Evansville at Illinois State (Missouri Valley)
Redbird Arena - Normal, IL
3:05 PM EST
Much of today's action is of the afternoon variety, because Americans are conditioned to party like rock stars on New Year's Eve. And as 2008 comes to a close with a full slate of Valley games, here's one game that will go a long way in determining what the league will look like in 2009.
I didn't see Evansville coming, but my computer did
. The Purple Aces are 9-2 (1-0 MVC) against the 21st toughest schedule in the country, with only a couple of roadie losses to popularity-contest chat entrants Butler
and North Carolina
counting against them. (And other than one gigantic Tar Heel run, Evansville was totally in that game.) Statistically, nothing really pops out at you about the Aces... the interior defense and rebounding has been solid, but that's incongruous with the fact that the regular rotation tops out at 6-5. Shy Ely
, the senior guard with the name of a late-night hip-hop DJ, is averaging 17.2 ppg but hasn't shot all that well (44.2 percent). It's just a team that plays well together, and has rode that indescribable wave of hoops magic so far. Just ask chance double-champions Drake, which Evansville dumped by 11
in Sunday's Valley opener.
Then there's Illinois State, which spent most of this decade sharing the Valley ashtray with Evansville. The Redbirds broke through with a 25-10 season last year, which didn't result in NCAA joy because of league-wide weakness and the MVC's low number of Red Line Upsets in nonconference. This year, they scheduled way down (SOS: 306), but pollsters and sportswriters across the country are intrigued about the 12-0 team in the Valley. Being a TMM reader, you're smarter than that, and you have retained your healthy skepticism. Especially after a wild 72-69 eke-out
at Missouri State out of a 15-point deficit, a game that showed a lot of things, but not dominance. If Illinois State has shown weakness, it's been defending jump shots and giving opponents all the extra possessions they need. Will Evansville take advantage?Basketball State Preview/Box