February 27, 2009

One for the road

With the season finale against Wash U taking place in St. Louis tomorrow, it’s fitting that the 2008–2009 basketball season is fading quietly into the sunset. I suppose this is the best way for it to happen.Chicago’s basketball teams have played very different seasons, but by all accounts, they’ll both end the same way: early.A year ago around this time, I was a bright-eyed first-year, looking on as both the men and the women politely asked the Wash U Bears if they could say Chi-city. As it turned out, they couldn’t, and Chicago rolled to a pair of UAA titles and the NCAA tournament berths that they entail.We all went home giddy about the conference championships, wondering how the ladies beat the Bears by 23, recapping Matt Corning’s emphatic jersey pop in front of the Wash U fans.It was a good year, one that showed University of Chicago students that, no, we’re actually not that bad at sports, so stop complaining.From this perspective, I feel like those two games really spoiled me, heading into this year. I knew the women weren’t going to kick the garbage out of every team, like they had against Wash U. And I knew the men weren’t going to give fans unbelievable games every time they went out on the court. After a year of following the teams, I knew those things.This year, though, has been an entirely different story. It’s been one where, instead of a big turnaround in the conference schedule, the men never got it going until it was too late. One where, instead of sweeping the second trip through the UAA to pick up a few much-needed wins, the women succumbed to bad shooting here, bad rebounding there, and bad luck on multiple occasions.I’m going to be honest: At this point, I’m feeling a little bit disappointed.Nobody on either team would deny the fact that both teams have underperformed. For the men, the record makes that apparent, as do the statistics.The Maroons head into this weekend last in the UAA in eight statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense, rebounding margin, blocked shots, and steals) and in the bottom half in all but two categories (assist-to-turnover ratio and three-pointers made).For the women, it’s much more subtle than that.One loss the other way, the Maroons would be right on the edge of the postseason bubble, a win away from the dance.It’s the small things that have made things the way they are.Four-point losses to both Wash U and Rochester at home. A stomach flu that very well might have been the difference in a two-loss road trip to Brandeis and NYU.Even in what’s become a somewhat disappointing year, the women have looked dominant at times, as in their 71–51 win over Rochester in New York.Yet here we are, perhaps one day away from the end of both Chicago teams’ seasons.It might be a good thing that the season finale is taking place hundreds of miles away from Hyde Park. This way, if we want to, Maroons fans can just avoid the athletics website and, in doing so, cut any more disappointment off the end of the season.Maybe we can just pretend the men’s season began on January 30 with a win over NYU and ended with another win over Rochester on February 20. Final record: 5–2.Maybe we can just remember the women’s games against Carnegie, a pair of games that Chicago won by a total of 142–86.But if we did that, we would be cheating ourselves of a very meaningful game.There won’t be a postseason for the South Siders (unless the women get in by some miracle). Postseason or not, though, the Maroons are playing for more than an extra tally in the win column.They’re playing for pride. This wouldn’t be a rivalry if both teams didn’t take every game seriously. The men went into the last one 0–11 on the season, but they still played it with heart. It would be wrong to take this one away.They’re playing for redemption. The entire women’s team would undoubtedly agree that the home loss to Wash U is the one they would want back, if given the opportunity. There’s no title or trophy on the line, but they have the chance to get that game back on Saturday.And they’re playing for validation. Heading into the season, both teams looked like contenders. Amid all of the stereotypical University of Chicago talk about how we’re terrible at sports, Saturday is the last chance to show what these teams can do.It’s been a long season, and with a trip to one of the toughest schools in the country, probably even less fan support than usual, and seemingly no postseason implications to these games, it seems like it would be easy to shuffle out the door.But, to me, this seems like the perfect time to make some noise.