Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Evansville vs. Indiana State, MVC tournament semifinal, approximately 5 p.m. Saturday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

How they got here: Indiana State beat Illinois State 65-57 in the quarterfinals; Evansville beat Missouri State 66-56

Previous meetings: UE won 70-62 in Evansville Dec. 30; ISU won 82-65 in Terre Haute Jan. 24.

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; WUEV 91.5 FM

 

STARTERS

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 10.5 ppg, 2.8 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 20.7 ppg, 4.4 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 5.8 ppg, 3.0 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 7.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 16.6 ppg, 14.0 rpg).

Indiana State: Brenton Scott (6-1, So., G, 14.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Devonte Brown (6-2, Sr., G, 15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Khristian Smith (6-6, Sr., G/F, 10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Niels Bunschoten (6-9, Jr., F, 4.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg); Brandon Murphy (6-7, So., C, 4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

— —

Noting Evansville: Head coach Marty Simmons picked up his 150th win at Evansville on Friday night. He is now 150-142 in his ninth season at UE and 248-215 in his 15th season overall as a college head coach. … The Aces are in their third MVC semifinal and first since 2012. If they win Saturday, they’ll be in their second final (the other was 1999). … Egidijus Mockevicius has 10 consecutive double-doubles and leads NCAA Division I in rebounding at 14.1 per game. His 18 rebounds Friday were the most in UE’s MVC tournament history. … D.J. Balentine (21 points), Adam Wing (13), Mockevicius (12) and Jaylon Brown (11) all reached double figures in scoring Friday, the first time UE has had four scorers in double digits since a Feb. 20 win over Southern Illinois.

Noting Indiana State: ISU is 8-4 under sixth-year head coach Greg Lansing at the MVC tournament. Four of those wins came as the lower-seeded team. … ISU is 74-9 under Lansing when holding opponents to 63 points or less. … The Sycamores held Illinois State to 20 of 64 shooting from the field (31.3 percent) in Friday’s quarterfinal win. … Guards Devonte Brown and Brenton Scott made the all-MVC second team. Both ranked in the top five in scoring in MVC games (Brown 16.9, Scott 15.8). … Brown ranks seventh nationally in free-throw attempts (253) and 10th in makes (192).

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 7 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 73-67 win and gives the Aces a 71 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

ST. LOUIS — Evansville weathered a 5-minute, 18-second scoring drought at the end of the half to take a 29-25 lead over Missouri State in a Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinal at Scottrade Center.

UE guard D.J. Balentine had five points and an assist during a seven-point spurt that saw Evansville take a 27-17 lead. But the Aces made just one of their final 15 shots from the field and missed their last nine.

Balentine had nine points to lead UE, which shot 13 of 33 (39.4 percent) overall. Senior center Egidijus Mockevicius added eight points and 11 rebounds but missed six field-goal attempts near the rim.

Camyn Boone led the Bears with 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

 

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinal — No. 7 Missouri State (13-18) vs. No. 2 Evansville (23-8), 6 p.m. Friday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

How they got here: Missouri State beat Drake 69-67 Thursday in a first-round game; Evansville finished 12-6 in the conference during the regular season, earning a first-round bye.

Preview story: Aces need strong MVC tournament to take ‘next step’ as program

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Indiana Plus, Fox Sports go app; WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Missouri State: Ryan Kreklow (6-4, Fr., G, 6.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Dequon Miller (5-10, Jr., G, 12.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Chris Kendrix (6-5, So., F, 12.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Obediah Church (6-7, Fr., F, 6.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Camyn Boone (6-6, Sr., F, 11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 10.5 ppg, 2.8 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 20.7 ppg, 4.4 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 5.8 ppg, 3.0 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 7.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 16.6 ppg, 14.0 rpg).

— —

THREE KEYS

1. How will Evansville handle Missouri State’s zone?

Coach Paul Lusk said after MSU’s win over Drake that he planned to play more zone against the Aces. The Bears used both a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 against the Bulldogs.

“There’s going to be no secret we’re going to have to zone them,” Lusk said. I thought we were so good tonight in the first half offensively that that kind of helped us, when you can score the ball, but it will be a different game. I think there’s a whole set of things you have to be concerned about with Evansville. Number one, they’re so good offensively, but then on the other end, they will guard us much differently than Drake guarded. They’ll get out and pressure and try wearing us down.”

One benefit to zone defenses is they can help limit foul trouble, which is important for an MSU team with only two healthy guards (Kreklow and Miller, although Kendrix is a wing who can play the “2” position).

Look for the Aces to flash Adam Wing and D.J. Balentine to the free-throw line area and try to make plays in the middle of the zone. Wing is adept at knocking down that awkward jump shot with defenders on all sides, or finding a teammate from that congested area.

2. Will Mockevicius dominate again?

Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius has had his way with the Bears this season, combining for 32 points and 31 rebounds in two wins. He had 21 and 21 in Springfield and then 11 points and 10 boards in just 23 minutes at home.

Mockevicius is 6-foot-10 and MSU’s two main post players are 6-6 and 6-7. He’ll have an advantages in size and skill, so it will be up to his teammates to find him in gaps along the baseline for easy baskets.

3. How much will Evansville get from its role players?

Mockevicius and D.J. Balentine usually put up good numbers despite receiving the most attention from opposing teams. For the Aces to make a run this weekend, Mislav Brzoja, Jaylon Brown, Adam Wing and Blake Simmons will have to pitch in.

They often have done just that, particularly Brown (10.5 points per game). But when UE struggles, it’s usually because the scoring isn’t balanced.

UE is at its best offensively when the ball movement is crisp and each player is stepping into his shot without hesitation.

“D.J. and ‘Iggy,’ they’re going to get their shots,” Brown said. “Me, Wing, Blake, Mislav, even (Christian) Benzon when he comes off the bench — we’ve all got to be confident. … D.J.’s always going to try to create plays for everyone else, too. We’ve all got to be ready to shoot.”

