January 5, 2012

Chicago faces improved Bears squad on the road

The Maroons (7–4) are no strangers to pulling out emphatic victories against Wash U (8–3). Last season, Chicago opened and closed its UAA play with wins against their archrivals. Going into this Saturday’s UAA opener in St. Louis, though, the Maroons’ head coach Mike McGrath is not ready to call a win too soon.

“They’ve really improved over the last year,” he said. “They always execute well. They have good chemistry. The kids are playing hard.”

The Bears’ improvements have shown in their early season record. They have already upset the then top-ranked team in the country in Augustana and have also defeated nationally ranked Wheaton at home, where they are unbeaten.

Because of the Bears’ abilities at home, McGrath said that rebounding, especially on the offensive end, is the key to pulling the upset. Wash U has out-rebounded its opponents on the offensive end by a 156–99 margin. Meanwhile, the Maroons hold a 118–90 advantage in offensive rebounding this season. “They are really hurting people on the offensive boards, and we’ve got to do a really good job there,” McGrath said.

Individually, the Maroons are looking to closely guard fourth-year Dylan Richter. The Bears forward has averaged 16.5 points per game along with 4.1 rebounds.

In all three of Wash U’s losses this season, Richter has shot below 50 percent from the field.

“He’s somebody that, when [Wash U] has been really good, he’s been really good; when they’ve just been falling, he’s been falling,” McGrath said. “You’ve got to keep him from going off.”

Aside from the defensive awareness McGrath hopes to see from his team, fourth-year guard Matt Johnson’s play-making and shooting abilities will be a large factor in determining the outcome of the game.

On December 17, Johnson paced the Maroons with 37 points en route to an 88–79 win against Rhodes College in Memphis. He leads the Maroons in scoring this season, averaging 17.5 points per game.

“Obviously, we have to find ways to get shots from [Johnson] and also find good high-percentage shots from other guys, whether it’s some guys attacking the basket, some guys taking jump shots and getting the ball to the post a little bit,” McGrath said.

Relying on other players aside from Johnson will involve an entire team effort because fourth-year forward Tom Williams is day-to-day with an injury sustained at Wheaton on November 30. Fourth-year guard Chase Davis is also not playing on Saturday after colliding knees with an Illinois Wesleyan player on December 10.

Given the loss of Williams’s length and Davis’s aggressiveness, the Maroons will need to heavily rely on fourth-year forward Steve Stefanou, third-year forward Matt MacKenzie, and second-year forward Sam Gage down low.

The trio has a combined 48 offensive rebounds on the season. Emphasis on long-range shooting will be placed on Johnson, fourth-year guards Tommy Sotos and Michael Sustarsic, second-year forward Charlie Hughes, and first-year guard Alex Pyper.

In all, the start of the UAA season means a new level of aggressive play.

“It’s going to be a really, really tough game,” McGrath said.

The Maroons will take on the Bears at 3 p.m. in St. Louis.