2013 tipped off a new era for Ball State hoops. Former head coach Billy Taylor was fired following a second consecutive 15-15 season with the Cardinals. Taylor amassed an overall record of 84-97 in six seasons with the Cardinals. Taylor was let go immediately following a loss to Buffalo in the 2013 MAC Tournament and Ball State began the search for the 19th head coach in school history.
Insert new head coach James Whitford. Ball State is the first head coaching opportunity for the 41-year old Whitford, who previously served as an assistant at Miami (Ohio), Xavier, and most recently Arizona, under current head coach Sean Miller. Whitford inherited a class that featured four seniors, Chris Bond, Jesse Berry, Tyler Koch, and Majok Majok.
Expectations were not high in Muncie prior to the season, but to say the 2013-14 season was unsuccessful is putting it lightly. Whitford has his work cut out for him from this point forward. Our Ball State basketball recap:
Majok Majok completed an impressive career at Ball State doing what he does best. Putting up double doubles.
The senior departs Muncie following his best season in a Cardinal uniform. Majok averaged 11.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in 2013-14. Majok's top game for the Cardinals this season was a 23 point 14 rebound performance against Eastern Michigan on March 4th. Majok finished the season as the MAC's top rebounder and ranked fifth in field goal percentage.
Zavier Turner established himself as one of the MAC's top freshmen this season. Turner was the team's second leading scorer behind Chris Bond at 12.1 points per game. The 5'9" guard from Indianapolis earned all MAC Freshman team honors.
Jesse Berry played himself into the Ball State record books. Berry is the new Cardinals record holder for 3-pointers in a career, breaking Jauwan Scaife's mark of 203. Berry broke Scaife's record on February 15th against Bowling Green and has now tallied 224 for his career.
The Ball State senior leadership took an early hit.
It was announced on November 6th that Matt Kamieneicki would miss the 2013-14 season with a wrist injury. The 6'8" 220 pound Kamieniecki averaged 4.6 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior. It was the second wrist surgery for Kamieneicki, who will utilize a medical redshirt and rejoin the Cardinals for the 2014-2015 campaign.
"We are disappointed for Matt and his teammates that he will not be able to play this year," Whitford said in a press release at the time. "Matt is an accomplished player who has been productive throughout his career. I am confident the rest of the team will step up in his absence.
Kamieniecki's absence was sorely felt this season, as the Cardinals struggled to compete underneath the hoop, devoid of options other than Majok.
"We will be using this season as a redshirt year for Matt and will be excited to have him back as a key member of our team next year."
The Cardinals struggled early. Ball State entered their conference opener with Akron with a 3-8 record, but with only two of those wins coming against Division 1 competition. The Cardinals showed a little promise in November, knocking of Southeast Missouri State 87-83 on the 18th, and coming up short against in state foe Butler by just a point, 59-58, five days later. Unfortunately Ball State was unable to keep up with top tier opponents from there. The Cardinals fell at Utah 88-69 on November 27th, and were trounced at Marquette, 91-53, on December 17th.
Things didn't get better for Ball State once league play started. The Cardinals didn't taste victory in MAC competition until January 23rd in Muncie against Buffalo, 71-68. From there, with a 1-4 conference record, BSU proceeded to drop ten consecutive contests, finally finding relief with a victory over Central Michigan on March 1st. The 0-for-February the Cardinals put up did include perhaps the MAC game of the year, a 101-95 triple overtime marathon against Central Michigan on February 19th. Ball State lost their last two MAC games, against Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois respectively, before being bounced in the first round of the MAC Tournament against Ohio, 76-64. The Cardinals finished the year with a 5-25 overall record, and a 2-16 mark in league play.
Half of the Ball State 2013 recruiting class is no more.
Displeased with the results yielded this season, and disinterested in being members of a class sure to compete for MAC championships in the very near future, freshmen Quinten Payne and Mark Alstork have elected to transfer from Ball State.
Payne, a 6'5" guard from St. Charles, Illinois averaged 1.8 points in 11.9 minutes per game this season. Payne was previously released from a commitment to Loyola of Chicago before joining the Cardinals.
"It just wasn't really the right fit for me," Payne said in an interview with the Muncie Star Press. "I didn't see myself really growing with what was there, had to make a decision just as a basketball player, pick the right place for me."
Alstork is a bigger blow to the Cardinals. The 6'4" product from Dayton, Ohio averaged 22 minutes a game this year, scoring 5.6 points and pulling down 3.1 rebounds.
"We want to thank Mark and Quinten for their time here at Ball State," Whitford said in a news release. "They did an excellent job representing our university, both on and off the court. We support their decisions to find new schools, and we wish them the best going forward."
It can't be sugarcoated. This season was all-time bad for the Cardinals. Ball State set a school record for losses and lowest winning percentage. Additionally, BSU committed the most turnovers in the nation and set a program record with ten consecutive losses in MAC play.
Still, there's reason to believe the future is bright. Turner emerged as a premiere guard in the league, and Franko House played significant minutes, finishing the year averaging six points and better than five rebounds per contest. House's season peaked with an impressive 19 point nine rebound performance at Northern Illinois on March 8th. The Cardinals will also receive a boost from Chase Brogna, returning from injury next season.
Whitford's recruiting trail has already brought him coast to coast. 2014 signees include 6'2" guard Jeremie Tyler and forward Rashaun Richardson from Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, and Greensburg High School standout Sean Sellers. Whitford also added Francis Kipaway out of St. Thomas More prep school in Connecticut, which played for the prep school national championship this season.
Whitford added a local piece to the puzzle, signing former Muncie Central High School star Jeremiah Davis who transferred back home from Cincinnati. Davis will be eligible to play for the Cardinals in January.
At midseason we assigned the hapless Cardinals a grade of D-. As poorly as they played, there was noticeable improvement as the season rolled on. Ball State lost 10 games by single digits, and three of those in overtime. Five of those games came in the final five weeks of the season. F grades are reserved for teams that are slapped with NCAA sanctions. Even a D+ seems too generous for this Ball State campaign, though.
Final Grade: D