Game of the Week
|Saturday, November 21, 1:30 PM||
Evansville Purple Aces (2-0)
Belmont Bruins (2-1)
The Purple Aces enter the season as the main challenger to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley. Evansville returns every key contributor from a season ago, and are led by two of the most dangerous threats in the conference. Egidijus Mockevicius is a matchup nightmare in the paint at 6-10 and is one of the best big men nationally. D.J. Balentine anchors the offense and should continue to score north of 20 points per game this season for the Purple Aces.
The biggest question mark around Evansville is if they will be able to pull it all together. This is the same core group that they had last year, and the team struggled at times to play like a team. This led to a lackluster conference mark and what could be perceived as a really down year, until you look at the postseason. Evansville ran through the CIT and walked away with the title, giving a glimpse into what is possible for this squad.
Player to Watch | D.J. Balentine
Balentine is the guy that is going to make the offense go for Evansville. He takes a lot of shots, and luckily for the team, he makes a lot of shots. His ability to penetrate against defenses and get to the foul line is also impressive, helped by his above average 6-3 frame at the point. Balentine knows how to work his team into the offense and those shots that he does take are carefully chosen instead of forced. He should be in quite the battle with the strong backcourt of the Bruins, but don't expect that to stop him for getting his 20.
Belmont will be well-traveled and well-tested before pulling into Evansville on Saturday. The Bruins have already been on the road to Milwaukee and Tempe, and get a brief stop home in Nashville before taking on the Purple Aces. The result will be that Belmont will have had three challenging games in what is always a brutal schedule for them.
But the results have been mixed in those starts. Against Marquette, the shooting touch was there as the Bruins went 12-for-34 from 3-point range, driving the offense from behind the arc as normal. But they went cold against Arizona State and melted from range. They shot just 38 percent overall and were 8-for-31 from behind the arc. The difference in shooting led to the difference in result, as the Bruins are 1-1 with a game against Western Kentucky to come before Saturday.
Player to Watch | Evan Bradds
You may have expected the player to watch to be Craig Bradshaw, who was the preseason player of the year in the OVC. He will likely get the tough task of guarding Balentine, and he should be no slouch at the task. But instead, you should keep an eye on Evan Bradds, who was the player of the week in the conference for his performance against Marquette. He was 10-for-13 in that one, although half of his shots came at the rim. He won't have that opportunity against Mockevicius. His ability to be that second option against Evansville is going to be important and that will mean extending his range: a skill he doesn't test that often, but is usually fairly successful at (50.9 percent last season).
Ben: Belmont has some talented players, but the Bruins have yet to face a defense like they will in Evansville. No doubt that Rick Byrd will have the team ready, but getting in to score against Mockevicius in the middle and then trying to stop the numerous weapons on Evansville is going to be tough. Any time Belmont plays and gets hot from distance, they can win, so this will not be a blowout, but I think Evansville has the edge overall.
Parks: Belmont should be fearless after playing in some tough games already but I'm giving a slight edge to Evansville with the home environment. I think it will be really hard for the Bruins to match the Purple Aces in the frontcourt and that advantage plus homecourt will be enough for Evansville.