Hello again fans of the Illinois Fighting Illini! Game day is once again upon us, and I’m sure more than a few of you are still basking in the afterglow of that heart stopping Braggin’ Rights win over Missouri this past Saturday. It’s been a good week to be an Illini fan for sure, but now it’s time to move on from the win and on to the next one.
Today’s game will take place in the United Center, and will be the third game the Illini have played on an NBA floor this season. Unfortunately, the previous two games this season on an NBA floor have been the Illini’s only losses (10-2). Illinois will be looking to right the ship in the home of a pro team against the UIC Flames, who bring a 5-8 record into today’s contest.
The Flames are coming off back to back losses against UC-Riverside and Colorado State. Coming in to this game they are shooting 43.8% from the floor as a team which ranks them 217th in the nation. They are averaging 71.6 ppg which puts them at 215th in the nation.
UIC has a pair of double digit scorers in Kelsey Barlow and Marc Brown, but Barlow is clearly their go to option. He leads the Flames in all three major categories with 16.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 4.5 apg. Stopping Barlow will be one of the defensive keys to the game. The other will be Illinois’ defense of the 3 point line. UIC will hoist threes, and they convert at a 33.8% clip.
UIC has launched 231 attempts from long range, and 5 different players have 20+ attempts. Illinois will have their work cut out for them in identifying shooters. Here are the Flames top options to keep an eye on based on attempts: Barlow (68), Hayden Humes (41), Gabe Snider (35), Brown (32), and Pat Birt (23).
The bottom line is that the Flames are a Horizon League bottom feeder right now, and Illinois needs to come out and impose their defensive will on the Flames today and success should follow closely behind. That said, this is definitely the very definition of a trap game for the Illini as they are coming off a huge emotional victory over Missouri, and Indiana looms on Tuesday when the Illini open Big Ten play.
Three Things I’d Like to See Today
1. Avoid the Trap - Games like this are difficult, especially for the younger guys on the team who might be caught looking ahead to Indiana. The veterans need to provide the leadership to get them past the name on the opponents jersey, and make sure everyone is ready to go today.
2. Win the Rebounding Battle - The Illini lost the rebounding battle against Missouri by 1, and it was the 5th time in the past 6 games that the Illini have been out-rebounded. This game has the opportunity to be a game that can provide the Illini post players a chance to get right on the boards. They need to capitalize on it and build some positive momentum heading into Big Ten play.
3. Defend the 3 Point Line - If UIC finds some success from long range early on they are going to gain the confidence that they can pull a repeat of the December 18th, 2010 upset that also took place at the United Center. That’s the last thing Illinois fans want to see happen. So, lockdown on the 3 point line and take the Flames out of this one early.
When: Saturday, December 28, 2013 @ 1:00 CST.
Where: United Center – Chicago, IL
TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)
Announcers: Dave Revsine (Play by Play) & Shon Morris (Analyst)
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.