UIC plays a rare Horizon League Monday night game tonight when the Flames head to Indianapolis to take on the Butler Bulldogs. The timing is a bit odd and the game should be pretty interesting. Butler has struggled of late and is coming off a Jekyll-Hyde weekend where it both beat the best team in the Horizon League, Cleveland State, and lost to one of the worst, Youngstown State.
The Penguins are a team with a similar profile and rank to the Flames (YSU - 272, UIC - 260) on Ken Pomeroy, and UIC recently blew out the Penguins, so is there something that the Flames can learn from the two games that Youngstown State and Butler played in order to pull off the upset?
Well here's the secret, it was Butler defense that did it. Butler average efficiency on offense throughout Horizon League play isn't much different from their marks in its two games versus the Penguins. Butler scored 84 points in 65 possessions in a home victory and 60 in 61 possessions in a road loss. When you account for home/road factors that makes complete sense.
No, where Youngstown State got Butler was by exposing the Bulldogs' weak defense. The Penguins scored over a point per possession in both contests and did it basically through one key method - shooting the ball better than normal.
Youngstown State got to the free throw line dramatically fewer times than your average Horizon League opponent has against Butler. Instead they maximized possessions by not turning the ball over and shooting well. Those two things combined were enough to boost Youngstown State's efficiency to 1.22 points per possession in the loss and 1.02 points per possession in the victory.
So obviously the Penguins still had to play a little bit of defense. In fact, Butler's loss at Youngstown was the Bulldogs' second worse showing in conference play, but they got there by making shots first and playing defense second. Can UIC copy the formula? Maybe. The Flames did score 1.18 points per possession the last time the hosted the Penguins and even 1.10 points per possession at Youngstown.
The key to beating Butler though is bothering Matt Howard. He's averaging 18 points per game in Horizon League wins, but 15.6 points per game in losses in almost the exact same number of minutes. He attempts more threes and fewer free throws in losses and commits about a half foul more per game.
Surely it'd be a big upset, but it's not impossible either.