Preview for UIC vs. Pittsburgh

NEW YORK - MARCH 11: Head coach Jamie Dixon of the Pittsburgh Panthers yells from the bench against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the quarterfinal of the 2010 NCAA Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 11, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

UIC takes on Pittsburgh on Wednesday night in the opening game of Chicago's college basketball season. Thankfully this game is on ESPN3, so you can watch it if you're interested in seeing how the Flames fare against a high-caliber squad. (And happen to have a cable provider kind enough to give you the access online.)

Don't worry if Howard Moore's team struggles a bit during the game. The Panthers are one of the best teams in the country this season. I'm sure that after the scare Rhode Island put into Pittsburgh that Jamie Dixon is going to have his team prepared for Wednesday's contest.
Still, there are some things worth watching.

One of the things to watch is the pace of the game. Last season Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams played at a ridiculously slow pace, with an adjusted tempo of 60.2 possessions per game. Moore isn't Ryan, he's his own man, but the Flames are definitely going to slow things down. On the other hand, Pittsburgh ran with Rhode Island in its last game, which was 75 possessions.

This contrast in styles should be interesting. If UIC can control the tempo a bit it'll help the Flames stay in the game and might even make an upset possible.
Also, remember that this is the most difficult game on UIC's schedule. The Flames have just a 2 percent chance of winning according to Ken Pomeroy. They'll have at least double that in every other game this season. (Illinois at the United Center and at Butler are the Flames' other tough games.)
Besides the pace of the game, the other thing I'll be watching is how well Pittsburgh shoots the ball. I fully expect the Panthers to dominate on the boards against UIC. Players like athletic 6'9 freshman forward Talib Zanna and 6'6 forward Gilbert Brown are going to be tough for Big East opponents to keep off the boards this season, so Brad Birton or K.C. Robbins will probably struggle a bit. Also, Pittsburgh is one of the few teams in the country - along with Michigan State and a few others, that actually understands the value of an offensive rebound. Against the Rams the Panthers rebounded 14 of their 35 misses.
Still, Rhode Island was able to keep things close for most of the game. UIC should stay in this game for at least a half. If the Flames play this game four minutes at a time they might find themselves with a better opportunity than anyone could've expected.

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