Ball State won 21 games last season under coach Whitford, 9 more than the previous 2 seasons, combined. Was this an anomaly or the new norm? If you didn’t have me on the case, you would have to wait for time to tell you.
One positive, the best player on the team last season returns. Franko House is a stat sheet stuffer, finishing first or second on the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots. His .541 shooting percentage was good enough to finish 5th in the MAC. Along with being named All-MAC second team, he was named to the the MAC All-defensive team. Stats don’t do this kid justice. He is a ball player that does whatever it takes to help the team win.
Including House, the Cardinals return 5 of the 6 top scorers. Francis Kiapway and Ryan Weber shot over 40% from beyond the arc. That’s good news for Ball State fans, even more importantly, it’s good news for the post players. It gives them room to operate. Another positive.
Trey Moses returns at center, and he had a great postseason tournament. Look for him to build on the 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists he averaged in the 3 games of the C.I.T. But not right away. I am on the fence on this one. Sometimes, a great run at the end of the season gives a player confidence, and motivation, and helps them become better players. Sometimes, it makes them overconfident and lazy. My guess is that he starts the season slow, and regains the work ethic that helped him have that fantastic finish. I am not basing this on some insider knowledge, just years of watching basketball. Another positive, but it might take later in the year to come to fruition.
Along with a lot of talent returning, Ball State added a couple of impact players that red-shirted last season. In the exhibition game against UIndy, Tahjai Teague put up 16 points and 12 boards. That’s the good, the bad is that he went 6-15 from the floor. Not good for a post player. Tayler Persons scored 13 points and had massive 10 assists. He also had 6 turnovers, terrible for a point guard. Like Trey Moses, look for them to improve as the season goes along. Again, fruition sometimes takes time.
I think all this adds up to some growing pains, and learning how to deal with success the first half of the season. There will be some unexpected wins and losses. Toward the end of the season, Ball State will round themselves into form.
Franko House will be the steady hand that keeps them in any game, and pulls out some wins they probably don’t deserve.
BSU will get 20 wins again, probably in the regular season. Depending how they do in the MAC tourney, they have a solid chance of making the NCAA. They have a good mix of guard and big man talent, with the work horse House. If they do manage to make the NCAA, it could be a roller coaster ride. If the shooters get hot, they could beat anyone. If they get cold, they could struggle against anyone.
I don’t think they win the MAC regular season, but in a tournament setting, I wouldn’t bet against them.