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Crusaders set to pay visit to improved UIC

Updated: February 10, 2013 6:11PM



VALPARAISO — Perhaps even more than in recent seasons, the Horizon League has been more balanced from top to bottom, deeper, more unpredictable (and it has absolutely nothing to do with Butler).

Consider UIC.

The Flames were voted eighth in the preseason poll, after going 8-22 last season, including 3-15 in the league. Now, they have been viewed as among the contenders.

UIC (10-5, 1-1 Horizon League) entered conference play with at least nine wins, including one at Northwestern, for the first time since the 2003-04 season. With their growing resume, the Flames emerged as a trendy pick to win the league, before they got a bit of a reality check when they lost three straight nonconference road games. They then defeated Youngstown State, before losing at Cleveland State on Monday.

UIC has gotten increasingly acclimated to third-year coach Howard Moore’s system — the Flames also went 7-24, including 2-16 in the league, in the former Wisconsin player and assistant coach’s first season — as well as added pieces this season.

Valparaiso (11-5, 1-1), which has won six straight games in the series, plays on Wednesday night at the UIC Pavilion, where the Flames have gone 6-0 this season.

“They do a really good job protecting the ball, they don’t turn the ball over much,” said Crusaders coach Bryce Drew, whose team plays its first conference road game, starting a string of three straight. “They get the ball down in the post, and also have some very good shooters that can make shots.”

UIC ranked 27th nationally in turnovers at 11.4 per game. The Flames also ranked 24th in scoring defense (57.5 points) and 38th in field goal percentage defense (38.4).

Senior point guard Gary Talton averages 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals. Senior guard Daniel Barnes has added 12.2 points.

Josh Crittle, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior center, has been the Flames’ most important newcomer, averaging 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. He transferred to UIC after he was a starter at Central Florida last season, having spent the first two seasons of his college career at Oregon.

“He’s one of the biggest keys for their team, because he’s very good in the post and a lot of what they do goes through him,” said Drew, also mentioning the contributions of sophomore guard Joey Miller (5.6 points per game), a starter at Eastern Illinois as a freshman last season.

Valparaiso High graduate Hayden Humes, a 6-8 junior forward in his second season at UIC after transferring from Toledo, averages 11.2 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds.

“I’m really happy for him,” Drew said. “He’s having a great career. He’s playing very well for them. He plays very hard, he can score the ball, rebounds well. He really fits in with what they’re doing there.”

Around the rim: The status of Ben Boggs (turf toe) was uncertain, after he missed Friday’s game against Cleveland State, snapping a streak of 35 straight starts and 39 games played. … Alex Rossi has continued to undergo medical tests, and to sit out practice. More should be known about his condition on Wednesday, or Thursday.



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