Said Marty Simmons: “I think where we get in trouble is when we pass up some decent looks and we try to thread the needle and make what we call the home-run play instead of staying sound and solid and poised. If we got a great look and the right guy shooting it early in the clock, there’s no problem there.”

— —

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 13 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 76-67 UE win and gives the Aces an 82 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball, Missouri Valley.

In this edition of the MVC round table, we hit up the most experienced members of our group — some among them can remember tournament games at Kiel Auditorium — for their memories of Arch Madness.

1. Best tournament game you’ve covered?

It was not the best-played game, but my choice is Northern Iowa’s 79-74 victory over Missouri State — in double-overtime — for the 2004 championship. It was win-or-bust for both teams, as neither had a prayer for an NCAA at-large or, if I recall correctly, even an NIT invite. Both teams had numerous opportunities to win in regulation and in the first overtime. Finally, the Panthers outlasted the Bears — who were playing their final basketball game as “Southwest” Missouri State prior to the name change.

— Lyndal Scranton, Tailgate Guys Radio

As far as a competitive, well-played championship game, I’ll go with the 2012 matchup between Creighton and Illinois State, won by Creighton 83-79 in overtime. Doug McDermott had 33 points for the Bluejays in a back-and-forth classic.

As far as sheer drama, I have to go back to the 1996 semifinal between Bradley and Missouri State. Bradley won 64-62 on a last-second desperation no-look heave by Deon Jackson to advance to the title game and ensure the Braves an at-large NCAA bid.

— Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal Star

Though Indiana State won the 2011 Tournament, and there were plenty of memorable moments in that run (Jake Odum buzzer-beater in quarters, taut games against WSU and MSU in semifinals and finals), I’d still have to go with the bizarre 2006 play-in game the Sycamores played against Drake.

The Sycamores scored 10 in the first half and I thought I was watching the worst Sycamore performance I’d ever seen. Then they turn around and score 62 in the second half to win the game. At the time, it was the record for least and most points scored in a half as well as lowest and highest shooting percentage (don’t have stats in front of me) by half in MVC Tournament history.

I believe all of those records have since been broken, but what a wild game that was in what had been a wild season for the Sycamores.

— Todd Golden, Terre Haute Tribune Star

SIU’s game against Missouri State in 2011 tops them all for me. The Salukis entered the tournament as the eight seed, beat ninth-seeded Illinois State in the opening round and had top-seeded Missouri State down nine points with under three minutes to go. It was nearly the biggest upset in the history of the tournament.

Kyle Weems, who hit the game-winning jumper over Carlton Fay with about two seconds to go, refused to allow that. The Bears scored the last 11 points to escape and made it all the way to the finals before Indiana State and Jake Odum took ‘em out. SIU opened the door with missed free throws and missed shots, and Missouri State got a really long 3 from Adam Leonard and then Weems’ shot on a clear-out on the right side.

— Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan

Has to be the 1996 semifinal between Bradley and Missouri State (well, still Southwest Missouri State then). Bradley was the No. 1 seed, but the teams had split the season series, each winning at home. It was a close game throughout. Both schools’ fans were there in force. In Bradley’s case, the Braves hadn’t been to a tournament championship game since 1988 and Hersey Hawkins, so there was an air of expectation combined with the nerves. SMS seemed to control much of the game, with Bradley never being quite able to get over the hump.

It comes down to the final seconds, Bradley down a point and having to go length of the court. Most interesting was that Bradley coach Jim Molinari designed the play for Player of the Year Anthony Parker to feed the post for the potential game-winner. Parker drives the court, but the off-ball screening broke down in the paint, and Parker’s pass rattled off Deon Jackson’s hands and the ball starts rolling to the left wing. The Bradley fans moan, the SMS fans roar, and you figure that’s it. But Jackson sprints after the ball, scoops it up with his back to the basket as he crosses the 3-point arc, and turns and flings.

Swish. Bradley wins, 64-62. SMS fans go silent, Bradley fans roar, Jackson goes sprinting around the court with his teammates chasing him. Postlude: The next fall, at MVC Media Day, a reporter asks SMS coach Steve Alford about Jackson’s shot. I don’t have the quote in front of me, but it was basically: “That was not a shot. I was a shooter, and that was not a shot.”

Whatever. It went in.

— Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal Star

Creighton ruined three good stories with its controversial win over Wichita State in the 2009 quarterfinals.

WSU’s J.T. Durley dominated the second half to bring the Shockers back from 18 down in the final 6:52. He scored all 17 of his points in the second half.

WSU’s Toure Murry made a three with nine seconds to play to give WSU a 62-61 lead. Murry made game-winning threes twice earlier in the MVC schedule. He thought he had a third until Creighton’s Booker Woodfox made his much-disputed shot in the final two seconds for a 63-62 win.

Durley, monumental Shockers rally and epic Bluejays collapse, Murry dagger. Great stuff.

Then things really got crazy.

— Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle

2. Maybe you were there for Deon Jackson’s shot or Royce Waltman’s farewell speech or Booker Woodfox. What’s your favorite MVC Tournament memory?

Royce Waltman’s speech was an all-timer. But for me, nothing will top the absolute shock and awe of Deon Jackson’s fling-it-in shot at the horn to save Bradley from a semifinal upset by Missouri State in the 1996 tourney. The shot remains a video-replay favorite this time of the year and still makes veteran Bears’ fans cringe to this day.

— Scranton

I vote for Deon’s shot. While I can vividly recall the stunning moment as it unfolded just a few yards from me, what I remember most fondly are the stories behind the story.

When Jackson’s unlikely fling brought the Braves victory, he had a look of absolute shock on his face. Then he began to dash around the court holding his head. At the time, everyone thought he was just excited for hitting the game-winner. But it later surfaced that he had a severe case of claustrophobia and was running desperately away from his teammates so they wouldn’t pile on top of him.He succeeded.

