Hoops notebook: Chicago State gets hot

Who’s the hottest college basketball team in the state?

Not Illinois. Not Northwestern. Don’t roll your eyes now, but it’s Chicago State. The Cougars are tied with Northern Illinois for the longest current winning streak at two games.

After taking more than its fair share of lumps against better teams on the road, Chicago State is finally playing competition of its own caliber at home. As a result, Chicago State has won its last two games and is 2-1 in the Great West.

“We’re playing teams they can see going into they really have a chance of winning against,” Chicago State first-year coach Tracy Dildy said on Wednesday. “As opposed to some of the games, man, it’s impossible to win some of those games when talking about beating the BYU’s and some of the places on the road.

“Winning cures those things. This team has been fun to coach even during those times. They always wanted to win. They just didn’t know how win. When they feel success, they feel good about themselves. Right now, they’re feeling good about themselves, not great.”

Chicago State did have to endure plenty of whippings to get where they are now. Ten opponents beat the Cougars by 27-or-more points. Six teams scored 100-plus points on them.

It also didn’t help they played only three times at Chicago State between Nov. 12 and Jan. 7. They’ve had three home games since then and won two of them.

“That’s the toughest schedule I’ve been around in 20 years,” Dildy said. “If you look at our very first home game, it was us getting used to waking up and believing it wasn’t a dream. We were so used to waking up on the road.”

Chicago State senior forward Carl Montgomery has especially benefitted from the Cougars’ schedule easing up. Montgomery, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, was Chicago State’s best player throughout its difficult schedule, but he wasn’t able to consistently produce. He would have one big night, then a quiet one.

Against Great West competition, he’s been unstoppable. He had 25 points and nine rebounds in a 91-82 win over Houston Baptist. He followed that up with 24 points and 12 rebounds in a 70-63 victory over Texas-Pan American. They were his first back-to-back games of 20-plus points this season.

“Some teams we’ve been playing, he’s been the size of their 2 guard or 3,” Dildy said. “In some cases now, he’s been the biggest guy on the court. With his strength and physical ability, he’s able to force his will on teams now.”

Dildy isn’t content with Chicago State’s current success. His goal is for the Cougars to win the Great West tournament and earn a bid to the CollegeInsider.com tournament.

“That’s a true realistic goal,” Dildy said.

Chicago State is currently fourth in the conference behind New Jersey Institute of Technology, Utah Valley and North Dakota. All three teams are undefeated in conference play.

UIC takes a hit: UIC junior guard Zavion Neely was recently ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the season.

The Flames weren’t that deep already, so it’s a loss they couldn’t afford. Neely started 16 games and averaged 8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Senior guard Dipanjot Singh and sophomore guard Corey Gray have both seen increased minutes in the Flames’ last two games without Neely. Singh earned his first career start and scored a career-high 17 points against Milwaukee.

Silas watch: Northern Illinois senior Xavier Silas has continued to keep himself in the national scoring title race.

After two games below the 20-point mark, Silas raised his average back up 23.6 points when he put up 31 points Eastern Michigan and 20 points against Toledo.

Silas ranks fourth in the nation behind BYU guard Jimmer Fredette’s 25.8 points, Connecticut guard Kemba Walker’s 25.3 points and San Jose State guard Adrian Oliver’s 24.2 points.

Fay’s ways: Southern Illinois senior forward Carlton Fay has often frustrated Salukis’ fans. He’s been the player who will have one major game and then back it up with two minor ones.

Throughout nonconference play this season, Fay continued that trend. But with the arrival of Missouri Valley season, Fay has changed his ways. He’s become more aggressive, upping his attempts by five more a game, and it’s paid off. He ranks second in conference scoring at 17.0 points behind Bradley guard Andrew Warren’s 19.3 points.