Posted by & filed under Women's Basketball.

Basic info: Miami (Ohio) (2-3) at Evansville (2-4); 4 p.m. CST Saturday at Ford Center.

Preview story: Patience pays off for Aces’ Robinson

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Miami: Courtney Larson (5-9, Sr., G, 3.0 ppg, 4.2 apg); Kayla Brown (6-2, Fr., G, 8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Baleigh Reid (5-10, Fr., G, 11.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Hannah McCue (6-0, Jr., F, 11.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg); Jessica Rupright (6-2, Jr., F, 9.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

Evansville: Sara Dickey (5-11, So., G, 21.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Taloni Reese (5-9, Fr., G, 6.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Kenyia Johnson (5-8, Fr., G, 2.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg); Sasha Robinson (6-1, So., F, 6.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Mallory Ladd (6-1, Sr., F, 17.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

— —

Three things to watch:

– Bench production: Both teams have a player that averages double figures in points off the bench — UE guard Khristian Hart (10.2 ppg) and Miami forward Ana Richter (11.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg). It is particularly important for the Aces to get reliable scoring from Hart, because none of the Aces’ other bench players are consistent scoring threats.

Will the RedHawks have a major advantage from the 3-point line?: Miami hit a season-high 14 3s in its 82-59 victory over Valparaiso on Wednesday. McCue led the way with seven 3-pointers, tying for the third most in a single game in school history.

UE, on the other hand, has given up 55 3-pointers this season while making 35. Part of that is the Aces’ preference for attacking the basket, but UE still doesn’t want to fall behind too far in the 3-point battle.

Can Evansville compete on the boards?: The Aces are getting outrebounded by an average of 12.7 per game. Miami has a plus-3.4 rebounding margin and much more size than the Aces across the roster.

The rebounding battle could prove to be the difference in this game. If the Aces can keep the war on the boards close, their ability to force turnovers could lead to more shot opportunities for UE. If they can’t, it’ll be tough to stop the RedHawks.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Some observations from Evansville’s 86-78 victory over Wright State on Tuesday night (you can read my game story here):

1. The game was entertaining for fans, but a nightmare for the coaches.

The teams combined to shoot 58 percent and score 164 points. Exciting game, right?

Not everyone was having fun.

Coaches pride themselves on how prepared their teams are defensively, so neither UE’s Marty Simmons or Wright State’s Billy Donlon was pleased after getting torched.

“We couldn’t guard (Evansville) and we’re typically the best defensive team in our league,” Donlon said.

“We’ve been pretty solid with our defense to this point, but we had a hard time guarding these guys today,” Simmons said. “We just haven’t had the intensity and the attention to detail and the competitiveness that we need in practice to get better.”

UE happened to be just a little bit better offensively — shooting 67 percent from the field, a Ford Center record. Wright State knocked down 11 of 29 3-pointers but missed some wide-open looks.

The Aces’ 18-0 run in the second half proved to be the difference in the game, but Simmons still wouldn’t give any credit to his team’s defense during that stretch.

“I think they just missed some shots that they were hitting earlier,” he said.

2. Balentine has found his groove.

UE junior D.J. Balentine scored a game-high 28 points on 9 of 13 shooting. He hit all three of his 3-point attempts.

This came after Balentine struggled in his first two games of the Gulf Coast Showcase before finishing the tournament with 23 points (on 8 of 17 shooting) against San Francisco.

It’s safe to say Balentine is playing with his familiar confidence again, and a return to the friendly confines of the Ford Center probably only accelerated that process. Balentine said he didn’t like shooting in Germain Arena in Estero, Florida, which featured a long backdrop and mostly empty seats, making for a tricky background for some shooters.

3. Mockevicius was involved in mismatches on both ends of the court.

Wright State didn’t have anyone who could guard Evansville’s 6-foot-10 center, Egidijus Mockevicius. On the other end of the court, though, Mockevicius struggled to handle Steven Davis, an athletic 6-7 forward who could shoot all the way out to 3-point range.

