February 20, 2009

Following Kinsella’s lead, Maroons finally getting on track

The men’s basketball season hasn’t gone exactly as planned.The team has had its shooting woes—long stretches of them, at times—and inconsistencies on defense. Nobody 10 years from now is going to look back and admire the Maroons’ play this year.Still, as a disappointing season comes to its end, head coach Mike McGrath’s preseason expectations of success are coming to fruition—just a little later than most had hoped.“I think our strategy has been consistent throughout the year,” McGrath said. “Most of the change has nothing to do with personnel. I haven’t changed anything. I think the guys are starting to play the way we thought they would all year.”With postseason hopes long gone, little attention has been paid to the Maroons’ progress. Suddenly, though, a team that lost its first 12 games and 15 of its first 16 has tallied four wins in six contests, and Sunday’s buzzer-beater win over Emory has Chicago heading into its final three games with a new outlook.“We won a game on Sunday that by all ways, shapes, and forms, we probably should have lost,” he said. “Earlier in the year, we lost games that by all ways, shapes, and forms, we should have won.”The midseason change has started, first and foremost, with third-year forward John Kinsella.With fourth-year guard Matt Corning, the team’s leading scorer through most of the season, unavailable, Kinsella has filled the scoring void: After scoring just 7.1 points a game in the non-conference schedule, Kinsella has averaged 14.5 points per UAA game, the sixth best in the conference, while shooting a higher percentage across the board.Perhaps more influential, however, has been Kinsella’s emergence as a passionate leader.The energy that Kinsella brings to the game was the deciding factor in the Maroons’ first win of the season, a January 16 victory over Emory, in which Kinsella led all scorers and gave the Eagles fits with his defense. Since then, the six-foot-four swingman has revitalized a squad in need of distraction from its record.“I think there was a stretch where the anxiety of wins and losses was causing him to stress, and he’s gotten comfortable with what we’re trying to do, and he looks more comfortable on the floor,” McGrath said. “He plays with a lot of energy, and that’s something that this team needs. He leads by playing very hard and very competitively.”Kinsella’s work earned him a spot on’s Team of the Week earlier this month and recognition as the team’s first UAA Athlete of the Week this season.If this season has proven anything, though, it’s that Chicago needs multiple contributions to win, and much of that boost has come from fourth-year forward Adam Machones.In the Maroons’ last six contests, Machones has averaged over 14 points per game, and he has improved his ability to finish around the basket to go with already solid shooting.“He is capable of putting it on the floor—he’s just doing so a little more aggressively,” McGrath said. “There’s an assertive level to his play.”With that more balanced attack, the Maroons head into this weekend looking to avenge two losses from earlier this year. On January 23, the South Siders trekked out to Carnegie Mellon, where the Maroons’ defensive woes allowed the Tartans a 64–58 win. Two days later, Rochester’s dominant offense in the second half paved the way to a 70–60 win for the Yellowjackets.This weekend, the challenge for Chicago will be preparing for two very different opponents, with Rochester bringing a methodical attack and Carnegie running a much quicker offense.Ultimately, it could be Carnegie and Rochester who need to prepare for a new opponent: When Chicago last met these opponents, the squad had just one win, and McGrath is expecting two entirely different games at this point in the season.“I think our team’s in a different place right now. We were in both of those games out there at a time when weren’t playing as well,” McGrath said. “Now we’re closing out games and getting wins, and I hope that puts us in a better position to get a couple of wins this weekend.”