November 1, 2013

New look offense takes on UIC

The Maroons have traditionally been known as a three-point shooting team.

This Saturday, however, in an exhibition against DI UIC, Chicago will showcase its new, more balanced offense for the first time.

“There’s an emphasis on getting the ball inside because I think we can exploit people there. I think it plays to a lot of our strengths,” said fourth-year forward Sam Gage. “We’re going to be getting down the court quickly, and we have a pretty athletic and long team, so if we can get in the open court, that will definitely benefit us. There are a lot of built-in looks for a lot of the wings from the three-point line as well.”

Because of the emphasis on this playing style, the result of Saturday’s contest does not matter to head coach Mike McGrath, but he looks forward to high-intensity basketball.

“What’s important to me is how we can compete against the best competition in Division III basketball, which is what the UAA is, and to get ready to do that, any time you can play really good competition, I think you want to do that,” McGrath said.

Since the Maroons are playing such a strong squad, this game can only have positive implications for the Maroons’ regular season performances.

“We can see where we’ll be lacking in places because you’re definitely going to get exposed against DI speed, size, and athleticism,” Gage said. “[The game] serves as motivation as well because it shows you there’s another level you can get to because DI teams are just that much faster, that much stronger, they’ll put that much more pressure on the ball. You realize that if you think you’re playing hard in your own practice, there is another level you can always take it to.”

Therefore, at the time they were interviewed, neither McGrath nor Gage had scouted the Flames. They are solely concentrated on the Maroons.

And given some big changes to the Maroon squad, it’s imperative that Chicago remain fully focused.

While former team member Alex Pyper was Chicago’s leading scorer last season, averaging 11 points per game, his absence leaves the door open for second-year Jordan Smith to make a mark at the shooting guard position. Last year, Smith was named UAA Rookie of the Year.

“I think [Smith is] towards the top of the talented kids we’ve had in our program over the years, and I think he’s going to start showing that a little more this year because of how hard he worked and because he’s getting more comfortable,” McGrath said.

Aside from Smith, fourth-year Charlie Hughes has been explosive as of late. He was Chicago’s second-leading scorer last season, averaging 9.4 points per game, and earned an All-UAA Honorable Mention selection.

“He’s kind of a picture of what sticking with it and working hard will do for you,” McGrath said. “He’s developed as a basketball player and just gotten better and better.”

In all, the Maroons look to contend and win the UAA title this year.

“We’ve got to do some things, but the talent’s there,” McGrath said. “We’ve just got to piece it all together.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at the UIC Pavilion. Maroon TV will provide a live audio stream of the game.