The other fond memory I have is of the postgame press conference with Bradley coach Jim Molinari. Throughout Deon’s career, his relationship with Molinari was similar to that of a petulant, but lovable child and a stern father. Deon had a strong inside game, but liked to shoot 3s, of which Coach Mo usually didn’t approve. So I asked Mo in the press conference whether it was OK with him for Deon to shoot a 3 in that situation. Mo just shook his head and said, “Oh, Dave.”

— Reynolds

The Royce Waltman speech was definitely a personal moment for me as the question that prompted his speech was about my story on his being let go. The deal in place at the time with ISU brass was that Waltman was supposed to keep his dismissal on the down low until the Monday after Arch Madness, but some ISU trustees were blabbing about it anyway, and that didn’t sit right with the very proud Waltman. He could have ripped me for the story I wrote, but he didn’t, and instead, launched into an eloquent speech.

However, the best moment and best game I’ve witnessed was the 2009 WSU-Creighton game, the Booker Woodfox “Two Dribbles And A Ham Sandwich” Game.

The final shot is what’s remembered, but it’s forgotten what a great game that was from halftime on. I had already completed my ISU duties that day and just watched it like everyone else did. The byplay between the fan bases was outstanding. It was a great atmosphere.

The after-game rancor was equally entertaining. Gregg Marshall was not yet the golden boy of the league, in fact, he was the black hat of the MVC at the time. I distinctly remember his stare-down with Doug Elgin in the hallways of Scottrade. It was tense.

— Golden

I wasn’t there for any of those three in person, but I remember watching Woodfox’s shot against Wichita State on TV at Mike Shannon’s Steakhouse down the street. In between downing a porterhouse steak I turned to watch the last few seconds, and the whole bar erupted when he hit it. The steak was fantastic, too.

SIU hasn’t had a lot of success at the event since I started in 2008, but I’d say the run in 2014 to the semifinals was unexpected and enjoyable. Anthony Beane came of age, and Desmar Jackson was one of the most exciting players to watch in the event. SIU lost by three to Indiana State in the semifinals.

— Hefferman

Lots of favorites, but I think it has to be The Stallings Stare.

It was 1997 semifinal between Illinois State and UNI. Northern was controlling the first half and ISU was in all sorts of foul trouble. In the final minutes, ISU’s Dan Muller picks up his third foul on a Jason Daisy drive. Media timeout follows the whistle, and ISU coach Kevin Stallings never goes to the team huddle. Instead, he marches to the end of the bench and spends the entire timeout glaring at John Higgins, who had made the call. I don’t think Stallings blinked the whole time.

As so often happens, that moment turned the momentum. Northern went up nine points after Daisy finished the and-1, but ISU came back and won the game and went on to win the tournament. I’ve been covering college basketball for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff. I watched Johnny Orr sprint into the middle of the court to stop a fast break. I saw Norm Stewart channel his minor-league pitching career and go into a full windup and fire a fast ball at official Johnny Overby.

And I’ve seen countless coaches berate officials and get T’d or tossed. But I’ve never seen a coach do what Stallings did. Never said a word. Just glared, like the Sphinx.

— Wessler

 

The Wichita State-Creighton rivalry got better and better through the years and it was fun to watch it play out in close quarters in St. Louis. The fans competed to fill the most seats, the teams had a healthy dislike and respect and knew they measured themselves against each other.

 

The 2009 quarterfinal game produced crazy drama. The 2013 title game provided two top-level teams playing well for 40 minutes.

 

— Suellentrop

3. What’s your recommendation for a restaurant in St. Louis?

 

When you’re in St. Louis, at least for me, it comes down to a choice between Italian and BBQ. For Italian, a trip to The Hill is a must. There are literally a half-dozen or so places where you can’t go wrong, but my choice is Cunetto’s House of Pasta. Great, great food for a reasonable price. For BBQ, I always stop in Eureka at Super Smoker’s and see my friend Terry Black who’s been called The Godfather of St. Louis BBQ. Many of the hot BBQ joints in STL (the guys who run Pappy’s and Bogarts apprenticed under Black) and I’m loyal to Super Smokers.

 

— Scranton

 

So many choices, especially since my foodie son has located there. My favorite is probably Pappy’s, the iconic downtown bar-b-q joint. Prepare to get there early in the day and prepare to wait in line. But it is so worth it.

 

— Reynolds

 

We scribes don’t get out much during Arch Madness, but there’s a few I like. Tucker’s In Soulard is a nice sit-down steak place. Michael’s Bar and Grill on Manchester Road is good. There’s a place in Clayton called Cafe Manhattan that has really good burgers. None of those are within walking distance of Scottrade, so not sure how helpful that is.

 

— Golden

 

Like a lot of you I don’t get out much during the actual tournament, but my family visits St. Louis a lot because of the proximity. And the zoo. If you’re ever free for lunch, there is a fantastic family-owned Italian place called Adriana’s in The Hill district, on Shaw Boulevard. It’s only open during the day but the food is worth the drive, and there’s a great coffee place down the street — Shaw’s Coffee.

 

— Hefferman

 

Due to the tournament schedule, we don’t get to hit the restaurants much. But depending on what you seek, I have three places I like to hit when I’m in the Lou: If you’re going to The Hill for Italian, I recommend Giovanni’s on Shaw Street. There are lots of great Italian places, but that one is my favorite. If you want great BBQ and atmosphere, check out Highway 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen in Webster Groves, just off I-44. For pub food — and sometimes a good band, plus a nice dining patio in good weather — I like the Train Wreck Saloon in Westport Plaza, which is in the northwest corner of the city, just inside the I-270 beltway.

 

— Wessler

 

Zia’s. Get there early.

