Nobody said this season would be easy.
After struggling through much of last year, men’s basketball’s 6–1 start was a breath of fresh air for Chicago faithful. But the growing pains of a young team have set in and with them have come mixed results in a UAA schedule that has featured just two home games out of seven so far.
The good news is that it does get easier from here. While the Maroons will of course rotate back through the same competition for the second half of the conference schedule, they play five of their final seven games at home.
For a team that just finished up a string of four consecutive road games, the home-heavy back half will provide a welcome respite, as the Maroons realized the challenges this past weekend. After winning at Case and Carnegie the previous weekend, Chicago stumbled to the halfway point with a 71–44 loss to Emory on Friday followed by a heartbreaker at Rochester on Sunday, where they fell 76–75.
As the squad looks to regroup, head coach Mike McGrath has highlighted a problem that tripped up the Chicago squad all season: consistency.
“We haven’t been great, and we haven’t been bad,” McGrath said. “We’ve made an effort to be more consistent…. We have to learn to sustain that for longer periods of time and from game to game.”
The team’s ups and downs have kept them inches from the top tier of the UAA this season with winnable games at Rochester last weekend and at home against Brandeis on January 17 slipping away. If they could have turned those losses into wins, Chicago would be tied for second in the conference. As it stands, the Maroons find themselves in sole possession of sixth place in the league, ahead of only Carnegie and Case.
The conference schedule hasn’t brought only bad news for the Maroons, though. Second-year forward Tom Williams has emerged as a double-double machine in conference games thus far. Four of his six career double-doubles have come in this year’s UAA play where he has averaged 12.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest. Fourth-year guard Jake Pancratz has also boosted his game over the last few contests, reaching double-digit scoring three times in the last four games.
Perhaps the most important factor in the team’s performance, according to McGrath, has been and will continue to be experience. The relatively inexperienced sophomore class is continuing to develop into a strong group of players, but the season thus far has been more about progress than winning every game.
With more experience will come more confidence, an asset McGrath said should do wonders on both ends of the court.
The road continues this weekend with rematches against last week’s opponents, Emory and Rochester. While Chicago’s window in the UAA title race may already have closed, a couple of wins this weekend would certainly help Chicago to improve on their performance from the first half of the conference schedule.
“If we can get going in the right direction this weekend, I think we can go on a nice run,” McGrath said.