Basic info: MVC Tournament quarterfinals, No. 4 seed Illinois State (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 5 seed Evansville (19-11, 9-9), Friday 2:35 p.m at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Preview story: Aces embracing tougher mindset entering MVC tournament
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Midwest; WUEV 91.5 FM
Previous meetings: Illinois State routed the Aces in early February. The Redbirds also edged UE Saturday in overtime.
Illinois State: Paris Lee (5-11, So., G, 6.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg); DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (6-5, Jr., G, 13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Daishon Knight (6-1, Sr., G, 13.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Reggie Lynch (6-10, So., C, 9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Deontae Hawkins (6-8, Fr., F, 7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, So., G, 4.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 19.0 ppg, 3.1 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
KEYS FOR EVANSVILLE
1. Get Lynch in foul trouble.
The MVC’s blocks leader at 2.7 per game, Lynch goes after most shots in his vicinity. That’s what makes him great, but it’s also what makes him prone to foul trouble by biting on pump fakes. If the Aces can limit Lynch’s minutes, or at least his aggressiveness, because of foul trouble, UE will have a much better chance to win.
2. Neutralize ISU’s athletic advantage.
The Redbirds are one of the most athletic teams in the MVC and are, in general, bigger and more mobile than Evansville’s players. The Aces will need to be sharp with their ballhandling and positioning to avoid letting an athletically superior opponent overwhelm them on the glass and with pressure defense.
UE turnovers led to ISU’s rout the first time these teams met, and a large advantage on the boards helped the Redbirds complete the regular-season sweep on Saturday.
3. Find some balance.
To beat a solid Illinois State team, the Aces will need their all-conference players (Balentine and Mockevicius) to play well and at least one other player to exceed his average. That could be Blake Simmons finally breaking his outside shooting slump, Jaylon Brown or Duane Gibson having one of their occasional scoring outbursts or Adam Wing or Mislav Brzoja providing some points from the forward position.
KEYS FOR ILLINOIS STATE
1. Exploit its athleticism.
Pretty much the reverse of what I said above. Illinois State is the more athletic team, so the Redbirds should attack the backboards with abandon and try to pressure UE into some turnovers. The Aces have been inconsistent with their ballhandling at times this season.
2. Get Akoon-Purcell going.
Knight is ISU’s leading scorer, but Akoon-Purcell has been the Redbirds’ best player lately. A 6-5 player who can shoot the 3 and drive, he could be a matchup problem for UE.
Akoon-Purcell was named the MVC Newcomer of the Year earlier this week and led ISU with 16 points and nine rebounds in Saturday’s win at UE.
3. Don’t look past Evansville.
There is the old adage that it is difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and that’s exactly what ISU is looking to do Friday. Also, some are mentioning the Redbirds as the most likely to make a run at the tournament’s top two teams (No. 8 Wichita State and No. 11 Northern Iowa).
ISU will have to manage those expectations and focus on the quarterfinal with UE before worrying about a possible Saturday semifinal with Wichita State.
Predictions: Illinois State is favored by 4 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 68-63 ISU win and gives the Redbirds a 69 percent chance of victory.