UE women offer in-state sophomore forward

Plainfield High School sophomore forward Riley Blackwell picked up a scholarship offer this month from the University of Evansville women’s basketball program. Her AAU program, and others, tweeted the news:

Blackwell is listed in various places as 5-foot-11 or 6-foot.

UE part of loaded 2015 Wooden Legacy field

The University of Evansville men’s basketball team will compete in a major Thanksgiving week tournament in 2015.

Bloggingthebracket.com reported that the Aces will play in the Wooden Legacy, which features powerhouse programs Michigan State and Arizona. The Wooden Legacy will be played Nov. 26 and 27 in Fullerton, California, and Nov. 29 in Anaheim, California.

The entire 2015 tournament field — which was also reported on the San Jose State athletics website as part of a two-year ticket package — is listed below.

The Wooden Legacy Campus sites: TBA
Fullerton, CA: Nov. 26 and 27
Anaheim, CA: Nov. 29
Teams (8) Quarterfinalists
Arizona Wildcats (Pac-12)
Boise State Broncos (MW)
Boston College Eagles (ACC)
Evansville Aces (MVC)
Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten)
Providence Friars (Big East)
Santa Clara Broncos (WCC)
UC Irvine Anteaters (Big West)

In addition to providing the Aces with some strong nonconference matchups, the 2015 Wooden Legacy will give UE’s program television exposure via its ESPN broadcasts. All of the Wooden Legacy games this year will air on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3.

UE women offer 2016 center from Memorial High School

University of Evansville women’s basketball coach Oties Epps has continued to recruit the state of Indiana hard, recently offering a scholarship to a 6-foot-3 center in the Aces’ backyard.

Emily Sullivan, a junior at Memorial High School, tweeted earlier this month that the Aces were the first program to offer her a scholarship.

The Aces picked up a verbal commitment Oct. 7 from Macie Lively, a Class of 2016 point guard from Tipton (Indiana) High School.

Sullivan averaged 8.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game in her sophomore season at Memorial, according to Maxpreps.com. She starred in the Tigers’ upset of No. 1-ranked Princeton in the Class 3A Boonville Sectional, posting 14 points and 20 rebounds as Memorial won 41-26.

Balentine, Mockevicius among leaders in economist’s statistical projections

University of Evansville juniors D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius will be among college basketball’s top six in points and rebounds, respectively, this season, according to statistical projections from Sports Illustrated.

This SI.com article explains that economist Dan Hanner developed a model to project advanced statistics for every Division I player — and ultimately team records — by simulating the season 10,000 times, “accounting for fluctuations in individual performance and health.” Numerous other factors are cited in the article, and while projections are … well, projections, it still is interesting to see the results this scientific approach yielded.

Hanner’s model places Balentine fifth in the country in scoring at 19.4 points per game and Mockevicius sixth in rebounding at 8.7 boards per game.

That would actually be a decrease in scoring for Balentine from 22.8 points per game as a sophomore, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Balentine’s scoring dipped slightly this season. The Aces could elect to play more through Mockevicius in the post, and and newcomers Taylor Stafford and Mislav Brzoja — both capable outside scorers — could cut slightly into Balentine’s shot attempts.

Mockevicius led the Missouri Valley Conference at 8.3 rebounds per game last season, so SI’s projections see him making a slight improvement in that category.

Speaking of the MVC, Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle rated highly in Hanner’s model. Tuttle is projected as the nation’s No. 34 scorer (16.3 ppg), No. 13 rebounder (8.4 rpg) and No. 5 “efficient, high-usage scorer.”

Indianapolis guard reportedly to take official visit to UE

In his recruiting notes published Tuesday night, the Indianapolis Star’s Kyle Neddenriep reported that Howe High School point guard Harris Brown will take an official visit to the University of Evansville this weekend.

The 5-foot-11 Brown previously committed to fellow Missouri Valley Conference member Loyola (Ill.) but later decommitted. According to his profile on verbalcommits.com, Brown also holds scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and New Orleans. He was an Indiana Junior All-Star last year.

This video, which is more than a year old, shows that Brown has good explosiveness and a solid shooting stroke.

The following highlights are more recent but less comprehensive (it appears only a couple of games were filmed for this video).

Aces offer Class of 2016 shooting guard

Christian Willis, a 6-foot-2 junior shooting guard from Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, received a scholarship offer Friday from the University of Evansville men’s basketball program. Willis was on campus to take in the Aces’ first official practice for the 2014-15 season.

The Class of 2016 prospect announced the scholarship offer on Twitter Friday evening.

