HLeague 2016-17 Preview the Season: 2. UIC; 1. Valpo

2. UIC Flames

Flames Seek Offensive Consistency with Young, yet Very Talented Team

Although they might not admit it, most college basketball teams have the goal of winning their conference.  Despite finishing dead last in the Horizon League last season, going from worst to first is not a far-fetched idea for the Flames. UIC returns Horizon League Freshman of the Year and All-League Second team selection Dikembe Dixson, along with junior defensive standout Tai Odiase, who led the nation in blocked shots last season.

Image result for tai odiase

Junior forward/center Tai Odiase (#21) is one of the top defensive players in college basketball.

Dixson is an explosive scorer, who carried his team offensively last season. But with more talent around him, expect Dixson’s shot selection and field goal percentage to both improve.  Odiase will form a formidable frontcourt with JUCO transfer Clint Robinson, who averaged 8 rebounds per game last season.  Overall, the Flames have seven new players, and nine of their 14 man roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Expect athletic swingman K.J. Santos and guard Marcus Ottey to have the biggest impact among the newcomers.  Dominique Matthews’ first collegiate season was cut short by injury last year. But expect him to be a starter and major factor in the backcourt. The Flames were one of the better teams defensively last season, leading the league in rebounding and blocked shots. But it was another story offensively, as the Flames were last in the league in field goal shooting (38.8%) and second to last in both points and assists per game. Turnovers also plagued UIC last season. Expect an uptempo style of play for a team that should have a larger rotation. UIC did not win a non-conference game versus a Division 1 opponent last season, and they were also winless on the road. But they also lost a lot of close games, losing six times by five points or less. The Flames have a manageable non-conference slate this season, with their toughest tests coming when they travel to Grand Canyon and DePaul. Expect UIC to be one of the surprise teams not only in the H-League, but in all of college basketball.


Projected H-League Record: 13-5



1. Valparaiso Crusaders

With Some Familiar Faces Gone, Valpo Looks to do What Last Year’s Team Couldn’t

It was a busy and uncertain offseason for the Crusaders. It will be the first season since 1987-88 that their head coach will have a surname other than Drew.  Two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez has graduated, as have Keith Carter and Darien Walker. But the best news Valpo got is that star forward Alec Peters is returning for his senior season, after testing the waters of the NBA Draft. Peters is not only the overwhelming favorite to win Horizon League Player of the Year, he will be one of Image result for valpo basketballthe ten best players in all of college basketball.  Assuming he can stay healthy, look for junior guard Tevonn Walker to have a breakout season and finish the season on an All-League team. Senior Shane Hammink will also have his role increased, especially on the offensive end. Senior Jubril Adekoya will be a main factor for the Crusaders in the low post. But look for 7’2” redshirt freshman Derrik Smits to see some quality minutes in the frontcourt, along with true freshman Jaume Sorolla (6’11”). No other Horizon League team has a two player combo that can match that kind of height.  Don’t expect Lottich to change the game plan all that much, especially with such an experienced and battle-tested team. The Crusaders will continue to be deliberate and disciplined on both ends, while always taking advantage of the mistakes of opponents. Last regular season, Valpo was the clear-cut best team in the H-League. No other team was really even close. But this season, expect UIC, Oakland, Green Bay, and Detroit Mercy to bridge the gap significantly, if not one of them pass the Crusaders. But Peters is good enough to put this team on his back to keep Valpo in first place and head back to the NCAA Tourney.