 

— Suellentrop

4. You’re drafting a team from MVC schools during your time covering the conference. Who is your first pick?

 

Fred Van Vleet. The Valley’s always been a guard-centric league and nobody’s run the show better and won more games as a point guard that Van Vleet. Nobody’s ever made the people around him better the way Van Vleet has.

 

— Scranton

 

So many good teams over the years. The Southern Illinois dynasties in the mid-90s and early-to-mid 2000s. Bradley in ’96. Tulsa in the mid-90s. Illinois State in ’97 and ’98. All the Creighton editions, particularly the Doug McDermott years. Even Drake in ’08 was an offensive juggernaut.

 

But the best of them all was Wichita State in 2014. The Shockers rode an undefeated season into the tournament and swept through those three games totally unchallenged. Their two-point loss to Kentucky in the NCAAs — one of the best games I’ve seen on that stage in recent years — showed the national cachet that team owned.

 

Those Shockers had it all — size, great offense, great defense, toughness and an outstanding coach.

 

— Reynolds

 

I think wonders could be done with any team built around Fred VanVleet. He’d be my first choice. Pair him up with Darren Brooks, Doug McDermott, Cleanthony Early and Egidijus Mockevicius and that would be a great, traditional starting five.

 

— Golden

 

Darren Brooks is out for me because I started in 2008, and SIU fans will probably kill me for this, but I’d take Fred VanVleet from Wichita State with my first pick. If I had only the second pick to start my team, I’d take Jake Odom from Indiana State. Bryan Mullins was great, but those two players were a bit more gifted, offensively. After that, I’d take Doug McDermott from Creighton, Cleanthony Early from Wichita State, Woodfox, and Osiris Eldridge from Illinois State, and slaughter all of you.

 

— Hefferman

 

In my time covering the conference? Well, that’s two stretches, since I first covered the league in the 1970s when I was a student. So, I’d have to start with Larry Bird, Maurice Cheeks and Roger Phegley, then add Hersey Hawkins and Doug McDermott. From my second stretch, which began in the late 1980s, I’d go with Hersey Hawkins, Fred VanVleet, Doug McDermott, Chad Gallagher and Cle Early. And I would love, love, love to have Ben Walker coming off the bench.

 

— Wessler

 

My 10-year All-MVC team: 1. VanVleet, 2. McDermott, 3. Randal Falker, SIU, 4. Ron Baker, WSU, 5. Patrick O’Bryant, Bradley.

 

— Suellentrop

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball, Missouri Valley.

Here are my selections, in rank order, with some notes/justifications added. Keep in mind I couldn’t vote for Evansville players or coaches, with the exception of the all-bench and most-improved teams.

ALL-CONFERENCE 

1. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State (Player of the Year)

2. Ron Baker, WSU

3. Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa — I chose Washpun over Beane here because his team finished stronger and he’s a better defender and passer. It could’ve gone either way, though.

4. Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois

5. DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, Illinois State

6. MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State

7. Devonte Brown, Indiana State

8. Jeremy Morgan, UNI

9. Milton Doyle, Loyola

10. Paris Lee, Illinois State

——

COACH OF THE YEAR

1. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State — The Shockers’ dominance over the rest of the conference was even more impressive given the injuries they weathered early in the season.

2. Barry Hinson, SIU — Who pegged the Salukis for a top-half conference finish and a 22-win season after all their offseason transfers? Not me.

3. Paul Lusk, Missouri State — Another team that exceeded expectations. Lusk has assembled some quality young talent.

——

ALL-DEFENSE

1. Jeremy Morgan, UNI (Defensive Player of the Year)

2. Zach Brown, Wichita State

3. Paris Lee, Illinois State

4. Ron Baker, Wichita State

5. Tony Wills, Illinois State

——

ALL-FRESHMEN TEAM

1. Markis McDuffie, WSU (Freshman of the Year)

2. Jarred Dixon, Missouri State

3. Dominik Olejniczak, Drake

4. Obediah Church, MSU

5. Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Bradley

— —

ALL-NEWCOMER TEAM

1. Dequon Miller, MSU (Newcomer of the Year)

2. Markis McDuffie, WSU

3. Anton Grady, WSU

4. Mike Rodriguez, SIU

5. Everett Clemons, Indiana State

——

ALL-BENCH TEAM

1. Markis McDuffie, WSU

2. Anton Grady, WSU

3. Mislav Brzoja, Evansville

4. Leo Vincent, SIU

5. Klint Carlson, UNI

——

MOST IMPROVED

1. Bennett Koch, UNI — Went from hardly playing to a solid starter on a good team. I wavered between him and Evansville’s Jaylon Brown, and maybe recency bias won out (Brown has scored five or fewer points in three of the last four games).

2. Jaylon Brown, Evansville

3. MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State

4. Chris Kendrix, Missouri State

5. Wes Washpun, UNI

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Leftover notes, quotes and observations from the Panthers’ win Saturday. You can read my game story here.

1. Northern Iowa has now held UE to its two lowest point totals of the season.

Both games were close, but the only times Evansville has scored in the 50s this season have come in losses to Northern Iowa. UE’s offense was especially sluggish in the first half, when the Aces scored 16 points, shot 29.4 percent and committed nine turnovers.

Northern Iowa had a 15-3 edge in points off turnovers at halftime.

“We knew it would be a grind-it-out game,” UE coach Marty Simmons said. “Most games with them are. They got 15 points off turnovers in the first half and we get (three). That’s quite the discrepancy. I thought our guys played hard, I thought they fought. We made a lot of mistakes. We didn’t listen very good in timeouts and on the floor. We just have to be better. Everybody’s got to be in tune and locked in.”

Outside of turnovers, UE’s offensive struggles can be traced to two primary sources: the inability to get senior center Egidijus Mockevicius involved until the second half and the lack of contributions from role players.

Mockevicius didn’t attempt a field goal until nearly two minutes into the second half, and only received a couple of post touches in the first 20 minutes. He still managed 14 points and 16 rebounds for the game, but could have had an even bigger impact with more opportunities in the first half.

