The Ball State Cardinals have returned with their team from last season relatively intact, and they hope that an infusion of new talent will help them compete for the NCAA bid that has eluded them over the course of the last 17 years. Coach James Whitford has an all-conference candidate at the lead guard spot and an effective shot-blocker in the middle.
The IUPUI Jaguars represent a school that is not known to the general public, and is frankly a rather confusing designation. Of course, a bid to the NCAA's would serve to clear some of that up, although in the Horizon League they'll have a few teams to leapfrog.
These squads will get together on Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, which was home to the Indiana Pacers when they played in the ABA.
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ABOUT THE BALL STATE: The Cardinals reside in the MAC West division, with a have not made a lot of headway in recent years. In fact, they last went to the NCAA tournament in 2000. They were contenders for a while last season, but need to do more to finish the job. They had a tune-up game against Division II Tiffin on Tuesday, winning 108-62. Earlier, they were competitive in a pair of nine-point losses to national powers Purdue and Virginia Tech. Clearly the guy they want with the ball in his hands on the games on the line is Taylor Persons, who averaged 15 points a game last season. Thus far, he has upped that average to 17.7 ppg, also leading the team in assists with 5.4 per contest. His scoring sidekick is KJ Walton (14.9 ppg), a Missouri transfer who is hitting 56% from the field. One other transfer - Grant Weatherford (from Purdue) is a main contributor, and Mike Sagay, who came over from Boston College, is eligible in the second semester. Bulky center Trey Moses is providing some intimidation down low, as he has blocked 2.6 shot per game in the early going, but he needs to shoot better (just 42%). Ball State is going to have to do better with defensive rebounding, where they have allowed opponents to pull down offense of boards of 34% clip, putting them in the lower reaches of Division I statistics. This is not a three-point shooting team, hitting just 35% of attempts, and they have done a pretty decent job of getting out to the perimeter and preventing opponents from taking triples. In fact, only 27% of their foes' points have come from beyond the arc.
ABOUT THE IUPUI: This Horizon League entry is on a three-game winning streak, bringing their record to 5-1 after an 85-73 win over Bradley. In the season opener they lost to Xavier, but a 76-69 win over Boston College of the ACC was a big boost. Cameron Justice is the big gun they turn to; he has taken 32% of the team's shots when he is on the floor. The Vanderbilt transfer averages 18.8 points but is not a real accurate three-point shooter, hitting 29.2% from long-range. In point of fact, the Jags, as a team, don't seem all that pre-occupied with the triple, as it has accounted for less than 28% of their points. Elijah Goss provides a lot of the rebounding strength, he pulls down 8.5 boards per game and is actually 42nd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage.
1. In the last three seasons (2016-18), Ball State has won 61 games.
2. By the way, in case you were wondering, IUPUI stands for Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, which is not to be confused with IUPU-FW, which was Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, subsequently shortened to "Purdue Fort Wayne," which also plays Division I ball in the Summit League, and in fact beat Indiana last season.
3. The next game on Ball State's schedule (Wednesday), another non-conference affair, comes against Loyola-Chicago, which made it to the Final Four last season.
PREDICTION: Ball State 77, IUPUI 68Bet Now
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