"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Chicago State Preview, 2022-23

Chicago State Cougars

November 26, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Gerald Gillion (7-25)

Three-Year NET Average: 346.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 349.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 310

Projected Starters: PG Elijah Weaver (6'5" Sr), SG Bryce Johnson (6'3" So), SF Brent Davis (6'3" Jr), PF Wesley Cardet (6'6" So), C Jahsean Corbett (6'6" So)

Gerald Gillion led CSU to the most wins they've had since 2014-15

Photo from Twitter - @CoachGillion

Typically, a team going 7-25 and finishing #340 in kenpom isn't reason for celebration. But when you consider the Cougars had won seven games combined in the past three seasons and finished below #350 in each of them, it's a step in the right direction. Not only that, all seven wins came against D1 competition, matching the TOTAL number of D1 wins for the program in the previous SIX seasons. Simply put, in recent memory, Chicago State is one of the worst programs in Division I. However the 2021-22 crew started 2-0 and secured a win over New Mexico State in February, a team that would go on to beat UConn in the NCAA Tournament. How did they do it? They slowed the pace, took a ton of threes, and hammered the offensive glass. When it worked, the low tempo and high variability gave them a chance.

The Cougars have left the WAC and are going Independent in 2022-23. One of the drawbacks to that is that seven players who started at least one game last year have entered the transfer portal, including five of the top seven scorers. The two not included there are Bryce Johnson and Jahsean Corbett, a pair of sophomores that were pleasant surprises on last year's team. Elijah Weaver is a former top-50 recruit that was a rotation player at USC and Dayton before landing in Chicago. He's a versatile scorer and distributor that gives a talent boost to this team. Wesley Cardet is another former four-star prospect that started every game he played last year for Samford and came on strong in conference play. Up front, Arol Kacoul will likely be the anchor. The JUCO transfer isn't much of an offensive threat but provides length and rim protection to allow Corbett to play forward. Others to keep an eye on include Brent Davis, a transfer from The Citadel who had an erratic season but at his best scored 19 points against Duke at Cameron Indoor, and Taeyon Neal, a 6'9" 315 pound transfer who might give off some Davante Gardner vibes.

As mentioned above, the plan is pretty straight forward. Reduce possessions and take a ton of threes. The problem is that last year, Chicago State was a terrible shooting team (#331 in eFG%). Hitting the glass helped but when your team struggles to finish and lost its two best distributors and top-three long range threats, it's likely to be a struggle. Weaver and Cardet both help in terms of talent, but both were moderate usage, lower efficiency players previously so it's hard to say how they'll adapt to likely having to carry the load. Defensively, this is a team that really benefited from opponent mistakes. Per kenpom, they only ranked in the top-150 of one of the Four Factors/Miscellaneous Components, which was Non-Steal Turnover rate. Some of that could be a team good at drawing charges, but it's also likely in part due to teams just throwing the ball away or stepping out of bounds, often factors that are down to luck.

If Chicago State lives up to their T-Rank expectation, it would be their best result since 2013-14. But with as much turnover as they've had this offseason, it will take a lot going right for a second straight year to realize that potential. Ultimately, their roster is a mix of guys that couldn't cut it at higher levels, supporting cast on last year's team, and unproven newcomers. Gillion deserves a ton of credit for what he's already done, but even if this team overachieves they will be a bottom half of Quadrant 4 buy game. Even if Chicago State manages to slow the pace and make their threes, expect a double-digit home victory for Marquette.

What We've Learned: Gillion has been playing a lot of small ball. Arol Kacoul has started a few games but has taken a back seat once things get going to Jahsean Corbett. As a result, they often don't have anyone taller than 6'7" on the floor. The smaller lineup has allowed them to chase opponents off the line with more frequency. They are 22nd nationally in limiting three-point attempts and have taken more threes than their opponents in 5/7 games. As a team, they have also been very good on the offensive glass, led by Corbett. Their plan is still slow it down, take more threes than their opponent, and hit the offensive glass. However, while they have competed with lower class opponents, beating Valparaiso and IUPUI while being tied or leading Marshall and Cleveland State in the second half, they have not fared as well against top-100 opponents. Northwestern got out to a 9-0 start and led by 16 at halftime while Kent State opened up 15-0 and led by 31 at the half. Marquette's size and swarming defense should allow them to get up early on the Cougars and expect this one to be comfortably over by the end of the first half.

Marquette Connection: While this is a mismatched roster, there is one player who's taken on Marquette before. Elijah Weaver started for the USC Trojans against Marquette in the 2019 Orlando Classic. Weaver led the Trojans in minutes and was second in scoring as he tallied 12 points in the contest. He was significantly outshone by the star guard on the other end of the floor as Markus Howard poured in 51 points, which was the highest output of his senior season.

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