Coming into this season everyone knew it was going to be tough for Chicago State to duplicate it's incredible 19 win season of 2008-09. Nobody thought it would be this hard. Playing in the inaugural season on the Great West Conference the Cougars struggled to a 9-23 record and the dubious distinction of being one of the five worst teams in NCAA Division I.
Of course those facts shouldn't be taken out of context. Chicago State is a program that is still very much in transition. The Cougars lost two seniors - David Holston and John Cantrell - who are now playing professionally overseas. (And playing quite well at that.)
Still, hopes were high that it would end a little better than a 80-77 loss to Houston Baptist in the first round of the conference tournament.
The season had its highs and lows. The lows though were like huge valleys of despair. The Cougars dropped a home game to Olivet Nazarene early in the season. The middle of January brought a new kind of torture as the Cougars scored 37 points and lost 66-37 to N.J.I.T. on the road.
But that epic loss was the end of a nine-game losing streak - Chicago State's longest of the season. Returning home to the Jones Convocation Center the Cougars squeaked out a win over Utah Valley State 43-41. A week later they'd take down Texas Pan-American. In the end Chicago State won four games against its fellow former independents.
Still, the team had high hopes heading into Orem, Utah. The Cougars had played well down the stretch. An 81-77 revenge game against N.J.I.T. on Senior Day cemented Chicago State as a team on the rise in conference. Alas, it wasn't to be. The Cougars' stay was short.
Of course the team will be back for next season. Unlike last season, when four of the top six players were seniors, this team will return all but one key player. Brandan Smith is the lone contributor leaving.
This season the Cougars were forced to completely change their game plan to adjust for the fact that their dynamic play-makers on offense had departed. Chicago State slowed way down from a blistering 75.4 possessions per game in 2008-09 (4th in the nation) to 68.2 (131st). The offense plummeted from an adjusted 129th to 341st as all the easy shots disappeared.
Thus head coach Benjy Taylor will probably like his chances next season in the Great West when Christian Wall, Carl Montgomery and Antonio Lofton - the core of the team - are all seniors. Those are the players that should give Chicago State fans hope that the Cougars might find the elusive postseason in 2011. For while things didn't end the way they wanted this year, hope is on the horizon.