Coming into the season, expectations were understandably high for the Moraine Valley Cyclones. Bringing Anthony Amarino to a roster that already featured 11 players from last season’s conference champions made the Cyclones formidable on paper. However, that isn’t how the season has played out.
As of this writing, the Cyclones are just 7-5 in conference, tied for fourth with Prairie State.With just two conference games left before the playoffs, the Cyclones brief run atop the conference has ended.For some programs, that sort of performance would be welcomed or cherished. But coming off two straight conference championships, the Cyclones have become accustomed to a certain level of success.
While there’s no one reason why the Cyclones have struggled so much this season, sophomore Luke Hook says consistency has been an issue for the Cyclones this year. Hook made a point not to blame the coaching switch from Dave Howard to Amarino, saying “new system or old, that’s not really an excuse.” Hook also added that both coaches and players can share some of the blame, but “we as players need to get our stuff together.”
Indeed, one has to question whether or not the Cyclones really want “it” this season. The difference between winning and losing close games against teams like Oakton Community College is who drives the lane and picks up a foul late in the game, jumps just a little higher for a rebound, and plays as a cohesive unit. Those teams have what it takes to win at this level. It’s neither a coaching issue nor a talent issue. The Cyclones have plenty of coaching and athletic talent on the roster. It requires a mental edge the Cyclones seem to lack.
Hook hinted at some discord in the locker room, saying the relationship between players was not as good as it should be, saying there’s always disagreements in the locker room. Hook made a point not to point out any particular players as consistent problem-makers but whenever there are locker room problems, it translates to struggles on the court. Hook says the Cyclones had “opportunities all season to win and we handed games to the other team.” The inability to close out opponents is a frustrating, but avoidable part of sports. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they weren’t able to close out the opponents they truly needed to this season.
The Cyclones have largely struggled with their interior presence. In an interview earlier this season, athletics director Bill Finn said the Cyclones don’t have the presence in the paint to compete with the centers from other schools. While the addition of Juwan Savage has certainly helped remedy those problems, Savage’s lack of production offensively make him a one dimensional player. Every last edge counts for something in junior college basketball, and not having a consistent two-way player who can defend the paint is a glaring hole other teams have and will exploit.
It’s too late now to say whether they could’ve stayed in contention longer with wins against Morton and Oakton, a 9-3 conference record would’ve left them just half a game behind conference leaders Oakton with two conference games left. Instead, the Cyclones will wrap up the regular season with two road games against Prairie State and Oakton next week before the playoffs start later this month. Despite a relatively challenging regular season, Hook remained hopeful for the playoffs, saying the Cyclones just need to take it one game at a time.