UIC's losing streak reveals a lot of problems

UIC is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. The Flames are now 0-8 in Horizon League play, though one of those was before this recent problem, and things don't look to be getting any better any time soon. 
What's been the problem? Well, I have a couple theories. I've split this up into two sections: On Offense and On Defense. If you're particularly concerned about one or the other skip right down to it. Also, Shannon Ryan highlighted the team's turnovers woes the last two games in her local college basketball roundup on Sunday. But turnovers, at least on offense, aren't the only problem for Howard Moore's squad.
On Offense:
The foundation of the swing offense is getting good looks at the basket. You want to see what happens when you do? Watch Wisconsin's demolition of Northwestern on Sunday. The skill set of the UIC players isn't really perfect for this offense. There are only two players on the team - Robo Kreps and Dipanjot Singh - who are elite three-point shooters. That meant that Moore had to rearrange the offense a bit to use the post up part of the swing more often. They've taken it to heart and gotten good looks for K.C. Robbins, Darrin Williams and Paris Carter down low. In fact, they've done it so often that the Flames are sixth in the nation with two pointers making up 60.9 percent of the team's points.
You'd think that a team that pounds the ball into the paint would also draw a lot of fouls, but that just hasn't been the case here. UIC's free throw rate is amongst the worst in the country at 31.2 percent. That means for every ten shots from the floor the Flames attempt about three free throws. If you're going to go into the paint so much you should at least get some extra and-ones out of the deal. On the plus side, even with poor three-point shooting, the Flames have managed a decent effective field goal percentage during the latest run.
Then there are those turnovers Ryan mentioned. UIC has turned the ball over on one in every four possessions during the losing streak. That's terrible, to say the least. For the season the Flames rank 328th in turnover percentage (that's out 345 teams). This is the place where losing Zavion Neely really hurts the team. He was this team's best hope at holding onto the ball and now he's ineligible and there are more possessions to be wasted. It's not really Paul Carter who is the problem though. His high usage dictates that he's going to have some turnover, but he's turned it over on about one in every five possessions this season. 
On the other hand, Robbins turns it over on a third of the possessions he uses. That's way too many. A lot of them come from careless mistakes too. Robbins' free throw rate is also incredibly low for a big man at 8.5 percent. Ken Pomeroy estimates that he draws 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes, or about half the rate of Paul Carter.
It seems like Moore has seen similar things on tape and is working to correct the teams' offensive deficiencies. Robbins' minutes have dwindled since the return of Williams. That's probably for the better, though neither is particularly efficient. To be honest, I'd like to see more of Paris Carter. If he could make free throws he'd be a pretty nifty force in the paint.
On Defense:
Still, we're picking at small potatoes on offense compared to the problems on defense. Over the past seven Horizon League games the Flames have allowed 1.17 points per possession. That's 526 points in 451 possessions and that's terrible. The Flames aren't fouling, they rank 140th in opponent free throw rate, but it doesn't matter. Teams are getting plenty of easy shots, not turning the ball over and are even able to crash the offensive glass effectively. Add it all up and you've got quite the disaster.
Let's start with the defensive turnover rate. During the slump the Flames have forced turnovers on about 15 percent of opponent possessions. If that were a full season total it would rank last in the nation. You're playing man-to-man defense and not forcing turnovers? How is that possible? Gamble some more and take a chance at a steal. Do whatever you have to do to create empty possessions, for without them a defense is dead on arrival. It doesn't even have to be that many more, it just needs to be more. I'm not asking Moore to turn his team into DePaul and press all the time, but what about trying to play a passing lane every once in a while?
Of course what you worry about when gambling on defense is fouling and giving up an open shot when you pick the wrong spot. Well guess what? Even in position, UIC's defense isn't stopping those shots. The Flames have allowed an effective field goal percentage of 55 percent during the slump. If that was over a full season it'd rank 335th. So even playing their relatively conservative defense UIC hasn't been able to force misses. How is gambling a little more really going to hurt?
It appears that overall the Flames have really regressed during conference play. Part of that is personnel. The loss of Neely was a big one and Williams has been hurt through a long portion of the slump, but part of it was also the Flames' own doing. This team needs to find a way to right the ship before Youngstown State comes in on Saturday, because that might be UIC's last chance to get a conference victory. I'm afraid if UIC doesn't beat the Penguins on Saturday they're certainly going to join the second list on this post.


