CHICAGO – A cursory look back at the 2017-18 University of Chicago men's basketball schedule revealed a defining trait – resilience. The Maroons shook off a tough stretch of games in December and caught fire at the end of the season, winning six of their last eight games in the University Athletic Association. The final home game featured the biggest win of the season, as UChicago closed out in style by knocking off No. 2-ranked rival Washington University – St. Louis by an 86-77 margin.
Now as the 2018-19 season rapidly approaches, UChicago looks to cultivate that ability once again with many familiar faces back in the fold.
"We have a lot of depth and versatility – I think that will be a strength," said Head Coach Mike McGrath. "I want us to focus on being the closest and most competitive team in the country. The seniors have chosen the word 'Resilient' as a theme for the season and I think that will be a very important attribute for us to develop."
The Maroons return a balanced group of classes on its 16-man roster – four seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and four first-years. The squad posted a 13-12 record last season and took third in the UAA with a 9-5 mark. Home court was a particular source of strength as UChicago went 10-3 at the Ratner Athletics Center.
"I expect us to have a very good team early, but one that will really improve as the season progresses," said McGrath, who embarks on his 20th season as head coach. "We will have a lot of players that will have to establish themselves in new roles. These guys are hard-working and talented, but I think it will take a little time for everything to come together. My biggest goal is for us to stay focused on getting better every day."
Last year's senior class was highlighted by big contributions from shooting guard Jake Fenlon (17.4 points per game) and power forward Collin Barthel (13.4 points, 8.8 rebounds). Fenlon set new school records for three pointers both in a season (100) and career (254), while Barthel owns the No. 5 spot in career rebounds (672).
"What Jake and Collin did, especially by the end of their senior year, was consistently make plays," McGrath said. "Whether that is scoring, passing, rebounding, or defensively – we will need our returning players to make plays that help you win games. There is a lot to replace there as Collin and Jake were special players, but we have a tradition of guys stepping up as they progress in their careers."
The current seniors bring plenty of game experience to the forefront. Forward Ryan Jacobsen shot 54.5 percent from the field in 2017-18, with averages of 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Guard Noah Karras knocked down 46 three-pointers last season while putting up 9.4 points per game. Guard Justin Jackson added 6.1 points per contest, and guard Max Jacobs provided a spark in the second half of the season while shooting an efficient 53.3 percent on his field goals.
Junior point guard Jordan Baum will be looked to as the table setter in his second season as the starter. The lefty filled the stat sheet with 7.4 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game and claimed the No. 3 spot on the school record board for assists in a season (142). He made 39 percent from long-range and led the squad with 35 steals.
"I think that our senior class bring very good leadership skills to the table," said the veteran head coach. "They are terrific people and hard workers. They will clearly set a tone. With his experience and the ball in his hands a lot, I believe that Jordan Baum will supplement the seniors by directing a lot of things that we do on the floor."
Three-point shooting has traditionally been relied upon as a strength. The Maroons have averaged 9.3 three-pointers made per game over the last three seasons.
"Shooting the ball well is only part of the game, but one that we place great emphasis upon," McGrath said. "The ability to shoot just allows the game to be played on a bigger floor. That additional spacing allows for so many more things to happen. I expect us to be a very good shooting team again this year."
Four rookies join the ranks in 2018-19, and McGrath is excited about their on-court potential. "It is an excellent class," he said. "Each of the four recruits has shown me that they will be very good players for the Maroons. It is not outside of the realm of possibility that the impact of some of them will be felt this year."