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.
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.
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.