The Cleveland State men's basketball team opens the second half of Horizon League play on Saturday night at Illinois-Chicago.
"We came into this year with a motto to finish strong," Vikings head coach Gary Waters said last week.
CSU (10-12, 2-6 Horizon League) is currently in eighth place in the nine-team league, but still has hopes of moving up in the standings and hosting a first-round game in the conference tournament next month.
With Butler leaving for the Atlantic 10 conference and the Horizon League only having nine teams this year, the conference tournament has been tweaked.
The top two seeds still get byes into the semifinals. However, the third seed now gets a bye into the second round, with the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds hosting first-round games.
Right now there is a four-team tie for third through sixth place. UIC, Wright State, Youngstown State and Green Bay are all 5-4, two-and-a-half games ahead of CSU.
The Vikings have a very friendly schedule down the stretch, with five of their last seven conference games being played at home, where CSU is 7-2 at the Wolstein Center this season.
If CSU is going to move up in the standings, it will have to figure out how to steal some wins on the road.
This season the Vikings have struggled on the road and are still searching for their first road win in league play (0-5).
Overall, they are 1-10 away from the Wolstein Center with their only road win coming against Ball State on Nov. 28.
The Vikings have lost eight straight road games. All eight losses have come by double digits, with five of them being over 20 points or more.
"We could have still went to these [road] games and lost there," said Waters. "But what I want to see is there a fight in the dog when you lost. That's when I struggle. When there is no fight in the dog, then there is an issue."
Waters said in "certain games" this season there has been no fight in the dog in CSU's effort.
Earlier in the season, CSU defeated UIC, 60-50, at the Wolstein Center on Jan. 7.
"I thought we fought the dog against UIC," said Waters.
But the Flames are a much different team now than the one CSU faced last month.
UIC (14-8) is coming in red hot, having won three straight games and four of its past five. It has played well at home this season, winning nine of its 10 games at the UIC Pavilion.
The Vikings have played well in Chicago in recent years and have won four straight against the Flames at the UIC Pavilion.
Tom Mieskoski is a contributor to Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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