Evansville’s Mockevicius Rebounding At Historic Pace

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 22nd, 2016

The most humble college basketball player in the country might be a Lithuanian based in southern Indiana. Egidijus Mockevicius has grabbed 20 rebounds in back-to-back games, including a 23 point, 20 rebound effort on Tuesday night against Loyola Chicago. How was he able to do this? Luck, he says. “The ball was just bouncing into my hands. It’s just the luck,” the senior big man told CBSSports Network after the game. The numbers would disagree. Mockevicius is grabbing defensive rebounds at a historic pace, currently leading the country with a 40.2 defensive rebounding percentage. This type of production is simply never seen, anywhere. This ferociousness on the defensive backboards is a big part of the reason why he won the Lou Henson Award, which is given the top mid-season mid-major player.

Edgidijus Mockevicius has been a monster on the defensive glass this season (Wichita Eagle, AP).

Edgidijus Mockevicius has been a monster on the defensive glass this season (Wichita Eagle, AP).

The table below shows the top individual defensive rebounding percentage of each of the past eight seasons. The only players that come even close to Mockevicius’ current production are Kenneth Faried in 2009-10 and John Bryant in 2008-09. Faried has been the gold standard in recent college basketball rebounding lore, but Mockevicius is exceeding even his numbers midway through this season. There’s still a long ways to go, but there’s little reason to think the senior can’t keep rebounding at this pace. His production hasn’t slipped against better competition, as he grabbed nine rebounds against Providence, 12 against Arkansas, 13 against Fresno State and 16 against Wichita State. “The thing that makes Big E so good is he’s so smart. Obviously he’s great on the boards,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller told The Pantagraph last week. “He keeps constant pressure on you at the rim at both ends.”


The individual numbers are impressive, but Mockevicius’ prolific start is just one part of a bigger story brewing at Evansville. The Purple Aces haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1999, a drought they have a legitimate chance of breaking this season even if they don’t earn the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. Evansville sits at 17-3 overall and 6-1 in the MVC, tied for second with Southern Illinois and one game behind Wichita State. The Purple Aces are 40th in KenPom‘s ratings and own four true road wins. That’s the good side of the resume. The not-so-good: Evansville’s best wins are over Belmont (home), UC Irvine (neutral), Fresno State (road) and Indiana State (home). That’s not necessarily a horrible list of wins, but it also isn’t necessarily the stuff that at-large profiles are made of. The dearth of major victories could mean that Evansville needs to beat Wichita State at home on January 31 if it wants to entertain serious hope of an at-large bid.

Making the tournament this season would be especially meaningful for the program, no matter how it is accomplished. Oh, and Mockevicius is not the only player deserving mention at Evansville. His running mate, senior D.J. Balentine, has put together a pretty nice career himself. He’s played in the MVC over the same four years as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, but no player in the league has been more important to his team’s success over the past three years. Balentine led the league in minutes played and points per game in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. This year, he is again tops in both those categories. He and Mockevicius are a uniquely effective mid-major tandem; in many ways, a tournament invite feels like the only appropriate way to cap off a pair of impressive careers.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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