Some may have boldly predicted that BR-12 Chicago would give BR-6 Washington a run for its money on Saturday but no one outside of the Maroons’ locker room expected a dominating 20-point victory. Following the baffling loss, one in which the Bears barely shot 30 percent (20-for-66) from the field and appeared confused on numerous occasions, is the UAA conference title up for grabs?
Overreactions are common following a convincing loss by a national title contender, especially one that came at the hands of a team that won 15 games a season ago and has not hit 20 victories since the 2006-07 season. There remains a ton of basketball to be played, 13 games conference games to be exact. Following last season’s dominating roll through their UAA opponents, Wash U was shooting for their second consecutive undefeated season within the conference. Saturday’s 16-point halftime deficit was a rude awakening that 2014-15 will likely be far from a mirror image of the 5-game lead that the Bears closed out UAA play with in 2013-14.
The Bears won all but four UAA games by 10-plus points a season ago. They defeated their seven conference foes by an average of 11.4 points, a clip that is not eye-popping but certainly quite impressive. The 43-point offensive performance in Saturday’s loss to Chicago was their worst output of the season, easily topping their previous season-low of 72 points in a November non-conference win over Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Last season’s 24-3 team also did not come close to sniffing a sub-50-point game. You can see the overwhelming reasons for optimism from the rest of the title-hungry UAA.
The answer of stifling defense inside the arc and adequately uncomfortable pressure on the perimeter might sound extraordinarily simple following the Bears’ 2-for-19 3-point shooting night, a putrid number courtesy of forced shots early in the shot clock and frustratingly tight defense by Chicago inside the paint. Although they were hit with their first loss of the season, the Bears are no stranger to adversity and the experience of the team’s upperclassmen-heavy rotation cannot be discounted. Longtime head coach Mark Edwards (34th season) starts three seniors in Nick Burt, Matt Palucki and David Fatoki and two juniors in Luke Silverman-Lloyd and Mitch Styczynski. The five have 340 combined wins over their careers and are especially hungry for the program’s third national title following three NCAA Tournament losses by a combined 16 points from 2012-2014.
It is entirely foolish to suggest that Washington has been unforgivingly exposed and is doomed as they sit in an unfamiliar spot in the standings, but the likes of Chicago, Emory and Case Western Reserve, all of which could have their best seasons in nearly a decade might capitalize on the sudden vulnerabilities of the Bears. The University Athletic Conference title race is definitely one to keep an eye on over the next five weeks.