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Next Up - Evansville

Time: 7:00 || Venue: Cameron || Video: ESPN2

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St Francis v Duke
 DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 05: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils calls a play against the St. Francis (Pa) Red Flash during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 5, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As people with a sense of basketball history, we’re pretty geeked up to see Evansville on the schedule.

Evansville was a huge D-II power for years and years. The Aces won five national championships and beat D-I teams like UCLA, Notre Dame and Purdue. The first team to wear T-shirt uniforms?

The Purple Aces.

The coach who built the program, Arad McCutcheon, retired in 1976.

Then, in 1977, tragedy struck.

A plane leaving Evansville crashed, killing the entire team and several other people as well. A total of 29 people died that day.

To the best of our knowledge, this has only happened to two college sports programs, Evansville and Marshall football. Both had profound connections to their hometowns.

That year Evansville also moved to D-I and it’s been a lot tougher for them to win at that level.

At some point, they even gave up their iconic jerseys even as other teams, notably in the NBA, began to use them.

But Evansville is a special place. Located in Southern Indiana, it’s not that far from Louisville, Lexington and Indianapolis. It’s a beautiful, livable city and it’s in one of the great basketball areas in America. It just gets overshadowed by the neighborhood big shots.

Not in the hearts of fans though. Evansville fans can go toe to toe with anybody. You can count on them bringing a good crowd Wednesday night. And having Evansville in Cameron is going to be an honor.

So far this season Evansville is 10-2 with losses to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico. The schedule is weak by ACC standards but Grayson Allen is impressed, saying that the Aces are disciplined and precise. And this is a great three point shooting team.

That’s what you’d expect from a Bob Knight protege. Simmons was a key player at IU before transferring and finishing his last two seasons at Evansville where he was coached by Jim Crews, who also played for Knight.

You can except to see some similarities to Knight’s system.

That’s a great system but there are two big problems for the Aces. First, Simmons is missing his two best players in Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith. Point guard Smith has a stress fracture and Taylor is dealing with a regular fracture in his foot.

Taylor is 6-5 junior and Smith is a 6-3 sophomore. Between them they averaged 33.7 ppg. The next leading scorer is the coach’s son, Blake, a 6-5 senior who is hitting 12.3 ppg.

Missing its two best players will make life really hard for the Aces and so might a general lack of height. It’s going to be hard to control Duke’s big guys.

Evansville also has one other big issue to worry about and that’s Duke’s loss to BC.

Historically, Duke tends to respond to losses with a big effort. It’s just a hunch on our part, but we thought Marvin Bagley looked highly upset after that loss and may be highly motivated against Evansville.

It escaped general attention but Wendell Carter got through the BC game with no fouls - this after several early games with foul trouble.

There were two particularly disappointing aspects to the BC game. First, Duke couldn’t get the ball inside to Bagley and second, Trevon Duval had a horrible game.

We expect getting the ball to Bagley will be key and Duval’s likely to get the Coach K point guard workup.

Consequently, we expect both players - and the team in general - is going to play on a different level Wednesday night. If Evansville can match it, they have a chance to surpass what BC did.

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