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2018 MAC Basketball Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles at Ball State Cardinals

A big opening game for both teams

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In a key West Division match-up, the 9-4 Eastern Michigan Eagles take on the 9-4 Ball State Cardinals. The Cardinals had a brutal schedule and pulled off an impressive upset over then top 10 ranked Notre Dame. Eastern Michigan slaughtered a weak schedule, with mostly close losses to quality opponents.

Game Details

  • When: Tuesday, Jan. 2nd, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Worthen Arena, Muncie, Indiana
  • Watch: ESPN3
  • Stream: Via the WatchESPN app
  • Line: Ball State -5.5

Scouting the Eagles

Eastern Michigan is an exceptionally long and lean team that runs the 2-3 zone that coach Rob Murphy learned from Jim Boeheim. Anyone that follows the MAC knows of the talents of James Thompson IV, but the Eagles added 6’9 transfer Elijah Minnie, who can defend the wing and also hit jumpers.

When the defensive intensity is there, all the long arms can cause problems for opposing offenses, which can lead to easy points for the Eagles. When it’s not there, they can struggle to score. Point guard Paul Jackson is a spark that can ignite the offense when this happens.

Scouting the Cardinals

I saw a tweet or story headline that said that Ball State was the most Indiana team in Indiana. I wish I could give proper credit, but my memory fails me. This is an exceptionally accurate statement. They have the gamer point guard than can also bury the key three, like when Tayler Persons knocked down the game winner against the Irish. Trey Moses is the gritty center that plays great defense and dives on the floor at every opportunity. Then there is Tahjai Teague who plays well on both ends of the floor and has loads of potential. There are also multiple shooters and the do everything senior, Francis Kiapway.

Players to Watch

James Thompson IV, EMU: If Baker Mayfield were 6’10 and long and lean, he would be Thompson. I really enjoy the passion with which Thompson plays the game, but sometimes the resulting tech is frustrating. Each season he gets better at walking the line, while still keeping the fire in his game, and his progress has been nothing short of amazing.

Tim Bond, EMU: A streaky player, he can bring it at both ends of the floor. He can equally provide an electrifying dunk or big three.

Tayler Persons, BSU: A point guard that can score or pass, he is a true court general.

Kyle Mallers, BSU: The 6’7 sophomore has emerged as the team’s second leading scorer, after only scoring a couple his freshman campaign. While he hasn’t yet, I do see a game this season where he explodes from deep for a 25+ type of game.


My expectations of Ball State coming into the season were relatively high, and they have met those expectations. As for Eastern Michigan, I didn’t really know what to expect after last season’s descent into mediocrity and then the departure Raven Lee and Willie Magnum IV. I have been pleasantly surprised. While still not 100% sold, they have crushed the teams they should, and hung tough with some quality teams.

While I think the Eagles will be a contender in a loaded MAC West, I give Ball State the edge in this game because they have plenty of shooters to go against a 2-3, and they are at home. I look for them to win 82-80.