CHICAGO – When the University of Chicago men's basketball team took the floor in 2018-19, balance was one of the first attributes that leapt out. The scoring effort featured four players in double figures and three more who averaged at least 7.0 points per game.
Head Coach Mike McGrath, now entering his 21st year leading the Maroons, appreciates the well-rounded nature of his team that will give him many options to turn to throughout the 2019-20 season.
"The thing that I enjoy the most as a coach about our team, which was true both last year and this season, is how unselfish we play," McGrath said. "The guys are really willing to make the extra pass. That was a huge part of our balance and it is a terrific thing.
"I do like having multiple offensive options, and I think that will be the case this year. I think the ideal is to have balance, but also having a sense of where you want to go when you need a basket. Last year, that was a game-by-game thing. I am eager to see if that person steps up on a consistent basis within our balanced attack."
The 2018-19 Maroons posted a 15-10 overall record, including 8-6 within the University Athletic Association (UAA) and an 8-3 mark at home. They graduated four seniors in Noah Karras (No. 4 in career three-pointers), Ryan Jacobsen (7.6 PPG/7.5 RPG), Max Jacobs (7.1 PPG) and Justin Jackson (7.7 PPG).
"Each of our seniors has terrific and unique leadership abilities," said McGrath. "They are each excellent competitors and hard workers. Jordan's ability to run and organize the team, Mattia's steady demeanor, and Cole's passion for playing hard balance each other so well. I could not be more excited about these three as leaders this year."
Baum will be running the show from his point guard position. The lefty produced a break-out junior season averaging team highs of 12.1 points, 1.4 steals and a conference-leading 6.0 assists per game. His 145 assists were the third-most in program history. A First Team All-UAA honoree, Baum is now closing in on the school record for career assists.
"Jordan just has an amazing sense of where his teammates and the defense are at all times on the floor," said the veteran head coach. "He has an unbelievable feel for that, and that has always been the case. As he has gotten more comfortable running our offense, he has been able to take that point guard 'feel' and get our team great shots with his passing ability.
"That combination of talents, coupled with his shooting ability, make Jordan one of the best guards in the country. He is going to have an amazing season and when you have that confidence in your point guard, it typically leads to great things for a team."
In his first full season as a starter, Schmitz averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. Colangelo made 35.7 percent of his attempts from three-point range. Junior forward Dominic Laravie (11.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG) broke into the starting lineup as well, while junior forward Brennan McDaniel (5.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) played significant minutes off the bench.
Looking at his squad, McGrath sees important characteristics that make them a fun group to coach. "We will definitely compete together and enjoy one another as teammates," he said. "I think this group has incredible balance in terms of the ability to shoot and when that is paired with our willingness to share the ball, we should be very hard to guard. We have a very good level of basketball instincts and that allows us to do some great planning, both offensively and defensively in our system. This combination of characteristics should make us really fun to watch and lead to success."
The Maroons will also be challenging themselves with a tough non-conference schedule of opponents to go along the usual top teams in the UAA. Recent NCAA national champions Nebraska Wesleyan University and University of St. Thomas are on tap, along with perennial CCIW powers Wheaton College and Illinois Wesleyan University.
"Great competition always makes a team better," said McGrath. "I believe our non-conference slate will definitely have us ready for an unbelievably good UAA this year. The key will be for us to get off to a good start against these early opponents. This will hopefully grow our confidence and put us in position to earn an NCAA tournament bid."