Loyola, UIC and Chicago State know that they aren't going to make the postseason as an at-large candidate. This makes battling for position in conference even more important. The Ramblers and Flames could get hot in Indianapolis in March and find themselves playing for a spot in the Big Dance, and if the Cougars were to make some noise in Orem, Utah during the Great West tournament they'd have an automatic bid to the CIT.
But, in order to make the most of those moments, you have to set yourself up for success. For instance, in the Horizon League the first round is on campus sites and only involves the bottom 4 teams. This is very important for the Ramblers as they currently sit in 8th place (the last home first round seed) in conference. (Actually, Loyola and UIC would play in a first round game as of right now!)
Chicago State's situation is a little different. They're fighting for position in the Great West standings, but it doesn't mean there's anything less on the line. The atmosphere on Saturday for the Cougars' homecoming game against Texas-Pan American at the Jones Convocation Center was intense. Tempers flared and Chicago State eventually escaped with a 76-69 victory.
For the Cougars is it was Kabangu Kasamba that led the way. The sophomore forward started the game and scored 18 points and grabbed 9 boards. Even though junior forward Carl Montgomery was in foul trouble for most of the game, he finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 boards. Senior guard Christian Wall chipped in 18 points.
The Cougars were able to build a double-digit lead midway through the first half, but it never felt safe. The advantage eventually disappeared and things got very tense. Aaron Urbanus - who must be the youngest looking player in NCAA Division I - shot 5-10 from beyond the arc and scored 17 points to try and lead UTPA back. Forward Matt Mierzycki finished with a double-double as well of 10 points and 14 boards before fouling out.
There were 76 free throws shot in the game. 59 personal fouls were called, including 4 technicals. There was even in a miny skirmish near mid-court midway through the second half. You wouldn't know that the Broncs were 3-21 and the Cougars 6-17 and they were playing to try and pull out of last place in the last ranked conference in America. Nope, there was a ton of passion and energy.
The Cougars moved to 7-17 overall and 2-5 in conference with the win. They are just 1/2 game behind UTPA now. The Brocs are 3-22, 2-4.
Saturday's game against Youngstown State was UIC's best chance to get a victory in 2010 and the Flames cashed in. Robo Kreps finally got some space and scored 20 points, but it was Zavion Neeley that was unleashed with 23 points and 4 steals for the Flames.
The Penguins also had two players score 20-plus points, but they didn't have anyone like Jeremy Buttell. The senior forward added 9 points and 11 boards for UIC.
With the victory UIC and Youngstown are now tied. Each have 2-11 conference records.
The Ramblers had a chance to start making up ground on the top of the Horizon League on Saturday when Cleveland State came to town, but it ended in another close loss for Loyola. Both teams had 4 players in double-figures, but Cleveland State pulled out the 59-56 victory. Walt Gibler had 11 points and 8 boards for Loyola.
Two quick reasons it appears Loyola lost after looking at the box score: a 13:13 assists-to-turnover ratio and 5-14 shooting from three. It was the Ramblers' second close loss to the Vikings this season.
The loss drops Loyola to 4-9 in conference and probably means the Ramblers won't avoid having to play a first round game in the Horizon League tournament.