Simmons said he would have to go back and evaluate where the Aces came out on plus-minus of that matchup, but chances are Mockevicius’ presence on the floor was worth the defensive liability. The big man recorded a career-high 20 points while sinking 8 of 9 field goals, and also ripped down 11 rebounds. Davis had 18 points and six rebounds.

“He’s hard for us to keep off the floor unless he’s in foul trouble,” Simmons said of Mockevicius. “He’s just that important to our team.”

4. UE’s bench players were solid.

Mislav Brzoja had the biggest impact off the Evansville bench with nine points, a game-high seven assists and five rebounds. But the Aces also received seven points from Jaylon Brown and six points — including two energy-boosting dunks — from forward Jaylon Moore, who only played six minutes.

“Coach is asking for me when I come off the bench to bring energy and make the other guys better,” Brzoja said. “I know when I make the other guys better, it’s gonna make me better, too, and (the game) will open for me.”

Donlon was impressed with Balentine’s supporting cast.

“D.J. had (28 points) and he only took 13 shots. That’s not good,” Donlon said. “And we couldn’t stop the other guys. Their other players are good; they’re smart, they move, they know their roles. They are a great definition of a team.”

 

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

The University of Evansville men’s basketball team led Wright State 39-36 Tuesday after a first half in which both teams posted scorching field-goal percentages.

The Aces knocked down 16 of 27 shots (59 percent), while Wright State made 15 of 26 (58 percent).

D.J. Balentine scored 10 of the Aces’ first 20 points, posting up for a short bank shot on one possession and burying a 3-pointer the next. He finished the half with a game-high 12 points, and Jaylon Brown was second for UE with seven off the bench.

Wright State’s J.T. Yoho scored a team-high seven points despite playing only nine minutes due to picking up two fouls.

The Aces committed just two fouls in the half, leading to zero Wright State free throws. Meanwhile, Evansville made 6 of 8 free throws, but the Raiders made up the difference at the 3-point line. Wright State knocked down six shots from long range, while UE made just one 3-pointer.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Wright State (4-3) at Evansville (4-1), 7:05 p.m. CST Tuesday at Ford Center in Evansville

Pregame story: Simmons, Wing efficient long-range threats for UE

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Wright State: Steven Davis (6-7, So., F, 5.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg); J.T. Yoho (6-6, Jr., F, 19.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Michael Karena (6-10, Jr., C, 6.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Chrishawn Hopkins (6-2, Sr., G, 14.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Joe Thomasson (6-4, Jr., G, 10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 4.2 ppg, 2.8 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, So., G, 17.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg).

——

Three key questions:

Will either team have a significant rebounding edge?: Neither squad has been a great rebounding team so far this season. The Raiders are getting outrebounded by an average of 6.1 per game. While the Aces have an average rebounding margin of plus-3.8, they got beat up on the offensive glass during their three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase. In those three contests, UE allowed 40 second-chance points while scoring 21.

Each team has a strong individual rebounder — UE’s Mockevicius pulls down 9.8 boards per night, and Wright State’s Yoho averages 7.8.

Which UE super-sub will make an impact?: Mislav Brzoja, whose 11 points per game rank third on the team, and Jaylon Brown (coming off a career-high 15 points) have shown they can have a major impact off the bench. Their emergence gives the Aces good flexibility and could prove the difference if one of UE’s starters has an off night.

Can the Aces shut down Yoho and Hopkins?: Both of the Raiders’ two leading scorers have set previous career highs against UE. Hopkins scored 22 against Evansville while playing for Butler University in November 2011, while Yoho scored 20 against the Aces in February 2013.

Those players — and UE’s coaches — undoubtedly remember those performances. We’ll see whether they can have strong showings again, or if the Aces make some defensive adjustments to limit Hopkins and Yoho.

——

Predictions:  VegasInsider lists Evansville as a 7 1/2-point favorite. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 63-57 victory for UE and gives the Aces a 76 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Five games into the season, some of the University of Evansville men’s basketball team’s traits are becoming more apparent.

