SPORTS

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December 2, 2008

Long season allows time to erase what-ifs

We all knew this was going to be a long men’s basketball season. Last season was. Every season is. That’s just the game.

But if the team continues as it has for the first five games, it’s going to get a lot longer.

An 0–5 start won’t do much to bolster the confidence of this squad or any of the already few Chicago fans in attendance.

They’ve lost some really bad games. They’ve lost some really good games, too. Most importantly, though, they’ve lost them all.

I can forgive and forget, though, mostly because it’s been a much better season than the zero in the wins column might indicate.

Chicago lost to second-ranked Augustana on a fallaway 20-footer with 2.5 seconds left. The loss to IIT came in overtime when a last-second three fell just off the mark. This last game against Loras saw the Maroons climb back from deficits all day only to lose on a bucket with 2.7 seconds left on the clock.

That’s three plays, three losses, and a whole lot more what-ifs.

What if Augustana guard Jordan Delp missed that go-ahead jumper? Chicago had been outrebounding the favorites throughout the game, and with the clock ticking down, I would have put money on the Maroons collecting the board to win it.

What if third-year guard Jake Pancratz sunk his three against IIT? That’s a game that, based on energy and intensity, Chicago should have lost, and to come away with a win in that situation would still have given the Maroons the lesson they needed in mentality but also the ever-important first win.

What if fourth-year guard Matt Corning hit both free throws with 1.2 seconds left in regulation against Loras? Or what if the Maroons got a clean shot off to end the first overtime? Or what if they got a defensive stop at the end of the second overtime?

If anyone doubted it before, I think the Maroons have proven this season that basketball is a game of inches, and those are inches that the Maroons are losing all over the place.

Historically, if we take history to be the last few seasons, Chicago has been a very strong team in conference play. I think that will be the case this year, but the early-season UAA statistics are discouraging for the Phanatix.

Chicago is last in the conference in scoring, averaging a paltry 66.8 points per game. They’re second-to-last in scoring margin; only Case, at minus 11.2, is behind them. And, most importantly, they’re one of just two teams that are still winless two weeks into the season.

As always, the wins, or lack thereof, can be explained by the more specific statistical categories. Chicago is last in field goal percentage with 38.4 percent mark. To put that in perspective, top-ranked Wash U, the preseason UAA favorite, is shooting 50.7 percent for the season.

To match that, the Maroons’ opponents’ 47.6 percent shooting puts Chicago last in field goal defense. The South Siders are last in three-point-shooting defense, last in steals, and sixth of in rebounding.

But it isn’t like the team has been so horrendous in all of the categories in one game. Against Augustana, they were pulling down rebounds like a collective Charles Barkley. While shooting has clearly been a problem so far, the Maroons have sunk their fair share of clutch shots this year. Their defensive lapses have been blindingly glaring, and yet it seems like, down the stretches of their closer games, they have demonstrated their ability to defend.

It really doesn’t seem like there can be any answers to this riddle of a so-far-winless season. Head coach Mike McGrath reinforced this uncertainty when he said it’s been all different kinds of mistakes at inopportune times that have cost the Maroons this year.

Along with that, though, has to come a sense that one of these days, the team will get everything together. The most important aspect of their play at this point is a short memory. Pancratz has had to be the guy to miss three long shots at the buzzer this season, and that kind of thing can build up.

If the Maroons want to climb back into this campaign, they just need to remember one piece of advice that first-year volleyball player Isis Smalls gave her team during a tough stretch: Statistics and rankings mean nothing when you get out onto the court. It’s so simple, but with so many “last in the conference” descriptions that the Maroons’ numbers have earned them so far this season, it could be tough.

If you’re a long-distance fan, the box scores might have you looking ahead to next year already (or maybe two years ahead, if you’re hoping the Maroons sign LeBron in 2010). But I really hope the team isn’t doing that in this young season.

The schedule doesn’t get easier from here, as Wednesday brings a match-up with third-ranked Wheaton (3–0), a team that defeated Loras by 29 points a week ago.

But that’s the beauty of the long season; there’s always time to turn things around. Well, at least for a while.