Current record: 1-0
2010-11 record: 16-16 (9-9 in Missouri Valley Conference)
2010-11 RPI: 136
2010-11 Sagarin: 147
2010-11 Pomeroy: 166
Pomeroy scouting report
Series: IU leads, 7-0
TV: 8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN3 (internet only)
After two comfortable home wins, IU hits the road and will play Evansville at the Ford Center, the city's new downtown arena. This is the eighth meeting all-time between the Hoosiers and the Aces (they seem to have de-emphasized the "Purple," for whatever reason). Other than last year's game and one meeting in the 1930s, all of the IU-Evansville games occurred in the 1990s, when IU and UE played five times from 1994 to 1997. What accounts for the oddity of five meetings with a non-conference opponent in a four year window? Well, everyone remembers Andrae Patterson's heroics against Duke in the final of the 1996 Preseason NIT, but less-remembered are Patterson's heroics in the semifinals, when Patterson hit a buzzer-beater to defeat the Aces. That meeting at Madison Square Garden was by far the closest of the meetings, but last year's matchup, in which IU trailed 31-25 at the half, was fairly competitive. The Aces beat Butler in their season opener, and has IU has learned in road trips to Butler and Indiana State over the last couple of decades, the Hoosiers will be facing a motivated opponent and an amped-up crowd (albeit a crowd with plenty of IU fans mixed in, I assume).
Butler is led by coach Marty Simmons, who played at IU from 1983-1985, and then transferred to Evansville, where he finished his career playing for former IU player/assistant coach Jim Crews. Simmons was a part of IU's 1984 Elite Eight team, a team best remembered for upsetting Michael Jordan and top-ranked North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Simmons hasn't yet broken through at Evansville, but he does have one postseason appearance, a trip to the CBI three years ago, and the Aces were 16-16 last year, and 9-9 in the usually tough Missouri Valley Conference.
In Evansville's season opening overtime win over defending NCAA runner-up Butler, the Aces were horrid from the field, shooting only 41 percent overall, but offset that by getting to the line 43 times and making 32, compared to 15-24 for Butler. I doubt that very many games that feature a nearly 20-point free throw disparity even make it to overtime. Other than getting to the line, the Aces rebounded fairly well on the defensive end, and more troublingly from IU's perspective, forced the normally sure-handed Bulldogs into 18 turnovers, roughly 23 percent of the Bulldogs possessions. I didn't watch the game, so I don't know whether the turnovers were truly "forced," and in a game in which Butler was whistled for 29 fouls, I presume some of those were offensive fouls, which are scored as turnovers when they cause a change in possession. Based on their 2011 statistics, however, Evansville's strengths in the Butler game may simply be their strengths. Last year, Evansville finished #18 in the nation in its ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts and #53 nationally in defensive turnover percentage. They also shot the ball very well from three point range, 35 percent, although they are not heavily perimeter oriented (not surprising, given the number of fouls they draw).
The Aces are led by Colt Ryan, a 6-5 guard who led the team in scoring last year at 15.7 per game and shot 40 percent from behind the arc. Ryan scored 23 against Butler, thanks in large part to 14-18 from the line, and had 5 steals. The Aces return their top four scorers from last season: Ryan, Denver Holmes, Kenneth Harris, and Ned Cox. Other than Ryan, the Aces run fairly small: their front court includes Holmes (6-4), Harris (6-6), and Matt Peeler (6-8). At least on paper (I haven't seen the Aces and for some reason listened to last year's game on the radio), the Aces would seem to have a fairly aggressive defense. It will be interesting to see how they account for Zeller and what, if anything, that does to their perimeter defense.
This game has be concerned. Ryan will be a difficult matchup, and it's well-documented that IU doesn't play well on the road. IU's last win away from Assembly Hall was on Jaunary 21, 2010, at Penn State. This is one of two true road games that IU plays during the non-conference schedule (at NC State is the other, and the Notre Dame game is in Indianapolis) and seems to be the most winnable. Pomeroy predicts a close game, a 4 point predicted margin and a 65 percent chance of an IU victory. A loss isn't the end of the world, but a win would be a small but meaningful sign that the recent optimism is warranted.