Willis averaged 10.8 points per game during his sophomore season. He also holds offers from Eastern Illinois, Arkansas State and San Jose State, according to his online recruiting profile at verbalcommits.com.

Women’s basketball picks up commitment from Tipton guard

Macie Lively, a 5-foot-6 point guard from Tipton (Indiana) High School, gave a verbal commitment to the University of Evansville women’s basketball program Tuesday during a visit to campus.

The Class of 2016 prospect announced her decision via Twitter and posted a photo that included Aces head coach Oties Epps.

In August, the Aces became the first Division I program to offer Lively a scholarship.

Lively averaged 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game during her sophomore season at Tipton, which finished 18-5 and advanced to the Class 2A semistate.

Quotes and notes on D.J. Balentine

D.J. Balentine

D.J. Balentine

While compiling a 1,500-word feature on University of Evansville junior shooting guard D.J. Balentine this week, I gathered plenty of material. Some of it didn’t make the final story, but I thought I’d share the remaining tidbits here.

Check our sports website Saturday evening for my full story, or grab a copy of Sunday’s newspaper.

Some extra notes and quotes regarding Balentine, who led the Missouri Valley Conference with 22.8 points per game last season:

Balentine finished his prep career as the No. 3 career scorer at Kokomo High School. Both the players ahead of him, Jimmy Rayl and Jim Ligon, went on to professional careers in the American Basketball Association.

Balentine typically maintains a calm demeanor on the court. And despite idolizing noted trash talkers Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller growing up, Balentine said he rarely gets into battles of words.

“If a player wants to get into it with me, sometimes I’ll talk trash a little, and my mom, she hates it,” he said. “My family, my mom and dad and my grandma and grandpa, they always told me to let my game speak. I think it can be even more ridiculous when a player’s going nuts out there, to just keep it going. I think that’s more impressive than going nuts over one play.”

Balentine said his favorite active NBA player, and one he tries to emulate, is Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry.

“I like Steph Curry a lot. I like how he plays a lot. He can handle the ball really well, shoot the 3, obviously, the best in the league. He’s a terrific scorer and passer, can get to the bucket. I like how he plays (and) we’re kind of the same height.”

UE head coach Marty Simmons on Balentine’s dramatic improvement his sophomore season: “Like anything else in life, once you get through it once you certainly have more confidence and understanding in terms of how to handle certain situations that arise the second time through.”

Aces junior Adam Wing on Balentine’s personality: “He’s always cracking jokes and playing pranks; he’s a fun guy to be around. But on the court, it’s the complete opposite. On the court, in the games, it’s serious. It’s focusing on the task at hand, and that’s winning. He doesn’t care how that happens as long as we’re winning the game.”

Men’s basketball to begin practice Oct. 10

Marty Simmons

Marty Simmons

The University of Evansville men’s basketball team will hold its first official practice Oct. 10, six days after the Aces are allowed to start by the NCAA.

Like all college coaches entering the 2013-14 season, UE’s Marty Simmons was in unfamiliar territory with a new rule that allowed programs to begin practicing 42 days before their first regular-season game. College hoops seasons previously began on Oct. 15, and coaches were forced to cram in as much material as possible before the opening game.

Under the current rule, teams are allowed 30 practice days with 12 days off, and coaches decide when and how they’ll utilize those preparation days.

Simmons acknowledged the UE coaching staff didn’t handle its new flexibility properly last season. The Aces started as soon as they could, which Simmons said forced them to stagger practices to a degree that hampered the continuity of the workouts.

Beginning a few days later should resolve that issue, and I think it’s a good decision by the UE staff. Sometimes rule changes require a little trial-and-error.

The Aces open the regular season at home Nov. 15 against Division III Earlham.

UE baseball adds commitments from high school teammates

Shawnee Mission Northwest (Kansas) High School seniors Brandon Gomer and Nathan Reeder verbally committed to the University of Evansville on Saturday. The pair made official visits to UE on Friday, according to this story by Prep Baseball Report Kansas.

Reeder, a 5-foot-10 outfielder who bats and throws left-handed, announced the players’ decision on Twitter Saturday morning.

Reeder batted leadoff for Shawnee Northwest last season, posting an on-base percentage above .500 en route to Class 6A all-state honors.

Gomer is a 6-foot-4, 175-pound pitcher. The right-hander can throw his fastball 86-89 mph, according to Prep Baseball Report.

