50-50-50: Rats debate recent b-ball inconsistency

By Joe Katz

Today we debut the first installment of a weekly roundtable to be featured on the Chicago Maroon Sports Report blog, whih can be found online at maroon.uchicago.edu/wordpress. You can chime in with your own comments on this week’s topics or suggest your own questions for next time.

• How did the women’s basketball team get swept at home?

Sean: Honestly, the writing was on the wall since the beginning of the season. This is a very talented team that was able to get by lesser opponents in the non-conference schedule despite playing inconsistent, at times downright sloppy, basketball. Unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to figure things out—or neglected to—by the time tough, critical games came to Ratner.

Now we’ll have to see how women’s basketball responds after the first real crisis situation of the year. What will be most important is that the players not only pull out a pair of wins but also don’t revert back to the bad habits, where they don’t take care of the ball, don’t get back on defense, and rely too much on individual efforts.

Omar: I don’t see superior talent in other teams; all I see is superior focus and consistent application. I have no idea how one produces both these assets, but they are the only thing preventing the Maroons from being the best.

They lacked height and muscle last year, and this year they have addressed that through improvements in the athleticism of their existing players as well as the arrival of first-year forward Alex Leach. Also, the technique of fourth-year forward Jenn Kaiser in particular has become very good indeed.

Joe: As much as you don’t want to say something like “In the UAA, these things happen…” well, in the UAA, these things happen. Neither Brandeis nor NYU can be taken lightly, and there are days when those two teams are going to beat good teams on the road.

At the same time, we saw in the second half against Brandeis just how good the Maroons can be when they play with a sense of urgency. They just haven’t done it enough in the first half since conference play began. As soon as the women can establish some responsibility on defense and learn to take advantage of their early opportunities on offense, they should be just as dangerous to their league opponents as they were in November and December.

Sean: This is a squad that has built a reputation as a second-half comeback team. But as we saw this past weekend, you can’t always be climbing uphill, especially when you fall back 15 and 23 points against top-25 opponents. It’s hard to outscore Brandeis or NYU by that much in 40 minutes, let alone 20 or less. At the very least, the margin for error becomes miniscule.

It was nice to see second-year guard Nofi Mojidi try to take charge last weekend, but she and the offense are at their best when getting her easy, backdoor layups instead of relying on her to create 15-step drives all by herself. The same goes for expecting an outside shooter, like third-year guard Korry Schwanz, to be perfect from downtown. It’s just not going to happen every night, and that’s why Chicago needs to use all of its weapons.

• What’s ailing the men’s basketball team?

Omar: I think the men can be proud of the way they have played because I never see lack of effort. The main sticking point for me has been the absence of third-year forward Clay Carmody, plain and simple. He gives a great combination of power, brains, and technique in the paint. When he is on, Chicago wins. Sadly, he has been ill and is not yet back to his impressive physical peak.

Sean: I disagree that Carmody’s absence has been the key difference. This is another team that has been inconsistent this year, and the squad’s mediocre record (9–7, 2–3) shows it. It’s a squad that could finish with anywhere between 12 and 16 wins, all depending on how determined they come out.

Unfortunately we’ve seen the best this year (a four-point loss to top-ranked Illinois Wesleyan) and the worst (two completely uninspired halves against Brandeis and NYU this weekend), and it’s hard to figure out which side of the men’s team is going to show up on a given night. Unlike the women, the men don’t have nearly the same amount of raw talent relative to their opponents, and they need to put together complete performances like they did against IWU in order to come out looking impressive.

We didn’t see any of the chemistry that both Brandeis and NYU showed off, particularly between Violets point guard Kildare and their center Boone. I’d like to see Chicago third-year point guard Brandon Woodhead and the team’s post players rediscover one

Joe: Playing the full 40 minutes has been a major challenge so far for the men. The tendency the team has developed to give up a couple big shots, come down with shell-shock, and take four or five minutes before getting back into their game has hurt them again and again this season. They’re never going to play up to their full potential until they can figure out how not to get knocked back on their heels.

With a number of younger players getting major minutes and only two of the last weekend’s starting five having also been starters last year, the Maroons may need a full trip around the UAA to get their bearings against players who are bigger and stronger than many of their non-conference opponents. At the same time, if they aim to finish in the top half of the league, they’re going to have to learn how to lock down the paint without letting too much through on the perimeter.

At the moment, they’re just getting out-muscled. Carmody’s return to full-time action should help in that respect.

• Was Beach Night a success?

Joe: With the exception of football’s league-title clinching game last fall, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a larger or more excited crowd at a Maroons sporting event. The organizers really outdid themselves. All that could have made it better was a win or two. And perhaps Omar actually wearing a shirt.

Sean: Unquestionably a great job getting houses out in full force to Ratner. That is the resource the athletic department has to take advantage of in order to build a community here, and it laid the groundwork last Friday. Time will tell if the support lasts, but it was honestly the best and loudest crowd I have ever seen at Maroons games, especially women’s basketball.

Omar: A great success and a tribute to the effort of all those involved. The only thing missing was a just judgment on the winner of the costume competition, but don’t get me started on that…