Chicago State opens its season tonight with a game against NCAA Division III opponent Concordia University Chicago. The match-up of two Cougar schools from Chicago might be confusing to fans, but Chicago State has a lot to play for after finishing last season with 19 wins. This season is the first official one for the Great West Conference and Chicago State was picked third. Can it break the mold and rise to the top? Here are three things that have to happen.
#1. Who is the go-to-guy? Chicago State has to find a play-maker this season. David Holston used almost a third of all of the Cougars' possessions last season and he used them quite effectively. Of course Holston is playing in Europe now and Chicago State will rely on a new cast of players. Which one of those guys is the go-to-guy? Is it Carl Montgomery? Someone else? Head coach Benjy Taylor had great things to say about Montgomery's off-season work, maybe he's ready to take the next step. Also expect more balance this season, "We'll be able to score the ball by committee," Taylor said. "We won't have two guys scoring 26 or 20, but we'll have a bunch of 12 to 15 points scorers."
#2. Defense! Chicago State played fast last season. Its pace of 75.4 possessions per 40 minutes was the fourth fastest in the country. Even taking that into account though the Cougars were horrendous on defense. Opponents has an effective field goal percentage of 52.9 percent (316th in the country) and got to the line at will (317th in FTA/FGA). Chicago State has to tighten the screws on defense in order to compete this season. Taylor noted that he thinks his team will be better defensively this season.
#3. Pace. The final question is will Chicago State change its style now that Holston, John Cantrell and two other starters have moved on? Can the Cougars afford to push the ball still with such recklessness? Will they move to a more half-court oriented approach? Last season Chicago State played some of the most wide-open and exciting basketball in the country - even if nobody really noticed - tonight's the first chance to see if Taylor will reign things in this season.
As a note: John Montgomery, a transfer who is expected to be one of Chicago State's top players this season, isn't eligible yet. It's quite possible that this team will look very different, especially on offense, when he returns.