Outside of UE’s “big two,” Adam Wing (10 points) was the only player who met or exceeded his scoring averages. The other players the Aces rely on for complementary scoring: Mislav Brzoja 1-for-7 for three points, Jaylon Brown 2-for-7 for four points and Blake Simmons 0-for-2 for zero points.

Simmons — who appeared to be regaining confidence with some solid recent performances — was almost a complete no-show. He had no points, one rebound, one foul, one assist and one turnover in 31 minutes. Brzoja drew a pair of charges, but committed three turnovers of his own and didn’t record a rebound.

“I think in the first half we shot low percentages but other than the turnovers we got some good looks,” Simmons said. “We got to keep taking those. You’ve just got to keep taking them. There’s too many times when you pass those up, now you’re not going to get as good of (a shot) later in the clock. I believe in all of these guys. They’ve done a great job to be where we’re at at his point. Confidence is a fickle thing. When you got it, there isn’t anything you can do wrong. When you lose it — and you’ve got guys that care, which we do — then they get a little passive.”

2. The Aces still had a chance to win.

The positive takeaway for UE is the Aces nearly pulled off a victory despite a poor first half and weathering several bad breaks: the flagrant 1 foul call on Mockevicius that led to five points for UNI and gave Evansville a bigger hole to climb out of, Brzoja fouling on purpose thinking he had a foul to give because of a malfunctioning scoreboard (leading to two Wes Washpun free throws), D.J. Balentine’s phantom foul on a Washpun jumper and UNI’s Klint Carlson getting away with a travel after a defensive rebound in the final minutes.

Officials make mistakes every game, and it usually balances out, but it seemed UE got the worse end of the whistle on Saturday.

Despite all that, Evansville had a shot to win at the buzzer, which says something about how the Aces fought through those setbacks. Northern Iowa cooperated a bit by missing their share of open shots, too, but the Panthers were solid down the stretch and hit 12 of 13 free throws for the game.

It was Evansville’s senior trio that led the comeback, scoring 33 of UE’s 36 points after the break.

“We understood we were down nine and we needed more focus from us three,” Balentine said. “The team followed us and we battled back.”

“They’ve been great all year. They’ve been great for four years,” Marty Simmons said of his seniors. “We’ve talked about it before; when teams are showing D.J. and Egidijus that type of attention, the guys around them have to step up and make shots and I think we’ve done that the last four or five games but we didn’t make shots.”

3. Evansville’s NIT chances took a hit.

Evansville’s RPI dropped 10 spots to No. 91 and Northern Iowa moved up to No. 93 as a result of the win. The Aces are in danger of being passed by the Panthers in the RPI during the conference tournament, especially with UNI playing higher-ranked teams in its first two games.

Last season, only two teams outside the top 85 in the RPI (Arizona State and Vanderbilt) received at-large bids to the NIT. If it comes to choosing between the Panthers and Aces for the NIT, UNI has the season sweep over UE and much better quality wins. UE has a better overall record and finished higher in the conference standings.

In my opinion, the Aces could get an NIT bid if they advance to the MVC tournament finals. Otherwise, they’ll need some help from minimal upsets in small-conference tournaments, and even that may not be enough. All regular-season champions who don’t go to the NCAA tournament get automatic bids to the NIT.

Marty Simmons said the Aces will take the day off on Sunday. He expects the team to come back refreshed and hungry to make a run in Arch Madness.

“I’d be as motivated as I could be when we didn’t get the result we wanted on Senior Day,” he said. “You get another life. Losing on Senior Day is about as disappointing as … everybody’s trying to put their heart and soul into it for the seniors and we didn’t get a result. I certainly think that would motivate us.”

 

 

 

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team held Evansville to its lowest-scoring half of the season in taking a 25-16 lead Saturday at the Ford Center.

Evansville finished 5 of 17 from the field — including 1 of 5 from 3-point range — while committing nine turnovers. Star center Egidijus Mockevicius didn’t attempt a field goal in the half and D.J. Balentine scored a team-high six points.

Seven players scored for Northern Iowa. Jeremy Morgan hit a pair of 3s to lead the Panthers with six points.

Both teams endured nearly six minutes without scoring at different points in the half, but UNI took capitalized more. The Panthers scored 10 points while Evansville scuffled, and the Aces only had five points during UNI’s drought.

UNI packed its defense inside to make it difficult for Balentine and Mockevicius to receive passes in the lane, and Evansville struggled to make outside shots. The Panthers also held a 15-3 advantage in points off turnovers.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Northern Iowa (18-12, 10-7 MVC) at Evansville (23-7, 12-5), 1 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center

Preview story: UE seniors’ impact goes beyond statistics

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network; WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Northern Iowa: Wes Washpun (6-1, Sr., G, 14.1 ppg, 5.4 apg); Matt Bohannon (6-4, Sr., G, 12.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Paul Jesperson (6-6, Sr., G, 11.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Jeremy Morgan (6-5, Jr., G, 10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Bennett Koch (6-9, So., F, 8.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

Evansville: D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 20.8 ppg, 4.4 apg); Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 10.7 ppg, 2.8 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 6.0 ppg, 3.1 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., G/F, 7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 16.7 ppg, 13.9 rpg).

— —

Noting Northern Iowa: The Panthers are locked into the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game at Arch Madness next week against Southern Illinois. Either team could finish fourth or fifth based on today’s results. … If UNI finishes fourth, it will have finished in the top four of the MVC standings for an eighth consecutive season — the longest active streak in the league. … The Panthers rank No. 8 in the country in fewest turnovers per game (9.9) and No. 1 in fewest fouls per game (15.3). UNI also leads the MVC in free-throw percentage (75.6) and made 3-pointers (254). … Northern Iowa is 8-1 in its last nine game, the best mark in the Valley during that stretch. … The Panthers outscored Evansville 4-0 ion the final minute Feb. 3 to pull out a 57-54 victory.

