goal on the power play, Joseph's redirect that bounced in off Subban, and Cirelli's deflection of Erik Cernak's shot.

 

Stamkos made it 4-0 with a power play goal in the second, one-timing a shot from the left circle where he's scored so many goals during his career.

 

Point one-timed Stamkos' pass from the slot in the third that made it 5-0 before Strome broke the shutout bid with a power-play goal that bounced in off the skate of Vasilevskiy with 3:24 remaining.

 

Chicago played without captain Jonathan Toews, who is out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness.

 

The Blackhawks stay in Tampa to take on the Lightning again on Friday.

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Harden to Nets in 4-Team Blockbuster, Pacers Get Lavert

James Harden is heading to Brooklyn, joining old teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to give the Nets a potent trio featuring some of the NBA’s highest scorers.

 

The Nets agreed to acquire the three-time scoring champion from the Houston Rockets on Wednesday in a move Harden has sought for weeks, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

 

Harden is the centerpiece of a four-team deal that also involves Indiana and Cleveland, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the trade call with the NBA — which signs off on all deals — had not been completed.

 

Once it is, the Nets will be able to trot out a lineup of three players capable of scoring 25 or more points on any night in a collection of firepower to rival any Big Three in recent years.

 

The Nets are loading up for a title run with three of the highest-paid players in the league. All are under contract through 2022-23, with Harden and Durant both set to earn more than $40 million in each of the next two seasons.

 

At least four draft picks and additional pick swaps are also part of the deal, the person said. Other key players: Victor Oladipo goes from Indiana to Houston, and Caris LeVert goes from Brooklyn to Indiana, the person said. The Cavaliers will get Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince from the Nets in the deal, a person familiar with the trade told the AP.

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Packers QB Rodgers to Guest Host 'Jeopardy!'

reen Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers says he will be a guest host on “Jeopardy!” during the offseason.

 

The show is currently using a series of interim hosts to replace Alex Trebek, who died of cancer on Nov. 8. That process began when record-holding contestant Ken Jennings made his debut on an episode that aired Monday.

 

Rodgers was a winning “Celebrity Jeopardy!” contestant in 2015. The All-Pro quarterback and two-time MVP is currently preparing to lead the Packers (13-3) into their NFC divisional playoff game Saturday with the Los Angeles Rams (11-6).

 

Rodgers first made the announcement earlier Tuesday during an appearance on Sirius XM’s “The Pat McAfee Show.” A representative from “Jeopardy!” declined comment and said no announcement has been made about future guest hosts.

 

Rodgers mentioned the nostalgic connection people have to certain figures based on their childhood. He compared meeting Trebek during his “Celebrity Jeopardy!" stint to his first production meetings with Keith Jackson, John Madden and Dan Fouts, longtime broadcasters he had watched as a kid.

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COVID Forcing Clinton HS Basketball Coach to Get Acclimated in Different Environment

For first-year basketball coaches, getting to know their new teams often comes with time.

 

Seeing the kids in the hallways of the schools and watching them in practice are perhaps the biggest ways a new coach gets to know their new team. For first-year Clinton High School boy's basketball coach Dan Luketich, COVID is forcing him to take a different approach to get to know his players.

 

 

According to Coach Luketich, this week begins limited practices and while trying to predict what will happen next has gone off the radar for him, he says you take the time you have and make the most of it.

 

 

The IHSA is meeting this week for what could provide further guidance on the future of high school sports in Illinois. 

 

Hear more from Coach Luketich in this week's Clinton Maroon's Player Spotlight program on WHOW and our many online platforms along with seniors in the Clinton High School basketball program.

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