Tennessee State Tigers (18-14) at Evansville Aces (18-14)
CollegeInsider.com Tournament Opening Round
Game Time: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM, watchcollegeinsider.com
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: UE opened -8 at OddsShark.com
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Adam Wing, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Tennessee State’s Probable Starters: G Patrick Miller, G Tashan Fredrick, G Jordan Cyphers, F Kellen Thornton, F Robert Covington
Series History: Tuesday will mark the third meeting between UE and Tennessee State, which split the other two. The Aces won 86-80 in overtime at Roberts Stadium on New Years Day in 2001, and the next season the Tigers got revenge next season with a 101-78 result in Nashville.
March 18: Aces happy to be playing in March
March 18: CIT preview — Tennessee State at Evansville
March 18: Ryan still chasing scoring record
March 17: UE to host CIT game against Tennessee State
March 13: Aces holding out hope for NIT bid
March 19: Simmons, players taking time to analyze Arch Madness loss
—NCAA tournament games mean re-branded arenas down to the cups from which players are allowed to drink. The only major change for the CIT at the Ford Center will be the tournament-mandated basketballs, which had already arrived in Evansville as of Monday.
—The Aces have played in the postseason now during four of coach Marty Simmons’ six seasons at the school, entering Tuesday a combined 1-3 with the win over Hofstra in the 2011 College Basketball Invitational. UE also played in the CBI last year (lost to Princeton in the first round).
—Tennessee State, which lost in the first round of last year’s CIT, has never won a postseason game. Based out of Nashville, the Tigers also appeared in the NCAA tournament twice in the 1990s.
—UE and Tennessee State featured common opponents this season in Tennessee Tech and Murray State out of the Tigers’ Ohio Valley Conference. Both the Aces and Tennessee State beat Tennessee Tech and lost to the Racers.
—UE senior Colt Ryan averages 20 points per game in postseason contests and Ned Cox 14 a game. Both have played in three tournament games, scoring double figures in each.
—Ryan is well within striking distance of UE’s all-time scoring record with as many as five games potentially left for the Aces in the CIT, which crowns a champion on April 2. Ryan enters Tuesday 55 points from breaking former player Larry Humes’ record 2,236.
—At least one NBA scout (Pacers organization) should be on hand Tuesday to see Tigers senior Robert Covington, who averages 17 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Covington scored better than 18 points per game in Tennessee State’s two Ohio Valley Conference tournament contests before the Tigers lost to eventual champion Belmont in the semifinals.
—Three other Tennessee State players average in double figures: senior Kellen Thornton (15.7 points/8 rebounds), junior Patrick Miller (14.7 points) and senior guard Jordan Cyphers (12.3 points). Miller’s 191 assists this season are also 23rd in Division I.
—The full-court pressing Tigers hit 74.5 percent of the their free throws (26th in the nation) but are turnover-prone, committing 15.3 a game (and 21 in that 82-73 loss to Belmont in the conference tournament).
UE coach Marty Simmons on the opportunity to play in the CIT: “Every college player’s dream is to play in the NCAA tournament. When that’s taken away, obviously the next thing is the NIT. But as a competitor, I think when you’re allowed to play another game, you get excited. You get thrilled. You get pumped up. I certainly feel that’s the way this team will be.”
Senior Colt Ryan on playing in the postseason: “It’s kind of like, you get out of the conference grind. I’ve talked about it before where you kind of beat up on each other all year long, and now you’re playing different teams that haven’t scouted you all year, that don’t know each player inside and out. It’s a good atmosphere and great for college basketball.”
Added Adam Wing: “Just for me, being an underclassman, I feel fortunate just to play in a postseason tournament. We didn’t get as far in the MVC as we wanted to, and I feel like I didn’t get that experience I needed.”
Simmons scouts Tennessee State: “We feel very fortunate to be able to continue to play, and we’re playing a great opponent in Tennessee State. Very athletic team – very skilled team. They’ve got guys that are long and athletic that can really shoot the 3. They’ll extend their defense full court. They’ve got a young man in (senior forward Robert) Covington who’s been looked at by the NBA. So it’s a very difficult task.”
The Aces have also seen second-leading scorer and Illinois State transfer Kellen Thornton. “He’s playing more minutes. He’s playing a bigger role on this team,” Simmons said. “Covington is 6-8, 6-9 with arms that hang to the floor. He’s got great touch from the 3-point line. He handles the ball like a guard. And then Thornton is, in a lot of ways similar in that he’s strong, athletic, can step out and shoot the 3, but he’s got a high skill level. Miller, the point guard, is as good as any point guard we’ve played against in our league – real strong, physical guy that can make 3s. He’s really good off high ball screens – very difficult to keep in front of.”
Outlook: There will be no NCAA tournament — not even an NIT — for UE’s seniors, but they can still play for a championship, something the Aces’ program hasn’t claimed in more than a decade. The five-round CIT is very win-able on paper, but UE has to first prove it can play well in a postseason situation. The Aces’ senior class won one MVC tournament game in four years and has seen little success in other tournaments.