Noting Evansville: Adam Wing, D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius will be honored for Senior Day. Each is at least a three-year starter and the trio has logged a combined 327 starts. … Evansville and Northern Iowa have both used the same starting lineup all season. … Balentine had a season-low nine points on 4-of-15 shooting in this season’s loss at UNI. It was the only time this season he didn’t attempt a free throw. … Mockevicius has eight straight double-doubles and leads NCAA Division I with 25 this season. … Evansville is ranked No. 12 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Northern Iowa is No. 23. … Mockevicius and Balentine are in position to lead the MVC in rebounding and scoring, respectively, for a third straight season.

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 4.5 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 69-64 UE win and gives the Aces a 67 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s win Saturday over Southern Illinois. You can read my game story here.

Since this was a press conference that featured SIU coach Barry Hinson, let’s get straight to the quotes. Here’s Hinson on a variety of topics:

— On the Salukis missing 11 first-half shots from inside the paint: “I think we wet our britches. I think we got a little scared. I told our team at the half we were ‘soft.’ And that’s exactly the word I used. We’re playing soft, we’re playing scared and I think of all things that really caught me off guard.”

— On how those misses affected SIU’s offense: “It’s hard to keep throwing it inside when you’re not making those layups. And then our guards got into a zone where, ‘Well, they can’t make a layup, I might as well jack it.’ That’s where we let the game get away from us.”

— On SIU’s lack of defense on UE guard Jaylon Brown, who tied his career high with 19 points: “He was really good in the first half when we didn’t guard him. You’re really good when no one’s guarding you. His first dunk, no one picked him up for 94 feet. He had a highlight, ESPN dunk because nobody guarded him. I think I could’ve scored double figures against us today.”

— On Evansville: “They beat us in every aspect. I thought they were better than us. The only reason we outrebounded them was because we shot the ball so poorly. I think they were more energetic, I think they were more prepared, I think they stuck to their game plan. I think they did everything better than we did.”

– On his vote for MVC Player of the Year (Hinson said he would vote for his own Anthony Beane and then flip a coin between UE’s D.J. Balentine and Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet for runner-up): “Those guys are the best players in the league because of all the things they do. D.J.’s points mean nothing to me. His assists, his leadership – all that stuff on the floor and what he does – I think that makes him special.”

— —

Speaking of Balentine, the Aces have said they’re at their best when they get balanced scoring. But they also need their leading scorer to shoot well. One of those things often leads to the other, like Saturday when Balentine had 27 points but was also key in getting his teammates involved with a game-high six assists. Four other Aces had at least nine points.

“He’s somebody that a lot of our stuff goes through,” UE coach Marty Simmons said. “I think it really helps. He was locked in, he was ready to go right there from the get-go. He made a couple shots from deep when the shot clock’s running down. That really sparked us.”

Said Balentine: “It was just passing more and moving, guys getting ready to score and shoot. We started the game with two or three straight assists. Once you got that going, it feeds everybody.”

— —

Brown had one of his best games as an Ace, and continued his trend of shooting into the passing lane for a steal and dunk almost once per game. It came at a big moment for UE, which was trying to stave off a late rally from SIU with Egidijus Mockevicius on the bench because of foul trouble.

“It comes in practice more than in games,” Brown said. “We walk through a lot of their plays so coaches hint that you can get steals on these types of plays, so I kind of key in on certain things that they run and kind of jump them if I see it quickly.”

Brown’s growth has been instrumental in Evansville’s strong season, a fact not lost on Simmons.

“He’s a resilient son of a gun, man,” the coach said. “He just keeps playing. He’s grown up a lot, he doesn’t let things bother him. I thought he was outstanding. We all make mistakes out there but he just stays with it and I thought he made a lot of big plays.”

Simmons also credited Brown and Blake Simmons with slowing down Anthony Beane. SIU’s star guard had 22 points but finished a modest 8 of 21 from the field.

“I thought (Brown) and Blake both did an admirable job,” Simmons said. “That guy’s not easy to defend. Let alone what they’re doing offensively, just his one-on-one abilities is off the charts.”

Balentine said Brown’s aggressiveness is key for the Aces to close the season well. In a pick-your-poison scenario between Balentine, Brown and Mockevicius, opponents will always pick Brown. If he burns them, UE is that much harder to beat.

“He understands that he’s going to have opportunities to score,” Balentine said. “If they disrespect him in any way, he’s going to make a fool out of them and score. He’s been good all year with all that. It’s really important for St. Louis because (teams) are obviously going to key in on certain things. If we have another guy like him that can put a rest to it, it’ll be really big for us.”

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

D.J. Balentine tallied 16 points and four assists Saturday to lead Evansville to a 45-36 halftime lead over Southern Illinois at the Ford Center.

The Aces shot 17 for 26 from the field (65.4 percent) but the Salukis cut into a 16-point deficit with timely 3-point shooting. SIU canned three straight triples after falling behind 36-20 with 6:32 left and finished the half  6 of 13 from downtown.

But Balentine had two 3s late in the half to keep SIU from getting any closer than six points. Jaylon Brown and Egidijus Mockevicius scored nine points apiece for UE.

Three Salukis picked up two fouls in the half: starters Bola Olaniyan and Mike Rodriguez and reserve Armon Fletcher. UE sixth man Mislav Brzoja also committed two fouls.

Both teams entered the contest 21-7 overall and 10-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference, tied for third place.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball.

Basic info: Southern Illinois (21-7, 10-5 MVC) at Evansville (21-7, 10-5 MVC), 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center

Preview story: Simmons finding his 3-point stroke for Evansville ahead of showdown with SIU

TV/Radio: Fox Sports Indiana; WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Southern Illinois: Sean O’Brien (6-7, Jr., F, 12.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Bola Olaniyan (6-7, Jr., C, 7.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg); Mike Rodriguez (5-10, Jr., G, 8.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg); Tyler Smithpeters (6-4, Jr., G, 7.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Anthony Beane (6-2, Sr., G, 19.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg).