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  • Excellent analysis of the teams short-comings. The lack of a point guard and a backup point guard is crippling the team. Turnovers cripple the offense and lack of outside defensive pressure due to a lack of athleticism on the perimeter allows open threes. Let us hope that UIC can recruit additional point guard.

  • People don't realize how much UIC misses Buttell and Stewart from last year's team, especially Stewart. I, for one, expected our record to be even worse this year than last year's 8-22 for that reason--no point guard.

    Yet, with all of the analysis by you and various people on the UIC Message Board of why we are where we are, many people are blaming the pitiful performance on the new coach. Incredible!!

  • In reply to RichN:

    Woah! Maybe I didn't point this out clearly enough. But I don't think this season has any meaningful impact on Howard Moore the head coach. He's been dealt some awful personnel cards - with Neely being out, Birton being suspended, Williams' injury etc. As I discussed in the offense section above too he's also trying to run a system without his players. He's going to need a year or two to turn things around.

    I have no doubt that the system Moore is instilling at UIC will be successful. It's just going to take some time and some of his players to get things done. That starts with next season's freshman class, and what a good one it is shaping up to be.

  • In reply to johntemplon:

    John: I didn't mean to imply that YOU felt that way about Coach Moore. Some people on the UIC (and Green Bay) message boards seem to think that it was a bad hire and that the new coach is in over his head.

  • In reply to RichN:

    And on the subject of Spencer Stewart. If he could've played on a team like this it would've been great. He's the type of passer that would've thrived in this system.

    I also think that Buttell is the lower turnover, good shooting, good rebounding big man that this team lacks right now. He was underutilized last season in Collins' offense. While I wonder how his passing skills would've fit into this offense, his assist rates were never very good at UIC, but that's partly a function of how the UIC offense operated at the time. They really miss his rebounding. Paul Carter has tried, but the Flames are still one competent rebounding big man away.

  • In reply to RichN:

    John, I am a great fan but am disappointed in your analysis on this article and more so with throwing players under the bus without accurate journalist research...but since you opened the door in that direction...let's talk BIGS. Go to this link and take a close look at the comparisons for the 3 BIGS.
    Then look at the NBA Efficiency Ratings posted by Big D on the UICFlames blog site and remember that the team leading 55
    fouls(average 3+ per game)that Williams has is NOT factored in to those negative numbers. Imagine what the approximate 55 fewer possession changes and opposition made free throws from those 55 fouls would mean to this team in terms of wins today?

    Willaims can shoot layups...ONLY...if the opponent is smaller and he seems to be easy to defend. Now consider, he had 1 rebound in the first 21 minutes of the last game(3 total), 1 reb. in 17 minutes the game before, 2 in 12 minutes the game before that one. Suffice it to say we can all see that Williams needs to make a BIG commitment to the program next year in terms of conditioning.

    Now look at the box scores for the rebound production of the other BIG with less minutes. Suggesting to take a senior, Robbins off the floor more than he has been already is wrong on so many levels. Suggesting the 89th best defensive rebounder % in the nation, tied for leading True FG%(including 6 perfect 100% FG games) shooting on the team(other than Dipanjot) with both hands & short jumpers, team leading shot blocker and the last BIG to register a double-double start is preposterous. He leads in FGs made and has only played 61% compared to Paris and 77% compared to Williams. In fact, if you project the efficiency rate forward, using Paris as the basis, Robbins leads in total rebounds, defensive rebounds, points and categories that go in the box score as opposed to just the ability to "draw fouls"(accounting for only 15 point advantage total?). Granted turnovers are high but again, look at the Williams(1.9), Robbins(1.6), Paris(1.4) PER GAME comparison in that category which is a direct correlation to the Swing. Finally, here is a stat to consider. 2nd half minutes Williams(9.1), Paris(9.9), Robbins(4.6). UIC is losing in part because a key BIG can't control the boards from the bench! Especially your LEADING defensive...which translates to critical possessions ball control...rebounder! Case in point, remember the last close game...the Wright State NEAR win (Robbins 17pts, 12rebs), the "clutch seconds" foul shot of the game when UIC needed a possession FIRST, before getting a final shot for a win? The BIGS were ALL ON THE BENCH while Lowe tipped the ball to McGammon for the winning lay-up. Who made that decision?

