Horizon League play opens tonight

Aric Van Weelden passing the ball.

Aric Van Weelden has become a key contributor off the bench in his senior season.

The Loyola Ramblers and UIC Flames will be on the road in Wisconsin for the opening weekend of Horizon League basketball. The two Chicago schools will match up with Green Bay and Milwaukee in what should be some exciting contests.

Thursday's games see the Ramblers trying to continue their four-game winning streak in Green Bay and the Flames searching for their first win against Division I competition in Milwaukee.

The Loyola, Green Bay game should be the premiere game of the four-game slate tonight. (Even if Cleveland State vs. Wright State is the game on ESPNU.) While the Ramblers are ranked 164th in the early Ken Pomeroy rankings, the Phoenix clock in at 130th.

What will Loyola need to do to get the road victory and can UIC make some waves on the road? More after the jump.

Loyola (4-1) at Green Bay (5-2):

The Ramblers enter this game on a four-game winning streak, but the Ramblers still have some questions to answer. The offense has looked excellent at times when Courtney Stanley has been able to generate movement towards the basket, but at others it has stagnated and forced players to put up ragged shots. Interestingly, what Loyola has done very well in the early season is crash the offensive glass. The Ramblers rank 12th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Also, the threes from players like Marcus Thomas have been dropping (46.3%, 6th in the nation), but the twos aren't (34.6%, 344th).

Green Bay's numbers look strikingly similar to Loyola's on offense. This could end up being a rather high-scoring affair. The Phoenix are excellent from three (46.4%, 4th) and don't hit very many twos (44.8%, 240th). Still, that difference in shooting is enough to give Green Bay a slight edge at home. Look out for Troy Cotton (15.0 ppg) and Rahmon Fletcher (14.9 ppg, 3.4 apg).

This should be a tough, competitive ball game with both teams scoring a lot of points. Expect both the Ramblers and Phoenix to try and get out and challenge the perimeter. The team that wins on the boards and gets to the free throw line will probably be the ones that wins considering how evenly matched these two teams are.

Accuscore Prediction: Green Bay 74.5, Loyola 62.0

UIC (1-3) at Milwaukee (5-2):

In this case records can be deceiving. Milwaukee is 5-2, but the victories are against an extremely week schedule including two non-Division I teams. The Panthers had to go to overtime to defeat a poor Bowling Green squad their last time out.

Milwaukee is good at offense, not so good at defense. That's particularly interesting because it's a mirror image of UIC, which is good at defense and quite poor on offense. Their last two times out the Flames have played competitive basketball against two decent teams in Illinois State and Southern Illinois, but those games were at home.

The Panthers are led by type defying James Eayrs. The 6'7", 310-pound big man is leading the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game and isn't afraid to launch the occasional three-point shot. (He has 41 attempts already this season.) The other main guy on Milwaukee is Ricky Franklin. Franklin averages 13.3 ppg and 3.9 apg.

There's a chance for UIC to pull the upset. No matter what it's already a good day for Flames basketball as it was announced point guard Spencer Stewart will be returning to the team on Saturday. Stewart had been indefinitely suspended by the team.

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