Out of all of the college basketball teams in the Chicago area, the UIC Flames were the only team expected to have some success this season. After finishing last season with a 18-16 record, and advancing to the second round of the College Insider Tournament, everyone believed that the Flames were primed for even bigger success in 2014.
The expectations were especially high after the additions of two transfer players. Guard Kelsey Barlow (Purdue) and forward Jordan Harks (Central Arkansas) came to University Village for their senior years and were expected to boost the talent pool. The graduation of guards Gary Talton and Daniel Barnes along with forward Anthony Kelley and center Josh Crittle left an offensive void that needed to be filled.
The hope was that by adding Barlow and Harks with other core players such as forwards Will Simonton, Hayden Humes and Jake Wiegand, the Flames would have enough to contend for the Horizon League title. Unfortunately the wheels starting falling off of the wagon as soon as the season started. It began with a preseason injury to Simonton which took him out for the first few games and forced head coach Howard Moore to change his lineup and strategy.
Because of the injury, Simonton only played in 21 games, started only a handful of those, and only played an average of eight minutes per contest. He finished the season averaging 1.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. The injury derailed his season and in the grand scheme of things it effected the team as whole.
The Flames got off to a rough start by losing three of their first four, including a 20-point loss to Eastern Illinois and an embarrassing 35-point defeat at the hands of Northwestern. After the NU loss, the Flames complied a 4-3 record -including a third place finish at the Gulf Coast Showcase– before embarking on a historical 17-game losing streak (they lost their first 14 Horizon League games).
There were a variety of reasons for this humiliating streak. If they weren’t blow out losses, they were close losses. As for those close losses; if it wasn’t because of a lack of offense, it was because of poor defense. As for the offensive woes….. In most cases Illinois-Chicago would start the game firing on all cylinders but would then cool off in the second half.
Or they would find themselves trailing, then they would get in a groove to either tie the game or cut the lead to three points or less. From there they were unable to make the big shots to take the lead and control the game. Or there were times during random parts of games where they would start missing one shot after another and could never recover.
On the defensive side, the biggest problem was not being able to hang onto leads. There were many instances were the Flames would either lead at halftime or lead late in games, only for the defense to find ways to blow those leads and lose those games. Then there were the losses against Oakland (the second meeting on January 25th) , California-Irvine and Youngstown State (the second meeting on February 15th) in which UIC fell victim to last-second buzzer beater shots.
The end result was a 6-25 record (1-15 Horizon League), a far cry from the 2013 squad. While the injury to Simonton played a major role in the program’s demise, there were other factors as well. For starters, the Flames were never able to replace the consistency that they got from the aforementioned Barnes, Talton, Crittle and Kelley.
The other problem was that Kelsey Barlow (14.8 points per game) and guard Marc Brown (11.3 PPG) were the only Flames players to average in double figures this season .They just couldn’t get enough scoring when it counted the most. Barlow was also the teams leading rebounder (5.0 RPG). Your starting shooting guard should not be your team’s best rebounder. The Flames front court was extremely disappointing this year.
Collectively, Simonton, Humes, Harks, Weigand, Ahman Fells, and Hans-Christian Lauer only combined for 783 of the teams 2,071 total points this year. They also only managed to grab 523 of 1,054 total rebounds. The Flames backcourt can only do so much by themselves. Barring any transfers or any other changes, everyone on the roster is set to return except for Barlow, Harks and Humes. Those three will be graduating.
Barlow has a future in the NBA. As for Harks and Humes, I think they can land a spot in the NBA’s Developmental League. But for the rest of the team, combined with next year’s new recruits, the plan is simple…… Re-establish the teams identity, improve on defense, get more physical in the paint, find more scoring and consistency on offense and find a way to win the tough games.
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