UIC gets it's season started with an exhibition game against a Lewis team that has already been tested in two games against NCAA Division I opponents in Notre Dame and Bradley. The Flyers lost by 16 to the Fighting Irish and fell to the Braves by five points. This isn't going to be an easy game for the Flames, but when the game tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT here are some things to keep in mind.
#1. How will Robo Kreps and Jeremy Buttell handle more of the scoring load? Last season Kreps was one of the most efficient players in the nation. But even with those credentials he continued to defer to his more senior teammates like Josh Mayo and Scott VanderMeer. The four players who used more possessions than Kreps in 2008-09 aren't on the team to start the season, so he'll have to take on a much larger load. Buttell was even more invisible than Kreps on the offensive end. Buttell was a very good rebounder, so hopefully that trend continues, but he'll probably need to score more points. #2. Let's get to know each other. With so many new players on the team it's going to take a while for the Flames to play as a cohesive unit. This season's UIC squad is completely different from the veteran unit that was able to upset Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt early in 2008-09. The Flames' best basketball probably won't come until 2010. This game against Lewis is UIC's first chance to get into a rhythm and incorporate players like Louis Green, Anthony Kelley and K.C. Robbins into the lineup. Beyond Kreps and Buttell even the starters are anyone's guess.
#3. Scoring in the paint. Whoever is on the court will have to do better at shooting two-point shots. Over the past three years UIC has shot 43%, 46.9% and 43% from inside the arc. Sure, the Flames shoot great from three some years, but the outside shot is too inconsistent to rely on during a long college basketball season. Last season Mayo almost shot better from three-point range than two-points (38.7% versus 39.8%), but even center VanderMeer shot 40.1% inside the arc. UIC needs to move the ball more and develop better opportunities for players around the basket.
A close exhibition game should give Flames fans a chance to check out the actual rotation that UIC will be using this season. Of course even the rotation is probably a work in progress. As long as UIC wins don't pay too much attention to the final score, instead check out the baseline of this young team.