Stellar backcourt set to lead men’s basketball

By Joe Katz

In the UAA, the big man is king. Last winter, not a single guard made first team all-conference. But when men’s basketball tips off their season tomorrow night, they’ll be hoping to turn the league on its head with stellar backcourt play.

Having lost two of their most powerful low post players to graduation, the Maroons will be looking to the perimeter to lead the way on offense this year. Fourth-year shooting guard Brandon Woodhead will be given plenty of opportunities to show off his clutch play as Chicago tries to demonstrate that lack of stature doesn’t mean lack of scoring.

Even last season, with an abundance of natural frontcourt players such as Clay Carmody and Jason Hicks (both A.B. ’06) on the roster, Woodhead (10.8 ppg) and classmate guard Jesse Meyer (12.5 ppg) were the top producers for the men. Without Carmody and Hicks, many the team’s returning players are more notable for skill than size. Head coach Mike McGrath will attempt to highlight the squad’s shooting ability, speed and basketball sense. The men will keep things fast-paced, with plenty of ball movement and plenty of open jumpers.

At the same time, they’ll need to fight for every rebound and stay aggressive on defense to allow them to check inside stars like NYU fourth-year Jason Boone and Brandeis third-year Steve DeLuca (see Spotlight box).

“We’ve basically shifted everything down, and we’ll be much more of a good offensive team. Even if we had the big guys, guarding Boone and DeLuca and those guys is still something you have to address. The question is whether or not we can take advantage of our strengths offensively,” McGrath said.

This weekend’s Midway Classic will give fans a chance to see how well a number of players are adjusting to new roles in this refocused scheme. Woodhead is making the shift from floor general to go-to guy, and third-year forward Nate Hainje will similarly take on more shooting responsibilities as he moves from the wing to the post. They’ll get a hand from fourth-year guard Jesse Meyer (12.5 ppg), who will take over for Hainje on the wing and is continuing his evolution into a multi-tool player.

Taking charge along the baseline will be third-year forward Tim Reynolds, while fourth-year Drew Adams runs the offense at point. They’ll be pushed by second-year big Tom Watson and first-year guard Jake Pancratz. Fourth-year forward Jason Vismantas, second-year forward Adam Machones and fourth-year guard Derek Brannon should also see significant playing time off the bench.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can pass and catch and shoot; a lot of guys who understand the game,” McGrath said. “Our depth is a strength. We don’t drop off a lot when we go to the next guy.”

A solid non-conference schedule should provide a worthy proving ground for Chicago’s small-ball style before the squad heads into UAA play January 6. Picked to finish fifth by the association coaches, the Maroons may well make some noise in a league that’s as balanced as ever. The squad finished last season at 15–10 with an 8–6 league mark, good for third-place in the UAA. NYU is favored to grab the automatic NCAA bid this season.

“Any team in our league can beat any other team in our league, just like last year,” McGrath said. “I think two through five could have gone in any order. I’m not surprised that we’re last in that group because of what we lost…but I sure as hell don’t think we should finish fifth.”