Here is what I learned during the Aces’ trip to Estero, Florida, which saw them finish 2-1 and take third place in the eight-team Gulf Coast Showcase:

1. Marty Simmons’ rotation is flexible, and that’s a good thing.

Playing time on this team is slightly unpredictable. Here’s what I mean: Duane Gibson, D.J. Balentine, Blake Simmons, Adam Wing and Egidijus Mockevicius have been starting, but either of the Aces’ first two players off the bench (Mislav Brzoja and Jaylon Brown) could surpass his counterpart in the starting lineup in terms of playing time in any given game.

Brzoja, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, played the majority of UE’s opener against Fresno State, racking up a team-high 17 points while Blake Simmons watched much of the second half from the bench. The next night, Brzoja didn’t play as well and Simmons knocked down some shots, leading to Simmons getting more minutes. Likewise, when Jaylon Brown played well off the bench in the third-place game against San Francisco (scoring a career-high 15 points), coach Marty Simmons saw no need to put the starter (Gibson) back in the game.

Marty Simmons seems to be doing a good job of figuring out who the hot players are early in the game and then riding them. This flexibility will make the Aces tougher for opponents to scout.

The seven players mentioned above are all playing 20-plus minutes per game. Jaylon Moore and David Howard are taking turns backing up Mockevicius at the moment, while Taylor Stafford and Christian Benzon are seeing spot minutes.

2. Green Bay is really, really good.

The defending Horizon League regular-season champions won convincingly over East Carolina and Florida Gulf Coast, making UE’s two-point loss to the Phoenix a more encouraging result from Evansville’s standpoint. That two-point loss came with Aces star D.J. Balentine shooting 5-for-15, but Green Bay deserves a lot of credit for that; the Phoenix hounded Balentine the entire game and he never found a rhythm.

Green Bay has a potential NBA draft pick in Keifer Sykes, a skilled 6-9 forward in Greg Mays and several other guys who can make shots and defend well as a unit.

That the Aces were able to battle an experienced, quality team like Green Bay down to the final possession with their top scorer struggling is an encouraging sign for UE.

3. Evansville is showing the potential to be an effective offensive team.

Five games in, and the Aces are still shooting 51.7 percent as a team. Speedy point guards Gibson and Brown are doing a solid job of choosing when to push for easy baskets in transition and when to cycle through the offense.

Mockevicius is shooting 68 percent from the field, and Adam Wing (5-for-7) and Blake Simmons (4-for-9) are shooting the 3-pointer with confidence. Balentine snapped out of a brief slump with a 23-point performance against San Francisco.

The Aces have several weapons and at least a few of them have been firing each game.

4. The Aces are also playing well defensively, aside from limiting second-chance points.

UE’s opponents are shooting 39.8 percent so far this season, so the Aces are doing a nice job on defense despite playing some teams with taller lineups. Where giving up size has hurt UE so far, though, is keeping those players off the offensive glass.

Evansville has 47 offensive rebounds this season compared to 53 for its opponents. Over the three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase, UE gave up 40 second-chance points while scoring 21.

Fresno State and San Francisco exploited that advantage the most, each outscoring the Aces by nine on second-chance points.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

ESTERO, Fla. — D.J. Balentine has a game-high 14 points to lead the University of Evansville to 39-34 halftime lead against San Francisco in the third-place game at the Gulf Coast Showcase at Germain Arena.

Balentine missed a 3-pointer on Evansville’s first offensive possession, but finished the half 2 of 5 from long range and 5 of 10 overall. He scored 12 points in the first eight minutes, sparking the Aces on a 10-0 run that allowed them to take a 16-8 lead.

USF’s Mark Tollefsen gave his team a one-point advantage with 8:14 remaining on a tip dunk, but UE responded with a 10-2 run and led the rest of the half. Tollefsen, a 6-foot-9 forward, paced the Dons with 12 points.

Jaylon Brown came off the bench to contribute eight points for UE, which has three players with two fouls (Duane Gibson, Adam Wing and Blake Simmons). Brown made 4 of 5 field-goal attempts, including all four inside the 3-point line.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Evansville (3-1) vs. San Francisco (3-1), 5 p.m. CST Wednesday at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida, in Gulf Coast Showcase third-place game.

