UIC is a struggling, young team, and the Horizon League did not do the Flames any favors with the conference schedule. UIC will play its first three Horizon League games on the road, starting with title favorite Valparaiso on Saturday.
What you should know about Valparaiso (10-3, No. 31 KenPom)
As good as Oakland and Milwaukee were in non-conference play, Valparaiso remains the Horizon League favorite with conference play beginning Saturday.
The Crusaders do not have a weak spot. They have one of the best defenses in the nation, ranking No. 4 in efficiency on KenPom. Valparaiso’s offense is not on the same level, but it is still above average thanks to forward Alec Peters and guard Tevonn Walker‘s ability to take over a game.
Peters and Walker have historically had success against the Flames.
Another important factor is this game is being played at the ARC in Valparaiso. The Crusaders have not lost there since Dec. 6, 2014. In that time, they have won 19 straight home games.
What you should know about UIC (2-9, No. 340 KenPom)
UIC’s best chance is hoping freshmen Dikembe Dixson and Dominique Matthews get hot, which won’t be easy against Valparaiso’s tight defense.
Dixson has been on fire with three 20-point outings in the last six games. Most recently, he hung 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting in a loss to Northern Illinois.
Valparaiso wing E. Victor Nickerson is a lockdown defender capable of putting the young Dixson in tough situations. However, Nickerson has missed the last two games with an injury and could miss Saturday’s game as well. His availability will be crucial from Valparaiso’s standpoint defending Dixson.
—Valparaiso has won the last 13 meetings in this series. UIC’s last win was Feb. 15, 2009 at the ARC.
—Valparaiso has not lost to a team outside the KenPom Top 200 since a 2014 Horizon League Tournament loss to Milwaukee.
How to watch, listen, stream and bet:
Start time: 1 p.m. CT
TV: ASN/Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Radio: ESPN1000 Chicago
Sagarin: Valparaiso -26
KenPom: Valparaiso 80, UIC 56 (98%)