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Ball State's Southward Season Under Billy Taylor, From Slumps To Empty Seats

I go through a wide range of emotions when I'm playing NCAA Football 12 on the Xbox 360. I'm not averse to pounding my open hand on the floor three or four times in frustration after a fumble or interception, yelling "No, No, No," the latter of which happens often. If things get extremely grotesque, I'll stand up, go with a clenched fist and punch my bed the same amount of times. These emotions also go both ways: after a big touchdown or right after completing a play that seals the game, I'll sit there and clap my hands like I actually accomplished something important like the finding the cure for cancer or inventing a diet plan that allows you to eat 3,500 calories a day without putting on weight.

These antics likely annoy my roommates to no end. But the most discouraging thing about all of that is I show a wider range of emotions during a 45-minute video game than the entire Ball State men's basketball team has shown in Mid-American Conference play.

The tagline for one of my favorite movies of all-time, Wayne's World, is "You'll laugh, you'll hurl, you'll cry." The latter two more or less describe what has happened the past 10 games.

I don't know where to begin with this team. I'm sure there's some inside information that's been discussed on that I'm not privy to. The Billy Taylor era has been littered with low-scoring first halves, and these past 10 games have brought out the worst in this maxim.

Part of the blame might fall on me for coming down what I'll call The Butler Effect. Butler's appearance in the national title game the past two seasons has raised the bar for every mid-major team in the nation. Living so close to Butler Country and The Butler Way, we get a unique perspective on how efficiently the Butler program is run. So any time fans of mid-major programs think they have a decent team, Final Four pipe dreams filter through their minds. And that may have happened to me when evaluating this Ball State basketball team in the preseason. (24-5?!?! What was I thinking?)

It seemed the pieces were there: an elite scorer who doubled as a big man, which can be hard to find at the mid-major level (Jarrod Jones), one of the nation's best players at taking care of the basketball (Randy Davis) and a bevy of complementary players who were capable of big scoring nights (Jesse Berry, Matt Kaminiecki, Jauwan Scaife, Tyrae Robinson, Tyler Koch). The problem - one of many - is that the last one never came close to materializing. And all of this has come together in one gigantic free fall, leading to many minutes of uninspired basketball.

I wrote these opening paragraphs on Tuesday, before The Muncie Star Press' Thomas St. Myer published this lengthy feature today on the sad state of the men's and women's basketball program. The story touched on a lot of points including the weak nonconference schedule, the death of Tyler Koch's brother Matthew (of whom apparently many of the players were friends with) of a heroin overdose on Feb. 9.

Now, about that schedule, from St. Myer's article:

  • Ball State returned their top five scorers from a year ago when they posted a 19-13 record, though 11 of those wins were over teams whose RPIs fell in the 300 range out of a possible 345 Division I programs, and a 12th came against a Division III team.
  • The Cardinals played only three teams with winning records and squared off against five teams with RPIs in the 300s and a NAIA Division II program in Calumet College. Ball State beat Butler 58-55 on Dec. 10 ... for its only win this season against a team with a winning record.
  • They have beaten its share of inferior opponents under Taylor. Twenty-nine of its 61 wins in the last four seasons have been against opponents with RPIs in the 300s or non-Division I teams.
  • The 11,500-seat Worthen Arena opened in the 1991-92 season, and since then, the five lowest home season attendance averages have occurred in the last five years with Taylor as coach.

Also disturbing - Ball State is only averaging 3,766 fans per game. And because of injuries, only three Cardinals - Jones, freshman Aaron Adeoye and sophomore Jesse Berry - have played in every single contest.

The seeds were also planted for a breakout season after a quality performance in a loss to Arizona early in nonconference play. A win against Butler in December also sparked the flames. But uninspired losses to Indiana State and IUPUI laid the groundwork for what has happened down the stretch.

Is there time to fix it? No, not really. Win five games in six nights in the MAC tournament. That's what it comes down to ... sounds simple enough. Wait, no, no it doesn't.

Ultimately, though, this team goes down as the most underachieving team since the 2001-02 squad - and that one finally put things together and reached its potential in the NIT, beating South Florida, St. Joseph's and LSU to reached the final eight. This team isn't going to do that, unfortunately.