Men’s basketball preview: After off years, men could be set for return to glory

By Tim Murphy

After two years of mediocrity, men’s basketball has its sights set on the UAA title.

Last season the Maroons were competitive, but couldn’t step up when it mattered most. Chicago (10–15, 6–8 UAA) had three losing streaks of four games or more en route to their worst season in 11 years. The Maroons dropped three games by six points or less, including a 75–73 heartbreaker to eventual league runner-up Carnegie Mellon last February.

“The effort was there to win more games than we did,” said head coach Mike McGrath, who has won two UAA titles in his seven years at the helm. “It was just a matter of a play here or a play there. We just have to get the job done.”

In contrast to last season, when Rochester ran away with the league before eventually falling to Wisconsin–Stevens Point in the national championship game, parity is the paramount theme this year. Four teams—Rochester, Wash U, NYU, and Carnegie Mellon—received first-place votes in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Maroons were picked to finish fifth.

“The top six could have been picked in any order,” McGrath said. “It’s about as balanced as it’s been since I’ve been here. We believe that we can truly compete for the UAA championship.”

Chicago will field a taller starting lineup than last season when the team hosts the opener of the Maroon Classic Saturday against Colby. Last year’s squad featured two players, second-year Nate Hainje and third-year Jason Vismantas, playing out of position as forwards. This season, with fourth-year Jon Todd sharing time up front with fellow classmates Clay Carmody and Jason Hicks, Vismantas and Hainje will move to their more natural position as wings.

Offensively, the Maroons have lacked a gunner who can take over games on a regular basis since Derek Reich graduated in 2003. Last year, no player averaged more than 11 points per game. Although it makes for a less glamorous stat sheet, McGrath doesn’t see that changing this year, with three returning starters in Carmody, Hainje, and third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead.

“I suspect we’ll be pretty balanced. We have about six guys who can go for about 15 or 16 points in any game, depending on who the opponent is.”

Regardless of who scores, if the old adage that defense wins championships is true, than the Maroons will have to improve upon a defense that conceded 67.7 points per contest last season.

“Defensively, if we have good depth in the post, that will be a big factor,” McGrath said. “How we do defending on the perimeter will be important. If we can sustain our energy over the course of the season, then we’ll have a good year.”