To preview the Akron-Ball State games, two of the three Brandons on the Hustle Belt team traded e-mails about their respective schools.
BH: What are your impressions of Ball State so far?
BS: To paraphrase Dennis Green, Ball State is who we thought they were. The Cardinals are an inconsistent team that rely on a lot of freshmen to be key contributors and play a lot of minutes while turning the ball over a lot as a team. At their best, they are a team that can hang with Indiana State and Butler; at their worst they are the team that lost to James Madison.
BH: Which player are you most excited about going into conference play?
BS: Zavier Turner. This was a close call between Turner and Majok Majok but we already know what Majok's ceiling is already as a post player who averages a double-double. Turner has established himself as one of the team's most dynamic scorers while also doing a good job of distributing the ball to his teammates. If he can score in conference play like he did in non-conference play then he should be one of the front-runners for Freshman of the Year.
BH: Where do you see the Cardinals finishing this year in the MAC West?
BS: I wish I could be more optimistic here but I think they'll finish towards the bottom of the division while being better than their record would suggest, if that makes any sense. The wins may not come as often as Cardinals fans would like this season, but the experience the five freshmen are accruing this season should start paying off next season.
BH: Do you have a prediction for the game?
BS: I think Ball State hangs with Akron for most of the game, but I see the Zips pulling away late and getting the victory. Final score Akron 75, Ball State 67.
Let's flip the script now.
BS: Akron went 8-5 in non-conference play while playing against some very solid teams. What are your impressions of the team so far?
BH: I'm actually pretty impressed. They really played only two teams that are terrible in Bethune-Cookman and Coppin State. The Zips have beaten solid mid-majors in Detroit, Oral Roberts and Cleveland State, and also knocked off Oregon State in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. The losses have been somewhat predictable, but the blowout loss to South Carolina is a bit of a head-scratcher. Akron had a weird schedule these past few months as they took almost three weeks off after Thanksgiving then played seven games in fifteen days. Getting back into a groove will help them come conference season, as they are back on a normal schedule.
BS: What are some keys for Ball State to focus on to slow down the Zips offensively?
BH: I think to compete Ball State has to put pressure on all of Akron's players. Turnovers are a major problem for the Zips and point guard Nyles Evans is inexperienced. Quincy Diggs has been turnover prone lately as well. These problems have caused the Zips to lose large leads and make games closer than they should have been. If Ball State can apply pressure defense they can force a lot of turnovers and cause Akron problems.
BS: Do you see the Zips finishing the year as the best team in the MAC East?
BH: This is tough, because there are really four teams that could win the division. Until I see some conference games, I can't really separate Ohio, Kent State, Akron and Buffalo just yet. Obviously Akron has the most experience out of the four which counts for something. I do think they win the division, but they'll win it with four or five conference losses. There is a lot of parity in the MAC this year and I think teams will be beating up on each other until someone comes out on top. Even though the Zips have looked pretty bad lately I still think they'll get it done.
BS: Who do you see winning the game?
BH: Not to be a homer, but I see Akron winning pretty comfortably. I think Ball State's backcourt will struggle against Akron's pressure defense and be forced into a lot of turnovers. Turner will be baptized by fire and I don't think he will handle it that well. Demetrius Treadwell and Majok will be awesome to watch playing against each other. They're each basically the same player, so it'll be interesting to see who plays better. I see a ten point Akron victory after the Cardinals start fouling to get the ball back. They'll play well, but just won't have enough in the end to beat an experienced team.