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2014 Preseason MAC Men's Basketball: Ball State Cardinals

The Cards were a mess last season, winning only five games. Will new blood be enough to give the fans in Muncie some hope?

Ball State must rise above the haters and find a way to be competitive in a stout MAC West Division.
Ball State must rise above the haters and find a way to be competitive in a stout MAC West Division.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State head coach James Whitford, a former Arizona assistant, is entering his second season in Muncie and returns a team that finished worst in the MAC last season, going a paltry 5-25. A solid signing class, combined with returning veterans, must find a way to improve on last season.

Last season saw the Cardinals only win two conference match-ups and five games overall, with those wins over Taylor University, Oakland City, Southeast Missouri State, Buffalo, and Central Michigan. Three games could be considered the "best" games on the Ball State schedule last season: the one point loss at home to perennial NCAA tournament contender Butler, a 3-overtime loss to Central Michigan on the road, and their revenge game at home vs. the Chippewas, where the Cards won by three.

In-conference, the Cardinals had a handful of battles, playing two great games against Central Michigan and splitting the series, while also keeping it close in games vs. Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Akron, and Toledo. Ball State received an 11 seed for the tournament last season and was eliminated by Ohio in the first round, the second straight first-round elimination for the Cardinals.

Five players have left the program due to graduation: Kindon Crowder, Chris Bond, Jesse Berry (Ball State's all-time 3 point leader), Tyler Koch, and Majok Majok, who is notably playing pro basketball in Slovenia.

These losses will hurt, especially from a leadership standpoint, but Ball State has a few promising players that just might be able to heal the wounds at least a little bit. Zavier Turner, last year's Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year, will be back at the point after a twelve points per game and four assists per game freshman campaign, where he also shot 80% at the charity stripe. Matt Kamieniecki returns for a fifth year after a wrist injury forced him to redshirt his senior season. Kamieniecki pulled down six rebounds and scored four and a half points per game in limited action in his junior season.

Bik Gill, a junior college transfer, nearly averaged a double-double (15 PPG and 10 RPG) last year and lead the NJCAA in blocks with 73. Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davis has been granted a waiver and is eligible to play immediately. His freshman year with UC saw Davis average over seven PPG in 27 games, where he gained a reputation as a big game player, scoring ten vs. Notre Dame, and sinking a late game-tying shot against St. John's with nine seconds on the clock.

The Cards have a handful of big non-conference games in the upcoming schedule, including a season opener at Utah, and games at San Diego State and Valparaiso. The MAC season starts on January 7th vs. Eastern Michigan.

Here is the full schedule:

Date Opponent Time (in ET)
Fri, Nov 14 @ Utah 10:00 PM ET
Mon, Nov 17 vs. Indiana-Kokomo 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Nov 22 @ IUPUI 1:00 PM ET
Mon, Nov 24 vs. Grambling St 7:00 PM ET
Wed, Dec 3 @ Eastern Illinois 8:00 PM ET
Sat, Dec 6 vs. Indiana St 2:00 PM ET
Sat, Dec 13 @ Valparaiso 8:00 PM ET
Wed, Dec 17 vs. James Madison 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Dec 20 @ San Diego St 10:00 PM ET
Sun, Dec 28 vs. Longwood 2:00 PM ET
Sat, Jan 3 vs. Bethune-Cookman 2:00 PM ET
Wed, Jan 7 @ Eastern Michigan 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Jan 10 vs. Central Michigan 4:30 PM ET
Wed, Jan 14 @ Western Michigan TBD
Sat, Jan 17 @ Bowling Green 4:00 PM ET
Wed, Jan 21 vs. Ohio 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Jan 24 vs. Kent State 2:00 PM ET
Tue, Jan 27 @ Akron TBD
Sat, Jan 31 @ Miami 3:30 PM ET
Wed, Feb 4 vs. Buffalo 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Feb 7 vs. Toledo 2:00 PM ET
Tue, Feb 10 @ Northern Illinois 8:00 PM ET
Sat, Feb 14 vs. Bowling Green 4:30 PM ET
Wed, Feb 18 @ Kent State 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Feb 21 @ Central Michigan 4:30 PM ET
Tue, Feb 24 vs. Western Michigan 7:00 PM ET
Sat, Feb 28 @ Toledo TBD
Tue, Mar 3 vs. Eastern Michigan 7:00 PM ET
Fri, Mar 6 vs. Northern Illinois 7:00 PM ET

Considering the upheaval of experience in Muncie, my projections for the starting line-up are made under the assumption that Coach Whitford decides to go young. This is the roster I expect to see play for the majority of the season, although power forward and center could easily be interchangeable:

Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Zavier Turner Jeremiah Davis III Franko House Matt Kamieniecki Bik Gil
Soph. Jr.-Transfer Soph. Sr.-5th JuCo-Jr.

The Cardinals will be extremely reliant on young talent this season, seeing as they have eight underclassman returning this season, with only Kaminiecki returning as a senior. Coach Whitford must continue to instill his system with his younger players and make known the roles that he expects them to fill throughout the year. It will be a painful year for the patrons at The Nest, but it could be very well worth it in the next couple of seasons to come; a lot of potential, combined with proper development, could be dangerous down the road for the rest of the MAC.

PREDICTIONS:

  • Ball State improves from last season, but still struggle to make it above double-digit wins.
  • Bik Gill and Matt Kaminiecki combine to make a rebounding force to be reckoned with, and will average at least 18 rebounds a game between them.
  • Ball State pulls off at least one upset in conference play against a MAC contender.
  • Zavier Turner makes a legitimate case to be considered MAC West Player of the Year.
Tomorrow: Central Michigan Chippewas