Kent State and Ball State are headed in opposite directions.
The Cardinals, once the darlings of the MAC West, need a slump buster. Ball State shocked the MAC universe by taking its first two conference matchups of the season, against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan respectively, before dropping the last three against Western Michigan, Bowling Green, and Ohio. Alone in first no more, the Cards have fallen back into a three way tie for third in the West Division.
It's a different world for Kent State. The Golden Flashes lost a tight one to open the season, 66-64 at home to Bowling Green, before rattling off four consecutive conference wins. Kent is currently tied atop the MAC East with those Falcons at 4-1. BG and KSU will meet again on March 3rd.
Each win has been more impressive than the last for Kent State. They opened up the four game winning streak by knocking off Northern Illinois followed by an underwhelming Eastern Michigan squad. Next up they handled Ohio in Kent, before taking down Toledo, 67-60, on Wednesday.
Devareaux Manley burst back onto the scene against Toledo. After just 3 against Eastern Michigan and 7 against Ohio, Dev blew up for 21 points against the Rockets. Sure he took 18 shots from the field, sure he jacked up 10 treys. But shooters shoot. This is what you're supposed to say when someone takes a lot and doesn't shoot particularly well.
Now Kris Brewer's performance was a little more impressive, 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting in the win over UT. Brewer's 18 was the most he's scored since dropping 28 on Miami in February of last season.
Like a polaroid picture in Back to the Future, Jimmy Hall is gradually disappearing. His point production has dropped in each of his last four games. In the conference season opening loss, Hill scored 25 against BG. He bottomed out against Toledo, scoring just 6. Hall is KSU's leading scorer and rebounder, and his production on the boards has dropped as well. Khaliq Spicer has picked up the slack though, ripping down 17 across the last two games.
Ball State needs a win. Simple as that. With the hot start, this Cardinals fan thought BSU could compete in a wide open MAC West. I still think that, and the Cards are still in the mix, but a win needs to happen. Now.
It's a tall task, but Ball State has the weapons to turn things around in Muncie. If the Cardinals are going to take down Kent State, it will be a high scoring affair. The Golden Flashes play stingy defense and BSU needs to get out and run.
That of course will start with Zavier Turner. Turner didn't play on Wednesday against Ohio due to a coach's decision though, and his status for Saturday remains uncertain. In his absence, expect Kaleb Mallory to be the third guard.
If Turner isn't out there, much of the scoring load will fall to freshman Sean Sellers. Sellers has certainly shown flashes of brilliance this season, but is prone to the clunker as well. Most recently against the Bobcats, he shot 4 of 9 from the field and 3 of 5 from behind the arc for 16 points to go with 4 rebounds.
Ball State will have to get improved contributions from its front court on Saturday. Franko House has managed just two rebounds each of his last two games, his lowest total since the first week of the season. Matt Kamieniecki has similarly seen declining production, pulling down just 5 boards against Ohio after hitting double digits the previous four contests.
The X factor will be Jeremiah Davis. Since Davis had his NCAA eligibility restored following a transfer from Cincinnati, he has shown he is capable of generating instant offense. He's scored in double figures in 3 of 6 games, and had 12 points to go with 7 assists against Ohio.
Kent State and Ball State tip off Saturday from Worthen Arena in Muncie, Indiana at 2pm ET.