Back in Chicago’s days as part of the Big Ten, a game between the Maroons and Northwestern would have been another regular season matchup. These days, though, it’s a rare occurrence, and tomorrow men’s basketball will see how they stack up against the D-I Wildcats. Before heading out to face that other school from Chicago, fourth-years Nate Hainje, Tim Reynolds, Matt Corning, and second-year Jake Pancratz took a minute to chat about the trip.
Kate Fratar: Have you ever played against Northwestern before?
Tim Reynolds: No, this is the first time that we’ve been able to. It used to be that this would count toward one of our regular season games, I think, and Coach McGrath didn’t want that to happen. He was only willing to play them if it was exhibition. He preferred us to go against D-III teams.
Matt Corning: It’s kind of becoming a trend now for D-I teams to play exhibition games against lower-level teams. Like, Michigan State just played Grand Valley State, and they got beat.
Nate Hainje: They got beat?
MC: Yeah, Grand Valley State beat Michigan State, and Wisconsin played Edgewood. It’s kind of becoming commonplace.
NH: It gives us smaller programs a shot, you know, a look at the big time.
Jake Pancratz: The big show.
NH: Yeah, the big show.
KF: Fans have probably built up a big divide between D-I and D-III talent in their minds, but do you guys feel like there’s that big of a playing gap?
MC: I don’t think we’re going to know until we get out there.
NH: We all know Division I players, we’ve all played with them or against them, so on some levels it doesn’t feel like there’s that much difference between Division I and Division III basketball. But at the same time, we obviously haven’t played any Division I basketball. Like Matt said, it’s just going to be “find out once we get out there.”
KF: If you could go DI, which program would you most want to play for?
MC: I did have a preferred walk-on for Illinois. For most of us, it would be a walk-on situation. If you’re talking about a major program, we could probably [make it as walk-ons], but there’s not a lot of glory in it. Whereas you can come here and play great basketball, travel all over the East Coast, and be a big shot.
JP: If I was going to be a walk-on somewhere, I don’t know. I just wanted to go where I could play.
KF: Was it a surprise to the team to see Northwestern at the top of your schedule?
TR: It was definitely more of a shock. We’d never really expected to play a D-I team, and all of a sudden, we find out that one of our scrimmages will be against Northwestern.
MC: I didn’t know until I looked at the schedule.
NH: We’d asked Coach McGrath before, like when we were first freshman because I think that’s the year that the girls first played Northwestern. We were like, “Hey, that’s really cool. You think we could do that?” He kind of told us, “No, that’s not really what I want to see,” or “I don’t care how well we can do against Northwestern,” but I think the opportunity came up this year. We just decided to go with it.
MC: McGrath would say that if we were to beat Northwestern and lose our conference games, then it wouldn’t mean anything that we beat Northwestern.
KF: What kind of scouting report do you have on the Wildcats?
NH: I don’t think we’ll go over much of [the video]. I think we’ll just go in and see how we do. I do know that their best player is not with the team right now. He’s on a leave of absence because his mom is sick.
KF: The game was originally going to be televised, right?
JP: Yeah, it was going to be, but now it’s not. We got ousted by the Michigan State game.
MC: We just got upset.
NH: Now we’re going to see if they can upset Michigan Tech.
KF: Tomorrow’s game is a pretty big deal for Chicago athletics. What kind of crowd will be there cheering for the South Siders?
NH: We got some alums who still live around here that I know of who Coach McGrath got tickets for. All of our seniors from last year except for one are going to be there.
KF: Will John Saxon, the Maroon fanatic know as “The Woodhead” for his support of Brandon Woodhead [2003–2007], be in the stands?
NH: I believe he’ll be there, but I haven’t actually spoken to him. I don’t know if he’ll be sporting the sweet jersey or anything. He’ll probably be sitting with Woodhead and not sporting the Woodhead.
KF: Looking a bit more at the Maroons, how has the team been looking so far?
NH: [To Pancratz] All you, point guard. Take it away.
JP: Right now we’re a little banged up, but we’re looking pretty good. It’s definitely a different team than last year’s, not as much run-and-gun. I’d like it to be, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. We got our All-American [referring to Hainje’s preseason All-American selection by The Sporting News].
KF: The team lost a core group of seniors at the end of last year. How has the squad adjusted and tried to fill in the holes?
MC: We replaced all the shots.
NH: I think as leadership roles go, I think that’s something that [last year’s seniors] were really good at. I think we’re really picking it up this year, not just from individuals, but as a team leadership. Everybody’s picking everybody else up.
TR: The biggest thing we lost was experience. There will be a lot of guys this year who didn’t play as much last year.
KF: Finally, what are you hoping to get out of tomorrow’s game?
NH: I just want it to be memorable. [Table agreement.] Win or lose, I want us to go out there and give it everything we got.
TR: Play to our full potential.
NH: Yeah, see how we come out. That’s what everyone wants to know. Every D-III player wants to know how he’d play in Division I.