Men’s basketball: Panthers to face second test of season

By Brody Engelhard

The men’s basketball team will face the University of Illinois-Chicago in a match-up tonight… The men’s basketball team will face the University of Illinois-Chicago in a match-up tonight that should provide less of a challenge than the Panthers’ shaky season opener against the Rhode Island Rams earlier this week.

The Panthers, No. 5 in the nation with a 133-11 record, will tip off against the Flames in the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m. The Flames have never won a game in the NCAA tournament, going 0-3. They last appeared in the tournament in 2004, losing 78-53 to No. 4-seed Kansas.

“We just need to keep playing better and be ready to play on Wednesday,” Pitt forward Talib Zanna said about the prospects of a Pitt victory.

The Flames are led by point guard Robo Kreps. Kreps averaged just over 15 points and two assists per game last year. The senior is the clear go-to guy for the Flames and led the Horizon League in minutes last year with 35.7 minutes per game.

UIC brings back two of its top three scorers in Kreps and fellow guard Zavion Neely. The junior Neely is listed at 6-foot-1 and averaged just over 12 points per game last year. Neely completes the dynamic backcourt for the Flames, the most experienced part of the team.

Besides the addition of seven newcomers to the Flames, UIC also brought in a new head coach to a program that went 8-22 overall last year with a 3-15 conference record. Head coach Howard Moore takes over for the retired Jimmy Collins.

Moore comes from a University of Wisconsin team where he spent six years as an assistant coach and helped the team to a 23-8 record last year. He was with the team when it won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships in 2007.

Moore, a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Wisconsin, was charged this offseason with the task of leading the Flames and trying to challenge Butler for the league title.

But Moore first had to introduce himself to his new players. The Daily Herald reported when Moore was first introduced as coach that Kreps said: “I looked him up on Google, actually. I really didn’t know anything about him. I liked what I read, obviously.”

Moore will also work to prepare UIC for an opponent it shares with Pitt — Rhode Island. The Flames and the Rams will square off on Nov. 21.

Beating Rhode Island was a tough opening assignment for the Panthers.

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in a news conference after Monday’s game, “Obviously we have great respect for Rhode Island. The reason why teams don’t want to play them, especially on Nov. 8, is because of how well they play and how well they’re coached. We got the game we thought we would tonight.”

With one game under their belts, the Panthers are off to their usual start and hope to continue their record of 76-1 versus nonconference teams at the Pete.

Senior Brad Wanamaker stood out in the game against the Rams, scoring 24 points while dishing out eight assists and going 10-13 at the charity stripe.

“It’s good to have an intense game early on,” he said. “It’s not something that we’re used to, but I think it’s going to help us in the long run.”