It's just been that kind of season for men's basketball.
Closing out a season-high four-game road trip, the Maroons fell to NYU 60-51 and to Brandeis 88-75 last weekend, dropping their UAA record to 3-4, with a 7-11 mark overall. Chicago has now lost 8 of 10 away from Ratner and is mired in a four-game losing streak.
The team displayed their usual defensive prowess at the Coles Center on Friday, holding the Violets to just 60 points on 40 percent field goal shooting. However, the Maroons were unable to capitalize at the other end, shooting a horrific 30 percent from the field and a season-low 15 percent from beyond the arc.
"We exerted a good defensive effort, but we just could not finish shots," head coach Mike McGrath said. "We battled hard, but we should have done a lot better."
Despite that performance, which dropped the team to 3-3 in the conference, the Maroons had high hopes to snap their streak at Brandeis Sunday.
In a complete turnaround, the team's offense clicked at the Gosman Center. Chicago connected on 45 percent of their field goal attempts, including 40 percent of their shots from three-point range.
Unfortunately, the team allowed a season-worst 88 points to the Judges. Chicago couldn't recover from a 10-2 Brandeis run right after halftime that put the visitors in a big hole.
"We did not display as strong of a team effort this past weekend in comparison to last weekend," said McGrath, referring to the team's two close losses at Emory and Case. "We played hard, but our execution was not as sharp, and as a result, our play suffered."
The loss dropped the team into a fifth-place tie with Emory in the latest conference standings. Despite that ranking, the Maroons remain in the thick of the UAA race. Although Rochester's league-leading 6-1 record likely puts them out of reach, the team is only two games behind second-place Carnegie Mellon and just one behind Brandeis and Washington, which share third.
With four home games left, including three against teams ahead of Chicago, and three winnable matches left on the road, the Maroons are in a position to do some damage. In particular, this weekend's rematches against NYU and Brandeis provide a great opportunity for a streaky Maroons squad to build momentum for a late-season push.
If the team's early season struggles are any indication of what is to come, the future may be bright. After snapping a five-game losing streak on the road against Denison on December 18, the Maroons reeled off four consecutive victories, including three home wins against UAA opponents. If the team aims for a top-three finish in the league, they need to rediscover that magic stroke.
"I'd like to see us play well next weekend, play hard, play spirited," McGrath said. "If we do that, other things will fall into place."
One of the bright spots of this otherwise disappointing season for the Maroons has been the development of the underclassmen. Augmenting the great leadership and skill displayed by the team's three fourth-years, Mike Dolezal, Justin Waldie, and Brian Cuttica, second-year guard Brandon Woodhead and first-year forward Nate Hainje have performed exceptionally for the Maroons, paving the way for a bright future.
Woodhead is currently the only Maroon averaging double figures in scoring, leading the team with 10.7 points per game. Woodhead also ranks second on the team in steals and assists, behind Cuttica and Waldie.
Hainje, a first-year forward who took over the post after fourth-year Mike Dolezal's early-season back injuries, has performed beyond expectations, averaging 7.5 points on 46 percent shooting and 5.1 rebounds per contest. Hainje, who slumped this past weekend with only four points per game, trails only Dolezal in rebounding, creating a solid post tandem for Chicago.
The Maroons face off against Brandeis (Friday, 8 p.m.) and NYU (Sunday, 1 p.m.) this weekend in a key home stand that might very well decide their ultimate fate in the UAA race. Currently boasting an undefeated UAA record at home, the Maroons will look to their home crowds for encouragement in this decisive series.
"We are glad to be back home after such a tough road trip," McGrath reiterated. "I want to encourage the fans to come out and have fun, be respectful of the other team, and root on the Maroons to victory."