The stakes are high this year for men’s basketball, which looks to repeat its 2006–2007 success but will have to do it without the help of some of last winter’s key players. While last season was all about the team’s core group of fourth-years that carried Chicago to NCAAs and a shared league title, this season will come down to how a relatively young squad steps up to continue what last winter started.
“This year, we expect to have a close team that plays hard and works well together,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “Our goal is to win our conference.”
Matching last season’s performance will be no small task. The Maroons posted a 20–6 overall record and went 11–3 in conference play to split the UAA banner with Wash U (25–5, 11–3). The squad will benefit from the veteran leadership of fourth-years Nate Hainje and Tim Reynolds, who will try to anchor the new talent coming onto the court.
“They have a lot of experience and really set the tone for team play,” said McGrath of the two fourth-years. “We have a very athletic team this year, with a lot of versatile players.”
Harnessing all this potential and finding the right mix early on will be the key to putting up some major wins this season.
Wednesday’s exhibition game at Northwestern showed the talent that’s on the roster and some of the work that’s left to do in shaping it. While Chicago’s youths show potential, their inexperience could come to hurt them. The Maroons graduated five fourth-years at the end of last year, including three starters, and a strong start will depend on how quickly the team makes adjustments to fill their spots. A small roster could also hurt the team as the season marches on and injuries tend to pile up.
“Our main question mark this year would be depth, since we only have 13 players, and some have less experience than others,” McGrath said.
Adding to the challenge of shortening the time on the Maroons’ learning curve, they face a schedule filled with squads ready to capitalize on any missteps. With three conference opponents ranked among the top 25 D-III teams nationally, Chicago can count on tough competition in every UAA game.
Who to watch: Nate Hainje
With the most starting experience on the squad, fourth-year forward Nate Hainje will be a critical force in setting the tone for the Maroons. His impressive performance last year, when he shot 47.1 percent from the field while averaging 13.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, earned him pre-season All-America honors.
The Brownsburg, IN, native is living up to his status as team leader so far, providing the offensive spark to Wednesday’s contest. He paced the team with 21 points and grabbed a game-high eight boards as well.