Howard Moore had a curveball waiting for Youngstown State, a conference one-win team that beat UIC on the road in December, Saturday: a fast, guard-heavy rotation that featured Corey Gray at the point guard spot absolving Robo Kreps of his leash and sending hot-shooting Dipanjot Singh to the perimeter.
Many expected the Flames to take advantage of a poor-performing Youngstown State (7-14, 1-10) team at home, but nobody (except maybe UIC assistant Donnie Kirksey who guaranteed a UIC victory on the pre-game radio broadcast) could have predicted how efficiently UIC (6-16, 1-9) could put their system into practice, besting YSU by 22 points for a season-high 83 point night.
The three guards, Kreps, Gray and Singh, were among the top four minute-getters for UIC,
and combined for 32 backcourt points, just one turnover and a list of
accolades for a team that has finally found some balance.
Not since last season has UIC turned the ball over just 11 times in a game, and taking into account this game's high possession count (71), that number is even more praiseworthy.
I haven't gotten my hands on the play-by-play yet to compute the two and three guard offensive and defensive efficiencies within this game, but for now we'll consider this a mostly three guard game, and note the deviations.
UIC's offensive efficiency (deviation from season average): 1.17 ppp (+0.23)
UIC's defensive efficiency (deviation from season average): 0.86 ppp (-0.20)
Only Loyola (in the Ramblers' first game against YSU) has matched those efficiencies against Youngstown State with the Horizon League, as a matter of context. Butler outpaced UIC's 1.17 ppp offensive number, but allowed 1.22 ppp.
The Flames' defense kept Youngstown State at bay with their purely man defensive corps that we saw come back to life against Cleveland State, and again kept their opponent dead in the paint, while still failing to contest perimeter jumpers.
Blake Allen went 4-6 from three, and the Penguins hit 9-22 (40.9 percent) as a team from beyond the arc.
On the other end, the backcourt-heavy UIC offense forced Paul Carter, who racked up his ninth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 boards, to back off on his three-point attempting obsession -- still managing an 0-2 performance from three.
Brad Birton matched his career-high 14 points from Thursday in the loss to Cleveland State, and led the board-grabbing way with 14 boards, his second straight double-double. The Flames outrebounded the Penguins 53-26.
Perhaps the greatest story to so far surface in UIC's season, though, is senior guard Dipanjot Singh who rose from near invisibility to dangerous perimeter and baseline shooter, balancing out the backcourt.
Singh knocked down 11 points and six boards, and at one point assisted Paul Carter on a breakaway dunk, took it to the hole on the next possession, drew a foul on the way to the bucket. missed his free throw, but found his own rebound for a three-pointer. A sort-of five point play.
A little more confidence would go a long way for him as a fast and very aware two guard.
Finally, with so many players available to fill the remaining spot in the frontcourt, K.C. Robbins, Darrin Williams and Paris Carter can keep the post-play fresh and fast for UIC, constantly changing things up underneath.
Howard Moore may have discovered the key to balancing the power of this UIC system. Youngstown was a great guinea pig, and now it's time to take the show on the road.