I haven't been this excited about a Ball State men's basketball team since the 2002-03 season. The Cardinals were coming off a run to the Elite Eight - granted, it was in the NIT, but let's not have facts ruin this. Petey Jackson and Lonnie Jones were gone, but most important, Theron Smith and Chris Williams were coming back and optimism was at an all-time high.
But then Smith tore his ACL and, bam, season finished. Since then, it's been a long, tough difficult road. Tim Buckley was fired - I am of the contingent that his firing was justified (too many players left the program during his tenure, capped off by Tom Howland taking a tire iron to the back of head drinking at the bars the night before a game). Ronnie Thompson was hired in 2006, which turned out to be the most disastrous hiring in Mid-American Conference history (some idiot at the school paper wrote a column praising Thompson's hire), ruined everything in one year and Billy Taylor was stuck with a long road to recovery.
But here we are in late 2011, and I cannot stress this enough: I love this team and I believe it's one that's loaded.
I know there are others (Kent State), but I believe anything less than a MAC Championship game appearance is going to be a disappointment. Ball State's top five scorers from last season return, led by 6-9 forward Jarrod Jones (14.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and 6-2 guard Jauwan Scaife (11.2 ppg). Randy Davis (9.8), Jesse Berry (8.9) and Chris Bond (7.3 ppg) are the other three.
If there's someone to look out for as a breakout player, it's Berry. The dynamo from Lafayette committed to Dayton in high school before running into a bit of trouble, leading him to Muncie. During his senior year of high school, Berry had back-to-back games where he scored 51 points against Rossville and 46 against Frankfort, so yeah, he can fill up the score sheet fairly quickly.
There's also a twinge of excitement about the new players: Tyler Koch and Zeke Chapman, the son of former Kentucky and NBA player Rex. Koch is from nearby Winchester, a high-scoring guard who decided to go to Wright State before realizing that may not be his best fit. Here's lets watch 14 minutes of Zeke Chapman plays.
Quick release, lefty, looks good to me.
Let's look at another high school video, this one of Davis. Whenever I see his name, I always think of the Luke Zeller play in the final seconds of the 2005 Indiana Class 3A state championship game, where Zeller hits a half-court shot at the buzzer to win it. He's no. 30, standing near the 3-point line as the shot falls. He was only a sophomore and had very little to do with anything, but I always think of it.
Very little has been mentioned about Jones thus far, and that's a mistake. The 6-9 forward has been a force in the paint for three seasons, earning First Team All-MAC honors last season. While there is plenty of talent surrounding Jones, his play will dictate how this season goes. Look for Scaife to have a bigger season as well.
Although sophomores Tyrae Robinson (4.3 ppg) and Matt Kamieniecki (2.9 ppg) - son of former major leaguer Scott - only combined for three starts there's a lot to like about their potential coming off the bench. (Note: Kamieniecki did start the exhibition game against Taylor with Berry coming off the bench; we'll see how long that lasts).
Ball State opens its season Sunday with a super-easy opponent against some school out West called Arizona. Rumor has it the Wildcats beat Duke in the NCAA tournament last year. But the Wildcats are sans Derrick Williams (NBA) and MoMo Jones (Iona), so maybe the Cardinals can be competitive. I may be crazy, but I think the Cardinals can also beat Butler for the first time in infinity. Other than those two games, it's a relatively easy non-conference schedule and it's not out of the realm of possibility for the Cardinals to go 10-2 in the non-conference schedule.
Prediction time: Going the complete opposite of my normally pessimistic ways. Ball State will go 24-5, win the MAC West and lose to Kent State in the MAC title game. The Cardinals get lucky and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. We'll come back in three weeks and revisit this ridiculous prediction after Ball State starts the season 0-5.
Ball St. Cardinals Basketball Roster