Notre Dame Basketball: Illinois-Chicago Preview

The Notre Dame basketball team opens the season on November 6th. Here is a preview of their opponent, the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames.

Notre Dame basketball will be tipping off the season one week from today against UIC-Chicago.

The Flames are coached by Steve McClain, who has been with the program since 2015-16. Before McClain’s arrival at the program, they went 57-133 the previous six seasons. In three seasons, he made the Flames a 20-win team.

Last season, UIC went 20-16 (12-6) and finished third in the Horizon League. They averaged 75 points per game on offense and surrendered 72 a game on defense. In the out of conference schedule of last season, they went 0-5 in true road games. They seemed to find themselves in conference play however, going 7-2 on the road.

The Flames played four games in the CIT, eventually falling to Northern Colorado to end their season.

McClain has some work to do this year. He lost the Horizon League’s all time leading shot blocker Tai Odiase, who was also the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference last season. He also lost rising sophomore Dikembe Dixson to professional aspirations. He is currently playing professionally in Lebanon.

The Flames do return a good bit of talent, especially in the back court. Marcus Ottey averaged 13.8 points, 3 rebounds and just under 2 assists per game. Joining Ottey is a trio of talented guards, Tarkus Ferguson (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Dominique Matthews (7.8 ppg 122 career triples) and the Horizon League’s 2017-18 sixth man of the year, Godwin Boahen. Boahen averaged roughly nine points, three rebounds and two assists per game. He is a career 43.4 percent shooter from deep and has made 106 triples in his two seasons at Illinois-Chicago.

The front court is where UIC is susceptible. Jordan Blount has some talent, but he is a bit undersized at the five spot. Clint Robinson is serviceable, but he, Michael Diggins and Jacob Wiley shouldn’t scare the Notre Dame big men.

The Flames also welcome a quartet of JUCO players this season, a couple of them could be difference makers. Jamie Ahale averaged 11.4 points per game last season and is a straight gunner. Last season he made 116 field goals for Mineral Area, 100 of those were triples. Croatian big man Luka Barisic is another new comer from the JUCO ranks. The 6-9 post player averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 rebounds last season at Highland. Isaac Bassey and RJ Howard also come by way of JUCO. Bassey is a 6’11 center, but is not much of a rim protector.

This is a sneaky good match-up to begin the year in my opinion. Notre Dame’s strength is in it’s perimeter play this year. UIC’s strength is also in their guards. The difference? 264-171. The Flame’s guards have played near 100 more games at the NCAA level than Notre Dame’s projected top 4. Obviously, the major concern here is that Prentiss Hubb will be playing his first meaningful basketball in over a year and against guards that have some talent.

All of that said, my prediction is that this game is tight early. I wouldn’t expect the difference to be more than 5-7 at the half. There will be growing pains with the freshmen, especially defensively. In the second half Gibbs and Pflueger start to impose their will a bit. This Notre Dame team has some growing to do, but I think they get it done in the home opener. I expect Ottey to have a big game for Illinois-Chicago and Notre Dame to get the win by 12-15 points.