Illinois-Chicago (5-9) at Valparaiso (8-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 2, 8:05 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Athletics-Recreation Center (5,000) -- Valparaiso, Indiana. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: UIC 2-4, Valpo 6-2. Away Record: UIC 1-3, Valpo 1-5. Neutral Record: UIC 2-2, Valpo 1-0. Conference Record: UIC 0-0, Valpo 0-0. Series Record: Illinois-Chicago leads, 29-18.
GAME NOTES: Both the Illinois-Chicago Flames and the Valparaiso Crusaders will try to halt losing streak on Thursday night, as the squads face off in their respective Horizon League openers at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
UIC has been largely ineffective in non-conference play, getting out to just a 5-9 start over the first two months of the season. The Flames have played especially poor of late with three consecutive losses, most recently dropping a 74-60 neutral-court bout with Illinois last Saturday.
Valpo has been more successful on the campaign, boasting a solid 8-7 record, although two of those losses have come back-to-back against UCF (90-62) on Dec. 22 and East Tennessee State (73-62) on Sunday. The good news for the Crusaders is that they have played well on their home floor, winning six of eight contests at the ARC.
The Flames hold a 29-18 advantage over the Crusaders, but the script has been flipped in recent years with eight straight wins for Valpo, including a 75-70 triumph in Chicago last season.
UIC actually appeared in good shape to pull off the upset over Illinois in its latest game, as they led by 10 going into intermission, but things came unraveled after halftime as it was outscored, 40-16, on its way to the 14- point loss. The team shot 46.2 percent from the field (including 7-of-19 from 3-point range) and were paced by the efforts of Kelsey Barlow, who scored 21 points and handed out six assists. Marc Brown put up 12 points, and Jordan Harks flirted with a double-double by posting eight points and nine rebounds.
On the season, the Flames typically don't have much of an issue scoring points, netting 70.8 ppg on nearly 44 percent from the floor, but they are plagued by allowing 73.9 ppg on the other end. Barlow is the clear go-to option, posting 16.9 ppg and 4.6 apg whiles swiping more than a steal per contest. Brown (12.3 ppg) is the only other player to score in double figures, although four others register at least 6.6 ppg.
Valpo were thoroughly dominated by ETSU in the first half of its most recent game, getting outscored by a 42-21 margin, and even with a strong second half (.484 FG percentage) it could not climb back in it. The biggest issue for the squad on the day was its turnover problem, as it committed 24 takeaways while creating only nine. LaVonte Dority led the way with 14 points, Vashil Fernandez tallied 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks off the bench, and Alec Peters narrowly missed a double-double with 13 points and nine boards.
The Crusaders are typically the Horizon League's second-best scoring team, posting 80.1 ppg with impressive percentages from the field (.485), 3-point range (.386) and the free-throw line (.753). They are also strong on the glass with a +7.4 rebounding margin, but their struggles in the turnover battle (-4.3 takeaway margin) has become a bad habit. Dority leads the way with 15.5 ppg, draining 29-of-73 from 3-point range (.397), while Peters (14.3 ppg) has been even better from beyond the arc at 33-of-73 (.452). Jordan Coleman rounds out the double-digits scorers with 10.5 ppg.
Valpo has been sliding of late, but a return to the ARC should be able to cure its recent woes against the inconsistent Flames.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Valparaiso 84, Illinois-Chicago 71
01/02 10:34:10 ET