With only eight teams in the league and matchups scheduled twice a year, there aren’t very many well kept secrets or surprises left in the UAA. This weekend will be all about how well and how quickly men’s basketball can make adjustments as they face off against two squads with opposite game plans that know Chicago’s strategies almost as well as their own.
Starting their road trip in Atlanta, the Maroons (9–3, 0–1) will try to rebound from a disappointing conference opener that saw the squad drop 70–59 to 16th-ranked Wash U (10–1, 1–0) last Saturday. They’ll tip off tonight against the defensively focused Emory (7–4, 0–1) before taking their game to Cleveland to battle it out with the methodical Case Spartans (4–8, 0–1) Sunday.
Squaring off in Coca Cola country, Chicago has the chance to make the most of a rare advantage. Usually playing as the undersized squad and occasionally getting stung for it, most recently in the Wash U contest, the Maroons will see what a difference a couple of inches can make when it takes the floor tonight. But whatever the Eagles’ starting lineup lacks in size, they make up for with quickness. Emory enters the contest averaging 9.4 steals.
While the now-you-have-it, now-you-don’t ball-hawking threat from Emory creates some obstacles for the South Siders to get around while driving to the net, there might still be some holes to poke through in the Eagles’ backcourt. Emory’s guards have a tendency to slip into messy ball handling, giving up 17.7 turnovers per game. If the Maroons can take advantage of Emory’s mistakes with crisp, clean play, then they can recover some lost possessions.
Chicago may have its hands full trying to break through Emory’s pressure defense, but the squad should be careful not to overlook guarding its own basket. That hoop is most likely to be attacked by third-year guard Spiros Ferderigos. Averaging 17.0 points per game and shooting .462 from the floor, the Oldsmar, Florida native is the big playmaker on an Eagles squad that posts 75.5 points per game while nailing a .435 shooting percentage. Fourth-year Adrian Sosa is equally impressive at the post, matching his teammate in points while shooting .381.
“Sosa and Ferderigos for Emory are two of the best guards we will play in conference,” Hainje said.
“Ferderigos for Emory can play,” fourth-year guard Jesse Meyer added. “And we’ll need to contain him as a team, not just with one guy.”
Saturday, the South Siders had trouble taming Wallis, who stung the squad for 25 points, sinking seven of his nine trey attempts. They’ll have to do a better job of putting down Ferderigos, who notched 40 points in his team’s 79–68 and 69–58 losses to the Maroons last year.
After stopping Ferderigos and working past Emory’s pesky defense, Chicago has Saturday to regroup and switch gears for the showdown with Case. The Spartans like to slow down the pace, and playing with a home court advantage will milk the shot clock to limit Chicago’s scoring opportunities. The Maroons will have to react to the change in tempo and adjust to it by getting more aggressive and more physical.
It will be a quick turnaround for the South Siders, but they should be able to handle Case easily if the Maroons play to their ability. While Case outrebounds its opponents 39.4 to 33.8 and boasts a slightly higher shooting percentage (.431 to .425), it cannot keep up with the competition when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. The Spartans have been outscored this winter 71.6 to 61.8 mostly because of their trouble converting the three pointer. Most of their offense comes from the low post, where third-year center Mason Conrad is the team’s go-to guy at 16.8 points per game.
Even if the Spartans are able to limit Chicago’s shots Sunday, the Maroons should stay a step ahead of Conrad and the home five if they can rediscover their downtown form lost against the Bears. With third-year center Tim Reynolds (.636 beyond the arc) still unavailable, the team will most likely look for a boost from fourth-year guard Drew Adams, throwing .519 from beyond the arc.
Hoping that mistakes from the Wash U game won’t resurface in Atlanta or Cleveland, head coach Mike McGrath wants to see his team stay relaxed and composed even if it starts to fall to the losing side. Staying focused on each possession rather than the result at the buzzer will be as big a theme as making fast adjustments.
“After the Wash U game, I think we are more focused on what we need to do, and not as much as what they are going to do,” Meyer said. “Our strategy is to go compete and win.”
This weekend marks a big shift in the South Siders’ scheduling for the season. From here on out, with the exception of a Saturday date with Wash U on Feb. 24, they’ll take on league foes every Friday and Sunday in showdowns that will continue to challenge the squad to stay sharp against opponents that know its every move.
“The UAA season can be a roller coaster ride, so we need to man up here and get two on the road and just worry about the things that we can control,” Meyer said.