After 21 seasons in the Horizon League, UIC moves to the Missouri Valley Conference this season. With the departure of Loyola Chicago to the Atlantic 10, UIC takes their spot as the Chicago-based team in The Valley. The move will be a step up in competition and can hopefully push UIC to take another step forward building the program.
Luke Yaklich enters his 3rd season as head coach of the Flames. The Flames have been just 23-29 since he started, but it will always take time to establish a program. Yaklich was a highly touted coach when he was hired at UIC after his years serving as basically defensive coordinator for Michigan under John Beilein. The offense improved last year and if the defense can follow, UIC could be a program you hear more about going forward.
Losses: Damaria Franklin, Kevin Johnson, Zion Griffin, Jalen Warren, Michael Diggins, Jamie Ahale
Additions: Shaun Williams (Cal State Bakersfield), Tre Anderson (Idaho), Toby Okani (Duquesne)
The transfer of Damaria Franklin to Memphis hurts this lineup big-time. He was the go-to-guy for this team last year and 3rd Team All-Horizon League honoree. Jace Carter returns from a Horizon all-freshman team season. He’s the best shooter on this team and can become a more complete scorer this season.
Transfers Tre Anderson and Shaun Williams will immediately start in the backcourt and will provide scoring. Filip Skobalj, Toby Okani and Griffin Yaklich will all get minutes in a wing role. Skobalj is coming off a strong shooting freshman season, his 36.3% (41-113) was second on the team only to Jace Carter.
Jaden Brownell is known as a pick-and-pop 5 man with the ability to knock down threes consistently. According to Yaklich, Brownell has added 27 pounds of muscle this offseason as well.
Yaklich loves the 5-out sets with playmaking guards. Everyone on the floor will have the ability to shoot. He wants to give his guards as much space as possible to create and make plays. Having a 5-man like Brownell is essential to that type of offense. He’ll force the defense to come out and guard him, which will in turn create that spacing Yaklich wants. Tempo-wise, the Flames do like to push the ball in transition. They ranked 67th in the country in adjusted tempo (KemPom) last year. That would’ve led all teams in The Valley so we’ll have to see how the tempo compares in the new conference this year.
The defense has been the weakness of UIC is recent seasons. They ranked 303rd in defensive efficiency last year. Yaklich is known as a good defensive coach, so don’t think that’s not an emphasis. His philosophy focuses on taking away threes, but where the Flames got burned last year was close to the basket. The interior defense has been a struggle, especially with the 4-guard lineups that played a lot of last season.
UIC first big test comes on November 11th when they host Loyola Chicago. They’ll take on another A-10 school in Fordham in New York on November 19th. The only high-major opponent on the schedule is Northwestern on December 20th. They do host a Jacksonville State team on November 14th that made the NCAA Tournament last season as a 15-seed. For a young team with a lot of newcomers, there should be some wins on the schedule early before they run into the Missouri Valley gauntlet. Drake will be the heavy favorite to represent The Valley come March. UIC visits Drake December 3rd and hosts them on January 10th.