Seniors in the Championship Game
(St. Louis, MO) – Senior laden teams, primed for a championship run. That’s what we have in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game. Evansville is having arguably their best Division 1 season ever and Northern Iowa is doing what they always do under Head Coach Ben Jacobson. They win a lot of games and get deep in Arch Madness tournament.
There are many story lines we could follow. The largest of course, is that the winner receives the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Aces haven’t been dancing since 1999, the Panthers are looking to go back for the second year in-a-row and seventh since 2004.
But it is impossible to look at this game and not sit back and appreciate seniors. We wrote previously about the historic group of seniors that have toiled in the Valley this season and for the past four years, and today is an exclamation point on that sentence.
What more can be said about the trio of D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius and Adam Wing? Balentine is the fourth leading scorer in Valley history and leads ALL ACTIVE COLLEGE PLAYERS in scoring. Mocekvicius led the nation in rebounding and double-doubles and is the fifth leading rebounder in MVC history. Wing has been the ultimate team player and contributes defense, hustle and accountability to Marty Simmons’ team.
This group of seniors have won more Division 1 games than any in the history of Evansville basketball. And don’t forget they won the College Insider.com Tournament last season.
They pose a problem for Northern Iowa today. While the Panther ‘bigs’ have grown up this season, there is no one that matches up with Mockevicius inside. How Simmons exploits that advantage today is one key to victory.
Mislav Brzoja (he’s a pup, just a junior) could be the X-factor today. Northern’s defense normally does a good job of slowing Balentine down a little. If Brzoja (the Valley’s Sixth Man of the Year) can be a significant offensive threat, then the game takes on a different feel.
Look up ‘team’ in the dictionary and you may see the Panther team picture there. Four players average double figures in scoring, and four players average four or more rebounds per game. Senior Matt Bohannon is the Panthers’ all-time leading three point shooter. Wes Washpun (the best big game player I have seen in a long time) leads the team in scoring, assists and clutch plays.
Junior Jeremy Morgan is an X-factor for the Panthers. He leads the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. In other words, Morgan leads them in ‘effort’ plays. Another X-factor could be senior Paul Jesperson. He has struggled for the past several weeks, but his size (6’6) and three point shooting could be a key weapon today.
Both of these teams play great team defense, but UNI takes it to an elite level. That could be the biggest factor in this game. Sit back, watch our pre-game show on youtube, or here at the site and then take it all in on CBS.