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Ball State Cardinals vs. Central Michigan Chippewas Preview: Which surprise team will move to 2-0?

What would have been a battle of the bottom-feeders a year ago is now a compelling early season conference matchup.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan and Ball State both started play in the MAC considerably better than they did last year. The two teams, who lost their opening games just a year ago, both opened up MAC play with unexpected road wins. The Chippewas (11-1, 1-0 MAC) defeated the Toledo Rockets thanks to a strong effort from Chris Fowler and Rayshawn Simmons, while the Cardinals (6-6, 1-0 MAC) needed overtime to pull off the upset against Eastern Michigan thanks in part to a strong effort on the glass by senior Matt Kamieniecki.

Both teams are entering the game with a lot of momentum. The Cardinals are coming into the game on a 3-game win streak, while the Chips enter the game having won their last six. Something will have to give however when the teams meet at 4:30 on Saturday afternoon in Worthen Arena.

Statistically the Chippewas seem to have a big advantage. CMU's offense has been high-powered all season having broken the 100-point mark twice during non-conference play. Central Michigan enters the game second in the country in points per game, 13th in field goal percentage, and 33rd in rebounds. A year ago these stats would have never seemed possible for Central Michigan. However the maturation of guys like Simmons and John Simons along with the efforts of freshman Luke Meyer and DaRohn Scott have made the Chippewas legitimate contenders in the MAC.

Ball State however, has shown that they can compete against good teams this year. Not only did the Cardinals pull of the upset against EMU, but they looked good in losing efforts to then-nationally ranked San Diego State, and mid-major power Valparaiso. If Central Michigan comes into this game expecting to roll over the Cardinals, then there could easily be another upset early on in the conference season.

The Chippewas are not often favored to win games, so it will be interesting to see how well they compete against "inferior" MAC competition.

Do not expect the Chips to underperform, however.

As CMU proved in their win against Toledo, they have two major weapons which make them dangerous: depth on the roster, and a well-rounded offensive attack. The Chippewas can play inside and beat you with size thanks to guys like Meyer and Scott, but they can also shoot the lights out from three and beat you with speed.

Even when the Chips don't shoot that well from the outside, which has been their bread and butter all season, they can still win. They showed this in the game at Toledo earlier this week. CMU's percentage from outside on the season is over 40 percent, however against Toledo they only shot 28 percent from behind the arc. If CMU continues to be a versatile offensive team, Ball State just might not be able to slow them down.

The key matchup will be Sean Sellers against the Chippewas defense. The Chips have at times looked vulnerable on defense and Sellers has the potential for a big game if the defensive struggles arise again for CMU.

If Central Michigan can contain Sellers however, then the Chips should be able to out-talent and out-size their way to a victory.

Final Score Prediction: CMU 82, BSU 68