Jimmy Collins appears to have found the identity of his UIC team. Youth, energy and intensity abound on the Flames and they are going to use it to become a stalwart defensive team. The question though is can UIC score enough points to be relevant.
After last night's 57-52 loss at Milwaukee in 71 possessions some things are starting to become evident.
1) The Flames are going to struggle to score points on most nights.
2) The Flames are going to make it difficult for the other team to score points.
This is not Seven-seconds-or-less with Mike D'Antoni. It's a grind it out, hold on for dear life style of basketball that will create some exciting games, but also lead to a lot of heartbreak.
UIC has not cracked the point per possession barrier against a single Division I foe this season. (The Flames barely got over the hump with 72 points in 67 possessions against Division II opener Illinois Springfield.) The offense has been inconsistent at best and ugly at worst. The Flames are shooting 40.5% from two-point range (319th in the country) and 24.7% from three (330th).
Help though could be on the way on offense. Spencer Stewart is a pass-first point guard that finished second last season in the Horizon League in assists per game. He has just been reinstate from a suspensions stemming from violating team rules. Stewart should generate easier shots for Robo Kreps and company. Kreps could certainly use the better looks, his three-point percentage has plummeted to 28.9% this season from 40.6% as a sophomore. The Flames shot 36.2% from three last season, so it's possible the shooting could take an uptick.
Until it does UIC will be forced to rely on its defense, and actually that's not a bad thing. The Flames defense has been very good this season. UIC's adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 77th in the nation. The active play of Zavion Neely, Brad Birton and Kris Harris on the defensive end has kept the Flames in games.
The defensive intensity has to continue for 40 minutes. There's no opportunity to let up, because doing so probably means a loss for UIC. The Flames held a five-point lead at halftime on Thursday before allowing 35 second half points to let Milwaukee steal the victory.
UIC has found its identity. Now the Flames need to find some wins.