    Coach Moore, "It's all about the seniors!" Hmmm...

  • In reply to BigManFan:

    A couple of the points you make are very valid. And thanks for the link because it makes for easy comparisons. For instance, rebounding has been a problem for this team and taking Robbins off the court in that regard seems to be a big problem, because he's UIC's best rebounder on a percentage basis. He and Paul Carter are the only players on the team that have a defensive rebound percentage greater than 20% this season.

    On the offensive side of the court though I can see arguments against Robbins. I'm not sure about the Williams vs. Robbins debate. Honestly, neither has lit the world on fire - and that's part of the problem. Williams has a slightly higher eFG% and they're essentially tied in TS% at 53.6 for Williams compared to 53.9 for Robbins. Their offensive ratings are 84.9 for Williams and 82.1 for Robbins, which are essentially a wash. (Though Paris Carter, because of his offensive rebounding comes up at 87.2.)

    It seems like none of the bigs are a particularly good fit for this offense. All of them are true, back to the basket type centers. The swing needs interchangeable parts that can step out and take the three at the five position. Comparing UIC to Wisconsin is a ridiculous idea, but the Badgers do play a 6'8, 6'10, 6'6 front line on most occasions. That 6'10 guy is Jon Leuer and he excels at stepping out and knocking down the three.

    I think K.C. Robbins has a role to play for this team the rest of the season. I wasn't suggesting that he not play at all, I merely think that at the moment playing a rotation of the three bigs and trying to find good match ups - or to keep both Williams and Robbins out of foul trouble - is the key for the Flames moving forward because the offense obviously isn't running at full capacity at the moment.

  • In reply to BigManFan:

    You are absolutely right here "All of them are true, back to the basket type centers"! 21 year old, bigger than normal all their lives, centers who have spent ALL their developmental years practicing, practicing and practicing footwork without facing the hoop. Yet, in a few fractional months they are being expected to come to the perimeter and handle the ball, not telegraph, and completely acquire guard timing skills is silly. Furthermore, since they were bigger, slower and less coordinated as they grew disproportionately just ponder how many TOTAL playing minutes at all levels they have compared to a D1 guard at this moment in their lives...maybe 25%-50%...and even then the are NOT the "ball handlers". After 2 years minimum in a FULL year-round program they will reduce the turnover ration...but only with time.

    Rebounding is another whole IT story. UIC will NOT win again until the BIGS begin to really control the defensive boards the whole game but especially in the 2nd half...if they are on the floor. IT will put UIC in a ball control position. IT will draw opposition fouls resulting in later free throws. IT will push opposition starters to the bench in foul trouble late. IT will cause an opposition coverage nightmare on the offensive end...but only if the whole team can learn to work with two bigs together.

    And to your point about the "flames moving forward"...Offense starts on the DEFENSIVE end.

  • In reply to BigManFan:

    John, I decided to watch the game last night to see if Coach Moore took some of your big man strategy to heart. Here are the results regarding the encouragement to play Paris & Williams more minutes than Robbins against CSU. I've decided to use several different measurements...

