Category Archives: Game Previews

Florida Preview — 12-06-2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 7:00 p.m.
Exactech Arena, Gainesville, Fla.

With a good mix of experience and talented newcomers, the Florida Gators had a lofty #8 ranking in the 2017-18 AP Preseason Poll on Nov. 1. The preseason poll in the SEC picked Florida just behind favorite Kentucky in what is expected to be an uptick in the league’s competitiveness. After powering their way to a 5-1 record against good competition (their only loss was by three points to #1 Duke) and averaging 99.5 points per game (highest in college basketball) in their first six contests, Coach Mike White’s crew entered the week and their Monday night matchup with rival Florida State ranked #5 in the country.

Facing a short bench due to illness and injury, and coming off a long layoff after the PK80 tournament in Portland, the Gators couldn’t find their rhythm or their shots from distance against a disruptive Florida State defense, and lost 83-66. That’s no misprint—after averaging 99.5 points per game, they scored only 66 at home, to their biggest instate rival. FSU used swarming help defense to force long twos, forced 17 Gator turnovers, and crashed the glass for 23 offensive rebounds. The Seminoles are a team with a lot of length and quick hands, which seemed to disrupt Florida’s rhythm and force bad passes, bad shots, and turnovers. And despite Florida averaging 46% on their three-point shots coming into the game, the Seminoles held them to only 6-for-25 on threes (24%).

Florida’s likely starters are guards Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, and Chris Chiozza, plus forward/center Kevarrius Hayes. Playing his first season with the Gators, Hudson is a 6’6” junior guard who transferred from Virginia Tech, and leads the team in scoring with 20.9 points. He pulls in 4.4 rebounds per game and shoots great from behind the arc at 46.7%. He’s fast, athletic, and takes care of the ball well. Another newcomer in the backcourt is Egor Koulechov, a 6’5” graduate transfer from Rice. Koulechov is a great three point and free throw shooter, holding top 10 career rankings in both those stats at Rice. So far in Gator country he’s putting up numbers even better than in Texas, averaging 16.7 points per game on 42.5% three-point shooting. Although he’s better at shooting threes than shooting twos, Koulechov is not simply a three-point specialist—he contributes 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 assist per game, and has hit all but one of his 23 free throw attempts.

The other two guards are both 4-star recruits from the Billy Donovan era who have started nearly every games since they were freshmen. Chris Chiozza is a 6’0” playmaker very reminiscent of Fred Van Vleet. Quick, quirky, and seemingly everywhere on the floor, Chiozza is averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 assists per game in the early going. He doesn’t take a lot of threes, but when he takes them he makes them at a 55.6% rate. Florida State shut down Chiozza with only three points, four assists and four turnovers, and zero made field goals on five attempts—in 34 minutes. Junior KeVaughn Allen is a key defender and adds 13.7 points per game, but he is the only Gator who shoots below 40% from the field on both threes and twos. Allen picks up 3.4 rebounds per game, and like Koulechov, he shoots over 90% from the line.

Kevarrius Hayes is a 6’9” junior forward/center who starts about half the games for the Gators, switching off or pairing up with 6’8” forward Keith Stone depending on the matchup. Hayes averages 4.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.85 blocks per game. Stone averages 5.7 points and only 2.3 rebounds; he likes to play a bit further away from the basket and should be considered a dangerous threat from three.

Florida’s bench is surprisingly short for a legitimate Final Four contender. Besides the likelihood of Stone coming off the bench, only 6’8” four-star freshman shooting guard Deaundrae Ballard (8.3 points, 3.1 rebounds) 6’3” four-star freshman guard Mike Okauru (5.3 points per game), and 6’11” sophomore center Gorjok Gak (7’4” wingspan) have seen time in every game.

Wednesday night’s matchup in Gainesville will be the first meeting in history between the Ramblers and the Florida Gators. The Gators are one of four teams Loyola has never faced in the SEC; Alabama, Auburn, and Tennessee are the others. It’s also their last of only two non-con games against a top 100 foe. The Ramblers had perhaps their best game of the year and received significant contributions from newcomers Adarius Avery, Lucas Williamson, and Cameron Krutwig in their win against UIC on Saturday. Defensively, Loyola looked much improved over the first week of the season, and the team looked rejuvenated from a long road trip and searing loss at Boise State. But to beat Florida, on their own floor, immediately following their fourth straight loss to their in-state rival, is going to take another higher level of defense and some fortunate bounces.

Having watched parts of three Florida games this year, one gets the impression sometimes that the Gators like to take it easy. They’re all ultra-talented, but the mental toughness, killer instinct, willingness to work extra hard for every ball, willingness to sacrifice for the team, diving to the floor for a loose ball, etc. is something that has yet to emerge on a consistent basis. A couple of weeks ago, the Gators prevailed in a lackluster 70-63 home win against New Hampshire where they had only three assists and shot 3-of-18 from three. Their three-point loss to Duke came after Florida led by 17 points in that game with ten minutes to play, and led by 10 with 4:15 left. And then there was Monday’s return to lacklusterdom against a hard-working, pressing rival with a nuisance defense.

