Record: 9-7 (5-3 home)
Conference: Horizon (2-4)
RPI: No. 156 (vs. Butler #6)
Sagarin’s: No. 119 (vs. Butler #15)
Best Wins: @Vanderbilt (W 74-55), @Georgia Tech (W 66-60)
Notable Losses: @Youngstown State (L 80-70), UW-Green Bay (L 66-61)
Notes: Is UIC back on track? After going 8-3 with victories over two BCS schools, the Flames went dead cold, losing four straight to conference opponents. Last night's 77-52 victory against Valparaiso built up some much-needed confidence for this team for what is their biggest game of the year on national television. UIC is led by two of the top performers in the HL. Deadly-shooting Josh Mayo leads the Horizon in points and 3-point shots made, while seven-footer Scott Vandermeer leads the League in both rebounds and blocks. As the highest scoring team in the Horizon at 70.3 PPG, the Flames will look to Mayo, Vandermeer and sharpshooter Robo Kreps to outscore Butler’s Big Three.
Scoring Margin: +5.1 (4th in Horizon)
Rebounding margin: +2.9 (2nd)
Turnover ratio: +2.2 (4th)
3-Point %: 33.6 (4th)
FT%: 76.6 (2nd)
UIC PG Stewart, Spencer 6’4 185lbs JR
PPG: 5.9, RPG: 3.4, APG: 4.6
Butler PG Nored, Ronald 6’0 170lbs FR
PPG: 3.8, RPG: 2.8, APG: 2.6
Stewart is the glue guy for this team. He does the little things to make the team better, all while shooting well from deep (35% from three) and at the free throw line (94%). While he is the point guard on offense, he will most likely draw a different defensive assignment due to his size. Stewart struggles to hold on to the ball, averaging three turnovers a game. Nored is coming off another scoreless outing, although his six assists were one shy of a career record.
UIC SG Mayo, Josh 5’11 175lbs SR
PPG: 18.1, RPG: 2.8, APG: 3.7
Butler SG Mack, Shelvin 6’3 185lbs FR
PPG: 12.8, RPG: 3.5, APG: 3.4
This is an intriguing matchup of the current top shooting guard in the Horizon against the likely future top shooting guard. While I expect Willie Veasley to guard Mayo for most of the game, the battle between Mack and Mayo is the biggest of the game. A top 50 finalist for the Naismith Award, Mayo has been lights out this year, averaging three 3-pointers made per game and shooting them at a 41% clip. Recently, teams have tried to key on shutting him down more, in which he has responded by dishing out at least 5 assists in 4 of the last 5 games. Meanwhile Mack is coming off a 20-point performance in which he shot 7-13 from the field and looked virtually unstoppable.
UIC G Kreps, Robo 6’0 185lbs SO
PPG: 10.2, RPG: 3.3, APG: 1.9
Butler G Hayward, Gordon 6’8 180lbs FR
PPG: 12.3, RPG: 6.6, APG: 1.9
Kreps dropped 23 points on Valparaiso last night--a far cry from the last 8 games in which he registered double figures only once. As a streaky shooter, the Flames are hoping last night's game instilled confidence back into the Krep's jump shot. Hayward got back to doing what he does best against Loyola, quietly filling up the stat sheet with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He needs to continue to look more for his shot, as he is averaging only 7 shots per game over the past 7 games.
UIC F Boyd, Tori 6’5 215lbs SO
PPG: 9.6, RPG: 3.9, APG: 1.0
Butler F Veasley, Willie 6’3 190lbs JR
PPG: 8.5, RPG: 4.3, APG: 1.4
Boyd had 14 against Valparaiso, his third straight double figure game. He is an undersized athletic forward and, very similar to Veasley, his game is best around the basket. Expect Hayward to slide over and guard Boyd, while Veasley gets the assignment on Mayo. Veasley turned in his best defensive performance of the year against Loyola, holding J.R. Blount (16 PPG) to zero field goals and 2 points. The shots continue to fall as well for Willie. He had 8 points to go with 7 rebounds on Thursday night.
UIC C Vandermeer, Scott 7’0 255lbs SR
PPG: 12.3, RPG: 9.0, APG: 1.3
Butler C Howard, Matt 6’8 220lbs SO
PPG: 14.3, RPG: 6.8, APG: 1.1
Vandermeer is the Horizon League’s all-time leader in blocked shots and averages just under three per game this year. His size will cause trouble for any inside penetration, meaning the Bulldogs will have to hit their 3-pointers to put points on this team. Vandermeer does a great job staying out of serious foul trouble, only fouling out of one game and averaging 31 minutes each game. Howard has been amazing lately, punishing opponents with his power and averaging over 9 free throw attempts per game. If Howard can avoid drawing fouls, his achilles heel, he should have a slight advantage with his quickness and ability to get to the free throw line.
Advantage: Butler (very slightly)
F Buttell, Jeremy 6-7 235 JR PPG: 4.1, RPG: 3.9, APG: 0.5
F Eppinger, Rob 6'8 240lbs JR PPG: 4.7, RPG: 3.9, APG: 0.5
F Poston, Jelani 6’7 220lbs FR PPG: 3.3, RPG: 2.2, APG: 0.6
G Hahn, Zach 6’0 170lbs SO PPG: 5.3, RPG: 1.9, APG: 1.1
F Jukes, Avery 6’8 215lbs JR PPG: 4.6, RPG: 2.1, APG: 0.4
G Vanzant, Shawn 6’1 175lbs SO PPG: 3.2, RPG: 2.0, APG: 1.2
UIC brings size off the bench with its top three reserves 6’7 or above. Eppinger and Buttell are the only ones who more than 10 minutes per game, although Poston had his breakout game last weekend vs. Cleveland State with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Expect him to see more minutes than his 6.8 per game average. For Butler, Jukes had another solid performance and made Sportscenter with his electrifying dunk last night. Hahn and Vanzant continue to play solid, although there are turnover concerns abound when they handle the ball too much.
Two years ago a struggling UIC team knocked off 14-1 Butler at the UIC Pavilion behind 19 points from Josh Mayo. Can they do it again? If Butler struggles like it did last week on a 48-hour turnaround, they will be very hard pressed to win. As a Butler fan, this is one of the most concerning games on the schedule along with trips to Green Bay and Milwaukee and the Bracketbuster. Nevertheless, I’m going to give the Bulldogs the nod based upon their defensive superiority.
Prediction: Butler 72, UIC 70.
What are your thoughts? Will Butler continue their hot shooting and pull this one out? If Butler loses, do they still deserve a Top 25 ranking?