Projected H-League Record: 14-4

This entry was posted in Illinois-Chicago, Preview the Season, Valparaiso. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to HLeague 2016-17 Preview the Season: 2. UIC; 1. Valpo

  1. Roger Ussery says:

    Welcome the 2016-17 Season! Great write-ups Tim. My general differences base on perusing your rankings would be that UIC and YSU are rated a bit high in my book. Also, I think Northern Kentucky may be a surprise this year settling above .500 in Horizon Play. Since Oakland joined the Horizon, they have been rated high and have performed to expectations with the exception of faltering at last year’s Tourney. I would not be surprised if they stumble a bit this year on what is expected of them. I also think Valpo is being given too much credit, we will see early in the non-conference season how good they really are. Detroit Mercy may well be a sleeper if the excitement factor of Bacari Alexander and if the emphasis on Defense is a reality and not just talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      Hi Roger. Thanks for reading and commenting. The season will be here before we know it! Yeah, I think NKU could be good this year as they are really experienced and balanced. To be honest, I think the league is pretty wide open this year. I mentioned how Valpo was clearly the best team throughout last season. But this season, even though I gave them the edge for 1st, they are definitely not unanimously the best team. I agree with you about the Titans because Coach Alexander really strikes me as someone who will become a great head coach, and I think he will get the best out of his players. It would not surprise me if they finished as a top 3 team this season. UIC will be interesting because, I think the talent is there, but the question will be whether they can put it together. As far as YSU, I have to refer to the column I wrote a few months ago about their “ceiling of mediocrity,” and I don’t see them breaking through it this season.


  2. Doug (Raider Doug) Miller says:

    Tim – I don’t necessarily agree with you and Don Seeko when it comes to Wright State this year, and last night’s win on the road against what looked like a pretty good Southern Illinois U. team may help make my point. Also you may want to rethink where Mark Alstork fits on the list of top players in the league, he led Wright State with 30 in the first game on a foreign court against a team we had never beaten. I wrote this assessment a couple weeks ago about Wright State from what I had gleaned from their site and the Dayton Daily News:
    Biggest issue we will face is size (again). Something Coach Nagy will probably not be able to fix for another year or two. Only 4 bigs, 6-11 RS Sophomore Ernsthausen, 6-9 Freshman Louden Love, 6-8 Senior Steven Davis (who missed the last half of 14-15 and all of 15-16), and 6-7 Freshman Ryan Custer. One guy who would have shouldered some of the rebounding based on last season is 6-5 Mark Alstork, named 2nd Team preseason all Horizon League, he will be running the point for us this year.

    I expect much less in and out substitution under Nagy, more running the court to get shot opportunities, and more effort on the offensive boards. Gone will be the fire and retreat under Donlon, and working the clock down to the last couple seconds before taking a shot. Word on the street is that the team has really embraced the new coaching approach. Without Donlon’s in your face defense and big men jumping picks to challenge above the top of the key maybe we won’t get so many dumb fouls on our big men, and can keep them out of foul trouble more often.

    Because of current roster the strength will probably be the backcourt, Jr. Grant Benzinger, Soph Mark Hughes, Jr. Justin Mitchell are experienced, add in grad transfer Mike LaTulip from Illinois, and soph Alan Vest along with 6-6 freshman Everett Winchester. I am probably forgetting someone, we do have experience and skill coming back.

    Gone are 6-10 Michael Karena and two guys that I will really miss, J.T. Yoho and Joe Thomasson. Yoho was there forever, Thomasson only two years but he could do almost anything and threw his body around without fear. To me the worst thing about how the coaching change went down is that they did not get a chance to play in the CBI tournament, which the team deserved based on how they played last season.

    Anxious to get started.

    Well, they did start, Alstork is no longer the point and scored inside, outside, rebounded, etc. Steven Davis, in his first real game since December 2014 scored 26 and hit a clutch 3 with about a minute to go derail SIU’s furious comeback. It was a shorter rotation, we out rebounded a bigger, shot blocking team by 16 with a host of offensive rebounds. OK, too early to get excited but I am hopeful, hoping to surprise you and Don Seeko this season.

    Raider Doug

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the comment Doug and excellent analysis. Steven Davis is a player I don’t remember seeing since he was injured, so it looks like he will have a big impact. I think their lack of frontcourt size and depth will be difficult to overcome, but I agree that they can be very competitive in the league and finish in the upper half. I had Alstork ranked at #7, and I could see the argument if someone had him as high as 4 or 5. It will be a great season across the league. Looking forward to seeing how more of these teams look in the non-conference schedule.


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