February 11, 2011

With UAA title on line, Maroons head on the road

The Maroons hit the road this weekend to play conference games against Rochester and Emory. Chicago currently find itself in third place in the UAA, behind both of their weekend opponents.

With only five games remaining in the season, Chicago sits a distant three games out of first place. Yet, despite the difficult circumstances, assistant coach Drew Adams believes the team has a chance to win the league with a strong finish.

“We have put ourselves in a position where we need to win the rest of our games to have a chance to win the conference,” he said. “Since we are playing the top two teams in the UAA this weekend, we’ll have a chance to gain some ground.”

Winning the remaining games, however, will not guarantee Chicago the conference title. The Maroons still need some assistance from Wash U.

“A fairly simple set of circumstances” dictate whether the Maroons will finish atop the UAA, third-year Tommy Sotos noted. “If both we and Wash U sweep our road games at Rochester and Emory, then we have a great shot at winning the conference. Short of that, it’s going to be one hell of a tough road, and we’ll need a little help along the way. But as long as we run the table from here out, we certainly have a shot.”

This weekend will be the second time Chicago plays Rochester and Emory this year. At home this January, the Maroons beat Rochester 79–73 and lost to Emory 78–70. Chicago capitalized on strong shooting against the Yellowjackets by netting 63 percent of their shots, while the loss to Emory came at the hands of 46 percent shooting from the field and 15 turnovers. The two games have thus far proved to be a microcosm of the team’s season.

“I think that turnovers and field goal percentage have been the story of our season,” Adams said. “In the games that we have taken care of the ball and shot it well, we have been very successful. However, we have struggled to find consistency in the turnover area during league play.”

Adams added that the return of third-year forward Steve Stefanou to the starting lineup has provided Chicago with a major boost in the key, easing pressure on the team’s shooters.

“The addition of Steve Stefanou back into the lineup has helped us to not be so reliant on the outside shot because of his ability to score inside,” he said.

A game into the season, Stefanou, an all-UAA player last year, sustained a broken foot in practiced. He missed eight weeks after undergoing surgery.

Stefanou, who has seen limited playing time since his return, expects to play nearly the whole full time this weekend.

“I was limited in playing time for the first few weekends, which was a precautionary measure by the team doctor and trainer,” Stefanou explained. “But now, I’m finally back to being near full strength now. Also, I’ve been putting in extra time to getting my stamina to the level it was before the injury.”

Stefanou also praised the work of second-year forward Matt MacKenzie, who filled in for him during his injury. They continue to split time.

“[MacKenzie’s] play has allowed me to conservatively come back from the injury and not rush back into anything, especially after I was initially feeling some pain and discomfort from my recovery from surgery.”

Ultimately, the team’s success this weekend will be determined by their ability to adapt to their opponents’ distinct styles of play.

“Rochester and Emory are two very different teams,” Adams said. “Rochester runs a lot of their offense through their point guard, John DiBartolomeo, so we have been working on different ways to contain him. Emory likes to play very up-tempo, which is different than most other teams in the UAA.”

Third-year guard Matt Johnson echoed Adams’s sentiments. Johnson has averaged nearly 15 points a game this season. He led the team against Rochester with 16 points but came up with only four points against Emory, shooting 0–9 from the field.

“Emory has a very unique style of play. They try to speed up the tempo and coax you into mistakes,” he said. “They guarded me very tightly, and when my first few shots didn’t drop I think I tried to force some plays. As a result, I wasn’t necessarily taking shots in rhythm or when I wanted to take them, and you will almost always shoot a lower percentage that way.”

The Maroons have much ground to make up in their hunt for a UAA title. Wins this weekend will be critical for keeping their chances alive.