Considering that at this time last season his team had zero wins, the fact that men’s basketball head coach Mike McGrath sounds disappointed by his team’s recent performance is an indication of how far the team has come in a short time.
Chicago (6–5) has already equaled their victory total from last year, when they finished 6–19, before even beginning conference play. However, the Maroons have dropped their last four after beginning the season on a 6–1 streak that included winning the Midway Classic championship, so McGrath’s concern is understandable.
Why the sudden swoon? McGrath believes he has the explanation.
“I think some of that is the effect that winter break and finals has on you mentally,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with the way we came back from Christmas break with our energy and our focus.”
In addition to the distractions of winter break, Chicago has been hampered by inconsistency.
“If you look at us statistically, we’re not doing anything terribly,” McGrath said. “It’s been different things different games.”
At Augustana, the Maroons committed 28 turnovers. Against Edgewood, Chicago doomed itself by shooting only 23.8 percent from the field in the first half. Then, they shot well in the first half against St. Norbert but only 28.1 percent in the second period. Finally, the Maroons shot well in both halves against MSOE but narrowly lost the turnover battle 17–13 in a 64–62 loss.
Unsurprisingly, McGrath’s focus heading into the UAA schedule is on making sure his Maroons play well for the full 40 minutes.
“In each game, especially the ones we’ve lost, we’ve had a five to ten minute stretch where we didn’t play well,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to work on now.”
All the discussion of Chicago’s recent losing streak shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Maroons are vastly improved from a year ago. McGrath refused to pinpoint any particular player that has spearheaded this improvement, instead focusing on the squad’s intangibles.
He said that his fourth-years, guards John Bonelli and Jake Pancratz and forwards John Kinsella and Marek Kowalewski, “have been very competitive and have set a very good tone.” McGrath added, “I think we’ve had very good team chemistry.”
The maturation of the second-year class has also aided the Maroons, especially in the cases of guard Chase Davis and forwards Tom Williams and Steve Stefanou. Of the three, Stefanou posted the largest contribution last year with 3.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 7.1 minutes per game. This year, he leads the team in both points per game with 13.0 and rebounds per game with 7.4. Williams has chipped in with 8.9 points and 6.6 boards, and Davis has added 6.5 points per game from the bench.
Combined with the expected solid play of returning starters Pancratz, Kinsella, and second-year Michael Sustarsic, this trio gives the Maroons several targets on offense.
That will be a big asset in the coming weeks during the conference schedule, and the Maroons will need to iron out their inconsistencies if they want to make noise in the perennially competitive UAA.