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 10.7 ppg, 2.9 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 20.5 ppg, 4.3 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 5.8 ppg, 3.0 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 7.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 16.8 ppg, 13.9 rpg).

— —

Noting Southern Illinois: The Salukis are 9-2 on the road this season. Only five Division I teams have more road wins. … Anthony Beane has 1,857 career points and is eight away from passing Ashraf Amaya for fourth place on SIU’s all-time list. Beane is coming off a season-low six points against Bradley. … The Salukis have started only two lineup variations this season and have started the same five players 23 times. UE has used the same five in all 28 games. … Beane had 30 points in the first game against UE, which the Aces won 85-78 in overtime. Sean O’Brien added 16 points and seven rebounds and Leo Vincent chipped in 11 points. … The Salukis are chasing the school record for largest improvement in the win column. They’ve already won nine more games than last year’s 12-win team. The SIU record is a 12-game improvement.

Noting Evansville: Egidijus Mockevicius leads Division I with 23 double-doubles. He currently has 1,173 career rebounds, 24 away from Dale Wise’s school record. … D.J. Balentine and Mislav Brzoja tied for a team-high 25 points in the win this season at SIU. That was a career-high for Brzoja. … With a win, Evansville would achieve its most MVC wins in a season since 1998-99, when the Aces went 13-5 in league play. … The Aces and Salukis are tied for third in the MVC race, one game behind second-place Illinois State (11-4 in conference). Illinois State plays at Northern Iowa today. … D.J. Balentine hasn’t shot above 40 percent from the field since the last time UE played SIU. However, he made 4 of 7 3-pointers Wednesday at Drake and finished with 26 points.

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 7 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 79-71 UE win and gives the Aces a 77 percent chance of victory.

Posted by & filed under Men's Basketball, Missouri Valley.

A sampling of opinions from media members around the Missouri Valley Conference

1. How intriguing is the MVC Tournament after Wichita State’s losses to Illinois State and Northern Iowa?

Extremely intriguing. The Shockers’ losses to ISU and UNI has given hope to those playing on Friday that maybe they can steal an invite to the Big Dance. But, on the other end, you would think Wichita State will be laser focused in St. Louis knowing if it doesn’t win the AQ it is giving the NCAA seeding committee a chance to leave them out.

— Jim Benson, The Pantagraph

Wichita State’s recent defeats does not put its regular-season title in immediate jeopardy. It does add intrigue to the MVC Tournament as there obviously is a dent in what once seemed like an air of invincibility that the Shockers had over the rest of the pack. There now does seem a legitimate chance that someone else could prevail in St. Louis. It means that Wichita State no longer is a lead-pipe cinch for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. There is work for the Shockers to do.

Winning out in the regular season should be enough, even with a semifinal or final loss in St. Louis. But the Shockers — and what appears to be a spotty offense — have little remaining margin for error.

— Lyndal Scranton, Tailgate Guys Radio

I think it’s the most interesting MVC Tournament we’ve seen in quite awhile. The winner should come from the group of Wichita State, Northern Iowa, Evansville and maybe even Illinois State. Even more interesting will be watching to see if any Valley team has done enough to merit an at-large NCAA bid. I’m not sure this is more than a one-bid league. There should be some outstanding Valley teams making postseason appearances outside of the NCAA Tournament.

— Jim Connell, Springfield News-Leader

Wichita State’s two losses add an unfortunate air of desperation from top to bottom. Unfortunate because I hate to see the Valley as a one-bid league. It’s a lot more fun when you know multiple bids are at stake, and there’s a dramatic underline to the weekend as teams either play spoiler or “play their way into the NCAA tournament” by getting to the semis or the final. I’m afraid that element is gone now.

Running the table would have given the Shox a strong bubble case. Now, they have to win the tournament or be very nervous. I think they might still have a fair chance for an at-large if they go 4-0 to finish and then reach the title game, but it’s not the lock it appeared 10 days ago. I think 18-0 would have cinched it. now it appears Wichita faces the same urgency everybody else does: Gotta win to get in.

— Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal Star

No matter what happens before March 3, Illinois State and Northern Iowa should arrive in St. Louis thinking they can beat Wichita State if they play well. The Shockers appeared invincible in 2013-14 and darn-near in 2015-16. The past week changed that perception, at least a little, even as WSU wins its third straight MVC title.

That makes the tournament much more interesting, especially if Evansville and Southern Illinois also are playing well.

I’m not done on WSU’s at-large possibilities. I think the Shockers can get in without winning the MVC Tournament, as long as they win out in the regular season. WSU will finish strong and be the favorite in St. Louis. The wins by the Panthers and Redbirds add some drama.

— Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle

2. Is Missouri State’s group of sophomore Chris Kendrix and freshmen Ryan Kreklow, Obediah Church and Jarred Dixon talented enough to make the Bears MVC title contenders in the next two seasons?

Definitely, but the Bears still need another athletic front-court performer to join Church if they want to challenge for the title. Give Paul Lusk plenty of credit this season for getting this team to play hard every night. They might be the most overachieving team in the league outside of SIU. It would be a shame if Missouri State didn’t keep Lusk around for at least another year.

The Valley is a much better product with Missouri State as one of the better teams. The Bears have one of the nicest arenas in the league and can bring fans to St. Louis when the team is relevant.

— Benson

Missouri State has the young pieces in place to become a contender in 2016-17, particularly when you factor in the loss of top seniors from this season’s top Valley teams. There is room for upward movement from those in the middle-to-bottom tier this season. For MSU it’s arguably the best young nucleus for the Bears since the Blake Ahearn-Deven Mitchell-Tyler Chaney-Nathan Bilyeu crop of high school recruits in the mid-2000s.

