UIC's Postseason Hopes Are Fading Fast

The month of February has not been kind to the men’s basketball team at Illinois-Chicago. They are just 1-4 this month, and lost a heart breaker on the road against Wisconsin-Milwaukee last night.

They are now 15-12 {6-8 Horizon League} this season, and it looks like an at-large NCAA Tournament bid is out of reach. At this point, they are even a bubble team for the National Invitational Tournament.

After going 4-3 in December, and 5-4 in January, it looked like the Flames would be the best postseason prospect out of all of the Chicago area teams.

As we inch closer to March the Flames are slowly starting to extinguish. Their only victory of the month was against a sluggish Youngstown State team.

The Flames had already beaten the Penguins back in December. Their encounter back on February 10th was a much more difficult task.

It took three overtimes for UIC to finally put them away and they walked out of Ohio with a narrow 88-83 victory. The rest of the month involved a loss to Horizon League leader Valparaiso, last night’s loss to UW-Milwaukee, a surprising loss at Loyola, and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Cleveland State.

Valparaiso has owned the UIC Flames over the last couple of seasons. They are once again the power house in the Horizon League. So losing to them was no surprise.

The losses to Loyola and Milwaukee however were a shock to everyone. The Panthers of UW-Milwaukee have seen great struggles over the last few years. The Flames had the size and talent advantage, UWM shouldn’t have been able to run the court with them.

Unfortunately they did and the Flames have suffered their worst loss of the season as a result. Against Loyola last weekend the Flames had all of the momentum on their side.

They beat the Ramblers at home earlier in the year, and the boys from Rogers Park were without their two best players. Forward Ben Averkamp and guard Cully Payne have been on the injured list for almost two weeks now.

Without them Gary Talton should have had a field day, while Josh Crittle, Hayden Humes, and Will Simonton should have imposed their will in the paint.

Loyola managed to counter UIC’s size advantage with their speed, quickness, and perimeter shooting. They got Josh Crittle into foul trouble early, and wore down Humes and Simonton.

This forced Howard Moore to use foward/center Jake Wiegand, an inexperienced freshman. Despite the absence of Cully Payne, Devon Turk, Jeff White, and Joe Crisman all stepped up and kept Gary Talton and Daniel Barnes under wraps.

Against Cleveland State the Flames missed shots early in the game. They were also out rebounded, committed one turnover after another, and got into foul trouble.

The UIC nation is wondering why their beloved basketball team has struggled this month. One reason could be the fact that they have not played a home game since the loss to Cleveland State on February 2nd.

Even though the Loyola game was only 25 minutes from their campus, the Gentile Center can be a hostile environment. Another reason is the fact that they have not gotten much production from their big men outside of Humes and Crittle.

Wiegand and Simonton have only managed to combine for 26 total points and 11-23 shooting from the field during this stretch.

They have been heavily relied on this month because Crittle and Humes have spent a lot of time on the bench because of constant foul trouble.

But the biggest reason has been missed shots, turnovers, and the inability to dominate on the boards. The outlook is bleak at the moment, but perhaps some home cooking is what UIC needs to bounce back.

They only have three games left in the season but they are all at the UIC Pavilion on the Near West Side. On Saturday, a lackluster Bradley team comes calling for Bracket Busters week.

On the 26th, Wright State pays a visit to the Pavilion, the Flames already own a victory over them. Then they finish the regular season on March 2nd against Detroit, a team who only trails Valpo by two games for first place in the Horizon League.

The games against Bradley and Wright State are very winnable if the Flames can stay out of foul trouble, hit their shots, limit mistakes, and pound those rebounds.

The Detroit game is the only challenge I see down the road for UIC. If the Flames can win two out of three, and maybe win a couple games in the Horizon League Tournament, they can work themselves back into the NIT and perhaps be an NCAA bubble team.

If they can finish the season with 20 wins they can make a strong case for being in the NCAA Tournament. It would be a miracle if they can win the Horizon League Tournament, but at this point that task to great to ask of the UIC Flames.







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