It almost seems like if it’s going to be a big hassle for these guys, they’re not really into it. It’s somewhat telling when the game story of Florida’s loss has the headline “Gators Get Roughed Up by Seminoles, Must Toughen Up”– and that’s on Florida’s own official website.

Loyola game notes:

Florida game notes:

TV/Streaming video: SEC Network /

Radio/Audio: Sirius 135 / XM 191

Vegas odds: Florida by 15.5

UIC Preview — 12-02-2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017 3:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

Before the start of the season the UIC Flames were considered a likely team to challenge for the Horizon League title. As the Horizon League has seen Butler, Loyola and Valpo exit over the past six years (replaced by Oakland, Northern Kentucky, and IUPUI), it would figure a program like UIC would rise to the top in short order. Considering their history of success in the league, location, resources, academics, and other attributes, how could they not be expected to thrive?

The Flames were picked to finish third in the Horizon League 2017-18 Preseason poll, behind Oakland and Northern Kentucky, in Steve McClain’s third season at UIC. So far, they’ve notched wins over North Carolina Central and a 40-point beatdown of Delaware State. Losing at home in overtime to St. Joseph’s and on the road by 34 at Kentucky is understandable. But they’ve lost at home to IPFW by 16 points and on the road at Troy by 21 points. That’s not the kind of performance that was expected after a CBI berth in 2016-17 (with wins over Stony Brook and George Washington) and a contract extension for McClain.

UIC spent a lot of money last season on the CBI, even though they had a 13-18 record against D1 teams going into it. With the core of their young talent entering their third season playing together, and their non-con schedule arranged to have seven home games (plus two exhibitions) against beatable teams, I think most fans would say their 2-4 record thus far has been a major disappointment. Blowing a 4-point lead at home against St. Joseph’s with possession of the ball and :54 left in regulation has set the tone for the early season on Harrison St.

The Flames have a starting lineup of forwards Dikembe Dixson and Jordan Blount, center Tai Odiase, and guards Tarkus Ferguson and (probably) Dominique Matthews. Dixson is the offensive star of the team, named to the Horizon League Preseason first team and the consensus HL Freshman of the Year two years ago when he averaged 19.8 points per game. The 6’7” sophomore forward got a medical redshirt last year after playing in only 10 games, and is averaging a team-leading 12.2 points per game this year. Dixson is only shooting 37% from the field and 31.8% from three, far below his early season effectiveness before his injury last year. His rebounds are also well below his numbers last year or as a freshman. Jordan Blount, a 6’8” sophomore forward out of Ireland, joins Dixson in the frontcourt and adds 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest.

Tai Odiase is entering his senior season as the reigning Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year and an HL Preseason Second Team member. The 6’9” center/forward averages 9.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. Last season he averaged 3.2 blocks, so he could still be warming up.

Six-four sophomore guard Tarkus Ferguson does most of the ball handling and averages 7.5 points and 2.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Dominique Matthews, a 6’2” sophomore guard from St. Rita, averages 8.7 points per game and does most of the three-point shooting despite hitting only 29.4% of them in the early going. Three pointers have been a problem for the Flames on the young season. UIC’s three-point field goal percentage as a team in only 29.8%, and their opponents are shooting 35.5% against them.

The Flames have some good depth off the bench, with 6’2” sophomore guard Marcus Ottey (10.8 points per game) and 5’11” sophomore guard Godwin Boahen (10.3 points per game). Both of them shoot 43% from the field and over 70% from the line. Boahen leads the team in steals, ranks second in assists, and collects 3.7 rebounds despite being the shortest player on their roster. Forwards Clint Robinson (6’8” senior averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 boards) and Michael Diggins (6’8” freshman) also play double-digit minutes from the bench.

Last year against the Flames at the Pavilion, the Ramblers built a big early lead and let the Flames chip away until UIC had a lead in the final five minutes. Donte Ingram hit a last second three to move the game to OT, and the Ramblers controlled for their fifth straight win to go to 10-2. It was the game just a couple days after the Flames lost Dixson for the season in their win at DePaul, so the Flames were riding an emotional roller-coaster.

Loyola is coming off their first loss of the year, in beatdown style, at the hands of Boise State. There was no phase of the game where the Ramblers looked comfortable, capable or self-assured. The only bright spots were perhaps gaining an understanding of some of the gaps that remain between where Loyola is now and being a tournament quality team, the play of Aundre Jackson, and some of the bench players getting some significant minutes against tough competition. Lucas Williamson played well. Donte Ingram got his 500th career rebound. Christian Negron played 14 minutes and had some good moments. Nick DiNardi had one of Loyola’s three offensive rebounds in the game. But other than that, it was bleak. With a trip to Gainesville set for Wednesday, the Ramblers need a win against UIC, preferably a big win that will clean the palate and reset attitudes.

