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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Evansville

I'm about to infinitely increase your level of knowledge on the Evansville Purple Aces.

He looks like a(n) Egidijus.
He looks like a(n) Egidijus.
US PRESSWIRE

You learn a lot of things when you start to research an opponent with whom you're not familiar. For instance, I learned that Evansville lost its entire team in December of 1977, first to a plane wreck, and then to a car accident that killed the one surviving member. More recently, they are 3-2 in two CIT appearances, including one last season that saw them follow three straight wins by getting stopped against Eastern Carolina. Mostly, I learned that they are slightly less bad than I thought they were going to be, at least on paper.

Coach/style:
Winning is apparently neither everything nor the only thing at Evansville, as evidenced by Marty Simmons's continued tenure there. In his six years with the Purple Aces, Simmons has overseen two winning seasons (2009's barn-burning 17-14 effort and last year's 21-15), had more twenty-loss seasons than twenty-win seasons, and has taken his crew to the Big Dance exactly zero times. How much of this is because of Simmons and how much is due to the fact that it's Evansville is open for interpretation.

Offensively, his teams have been all over the map. They've ranged from really quite good (2012's 45th ranking in AdjO) to very bad (2010's 259th in that category). Ball movement is a constant at Evansville, with the team ranking in the top 20 in assist rate each of the last five years. That their turnover percentage has fallen anywhere between 244th and 22nd in that span speaks to a system rather than a handful of talented players being the reason for the multitude of dimes (basketball lingo for assists). Simmons's teams are also very, very hesitant to lift from beyond the arc.

Defensively, this program sells out to force turnovers. They consistently rank well within the top 100 in TO%, though how they do that with consistently low steal percentages is probably a question better left to film study. Whatever the case, shot blocking and EFG% have been consistent trouble spots for the Aces's defense. They also have a tendency to give up the arc for teams willing to shoot from deep.

Departures:
Here comes the massive grain of salt with which you need to take their historical numbers: this team lost six players from last year, including four of their top five in minutes played. Most missed of those will be wing Colt Ryan, who led the team in minutes, usage rate, shot rate, true shooting percentage, assist rate, steals, shots made, three-pointers made, free throws made, and free throw percentage while coming second in ORtg and steal% before graduating and taking all that goodness with him.

Guard Ned Cox also left, taking his 10.8/1.9/3.0 game line on .415/.401/.839 with him. Cox was a secondary scorer and secondary ball-handler and had the best TO% on the team. Cox wasn't as big a part of the offense as Ryan (usage rate of 19.1%), but he was a very efficient scorer and a reliable presence on the ball. His backcourt mate Troy Taylor (6.9/6.9(!)/3.9 on .460/.000/.610) actually led the team in DReb% despite being listed at six feet tall. He was also second on the team in assist rate and led them in steal% before succumbing to the end of his eligibility.

Lewis Jones - a 6'3" guard - was about the only other big departure; he averaged 6.1/2.4/1.1 on .402/.296/.638 in 21.5 minutes per game. He didn't do anything particularly spectacularly, but he provided guard depth that will be missed this season. Other departures are nondescript forward Jordan Jahr, who took his talents to D2 Texas A&M Kingsville, and Jordan Nelson, who averaged 7.8 minutes per game and hit all seven of his free throws last season.

Returnees:
As you might expect, this section is comparatively sparse. Rising sophomore DJ Balentine scored by volume last year, putting up 8.1/1.7/1.9 on .399/.363/.667 shooting. The 6'2" guard will be expected to step into a starring role this season. Phonetic nightmare Egidijus Mockevicius is also returning, bringing his 6'10" frame and 5.8/5.0/0.2 on .633/.000/.708 shooting with him. Of his 102 field goals attempted last season, 75 of them were dunks or layups. He also blocked 11.1% of opponents' two-point attempts when he was on the floor, piling up 1.8 blocks per game.

Incoming players:
The freshman class jumps off with Danish guard Christian Benzon. The 6'4" slasher put up 10 and 4.5 at The Rock School in Florida last year. His ball-handling and athleticism are good, but his shooting is a work in progress. Five-eleven guard Jaylon Brown is another player who like to put the ball on the deck and attack the defense, but he penetrates to dish rather than score. One of his most obvious drawbacks is his size; he's going to have to add strength to succeed at the college level.

Duane Gibson is a 6'3" guard who pulled down a litany of honors including Plain Dealer POY and First Team All-Ohio as a senior last year. He compiled a game line of 12/7/9 with 4 steals in leading his team to a 25-4 record and a state championship. He stuffed the stat sheet with a combination of size and athletic ability that played at the high school level; he's going to need to refine his game to make a big impact at Evansville.

Tyler Ptacek is a 6'3" guard from Parma who is notable for his ability to fill it up from all over. He averaged 19.5/5/3.2 as a senior and set Padua Franciscan's career scoring record. Among the incoming class, he is possibly the best shooter. If he isn't, 6'5" guard Blake Simmons is. He averaged 19.7 and 6.9 as a senior and shot 41% from beyond the arc. Coach Simmons had great things to say about his versatility and basketball IQ and is also his dad.

Outlook:
I was surprised to see Evansville sitting at 81 in the final Pomeroy ratings from last year, but this season is likely to be less of a success for the Purple Aces. Well over half of their minutes walked out the door in Ryan, Cox, Taylor, and Jones, and huge swaths of their production went with it. Balentine and Mockevicius are both intriguing players who performed well in lesser roles as freshman last year and will likely be good players for their level during their careers. Folding in a handful of new players and trying to sort out everyone's roles is a difficult process, though. Look for this year to be a retooling one for Simmons and his team.