Starting in the 2000-2001 season, UIC was a fixture in the tournament. If a team were to win the championship, going through the Flames was something that may have needed to occur.
From 2000-2009, the Flames were 13-7 in the league tournament. They won 65 percent of their games. They won championships in the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 seasons. Also during that timespan, UIC only suffered one first-round exit.
Since 2009-2010, the Flames are 1-5 in Horizon League Tournament games with four first-round exits. Their lone win was against Cleveland State in the 2012-2013 season. The common denominator is that was the team’s only winning season during this period.
It’s been a frustrating season for the Flames, as they finished the 2014-2015 campaign 8-23 after defeating the rival Wright State Raiders on Saturday afternoon in their season finale home game. It was their first season-finale home win since the 2008-2009 season. That’s a two-win improvement from last year, but by and large, likely not enough of one to the liking of coach Howard Moore.
Unfortunately for Moore, the struggles have occurred under his watch. But just like any coach, he is optimistic heading into the tournament; noting there’s something his team has in their favor.
“Well, you know, we got a home game. I think once you get a home game, it makes things go in your favor a lot more, “ Moore said. “So we just got to bring that defense that we had tonight, package that and bring it on Tuesday.”
There’s reason for optimism as the Flames lone win in the tournament since 2009-2010 has come at home.
Senior Marc Brown seconds that notion, after his game-high 18-point performance Saturday.
“It feels good (having home court),” Brown said. “It was an up and down season, all the injuries and everything. It feels really good for me for this to not actually be my last game.”
After their win against the Raiders, the Flames awaited word for who their first-round matchup would be, which turns out will be against Wright State for a second time in a matter of days.
More of a reason the Flames could avoid another first-round exit?
The Flames have swept the Raiders this season, which accounted for 25 percent of their wins, if that means anything.
But Moore believes the matchup doesn’t matter as long as they bring the same intensity on defense from Saturday. UIC’s defense held Wright State to 46 points, which is the lowest point total the Flames have held a Horizon league opponent to since 2003. They also forced their opponent to shoot just 37.7 percent with 15 turnovers.
So essentially Moore already has a game plan that would allow UIC to advance past round one.
Another key stat is free throws, which the Flames had an advantage on attempts 27-5.
Brown noted post game that his coach said keep attacking, and draw fouls. That’s not a bad strategy. Being the aggressor typically means a good day on the court.
Pundits, players and coach often have different viewpoints on whether or not momentum plays a huge role in success.
While Wright State has had a down year, this team was runner-up in last season’s tournament. Perhaps this is an added confidence booster for the Flames.
There are times in sports where a team has another team’s number. That appears to be the case for UIC with their first-round matchup, as far as this season goes. And it just might be the ultimate opportunity for the Flames to avoid, at least, a fifth first-round exit in six years.