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

How they got here: Evansville beat Fresno State 58-52 in Monday’s opening round and lost 64-62 to Green Bay in Tuesday’s semifinals. San Francisco beat Hawaii 88-73 in the opening round and lost 62-47 to Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday.

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 5.3 ppg, 3.5 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 16.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.0 ppg, 2.5 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg).

San Francisco: Tim Derksen (6-3, Jr., G, 12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Matt Glover (6-5, Sr., G, 6.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Kruize Pinkins (6-7, Sr., F, 16.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg); Mark Tollefsen (6-9, Jr., F, 12.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Derrell Robertson (6-10, Jr., C, 3.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

——

Three key questions:

Can Evansville hold its own on the boards?: Statistically, the Dons are the far superior rebounding team. They average 48 boards per game compared to 34 for their opponents, while UE is outrebounding its opponents by an average of 36-30.

San Francisco has nearly doubled up its opposition on the offensive glass (65-38) so it will be important for the smaller UE team to limit second-chance points. The Aces have held up well against the taller forwards from Fresno State and Green Bay, and they’ll have to do that again against the Dons.

Will Mockevicius be limited at all?: Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius tweaked his ankle Tuesday against Green Bay and left the game briefly, but looked fine once he returned and is warming up to compete against San Francisco. I don’t expect him to be limited much, but it’s worth keeping an eye on because an injury like that can stiffen and swell up before the next day. His backup, 6-7 forward Jaylon Moore, led the Aces on Tuesday with 13 points off the bench.

— Which team will come out with more energy?: Both teams are playing their third game in three days, and there’s a little less hype for a consolation, third-place game than a championship matchup. Both teams are likely smarting for different reasons, however. Evansville missed a potential game-winning shot in its semifinal against Green Bay and San Francisco got handled by Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday.

For those reasons, I expect both teams to approach this game as an important one.

——

Predictions: The latest VegasInsider line has Evansville favored by one point. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 68-67 San Francisco victory and gives the Aces a 47 percent chance of winning.

 

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

ESTERO, Fla. — Green Bay point guard Keifer Sykes has game highs of nine points and six rebounds as the Phoenix hold a 26-23 lead over Evansville at halftime of a Gulf Coast Showcase semifinal Tuesday at Germain Arena.

The Aces are shooting just 28 percent from the field and both teams have eight turnovers. Junior center Egidijus Mockevicius leads Evansville with six points and five rebounds. He played 12 minutes before limping off the court with an injury late in the half. Mockevicius left the playing area and later returned to the bench, though he wasn’t put back in the game.

Evansville’s D.J. Balentine was held scoreless for the first 18 minutes, but chipped in five points in the last 1:39. Greg Mays and Turner Botz have five points apiece for Green Bay, which is shooting 9 of 20 from the field.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

“Just Google Keifer Sykes,” University of Evansville assistant coach Jimmy Elgas said when I was looking for someone to give me a scouting report on Green Bay, who plays UE at 5 p.m. CST Tuesday in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.

I had already done that, but here’s what you’d find if you followed Elgas’ instructions.

You’d find that Sykes is projected to be a second-round NBA draft pick in 2015 by multiple mock drafts, he was the Horizon League Player of the Year last season after averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and he recently almost dunked viciously on Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (then shared a Twitter exchange dripping with sportsmanship).

He also has a ton of ridiculous highlight videos. Take your pick.

With that, here are the game notes for UE vs. Green Bay:

Basic info: Evansville (3-0) vs. Green Bay (2-1) in semifinals of Gulf Coast Showcase at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROJECTED STARTERS

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 6.7 ppg, 4 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 18 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 5.3 ppg, 3 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 8.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 14.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg).

Green Bay: Keifer Sykes (6-0, Sr., G, 18 ppg, 4.7 apg); Greg Mays (6-9, Sr., F, 12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Jordan Fouse (6-7, Jr., G/F, 8.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg); Carrington Love (6-1, Jr., G, 5.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg); Kenneth Lowe (6-8, So., F, 3.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg).

