UIC released nine non-conference contests on Wednesday. The games are a nice mix of power conference and mid-major schools and a good balance of home and away contests. Even though the schedule might look pretty easy, there are certainly some games that could sneak up on the Flames. Also, if opponents are paying attention, UIC might be able to get wins against members of the Pac-10, Big East and Big Ten.
The schedule is very light on travel. All of the games will take place in Illinois, Ohio or Wisconsin. The big "get" is Oregon State. The Beavers will be traveling to Chicago to take on the Flames at the UIC Pavilion.
Jimmy Collins (left) and the Flames will have some work to do. A full review of the non-conference games is after the break.
UIC's four home games are: Oregon State, Illinois State, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
Two of those games should be cakewalks, even for a Flames squad that is going to lose a number of key players from last year's team that managed to take out Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt on the road. Northern Illinois and Toledo both struggled last season. The Huskies were 10-20 and ranked 289th in the KenPom rankings
. Toledo was even worse at 7-25. Playing in the comfy confines of the Pavilion, those two games should be easy non-conference games designed to boost the confidence on the Flames early in the season.
Illinois State and Oregon State will offer stiffer challenges. President Obama's brother-in-law Craig Robinson is restoring the program in Corvallis. Last season the Beavers won the College Basketball Invitational Championship. It is helpful that Oregon State will come to Chicago, but it still should be an intense match-up. Also, Illinois State made the NIT last season and ranked above Oregon State in the KenPom rankings at 62nd. In fact, the Redbirds are the second best team the Flames will play in non-conference. Illinois State will likely be starting four seniors and they certainly won't be intimidated by UIC after finishing 24-10 last season.
UIC's five road games are: Wisconsin, DePaul, Southern Illinois, Akron and a BracketBusters match-up.
The game at Wisconsin is by far the hardest game on UIC's schedule outside of the road trip to Butler during Horizon League play. The Badgers are consistently an NCAA Tournament caliber squad and next year should be no different. It is especially though to play them in Madison, Wisconsin. The arena will be full, even for this non-conference game, and it's possible a younger UIC team might be intimidated on the road.
The same shouldn't be true at Allstate Arena when the Flames take on DePaul. In fact, if UIC plays its cards right, this could feel like a fifth home game. Last season the Blue Demons took a spirited early-season contest 67-63. Both teams lost a few players, but with DePaul returning a few more key players, they might have the upper hand. Especially with Scott VanderMeer gone it will be difficult for anyone on UIC's roster to control Mac Koshwal in the paint.
Another game that doesn't look too difficult, but certainly will be is the game against Akron. The Zips were 92nd in the KenPom rankings last year, but they had an extremely young team. With another year of development Akron, which finished 20-12 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, might be a very good team. This game will certainly be a big test for UIC.
The other two road games should be difficult, but winnable games for the Flames. The BracketBusters attempt to get reasonably close match-ups in terms of team record and skill, so wherever UIC goes it'll be against an evenly matched opponent. Southern Illinois, UIC's BracketBuster opponent from last year, had a down season in 2008-09, but the Salukis lost just two rotation players to graduation.
Overall it looks like UIC put together a pretty challenging non-conference schedule. It will be interesting to see if the Flames can actually handle it.