The Illinois State Redbirds (10-4 overall, 2-1 in conference) return home on Saturday to face off against the Evansville Purple Aces (7-6 overall, 2-1 in conference) at Redbird Arena.
Both teams currently hold a share of top honors in the Missouri Valley Conference with four other opponents. The winner will retain first place in standings.
The Redbirds are coming back to Normal with mixed results.
Since their encouraging December 29th home win against Northern Iowa, ISU lost to a struggling Southern Illinois by 15. ISU bounced back with a 68-60 win on the road against Missouri State on Wednesday.
"Maybe toward the end [of the season] it'll be different," ISU head coach Tim Jankovich told the Springfield News-Leader. "Sometimes teams will get discouraged by the long grind, but if I had to guess...there will be less easy nights than previous years."
The Purple Aces won both contests between the teams last year.
ISU holds a slight statistical advantage in rebounding per game (35.1 to 28.0) behind the efforts of junior Jackie Carmichael. They also have an edge in 3-point field goal percentage (38.3 to 24.3), largely due to junior college transfer Tyler Brown's 62.5 shooting percentage from behind the arc.
But the challenge for Illinois State will be to contain Evansville junior Colt Ryan. Ryan scored a total of 51 points in the Purple Aces' two games against the Redbirds.
Ryan is averaging 21 points per game and sits behind Creighton's Doug McDermott among top scorers in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The game tips off at 1:05 p.m. CST.