Loyola game notes:

UIC game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video: NBC Sports Chicago

UIC streaming audio:

Live stats:

Vegas odds: Pending

Boise State Preview — 11/28/2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 8:00 p.m.
Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho

Boise State has flourished in men’s basketball since Leon Rice was named coach in 2010. The Broncos have had six 20-win seasons in the seven full seasons with Rice at the helm, including two NCAA appearances, reaching the NIT last year, and the NIT semifinals in his first season. This year the Broncos were picked to finish third in the Mountain West, in large part thanks to the MWC Preseason Player of the Year, 6’7” senior guard Chandler Hutchison.

Hutchison had a phenomenal junior season at Boise State, averaging 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. After declaring for the NBA Draft (but not picking an agent) as a junior, he bowed out of the draft to return for his senior season at BSU. This season he had a game with 19 points and 18 rebounds against Illinois State, but he injured his head falling to the court for a rebound against Iowa State, and didn’t play against Loyola Marymount on Saturday. He will likely be available on Tuesday for the Ramblers.

The Broncos have been very impressive in the early going, demolishing a non-D1 and Southern Utah before reaching the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In that tournament they won a close one against UTEP 58-56, and then demolished Illinois State. The Broncos use a very effective 2-3 zone that completely flummoxed the Redbirds. Hutchison was injured 7 minutes into the loss against Iowa State.

Assuming Hutchison satisfies the concussion protocol, BSU is likely to start the game with 6’11” junior Zach Haney and 6’7” Christian Sengfelder at forward. Marist HS grad and grad transfer from Valpo Lexus Williams, 6’4” sophomore Alex Hobbs, and Hutchison start as guards.

Haney is a gangly but mobile forward who has terrible shot selection, but is excellent on the glass, especially on the offensive glass. He averages 4.2 points and 6.8 rebounds, mostly because he shoots less than 30% from the field. Sengfelder is a grad transfer from Fordham who works hard in the offense to do little things, and is a slightly better shooter than Haney– he averages 11.8 points and 5.5 boards per game.

Lexus Williams was a promising freshman point guard at Valpo who became a bench player after an injury in his sophomore season. He found a starting role for his senior year at Boise State, and he’s making the most of it, averaging 7.3 points per game and posting a 2.33 assist to turnover ratio. Williams is a somewhat reluctant but credible three point threat, and leads the team in steals. Alex Hobbs is an athletic shooting guard who can drive the lane and shoots the lights out—55.4% on field goals, 46.2% on threes, and 92.3% from the free throw line. Hobbs shares the team lead in assists with Hutchison, and along with the team’s star provides a double threat.

With Williams joining the lineup as point guard, Justinian Jessup moved to the first spot off the bench. Jessup, a 6’6” sophomore combo guard, started all but one of Boise State’s games last year and averaged 7.4 points per game. This season, coming off the bench and playing starters’ minutes, he’s leading the team in scoring at 13.8 per game, pulling down 6.8 rebounds per, and leading the team in made threes at a 43.9% rate. Marcus Dickinson, a 6’2” sophomore guard, has been another impact bench player, hitting 11 of his 17 three-point shots and averaging 7.7 points per game. Six-eleven junior center Robin Jorch doesn’t get a great deal of time per game, but is an imposing rim protector who averages 2.3 points per contest. The same goes for 6’10” junior forward David Wacker, who averages 3.2 points.

BSU is loaded with versatile players who can create mismatches, and they help each other get into a situation to create those mismatches. Hutchison is a 6’7” player with guard skills when he puts the ball on the floor. He can slash to the basket and finish, and rebound like a forward. Dickinson has a quick release on his jumper, so don’t leave him too far alone outside the arc. Sengfelder reminds me a little of Wichita State’s Evan Wessel with what he does in the offense to free other players. Jessup is another long guard at 6’6” who can shoot over most guards, and has enough quickness to drive past tall defenders. And many of the Broncos have done quite a bit of strength training.

The Broncos have been prone to turnovers early in the season, averaging 13.5 turnovers and committing 13 more turnovers than their opposition. Thanks to the zone, they are really good rebounders, and they are really good at defending the three, holding the opposition to only 23% behind the arc. Especially with bench players in the game, they can be beaten back into the zone if nobody stops forward progress, so look for the opportunity for some Ramblers going coast to coast. Offensively they like to play in a rhythm, so full court pressure, half-court traps, and switching up defenses is key. Let the big men shoot as many jump shots from 10 feet out as they want, but make sure to rebound the misses. Townes, Ingram and Krutwig need to establish their ability to score inside against the zone.

When the Ramblers beat BSU 48-45 to win the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic December 23, 2014, it was also unexpected and helped give the Ramblers confidence to go on to a 24-13 season and a CBI Championship. Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson were freshmen on that team and both played in that game; Chandler Hutchison was a freshman for Boise State who played four minutes. I don’t know if it was a game that stuck in Boise State’s craw (they made the NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed and lost in a play-in matchup against Dayton—in Dayton), but they know not to underestimate Loyola.

The last time Boise State lost a non-conference game at home was against St. Mary’s on December 14, 2013. Since that game they’re 46-9 at Taco Bell Arena.

Loyola game notes: … df?id=3741

Boise State game notes: Pending

TV/Streaming video:

Vegas odds: Pending