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Ball State Opens MAC Play A Step Below The Elite

OK, so the 24-5 prediction in the preseason may have been a bit off. But as Zach Galifianakis says in "Out Cold", "No regrets, that's what I was always say. Well, that and everybody Wang Chung tonight."

Based on how the non-conference schedule play, maybe Ball State isn't as talented as initially believed. But it should've been, with nearly everybody back and a pretty soft first 12 games. 10-2, with losses to Arizona and Butler, wasn't unrealistic at all. And after Ball State hung tough with Arizona and led most of the game before falling apart late, positive signs were glowing.

But it didn't last.

I'll excuse the loss to Indiana State. They were in the NCAA Tournament a season ago and could head back there again. But the Cardinals do not get a free pass in their losses to IUPUI and Morehead State. Those are games the Cardinals have to put away. Jarrod Jones only had SIX shots against Morehead. How does that happen when you're one of the five best players in the Mid-American Conference? I believed in the preseason that this team was right there with Ohio and Kent State, but that may not be the case.

Those two losses came after the Cardinals' crowning achievement of the non-conference campaign: a 58-55 win against heated rival Butler. And with Butler rolling a bit now, earning a win over Purdue one week later, that victory looks even better. Cardinal fans are still talking about the win on Twitter, even now (well, at least the people I follow, anyway). It was a bit discouraging to not see the Cardinals carry that momentum.

But today's a new day and the Mid-American Conference season begins. I still think 14-2 or 13-3 is something that can be attained. It's going to take a slight improvement in play, and Ball State really needs to get rid of these low-scoring, terrible halves the Cards are susceptible to from time-to-time.

Tyrae Robinson entered the lineup in place of Tyler Koch Wednesday, scoring five points. Hard saying if that'll be a permanent, since Koch scored eight points off the bench and Jesse Berry seven. My prediction that Berry would eventually be in the starting lineup appears to be wrong, although he's one of the Cardinals' five best players. If he's serving a Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson role, that's OK by me.

Let's talk about Jones. He was nothing short of awesome in the first 12 games, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Robinson averaged 10.7 ppg in three games, followed by Berry at 9.8. From there, four players are averaging between 7.8-6.4 points per game. There's something to be said for getting consistent scoring from a lot of areas, but someone needs to step up their scoring and be closer to Jones' numbers if the Cardinals are to have a shot at winning the MAC. Can Robinson be that person? Berry? Jauwan Scaife?

If there's been a tinge of disappointment personnel-wise, it's Scaife. He's only started three games and averaging 7.0 ppg. He scored 11.2 ppg last year.

Ball State should (key word, should) start conference play with a 1-0 record after the Western Michigan game today. But stranger things have happened. There's still plenty of time to fix a few things — there doesn't need to be a complete overhaul, but BSU is definitely a notch below Kent State and Ohio at this point.