Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chicago State? Yeah, Chicago State

Chicago State, long the red-headed step-child of Chicago college basketball, is one game away from an NCAA tourney appearance. The Cougars will appear on ESPN tonight (6 p.m.) against Oral Roberts with a chance to go the Big Dance. (Oral Roberts? Get it?)

Listen, I don't know much about Chicago State basketball other than the campus is located in a poor, rough 'hood on the far South Side and that they routinely used to be horrifically bad. I mean, bad bad. I mean, they went about 3-25 seemingly every year there for a while - and that's no exaggeration. Yeah, that bad. Ironically, Marquette basketball legend Bo Ellis was the coach for a stretch but was fired after winning just 23 games in five years. Ouch. I guess he didn't learn his lessons from Al McGuire all that well.

Then, I remember reading about some tough-nut military dude who became the head coach and started gradually turning the program around through tough love, drill instructor-style. Kevin Jones. I remember thinking it was a cool story after the years the program spent as even less than an afterthought in Chicago. The Cougars weren't even a thought. Nobody cared. At all.

Until now, Chicago State's biggest claim to fame was probably a miraculous buzzer-beating win in (I think) last year's Mid-Con tourney, which quickly became a video making the internet rounds. See it here. (Seriously, check it out. That's some crazy shit.)

Now Jones has the Cougars on the brink of the big time.

I also know this: I have to give Jones credit for scheduling like a mofo. Granted, the Cougars' current record of 11-18 isn't all that impressive, but their nonconference schedule was quite ambitious: Ohio State, Bradley, UIC, Purdue, Louisville, Nebraska, St. Louis, Michigan...and all on the road. They didn't play their first home game until January. I guess Jones believes in the "anytime/anywhere" theory of schedule making. I like that. And apparently, it has proved fruitful. In the Mid-Continent, the cougars are 8-8 and are currently on a 7-1 closing kick.

So I think I may just have to give Chicago State a little love tonight for, well, the first time ever and tune in. And I'm fairly confident they can handle a team named Oral.


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