Coming off a disappointing 2003-04 campaign, men's basketball looks to regain its winning spirit this Saturday, as the season officially tips off with the eighth annual University of Chicago Midway Classic.
After finishing eight consecutive seasons with a winning record, the Maroons finished last season with a disappointing overall record of 12-13, but still managed to finish fourth in the UAA with an 8-6 conference record. Despite the losing record, the Maroons ended last season on a four game winning streak, including an inspiring season finale upset over nationally ranked Wash U, 79-63, at Ratner.
"Last year was a disappointment in a lot of ways, but we finished strong," fourth-year guard Brian Cuttica said. "This year we want to play hard every play of every game, and do well from start to finish."
Still, improvement might be easier said than done. The Maroons lost their top scorer and first-team All-UAA selection Scott Fischer to graduation, and will be forced to replace his team leading 17 points and 6 rebounds per game. With the departure of Fischer, fourth-years Justin Waldie, Mike Dolezal, and Brian Cuttica will be asked to step up and assume the leadership positions both on and off the court.
"[My goal] is to do whatever I can to help our team reach its goals," Waldie, who is expected to play guard, said. "Our goals are to play hard every time we step on the floor, to improve, and ultimately to win the UAA."
Apart from its senior core, the Maroons will also be welcoming five third-years back to the team, adding more stability to an already veteran-laden team. Key among them is forward Clayton Carmody, who, despite coming off the bench for 23 of his 24 games, finished fourth in the team in scoring and third in field goal percentage. Four starters return in all, with second-year guard Brandon Woodhead joining the three seniors.
With all the players in place and preseason practice coming to a close, the Maroons open their home tournament against St. Mary's (MN) on Saturday, November 20, at 6 p.m. Historically, Chicago has excelled at the Midway Classic, winning four of the last six tournaments.
"We need to get off to a solid start if we want to make this season go the way it should, so right now the only game to focus on is the first one against St. Mary's," Cuttica said.
If the Maroons defeat St. Mary's this Saturday, they will advance to the championship game against the winner of Southwestern and UW-Stevens Point Sunday at 5 p.m. The consolation game will be played immediately prior at 3 p.m. The athletics department is offering free giveaways and food before the Chicago games.
Men's basketball is looking to set the pace for the season this weekend with tough play. Most of all, while the UAA season is over a month away, the Maroons know that they need to be up for every game between then and now.
"Every game is a key game for us and we can't take anybody for granted," Waldie said. "In the past we've looked past certain teams and paid the price. We have to respect all of our opponents this year, and understand that we have to play hard and play well to win."