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Two steps forward, two steps backward. That’s what this season has felt like for men’s basketball.
The Maroons (11–11, 5–6) will look to end this yearlong bout of inconsistency as they take on Carnegie (5–17, 1–10) on Friday and Case (13–9, 5–6) on Sunday at the Ratner Center. Chicago has alternated between winning two and losing two over the past month.
“We just need to stay consistent. When we’ve been very focused and given a good mental effort, we’ve been very successful, and when we haven’t, we’ve struggled,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “It’s a learning curve. Our older guys are pretty good at sustaining physical effort for a long period of time, and the less experienced guys are still learning how to do that.”
The Maroons dropped two games on the road last weekend, a 66–71 squeaker at the hands of NYU and a 71–83 loss to Brandeis. The main culprit was a lack of offensive focus on driving through the paint to create quality scoring opportunities, which was a focal point at practice this week.
“We’re working hard with our guys at attacking the basket and finishing,” assistant coach Drew Adams said. “Our guys are very capable at attacking the basket; we are just trying to create a more aggressive mindset with them, so it becomes more of a habit to them.”
Focus will be a key factor in Chicago’s game today against Carnegie, a team that has struggled during the year but is still very dangerous, and the Maroons do not want to be caught with an eye towards their match-up with Case on Sunday.
“It’s a UAA basketball game, and it’s one of the best conferences in the country. Our guys know that you can’t look past anybody,” McGrath said.
While the Maroons believe they will have to maintain their focus on Carnegie, they know that they will face a firm challenge in Case. The last time these two teams met, Chicago gutted out a 72–69 win as the frontcourt anchored a balanced offensive attack. Third-year forward Paul Riskus, second-year forward Tom Williams, and second-year forward Steve Stefanou each chipped in at least 12 points and seven rebounds.
“We’ll need to [have that balance] again this time around,” McGrath said. “They’re big and strong, they pound the ball inside, and they rebound very well. This is the type of team we tend to do well with, as opposed to teams that get up and down a little bit and attack off the dribble.”
The Maroons will also need to account for forward Tom Summers, who missed the first face-off between these two teams due to injury but is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per contest this season.
“Case is a tough match-up for us. They are bigger than us at every position now that [Summers] is back in their lineup. They are a very balanced inside-out team that can score in many different ways,” Adams said. “They have been playing very well since Summers’s return, and it’s going to take a great effort to beat them.”
Stopping Case on the defensive end will require tight pressure defense that does not allow penetration into the key.
“We want them to go deep into the shot clock and not give them an easy look. It’s always our goal: Never let people score easily,” McGrath said. “If we can do that, it’ll be a good game.”