EVANSVILLE, In. — The 2018-19 season is still close to six months away, but with each passing day, college basketball gets a little bit closer.
On Wednesday, the excitement continued to build for the Evansville Purple Aces, as they released their non-conference schedule for the upcoming season. The North Carolina Tar Heels were the first team to release their full non-conference slate back in mid-April.
Head coach Walter McCarty has put together a challenging slate that will undoubtedly test the Purple Aces, considering they will be without their top three scorers from a season ago. Evansville will play six games away from home, while hosting seven non-conference games before the 2018 calendar year comes to a close.
The Purple Aces will play host to the New Mexico Highlands Cowboys on November 3rd in an exhibition game to fine-tune their game before the real thing gets underway on November 8th. The Cowboys are coached by Craig Snow, who played for Evansville from 1997 through to 2001.
Evansville will be on the road for their first two regular season games of the season as a part of the Maui Mainland Tournament, and will be in tough against a pair of power conference opponents.
The Purple Aces will open their 2018-19 season on Thursday, November 8th in Champaign, IL against the Illinois Fighting Illini. The contest will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Two days later, the Purple Aces will be in Cincinnati, OH for a Saturday showdown with the Xavier Musketeers.
From there, Evansville will return to the Ford Center for a pair of games in the Maui on the Mainland Tournament. Their opponents have yet to be determined, but the games will take place from November 16-18.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Evansville’s schedule is the home-and-home series with the Ball State Cardinals. The Purple Aces will visit Munice, IN on November 24th, with the Cardinals coming to Evansville on the second Saturday of December. The meeting in November will be the first game between the two programs in 10 years.
The Cardinals won 19 games a season ago, and put together a nine-game winning streak towards the end of non-conference play that continued into their MAC opener. Over that stretch, they picked up a massive road win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who were ranked 9th in the country at the time.
It’s becoming more common to see teams schedule a home-and-home series during the regular season, and instate match-ups add another element of excitement to the schedule for both programs involved. With Evansville and Munice being connected by I-64 and I-69, you can expect that both arenas will be full for these games.
Evansville drew a home match-up in the MW/MVC Challenge this season, as they will play host to the Wyoming Cowboys on November 28th. Both teams experienced significant turnover in terms of talent from last season, so this game will be a good measuring stick for both programs as they approach conference play.
The Purple Aces have tough road contests against the Arkansas State Red Wolves, Murray State Racers, and Miami (OH) Redhawks in the month of December, while they play host to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks and Green Bay Phoenix.
Evansville still has one opening on their schedule, a home date on December 1st. In the past, we have seen coaches take to social media to fill out their schedules. It will be interesting to see what Coach McCarty and the Purple Aces do with their final vacancy.
For the Purple Aces, they will be without their top three scorers from last season, as Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith both transferred from the program and Blake Simmons has graduated. Taylor averaged 21.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 25 appearances, while Smith averaged 13.7 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per game in 21 contests.
Taylor has since committed to the Northwestern Wildcats, while Smith will join the Missouri Tigers.
Given the influx of talent on the way out, the likes of K.J. Riley and Noah Frederking will look to take on leading roles with the program. Riley is the team’s top returning scorer, as he averaged 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore in 2017-18. Frederking posted 5.4 points per game of his own as a freshman with the team.
Both players will look to continue their development and make positive strides in bigger roles in 2018-19.
Evansville went 17-15 overall a season ago, and 7-11 in conference play. They finished in a tie for 7th spot in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season standings.
– T. Bennett