Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Season Preview #14: Chicago

General Team Discussion - Known as perennial underachievers, I think this is a very strong team this year. They've added two important transfers and they also have good senior leadership to go with their outstanding team. The thing that's on my mind is can they actually make NCAAs? I'll get to their NCAA outlook in a bit but this is one of the few teams that we've already had a look at this year. They split two D1 matches and played two different singles lineups. Chicago is a very deep team but the question is how will the middle of their lineup hold up against top competition? They are at a disadvantage playing in the UAA because they need that auto berth. I will say they have significantly improved their schedule for this year and have many out-of conference opportunities. I think this is a potential top 15 team and they should definitely be a fixture in the top 20. As far as NCAAs is concerned, they have opportunities. As I said earlier, I think they may be competing with Bowdoin and the SCAC #2 for the last spot. They play DePauw and they have plenty of other opportunities as well. I'm not going to make a prediction on whether they make the tournament because it's just too early to say.

Where They'll Win - Everything starts with Zhang at #1. He's an NCAA Singles Championship contender and the Maroons need that win at the top. I also think the bottom of the lineup is a big strength. They typically switch things up a decent amount, but whoever they have this year at 5 and 6 singles should be very tough to beat. Looking at their doubles, it should be very good on paper but they have struggled in the past. I have to say the strongest doubles spot is probably #1. Brinker/Saltarelli have been playing together for a while and I think this could be a potential NCAA qualifying year for them.

Where They'll Lose - One of Chicago's problems has always been they have a lot of very even players after Zhang. This would cause the middle of the lineup to be a big weakness. Do they have players in Alexander, Pawa and Stefanski who can win at 2-3-4? Probably not, but I won't count them out yet. If Chicago is playing a top 15 opponent, chances are they will be lucky to get 1 win out of these 3 spots. The bottom of doubles is still a question mark for me as well. They have what seem to be strong teams but I won't be a believer until they produce some wins against quality teams.

Schedule Analysis - The first big match is Wash U at home. I think people will pay attention to them if they can steal 3 or 4 matches from the Bears or at least 2 and keep it competitive. Another huge match with NCAA implications is on the road at DePauw. In my eyes, a must win for both teams looking to grab a Pool C spot. Also, they need to not have a let down against a dangerous Luther team the following day. Their spring break is spent in Virginia and they play four good teams. I think they must go at least 3-1 on this trip, Hopkins will be the real test. Lastly, a potential 3rd-4th on the road against CMU at UAAs could make or break their season if they are on the NCAA bubble.