Missouri State also has a nice incoming recruiting class of three, including two talented junior college wing players and prep senior Greg “Boogie” Williams, perhaps the most acclaimed recruit of the Paul Lusk era. All this said, we saw the Bears lose a promising young core, centered around Marcus Marshall, last year. Retaining young talent has become anything but certain in the Valley in recent years with high-majors luring players away.

— Scranton

Those four players need to continue to get stronger and diversify their games. Kreklow can’t just be a shooter and Church needs to be able to do more than be on the receiving end of alley-oops, for example.

A wild card for next season is the arrival of Greg Williams, a 6-foot-6 point guard out of Virginia. He had some high-major offers as a top 100-type player before complications from a ruptured appendix had him hospitalized for the entire AAU season last summer. The other offers largely disappeared, and from all accounts, he’s back to 100 percent. If he’s as good as his advance billing, and joins a backcourt that includes Dequon Miller, Dixon and Kreklow, with a healthy Austin Ruder back, it should accelerate the time frame and expectations for this team.

— Connell

The Bears need some help. I like their young guys a lot, and they could certainly form the core of a contender. But they need depth, and they also need one of these guys to step up and be the star on offense.

Either that, or hope they find one in the next two recruiting classes. The changes in the rules — notably the shot clock and the freedom-of-movement fouls — already have resulted in a substantial scoring spike. That’s going to continue, because the NCAA rules bosses view this season as simply a first step in the right direction of increasing tempo and scoring. As teams go zone and pack-line to take away the drive, the perimeter opens and creates a premium on perimeter shooting.

Other than Ryan Kreklow, the Bears haven’t shown a lot there. I just looked at their conference stats, and they’re averaging only 67.4 ppg while giving up 71.6. I know there’s a lot more to consider with the analytics for tempo and efficiency, etc., but those are still significant numbers. Opponents are scoring about 3 points under the national average, so that’s not bad. But they have to score more in this changing era. And it’s more than points; their shooting percentages — overall and three-point — are also worse than opponents’. Those who know me think I’ve become a heretic. I’ve always been a proponent of great defense. I still believe you must play great defense, but the metrics that define that have changed because of the rules.

The game has changed, and you have to adjust. You’re not going to win this league scoring less than 70 points per game.

— Wessler 

Those four appear to be a good core of players. Church’s physical skills are a rare asset in the MVC. I hope he spends the spring and summer shooting foul shots, because he should get to the line often and he’s leaving a lot of points to waste shooting 43 percent. Ryan Kreklow and Jarred Dixon impressed me with their confidence in games against WSU. They didn’t play like most freshmen.

The key for coach Paul Lusk is to keep adding talent around them and keeping those players in maroon. The Valley is better when the Bears are winning.

— Suellentrop

3. You are MVC commissioner for a day, with unlimited power. What changes do you make?

Mandatory starting times no later than 7 pm on weekdays and 8 on weekends.

Yes, this is from a purely selfish standpoint from writing under ridiculous deadlines, but also from a standpoint of fans with younger children who have to attend school during the week and also on weekends when they don’t want to get home around 11 or later. Yes, TV dictates late starting times. We all get that. But at some point, isn’t it better to have more people in the seats?

It creates a better atmosphere for the players which usually improves the quality of the games.

— Benson

Doug Elgin does a fine job and does not need my help. That said, the time might be right to be proactive in exploring expansion possibilities. It’s troubling that the Valley has slipped in the RPI to 13th as a league, especially with the senior talent base. Getting programs like Bradley, Missouri State and Drake to improve, along with Southern Illinois’ continued improvement, should help.

But I’d like to see the league at least think about new blood (Oral Roberts, Belmont anyone?). Convincing Saint Louis to return to its long-ago conference home, which would be a basketball home run. And I think ORU, should it get a shot at joining the Valley, would raise its level along with getting the Valley a much-needed western addition to better balance it geographically.

— Scranton

The biggest one would be to eliminate any monitor reviews. Officials seem to be seeking out any reason to go to the replays, and it puts a halt to any flow the game may be enjoying. It’s rare to see a monitor review yield any meaningful change, anyway.

— Connell

I would mandate a minimum strength-of-schedule, and it would be fairly demanding. When the Valley was at its strongest in the multi-bid era — the mid-2000s — there was a direct correlation between success and strong schedules throughout the league. That came about because the league as a whole bought into the concept.

Then within a very short span, most of the presidents and ADs and coaches turned over, and the majority of them, unfortunately, went limp. Look, I realize scheduling isn’t easy, but it’s not mission impossible to have a legitimately strong schedule, and it doesn’t have to include a bunch of Power-5 conference brands, either. It just takes guts. I firmly believe that to be the best, you have to be truly willing to play the best, even in adverse circumstances. Anybody, anytime, anyplace.

I’d penalize schools financially for every non-conference game played against a team 250 or lower on the RPI, with a sliding scale that increases the fine at 275 and 300. I’d use some of the league’s NCAA payoff to provide financial incentives for non-conference games played against teams in the top 100, increasing for top 50s and top 25s. Everybody in the league benefits from strong non-conference schedules, just as everybody in the league suffers from weak ones.

— Wessler

My first call will be to Indiana State’s new athletic director to convince that person to drop football.

Indiana State should go all in on basketball (and baseball) and use its limited resources on those sports. The school is the smallest of the MVC’s public schools and its boosters are spread too thin. Unlike schools such as Southern Illinois and Illinois State, it hasn’t invested heavily in a new stadium. Attendance averaged 5,060 last season and the Sycamores aren’t a traditional winner.

The Sycamores should brand themselves as the school where basketball, baseball and soccer are important and fund them well enough to be more successful. Give basketball the money to pay better salaries, travel better and play guarantee games at home.

Sure, it will be painful for a few seasons. The payoff should be more success in basketball and a stronger MVC.

— Suellentrop