The big five wintertime questions

As far as this column goes, Thanksgiving break has bit me in the ass twice.

First, I wasn’t here to watch any Yale sports over break. Hence the BCS column last week. By the way, I’m convinced there’s a higher power laughing at me right now. I somehow manage to oust USC from the national championship game through my impassioned writing, but now I get Florida. Barely-beat-South-Carolina, only-beat-pathetic-FSU-by-seven Florida. Someone shoot me.

And since I did nothing but sit on my aforementioned ass and watch college football during that week, with a few breaks to eat from time to time, I spent last week working. Which meant, again, no Yale sports.

Am I making excuses? You better believe it.

But I promised to make this column about Yale sports, and I’ve clearly used up my Get Out of Jail Free card. On Florida. Shoot me again.

Anyway, in place of insightful analysis, I give you five burning questions for this winter season. And I think you all should appreciate that I didn’t make some kind of hot-even-though-it’s-cold pun just now.

1. What’s eating the men’s basketball team?

By Dec. 7 last year, the Elis were 3-3. Fast forward to now, and the men’s basketball team is 1-6. Sacred Heart was a five-point win last year. Monday it was a 10-point loss.

Losing blue-collar center Dominick Martin to graduation hurt the team, but the Elis are out-rebounding their opponents by 2.6 boards per game. One player whose line jumps out for the wrong reasons is Sam Kaplan, the senior forward who is averaging only 7.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting, down from 10.6 points on 55 percent shooting last year.

My guess is that this team is still experimenting, and there are better things to come. The Bulldogs have put four different starting lineups on the floor in only seven games. Frankly, the most recent one intrigues me the most — I like the idea of trying to move Eric Flato off the ball. As a Knicks fan, I know an undersized two guard parading as a point guard when I see one. Meanwhile, Kaplan’s game will come around.

2. Will men’s hockey make good on a strong start?

This team has surprised me with a 6-4-1 start. Here, the differences from last year are somewhat obvious. Yale’s top two scorers are freshmen. Sean Backman leads the team with eight goals, double his closest competitor, fellow frosh Mark Arcobello.

Don’t be worried about the blip this weekend; Clarkson and St. Lawrence are good teams. What does worry me is last year’s squad started the season a respectable 8-12-3 and had a decent run going in ECAC play before finishing the regular season with six straight losses. Keith Allain is a first-year head coach, and I’m always anxious about the freshman wall — there’s potential for a mid-season burnout. I’ve been disappointed enough by Yale hockey over the past four years that I refuse to invest myself completely in this season … yet.

3. Will the squash programs survive the losses of Michelle Quibell and Julian Illingworth?

Both squash teams lost to Penn this past weekend, a tough loss for the men and a defeat that effectively ends the Patriots’ … whoops, women’s squash team’s fading dynasty. This stuff happens when you lose the two most talented athletes the respective programs ever had. Quibell and Illingworth were guaranteed wins almost every time they stepped on the court.

Penn, of course, is not the be-all-end-all of the squash teams’ seasons. The women have an easier task ahead of themselves than the men, but the team will have to lean heavily on No. 1 Catherine McLeod and No. 2 Miranda Ranieri. On the men’s side, No. 1 Nick Chirls is going to have a long, long winter. The men will have to rely on their depth, and the pressure will be on the bottom half of the order to produce.

4. Will the women’s hockey team make good on its talent?

The Elis lost some weapons, but the right pieces are here. Team USA’s Helen Resor has returned and is leading the team with 10 points and eight assists. With no postseason soccer to get in the way this year, sophomores Crysti Howser and Maggie Westfal are back on the ice and putting up good numbers. Throw in a deep senior class and a pair of talented freshmen in Mandi Schwartz and Team Germany’s Denise Soesilo, and this team looks like one that should be tough to beat.

Now, 5-7 isn’t cause for excessive complaining. But I’m good at complaining. This is a team people should be excited about. 5-7 does not excite me. It may be — and I hope — that this team is still gelling. But I will start grumbling if the Bulldogs are only OK come February.

5. Has Chris Gobrecht turned the women’s basketball team around?

The second-year head coach hasn’t been scared to put young blood on the floor. Rookie Melissa Colborne (11.7 ppg) has been stellar. Erica Davis is producing big-time, to the tune of a team-leading 15.1 points per game and just two blocks per game.

And honestly, where the hell else can a 3-24 team go the next season but up?

Alright, that’s all for now. Have a nice break, and enjoy Ohio State-Florida. Or a root canal. Shoot me again, please.

Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column appears on Thursdays.

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