Breaking down the Gulf Coast Showcase

The Gulf Coast Showcase released the pairings Tuesday for its men’s basketball tournament, which will run Nov. 24-26 at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida. Evansville will lock up with Fresno State in the opening round, with the victor to face the East Carolina-Green Bay winner.

Here is a closer look at each of the matchups, top players for each team, etc.

Game 1: Green Bay vs. East Carolina

— Green Bay finished 24-7 last season and posted a 14-2 record in the Horizon League in winning the conference’s regular-season title. The Phoenix lost to Belmont in the first round of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 69

Top player: There may not be a better player in the Gulf Coast Showcase than Green Bay senior Keifer Sykes. The 6-foot guard averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season. Sykes was named the Horizon League Player of the Year and an honorable mention Associated Press All-American. And he brings his best against top competition; he lit up Wisconsin for a career-high 32 points in a 69-66 loss last season, and posted 21 points and 10 assists as the Phoenix knocked off Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Oh, and he can do this:

If you’d like to read up more on Sykes, who the Aces could see in their second game of the tournament, ESPN’s C.L. Brown recently wrote a blog post about him.

— East Carolina finished 17-17 overall, 5-11 in Conference USA and lost to Wright State in the first round of the CIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 223

Top players: Caleb White, a 6-7 sophomore guard, averaged 12.4 points as a freshman. Senior sharpshooter Paris Roberts-Campbell has started 52 consecutive games, posted 11.9 points per game last season and racked up 53 steals (the sixth-highest single-season total in ECU history). More than 56 percent of Roberts-Campbell’s made field goals in his career have come from 3-point range.

Game 2: Fresno State vs. Evansville

— Fresno State finished 21-18 and 9-9 in the Mountain West last season. The Bulldogs lost to Siena in the CBI’s best-of-three championship series.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 106

Top players: The Bulldogs return four starters and five of their top seven scorers, led by junior guards Marvelle Harris (14.3 points per game) and Cezar Guerrero (13.1 ppg) and 6-foot-6 sophomore guard/forward Paul Watson (10.0 ppg). Last season’s leading scorer, Tyler Johnson (15.9 ppg), is on the roster of the Miami Heat.

— Evansville finished 14-19 and 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Aces lost to conference champion Wichita State in the second round of the MVC tournament.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 210

Top players: The Aces return 96 percent of their scoring output from last season, but their two clear stars are junior guard D.J. Balentine and junior post Egidijus Mockevicius. Balentine led the MVC in scoring at 22.8 points per game, connecting on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Mockevicius was the team’s second-leading scorer (10.5 ppg) and led the league in rebounding (8.3 rpg).

Game 3: Florida Gulf Coast at Marist

— Florida Gulf Coast finished 22-13 last year and 14-4 in the Atlantic Sun, losing to Florida State in the first round of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 148

Top players: Bernard Thompson, a 6-foot-3 guard, led FGCU in scoring last season at 15.1 points per game, but the team’s most flashy player — and most recognizable remnant of the 2013 run to the Sweet 16 that inspired the nickname ‘Dunk City’ — is his backcourt mate Brett Comer. Comer scored 13.7 points per game last season and averaged 5.3 assists.

Comer’s court vision was apparent on this play, which may be the signature play of Dunk City’s run two seasons ago. The good part starts at about the 20-second mark.

— Marist finished 12-19 and 9-11 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, bowing out in the first round of the MAAC tourney.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 245

Top players: The Red Foxes return their top two scorers from last season in 6-5 wing Chavaughn Lewis (17.5 ppg) and 6-2 guard Khallid Hart (14.7 ppg).

Game 4: San Francisco at Hawaii

— San Francisco went 21-12 and 13-5 in the West Coast Conference. The Dons lost to LSU in their opening game of the NIT.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 80

Top players: Of the Dons’ five double-figure scorers last season, only 6-7 forward Kruize Pinkins (12.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-9 forward Mark Tollefsen (10.5 ppg) return.

— Hawaii finished 20-11 and 9-7 in the Big West. The Warriors lost in to Cal State-Northridge in the conference tournament.

Final 2013-14 RPI: 161

Top players: Isaac Fotu, a 6-8 junior forward, was named to the all-Big West first team last season. He was second on the team in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (6.1), and led the team with 58 percent shooting from the field. The Warriors also return a little scoring punch in the backcourt with 6-2 senior Garrett Nevels (13.1 ppg).

UE women offer 2016 point guard

The University of Evansville women’s basketball program has reportedly offered a scholarship to Macie Lively, a Class of 2016 point guard from Tipton (Indiana) High School.

Here is a tweet from Lively posted on Aug. 22: