The UIC Flames (5-6) will try to extend their winning streak to a season-high three games at UC Riverside (3-6) tonight in the first segment of a four-game road trip. The Flames are 3-2 in road contests.
Tonight’s game will be a matchup of poor defense and average offense vs. poor offense and average defense.
UIC has been awful defensively during the non-conference portion of this season. Against Division I teams, the Flames’ best defensive performance was holding Drake to 0.95 points per possession. Last Saturday against Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) was their next-best output, but the Redhawks still scored 0.99 points per possession.
Offensively, though, UIC has been competent.
Senior guard Kelsey Barlow is playing like an All-Horizon League first teamer, and senior forward Hayden Humes is starting to get back into a groove after a very slow start to the year. Barlow ranks No. 36 nationally in assist rate and he flirted with a triple-double against SEMO.
In their last five games, the Flames have been scoring 1.15 points per possession.
If they keep that up tonight, UC Riverside will likely struggle to keep up.
The Highlanders rank No. 333 in the country in offensive efficiency, and they have not scored 70 points in a Division I game since Nov. 23. In their last two outings, they are scoring 0.82 points per possession.
However, UC Riverside may have the defensive power to hold off Barlow and the rest of UIC’s attack.
The Highlanders are just a few spots away from the upper-third of Division I in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.01 points per possession. They also rank well in field-goal percentage defense and turn over their opponents in more than one-fifth of their possessions.
The Highlanders receive most of their production senior forward Chris Patton and sophomore forward Taylor Johns. Patton, in particular, will give the Flames tons of trouble.
At 6’10”, Patton will have a good size advantage over Jake Wiegand and Jordan Harks. The Australia native averages 13 points and 7.1 rebounds, and his last time out he recorded 17 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.
Johns is a budding star. The sophomore is averaging 14.7 points (more than double his scoring average last season) 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Johns is only 6’7″, but he has had as many as 16 rebounds in a game this season.
The Highlanders do not have much firepower in the backcourt, but junior Nick Gruninger does an adequate job running the offense. In 25.8 minutes per game, Gruninger averages 3.1 assists and also scores 6.3 points. He ranks in the top 10 in the Big West for assist rate.
Opening tip at SRC Arena is set for 8 p.m. CT.
All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.