Game info: Belmont (2-1) at Evansville (2-0), 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center
Preview story: Belmont could give Aces first major test
TV/Radio: ESPN3; WUEV 91.5 FM
Belmont: Austin Luke (6-3, So., G, 9.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Craig Bradshaw (6-3, Sr., G, 14.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Taylor Barnette (6-3, Jr., G, 7.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Evan Bradds (6-7, Jr., F, 17 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Amanze Egekeze (6-8, So., F, 8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 8.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 18.5 ppg, 6.5 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 7.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 19 ppg, 12.5 rpg).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The 3-point battle
The Bruins average 31 3-point attempts per game so expect them to come out firing. They could easily shoot their way to a big lead if they get hot.
On the other hand, Evansville normally ranks in the bottom third in Division I in 3-point attempts and makes. Evansville doesn’t need to take as many 3s as Belmont to win this game, but the Aces will need to be more effective than they have been in their first two games (5 of 26 combined).
2. The inside battle
The Aces and Bruins are led in scoring by big men Egidijus Mockevicius and Evan Bradds, respectively. While the 6-foot-10 Mockevicius is a traditional post player who does most of his damage in the paint, Bradds can shoot from 3-point range in addition to scoring inside.
Many times last season when Mockevicius faced a talented, smaller player the matchup was a wash. Mockevicius would get his points inside but have his opponent bury some outside jumpers before Mockevicius could close out from the paint. If either of these guys significantly outplays the other, it will make a big difference.
3. How will the Aces respond against a good team?
Even though Southeast Missouri State made a good run at the beginning of the second half against UE, the game was never in doubt. Evansville was clearly the more talented team and never felt threatened.
Belmont can provide a different sort of resistance. This is a winning program that already has victories over Marquette and Western Kentucky this season.The Aces are experienced, but they lost eight games by five points or less last season.
UE has spotlighted pulling out close games as an area for improvement this season, and this could be the first game that finishing ability is put to the test.
More notes on Belmont: The Bruins return 11 letterwinners from last season’s NCAA tournament team. … Coach Rick Byrd is in his 30th season at Belmont and ranks seventh among all active NCAA Division I coaches with 713 wins. Byrd is the outgoing chairman of the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee. The committee passed a number of rule changes in the offseason, including reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds and eliminating one timeout. … Belmont has won 20-plus games nine of the last 10 seasons and has qualified for seven NCAA tournaments in that span. … The Bruins are ranked fifth in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, while Evansville is ranked sixth. … Located in Nashville, Tennessee, the Bruins have several famous musicians among their alumni: Braid Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Lee Ann Womack, Melinda Doolittle and former baseball pitcher Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line.
Predictions: Evansville is favored by 5 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts an 84-77 UE win and gives the Aces a 73 percent chance of victory.