Chicago State going the distance

A tough early schedule loaded with travel has made things rough for Chicago State and new coach Tracy Dildy. Darrell Walker/UTHM/Icon SMI

CHICAGO -- Chicago State’s Tracy Dildy touted before the season he was undefeated as a head coach.

“I can’t hold onto that any longer,” Dildy said, laughing.

With a 2-7 record, Dildy’s first few months as Chicago State’s coach have been trying, and a good portion of that hasn’t been his fault. Dildy’s hand was forced with one of the country’s toughest schedules, which has resulted in lopsided losses and has left Dildy only to wonder what his predecessor, Benjy Taylor, was thinking when he designed it.

The Cougars have already been to Utah to face BYU, California to play St. Mary’s, South Padre Island, Texas to play in an invitational and to Kansas to meet Wichita State. In the next 19 days before 2011 arrives, they will travel to Texas for another invitational, Maui to play Hawaii, Iowa again to meet Iowa State and Drake and Texas again to see Texas Christian.

All the travel would be great for someone with air miles, but not a basketball team trying to figure things out under a new coach.

“It’s the toughest schedule I’ve not only been a part of in my 20 years coaching, but it’s the hardest schedule I’ve ever seen,” Dildy said. “The past coach must have hated to be home. It didn’t make sense. Going to BYU and St. Mary’s, those games didn’t make sense to me. The money you’re making, you’re spending.”

Adding to Chicago State’s traveling woes has been the crushing defeats their opponents have put on them. DePaul beat the Cougars 114-81 on Nov. 14. Three days later, Notre Dame defeated them 102-62. Three days later, BYU won 109-60. Three days later, St. Mary’s delivered the worst one, winning 121-52. Within 10 days, Chicago State had been out-scored 446-255.

The losses have worn on Dildy and his players.

“It’s making my job difficult because I have to convince the guys at some point we’re going to win,” Dildy said. “Some of them have been whippings that we have taken. Losing by 60 points, losing by 40 points, averaging 30-point losses, ooh, that’s tough. That’s really tough.

“My thing is I told them that St. Mary’s is a good team, but that was totally unacceptable and totally embarrassing. The thing is we got to instill pride in them. St. Mary’s is a very good team, an NCAA tournament team, but they weren’t that many points better than us. BYU, the same. We got to fight through it.”

The Cougars have shown glimpses of progress. In South Padre Island, they defeated Georgia Southern and lost in overtime to Liberty. On Saturday against a higher-caliber Southern Illinois team, Chicago State was within striking distance until the final minutes when the Salukis pulled away and won by 13.

Dildy saw what his team is capable of in the Southern Illinois game. Star senior forward Carl Montgomery was hot, hitting 10-of-14 shots on his way to a game-high 29 points. His guards cut down their turnovers. Freshman Sean Montgomery played in his second of his season after sitting out with an injury and had a career-high 10 points and four rebounds.

“We were in the Southern Illinois game the whole time,” Dildy said. “If we had a little confidence and had a few more wins, we win that game. That game came down to us not believing we could win and the beatings we have taken.”

Dildy is still optimistic. He may not be undefeated, but he expects to be back at .500 sooner than later with the talent he already has and the recruiting class he has arriving next season.

“We are a recruiting class away from being a contender,” Dildy said. “One of the things I said when I came in was it’s not going to take us three to four years, but a year or two before we’re contending.”