Evansville Aces (15-13) at Wright State Raiders (18-9)
Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters Game
Game Time: 1 p.m. Saturday
Location: Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM
Spread: TBA at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Adam Wing, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Wright State’s Probable Starters: G Joe Bramanti, G Kendall Griffin, G Matt Vest, F Jerran Young, F Tavares Sledge
Series History: Saturday marks the teams’ second-ever meeting. The last time they played was in the 1976 Division II NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal game at Roberts Stadium, where the Aces won 85-75. UE is 4-5 overall in nine BracketBusters games, the latest a 68-45 victory last February over Western Illinois.
Feb. 22: Aces break monotony against Wright State
Feb. 22: Wright State coach won’t miss BracketBusters
Feb. 20: Ryan goes for 31 as UE moves up in MVC with win over Illinois State
Feb. 20: Resilient Raiders sweep Cleveland State
Feb. 20: Staying out of foul trouble key for Wright State
—UE’s final BracketBusters opponent, Wright State, has won four of its last five games but will play Saturday without its top scorer, Cole Darling (11.3 ppg), who’s out with a foot injury. Second-leading scorer Reggie Arceneaux (9.7 ppg) is questionable after suffering a concussion more than a week ago.
—Against Wright State, UE is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 13 versus Wichita State and its first road win since Jan. 9 at Northern Iowa.
—Now UE’s second all-time scorer, senior Colt Ryan is 18 points away from 10th on the Missouri Valley Conference’s all-time list. Former Creighton player Rodney Buford currently occupies that spot. Ryan is on the longest double-figure scoring streak of his career, with his previous high 14 games.
—Ryan is also sixth all-time on the MVC’s made free throws list with 546. His 9-for-12 outing Wednesday against Illinois State passed Indiana State great Larry Bird, who made 542 during his career that lasted from 1976-1979.
—Wright State allows opponents just 58.2 points per game — best in the Horizon League and 26th in the nation. The Raiders also rank third in their league in field goal percentage defense at and give up 31.2 percent 3-point shooting.
—UE’s strengths remain consistent: ball control and free throws. Led by Ryan’s four assists per game, the Aces are 22nd nationally with 15.9 as a team. UE’s hit at least 71 percent of its free throws in 12 of 16 league games and 80 percent on eight different occasions.
UE coach Marty Simmons on the Aces’ final BracketBusters opponent: “It is what it is. If we weren’t playing Wright State, we’d be playing a conference team. We look at them as a team very similar to the ones we play in our league, so yeah, from that standpoint we’re playing a tough opponent on the road and we know we have to prepare and play outstanding basketball to have a chance.”
Aces senior Colt Ryan on the end of BracketBusters: “It’s kind of sad, because when you get to playing in conference and play the same teams over and over and over, it can get a little redundant – especially at this point in the season. I think it’s a good thing where you get a team where you play a team that’s around your RPI – your talent level – to see where you are.”
Wright State is coached by Billy Donlon. Simmons on the Raiders’ style: “Billy was a really hard-nosed player – smart player. His dad was a coach, and I think his dad’s on the staff. I think his team has that personality. They’re really disciplined. They’re tough. They’re hard-nosed. They’re hard to score against, and they don’t beat themselves offensively.”
Ryan on how to prepare for a team that may be missing its top scorers: “You kind of just have to look at it as, you’re expecting them to play and if they don’t, you just kind of go with it. If they don’t play, guys step up all the time. Some of the times, your best players, when they go out their shots get taken up by somebody else. Really, if they’re out, they could end up a different team than what you saw on the tape so that could be dangerous.”
The Aces are looking for their first win away from the Ford Center since Jan. 9. Thanks to BracketBusters, they get another shot at doing so before the MVC tournament. “It’s good for us, really,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to get it figured out. We’ve got a lot of guys who are experienced, so this shouldn’t be a problem. We need to get it fixed right here because we’ve got a tough road game at Wichita State right after this, and then there’s the conference tournament obviously.”
Outlook: For all the insults thrown at BracketBusters, at least Saturday’s matchup provides UE another chance to learn how to win away from the Ford Center. If the Aces are to make any sort of March run, that will be key at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Wright State’s Nutter Center seats 10,400 — more than some MVC venues — and the Raiders are 10-4 there this season. Beating a team on the road that’s won four of five is a statement whether it counts in conference standings or not.