Will a first-year stand out?
In each of the past two years, a first-year has outperformed the rest of the team in the opening game of the regular season. Alex Pyper shot an explosive 6–11 beyond the arc on November 15, 2011 against Dominican University while Jordan Smith was 6–10 from the field for 15 points in last year’s opener against Maranatha Baptist.
It will certainly be a tougher task this season, given that the Maroons’ opponent is Augustana College.
The Vikings have been a traditional powerhouse in the Midwest, beating Chicago in their last five meetings.
“You’ve got to play people at some point,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “Do I wish I had a little more time to get ready for them? Yes. Does Augustana’s coach wish he had a little more time to get ready for us? Yeah.”
With their new offense, the Maroons, a traditional three-point shooting team, will feed the ball into the post more often. There will be a plethora of players receiving looks down low including second-year Nate Brooks, fourth-year Sam Gage, second-year Alex Voss, first-year Blaine Crawford, second-year Eric Robinson, first-year Waller Perez, and fourth-year Charlie Hughes.
Voss, who was sidelined much of last season due to injury, will make significant contributions. In the UIC exhibition, he shot 3–5 from the field for nine points with eight rebounds and three assists.
“He’s just tough as heck,” McGrath said. “He competes, he battles, and he fights. He understands the game very well mentally.”
However, do not expect Chicago to stop shooting the three-ball,. While Alex Pyper’s absence leaves a hole, second-years Jordan Smith and John Steinberg will lead the way at the shooting guard position.
“We haven’t had many days where I haven’t felt we’ve been sharp [at practice],” McGrath said. “Our guys have come to play and compete with good energy and have worked hard and been good teammates. We’re headed in a great direction, and we’re eager to get this season started.”
Still, as with most teams starting off a season, McGrath said there is much work to be done.
“We’re not where we’re going to be in the end of the year, and we need to make a big jump right now in terms of just sustaining our efforts,” he said.
Tonight will tell if the Maroons are truly ready.
“I’m excited. I’m eager. I’m apprehensive,” McGrath said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight in Rock Island, IL.