Valparaiso (11-5) at Illinois-Chicago (10-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, January 9, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UIC Pavilion (6,958) -- Chicago, Illinois. Television: HLN. Home Record: Valpo 8-1, UIC 6-0. Away Record: Valpo 3-4, UIC 2-3. Neutral Record: Valpo 0-0, UIC 2-1. Conference Record: Valpo 1-1, UIC 1-0. Series Record: Illinois-Chicago leads, 29-15.
GAME NOTES: The Valparaiso Crusaders begin a three-game road trip on Wednesday night, as they challenge the Illinois-Chicago Flames in a Horizon League bout at UIC Pavilion.
Valparaiso has won four of its last five games, which includes a convincing 74-50 decision over Cleveland State on Jan. 4 for its first win in league play. Although the Crusaders have put together an impressive 11-5 record thus far, they haven't encountered much success on the road with losses in four of their seven matchups.
A large portion of UIC's success this year has been due to its fantastic play on its home floor, where it has yet to lose. The Flames had gone 0-3 on a recent road trip before returning home on Jan. 2 for their conference opener, taking down Youngstown State, 65-60.
Valparaiso won both games against UIC last season, but the Flames still lead the all-time series by a 29-15 margin.
The Crusaders jumped out to a 12-1 lead less than five minutes into their recent clash with Cleveland State and they never looked back, shooting 46.2 percent from the floor (with 10 3-pointers) on their way to the 24-point victory. Matt Kenney paced the team with 14 points, Will Bogan chipped in with 13, and Ryan Broekhoff tallied his third double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Valpo has been strong at both ends of the floor this season. Not only does it shoot nearly 46 percent from the field for an average of 68.1 ppg, but it also holds opponents to fewer than 59 ppg on 39.9 percent field goal efficiency. Broekhoff has proven to be one of the Horizon League's best players, ranking fourth in scoring (16.1 ppg) and first in rebounding (8.1 rpg), all while draining 37-of-85 attempts from beyond the arc (.435). After missing the first nine games of the season, LaVonte Dority has returned to score 12.4 ppg. Kevin Van Wijk chips in 12.1 ppg and 5.5 rpg, while Kenney (6.4 ppg) and Erik Buss (5.2 rpg) have combined to hand out 6.5 apg.
In a back-and-forth affair that featured 12 ties and 15 lead changes, UIC was able to hang on for the five-point victory over Youngstown State by outshooting the Penguins (.404 to .370) and winning the rebounding battle (42-33). Gary Talton was outstanding in the triumph, scoring 19 points and dishing out six assists. Hayden Humes (15 points), Josh Crittle (14 points), and Daniel Barnes (10 points) were all a factor on the glass in addition to the scoreboard by grabbing seven rebounds apiece. Scoring has come at a premium for the Flames this season, as they convert less than 40 percent of their shot attempts for just 63.8 ppg, but luckily they boast the league's best field goal percentage defense (.382) and second-best scoring defense (57.3 ppg). Talton (12.6 ppg), Barnes (12.5 ppg) and Humes (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) have all been strong shooters, combining for 81 3-pointers, while Crittle (9.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Marc Brown (5.6 ppg) round out a starting five that has played together in all 14 games this season.
Valpo may have one of the most potent shooting attacks in the league, but it faces a tough task going toe-to-toe with UIC's staunch defense. The Flames have been impressive on their home floor, and if they can make a few clutch buckets down the stretch, that trend should continue.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois-Chicago 63, Valparaiso 60
01/09 10:33:44 ET