UIC Flames 2020-21 Season Preview

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Yaklich reloads in his first season on the job

UIC has new leadership at the helm in Luke Yaklich, which could further improve a strong defensive unit. Just how successful of a season the Flames have will depend on the continued improvement of Michael Diggins and Braelen Bridges and the integration of numerous newcomers that it hopes will help overcome the graduation of Tarkus Ferguson, Marcus Ottey, Godwin Boahen and Jordan Blount.

The former Illinois high school coach relied heavily on the transfer market in his inaugural class for replacements to a roster that was decimated by graduation among its guards. Illinois-natives Maurice Commander, Zion Griffin, and Teyvion Kirk return home to inject much needed athleticism and talent.

Newcomers

Maurice Commander – Commander entered college as a 3-star recruit and was a solid guard for the Chattanooga Mocs before transferring to UIC. Commander averaged

Zion Griffin – Griffin is a former consensus 4-star recruit that dealt with injuries and scarce playing time at Iowa State and is better suited as a combo forward in the Horizon League.

Teyvion Kirk – Kirk is now at his third school in three years after starting his career at Ohio and sitting out last season at Colorado State. Nonetheless, he was a productive player with the Bobcats in his first two seasons and could serve as a versatile player that can play on or off the ball.

RayQuawndis Mitchell – Mitchell could prove to be the jewel of the recruiting class, he thrived as a sophomore at Otero Junior College. Mitchell was a high volume, efficient floor spacer, drilling 83 three’s in 32 games at 41% in 2019-2020. Mitchell will play on and off the ball and stretch defenses with his shooting, opening driving lanes for others.

Demetrius Calip II – The son of the former Los Angeles Laker by the same name, Calip II is a very impressive first scholarship freshman for Luke Yaklich. The 6-foot-4 guard was a composite 3-star recruit out of Taft High School in California, averaging 16.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a senior. With 10 juniors and seniors, playing time might be difficult to find out of the gate, but Calip could be a significant impact player for UIC in the long run.

Lineup

Maurice Commander – Commander should take over the point guard position with great experience on his resume from Chattanooga in one of the better low-major conferences in the Southern Conference.

RayQuawndis Mitchell – Mitchell was an outstanding player at the Junior College level last year. He led Otero Junior College DASH which featured another Horizon League recruit in IUPUI forward Jonah Carrasco DASH in scoring with 15.6 points per game. He also passed well to the tune of 3.6 assists per game.

Michael Diggins – Diggins has flashed impressive potential since arriving to UIC averaging 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game after becoming a starter last season. He was a solid, albeit a streaky double-digit scorer. His combination of athleticism, length and skill is tantalizing but UIC needs him to be more consistent across the board as a senior.

Zion Griffin – Griffin originally committed to Iowa State as the number 125 recruit in the nation. His freshman year was derailed by injuries DASH he suffered a torn MCL before the season and injured his foot mid-season DASH and he averaged 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. As a sophomore he played in 30 games. His 3.0 points and 1.9 rebounds per game might not stand out, but if Griffin can stay healthy they indicate the 6-foot-6 forward to translate into a solid performer in the Horizon League

Braelen Bridges – Bridges is an accomplished low-post threat offensively who could benefit from more opportunities with a new coaching staff and more shots available. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 8.4 points per game and 4.9 rebounds as a sophomore.

Outlook

UIC begins a new era under the guidance of rookie head coach Luke Yaklich, lauded for his defensive acumen as an assistant coach at Illinois State, Michigan and Texas. Yaklich takes over a team that already performed well defensively. The Flames had the best defense among Horizon League teams per kenpom.com, with an adjusted defensive efficiency of 99.5. That figure improved to 95.9 during conference play, which should excite Yaklich.

The addition of a number of athletic players with good size and high acclaim prior to their UIC careers should give Yaklich a number of options to further the team’s defensive success. While the loss of several standout players won’t be easy to overcome, it seems like Yaklich put together a roster capable of accomplishing just that in his first year as a Division I Head Coach.

Prediction: 5th Place

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Predictions
HoriZone Roundtable Preseason PollPreseason All-League Teams
If we had an All-Newcomer Team…All-Freshman Team Picks

Team Previews
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