— —

Three key questions:

Can UE’s D.J. Balentine break out of his mini-slump?: The junior shooting guard is leading Evansville with 18 points per game, but he’s requiring a lot of shots to do it. Balentine has made 10 of 32 field-goal attempts in his last two games, but the Aces need him to keep firing. Monday against Fresno State, he had several midrange jumpers rim out — the difference between a big scoring game and an average performance.

Will either team get hot offensively in this arena?: No team has put together a great shooting performance in the opening six games of this tournament, and some of that could be attributed to the strange playing environment. Germain Arena is a hockey venue with a cavernous backdrop (and very few fans), which could be messing with players’ depth perception.

UE coach Marty Simmons said that could’ve plagued both UE and Fresno State on Monday, so we’ll see if the teams get more comfortable shooting in the gym as the tournament progresses.

Can Brzoja come up big again for UE?: Mislav Brzoja led UE with 17 points off the bench against Fresno State. He played 29 minutes and was in the game during the important stretches. The Aces will likely need his size (he’s actually 6-foot-6, but is listed at 6-4) and toughness against an experienced, athletic Green Bay team.

— —

Predictions: VegasInsider lists Evansville as a 3 1/2-point underdog. Stat guru Ken Pomeroy predicts a 62-60 Green Bay win and gives the Phoenix a 63 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

ESTERO, Fla. — Mislav Brzoja understood the undersized University of Evansville men’s basketball team needed to use the Fresno State Bulldogs’ athleticism and aggressiveness against them.

Brzoja used an array of shot fakes and hesitations to goad the Bulldogs into fouls, then sank 12 of 13 free throws and scored a team-high 17 points as the Aces posted a 58-52 victory in the opening round of the Gulf Coast Showcase Monday at Germain Arena.

The Aces (3-0) advance to play Green Bay (2-1) at 5 p.m. CST in Tuesday’s semifinals.

It took contributions from a number of UE players to overcome the team’s 38-percent shooting mark. D.J. Balentine scored 13 points, Egidijus Mockevicius posted 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Adam Wing knocked down a crucial 3-pointer late in the game.

Sophomore point guard Duane Gibson made amends for his own turnover by stealing an inbounds pass and driving the length of the floor for a layup to put UE ahead 55-49 with 50 seconds left. The Aces held on from there.

Karachi Edo led Fresno State (1-3) with 17 points and Paul Watson added 13. The Bulldogs play East Carolina on Tuesday in a consolation game.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

ESTERO, Fla — University of Evansville sophomore Blake Simmons knocked down a long two-pointer before the halftime buzzer to give the Aces a 29-25 lead over Fresno State in the opening round of the Gulf Coast Showcase on Monday at Germain Arena.

The successful long ball was a rare occurrence for the Aces (2-0) in the first half, however. Aside from consecutive 3-pointers from Mislav Brzoja and D.J. Balentine, UE was 0-for-10 from beyond the arc. Brzoja leads UE with 10 points off the bench.

Sophomore forward Paul Watson has a team-high 10 points for Fresno State (1-2), which shot 9 of 24 (38 percent) from the field.

Evansville has struggled to find 6-foot-10 center Egidijus Mockevicius inside. The big man has three points on only two field-goal attempts, but leads all players with seven rebounds.

Fresno State’s Karachi Edo has seven points, three rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one highlight-worthy sequence. The 6-6 forward soared in for a tip dunk and emphatically blocked an unsuspecting Mockevicius on the Bulldogs’ next defensive possession.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball, Recruiting.

Indianapolis Star prep sports/recruiting reporter Kyle Neddenriep released his top 20 high school boys’ basketball players to watch in Central Indiana last night, and University of Evansville signee Harris Brown was listed as a first-team preseason selection.

(I wrote about Brown, a 5-foot-11 guard from Indianapolis Howe, both when we committed to the Aces and when he signed a National Letter of Intent.)

Brown’s inclusion among Neddenriep’s top five players in the always-loaded Indianapolis area is nice recognition for the talented scoring guard; even the honorable mention players on this list are solid Division I prospects, and some hold Big Ten offers.