USI - Evansville Men's Basketball Preview

Although it is still October and practice has just started, the University of Southern Indiana men's basketball team is set to tip-off the 2012-13 campaign with an exhibition against the University of Evansville Saturday at the Ford Center. Tip-off time is 7:05 p.m.
 
Game coverage for the Vectren Community Classic game, including live stats and audio/video broadcasts, is available at gousieagles.com. The games also can be heard on ESPN 106.7FM and WPSR 90.7FM.
 
The exhibition game will be the fourth meeting between the Screaming Eagles and the Purple Aces. The Aces took the first meeting in 2004, 88-75, but the Eagles have closed the gap in the last two games, falling by two in 2006, 77-75, and in double-overtime, 71-67 in 2008.
 
The Eagles hope to use the exhibition game as a spring board to another 20-win season, a second-straight Great Lakes Valley Conference championship, and a 24th appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament.  To reach this lofty goal, USI fourth-year Head Coach Rodney Thomas has to mesh nine returning players and seven newcomers.
 
The Eagles have been flying high since the arrival of Watson and his staff three season ago, winning 72 of their 88 games (an .818 winning percentage). USI also has advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament the last two years
 
The key to last year's 24 victories and the GLVC championship was defense with the Eagles holding their opponents to a school-record 59.5 points per game. USI has become very stingy the last three seasons, allowing only 63.5 points per contest.
 
Leading the Eagles' defensive wall is senior guard Keynon Smith, who was named to the inaugural All-GLVC Defense team. Smith led USI with 1.7 steals and 6.6 rebounds per game. Smith also grabbed a team-high 121 defensive rebounds.
 
Offensively, USI will be looking for a new spark in 2012-13. The Eagles lost 46.3 percent of their offense with the graduation of Brandon Hogg, who averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game, and Isaac McClure, who posted 14.4 points per contest.
 
The foundation of the 2012-13 offense is the return of junior guard Lawrence Thomas. He is the top returning scorer with 9.5 points per game, while leading the team with 3.8 assists per game. Thomas came out of his offensive shell during the GLVC Tournament, averaging 11 points against three top-25 teams.
 
USI opens the 2012-13 regular season schedule November 10 when it hosts Kentucky State University at the Physical Activities Center. Game time versus KSU is set for 7:30 p.m.