    Efficiency Rating(which does not include Personal Fouls that equals a possession change and/or opposition FT made from said fouls). Obviously they serve to LOWER the efficiency per minute rating even more.
    Efficiency Rating Per Minute
    Robbins, .600, 15 minutes, no fouls
    Williams, .471, 17 minutes(plus 4 PF, 1/3 FT)
    Paris, .176, 17 minutes(plus 1 PF, 2/2 FT)

    Robbins(248) has now played 66% of Paris(397) and 78% of Williams(319) minutes. If you use Paris as the basis in terms of actual minutes plus all his other production categories, and then, project both Williams and Robbins to Paris' 397 minutes by using THEIR current, actual production rate you get the following results...
    Robbins would lead both guys in...
    Defensive Rebounds(has more actual than Paris already)
    Total Rebounds
    FG %(currently better)
    Total Points(has more actual than Paris already)

    Paris would lead both in...
    Offense Rebounds by 1

    Williams would and does lead both in...
    Personal Fouls(59 Total...4 again last night)
    Opposition Points off FT

    As I sat in the PAV watching last night's game(and then confirmed in the box score this AM), the team hit a solid defense/offense tempo when they were leading by 9 at the 8:18 mark of the 1st half. Robbins was then subbed out and the rhythm was gone. Then, look at the last time a game was close at the 2 minute mark...Detroit. How many minutes did Robbins, Williams and Paris record and what was their production!?

    Gotta ask the questions:
    What is the motivation to play certain players lots of minutes when the production just isn't there?
    Why continue to put a player on the floor when the fouls per game and avg. continues to RISE?
    Why put a player who is winded and last down the court on the floor nearly half the game?
    When a group is on the floor building a lead, why sub out when fatigue is not a factor?
    In a competitive sport, why are the competitive results not earning more reward(minutes) and results(wins)?

    We are witnessing a first year coach making lots of mistakes. We REALLY want Moore to succeed BUT he is trying to support/establish/endorse "favorites" over production...to a means and end that is costing a senior laden team, UIC, AD, fans and the city of Chicago a horrible experience.

  • In reply to BigManFan:

    Well I read this comment and then went and looked some of the numbers. For one, I disagree with the term 'senior laden'. There are four very talented seniors on this team. That's definitely true, but that term is usually applied to a team that is going to be peaking. Switching coaches and just the team's performance the past few seasons led everyone to believe this was a rebuilding year, which is unfortunate for players like Kreps, Carter, Birton and Robbins, but that's how it had to be. Maybe the win over Illinois got people's hopes up, but it was one game amongst many.

    But back to the general point we've been talking about in this thread. I hear what you're saying about Robbins not being in and the offense stagnating. I've seen it happen. I don't think NBA Efficiency is a good way of capturing how players are playing at the collegiate level. It's designed for a different game. But for instance, here are all three post players' offensive rating and usage rates during the game on Thursday night.

    Robbins - 133.3 (4 pts, 3 possessions) - 1.81% Usage
    Paris Carter - 100.0 (2 pts, 2 possessions) - 1.37% Usage
    Williams - 100.0 (6 pts, 6 possessions) - 4.11% Usage

    All three of them were very efficient last night. For comparison the team scored 49 points in 62 possessions last night, which is a 79.0 rating. The centers, whoever was on the court, didn't get the ball enough it would seem from this analysis.

    In particular, Corey Gray, who Moore mentioned in the podcast had been practicing very well and he wanted to give more playing time, really struggled with a 44 offensive rating because of 2-7 shooting from the field and two turnovers. On the other hand, Birton stepped up and had a very solid game statistically, no matter what type of statistics you use.

    I'm going to have another post on the three centers later, but I'd like to see how the Youngstown State game goes first. We'll have some analysis and some commentary from that game as Chris will be watching and providing his thoughts afterwards.

  • In reply to BigManFan:

    Congratulations to UIC for a BIG win and to Coach Moore for his 1st Horizon League victory!

    All the guys finally got the smell of success and the killer instinct in the 2nd half. I thought you would want to take a look at these updated numbers for your upcoming big man article.

    Also, Robbins had his 7th perfect shooting game of the year and is now pushing a FG percent of 60%. It will be curious to see how Moore splits the center time against Detroit next week considering UIC was a play away from beating them last time with Robbins having 17 pts & 12 rebounds...especially considering that Moore had the senior, Robbins on the bench the critical last plays of the game where UIC got out-rebounded on a missed foul shot?

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