Drake (0-0) at Illinois-Chicago (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 9, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UIC Pavilion (8,000) -- Chicago, Illinois. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Drake 0-0, UIC 0-0. Away Record: Drake 0-0, UIC 0-0. Neutral Record: Drake 0-0, UIC 0-0. Conference Record: Drake 0-0, UIC 0-0. Series Record: Drake leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: The Drake Bulldogs and Illinois-Chicago Flames tip off the 2013-14 season against each other with a bout at UCI Pavilion on Saturday night.
Drake went 15-17 last season, which included a 7-11 ledger in Missouri Valley Conference play, and the Bulldogs enter this campaign with a new head coach in former Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti. Drake, picked to finish near the bottom of the MVC standings this season, has only one NCAA Tournament appearance over the last four decades (2008).
Illinois-Chicago is coming off a season in which it went 18-16 overall and 7-9 in Horizon League action. It was a 10-win improvement from the previous campaign, and the club's most victories since 2007-08. The Flames, who also claimed their first postseason win ever with a first-round triumph in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, are led by fourth-year coach Howard Moore.
Drake has the upper hand in the all-time series with UIC, 5-2, but the most recent meeting (Dec. 4, 2010 at Drake) went to the Flames in an 82-73 final.
Drake made the change in head coach from Mark Phelps to Giacoletti, with the hope that the new guy's tenure with these Bulldogs would be every bit as successful as was his time with those dogs out in Spokane. Drake only had one season in which it finished higher than seventh place in the MVC in five years under Phelps, and the return of three key members from last season's club will hopefully help make the transition a bit easier. Starters Seth VanDeest and Richard Carter figure to be the most important cogs, with the former being the team's top returning scorer (9.5 ppg) and rebounder (4.8 rpg), while the latter was right there in terms of offensive production (9.2 ppg). The loss of Ben Simons (14.1 ppg), Chris Hines (9.7 ppg) and Jordan Clarke (9.3 ppg) won't be easy to overcome, but the hope is newcomers Trevor Berkeley and Blake Danielak can contribute from the outset, and that someone like Daddy Ugbede can elevate his game enough to be considered a worthy piece.
After failing to do so in his first two years at the helm, Moore finally got his team to buy into his defensive system last season and the Flames responded by finishing above the .500 mark. Despite the positive outcome, there were obvious deficiencies that UIC must overcome to climb up the Horizon League ladder, and it starts at the offensive end where the club averaged only 62.8 ppg in hitting only 40.1 percent of its field goal attempts. The Flames were outboarded (-1.3), but they played well on defense for the most part in yielding the same number of points they generated. UCI is missing its top three scorers from last season, leaving senior Hayden Humes (10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg) as the top option right now. A couple of guys who could prove their worth immediately are transfers Kelsey Barlow (Purdue) and Jordan Harks (Central Arkansas).
Neither team is going to challenge for Top-25 consideration this season, but marginal improvements can be expected as talent is present on both rosters. UIC gets the edge due to the home court, but it will likely be close throughout.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois-Chicago 65, Drake 61
11/09 10:31:18 ET