The wait is almost over! After months of following recruiting news and watching for schedule releases, our hunger for college basketball will be satisfied. Since we are so close to the start of the season, now seems like as good of time as any to dig into the non-conference schedule.
Are the Tigers for real?
The Flames are going to hit the ground running. After a tune-up game against Olivet Nazarene University they hit the road against Memphis. The Memphis Tigers come in ranked 14th in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 and loaded with expectations. Head coach Penny Hardaway put together a recruiting class that will remind Memphis fans of the John Calipari days. The current recruiting class is headlined by 5 star recruits; James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. This will be an extremely tough early season match up, but one that could be closer than expected. The Flames are a super talented and experienced squad that could give an inexperienced Memphis squad some trouble.
See It To Believe It
If UIC is going to prove they are a legitimate contender, they will need to prove it against the tough but beatable non conference teams. Lets take a look at their stretch of games from November 13th to December 7th.
Nov. 13th: Ball State (Home)
Nov. 16th: Bradley (Away)
Nov. 21st: Robert Morris (Home)
Nov. 23rd: Mercer (Home)
Nov. 26th: Canisius (Home)
Dec. 1st: Florida Atlantic (Away)
Dec. 7th: Purdue Fort Wayne (Home)
The expectation should be to win at least 6 out of those seven games as Kenpom ranks the Flames ahead of all seven teams. The one game in that stretch that looks the most challenging would be the away game against Bradley. Outside of that one game, they are playing mediocre teams and the majority of the games are at home. This is the stretch of the season that will indicate if this is a Horizon League Contender or Pretender. An extra loss or two during this relatively easy stretch will greatly dampen expectations.
After a fairly easy stretch of games through November and early December comes the tough part. It all starts with the yearly game against city rival DePaul. In a way, DePaul is the UIC of the Big East. They continually are underachievers in their conference despite having some solid talent. That being said, DePaul took a step forward last season. While they lost several of their top scorers they still have a rising star in Paul Reed and incoming freshman Romeo Weems could be dynamic. UIC will need to reach their full potential in order to make this a good game.
The Flames wrap up their non conference schedule with two solid Mid-Major programs in Illinois State and UC Irvine. While both teams have had past success, neither will be at the elite levels they have been in years past. Illinois State looks to be a back of the pack Missouri Valley team but should still be a tough opponent on the road.
UC Irvine was an elite program last season, finishing with a 31-6 record, earning a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and pulling off a first round upset against Kansas State. While they lose some key players, they are still one of the favorites to win the Big West Conference. This should be one heck of an end to the non conference schedule.
There are certainly some winnable big games on the schedule. The key of course is how good is this UIC team? If they live up to their potential they could certainly pull off a win against teams like DePaul, UC Irvine and Bradley. I am still going to hedge my bets on this team. Below I have included my pessimistic (realistic) prediction and my optimistic prediction. I will be watching those seven early games to really get a gauge on this team. If there are a couple of slip ups in the stretch I will be concerned.
Optimistic Prediction: 10-2 (Lose to Memphis and DePaul)
Pessimistic Prediction: 7-5 (Lose to Memphis, Ball State, Bradley, DePaul and UC Irvine)