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MAC Men's Basketball Preview: Ball State Cardinals

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Where do the Cardinals stand heading into the 2015-2016 season?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State is coming off a dismal 7-23 season, but optimism hangs in the Muncie air. An exciting group of newcomers, plus an abundance of returning stars has Ball State buzzing. Last season was a tough one for the Cardinals, beating only two MAC opponents all season long. Third-year coach James Whitford will look to get these Cardinals flying high once again.

Head Coach: James Whitford, 3rd year (12-48, 4-32 MAC)

Whitford has been coaching D-1 basketball since 1997. He was a long time assistant coach at Miami, Xavier, and Arizona and is highly regarded in college basketball. He has spent many years under one of college basketball's best coaches in Sean Miller. He was the right hand man at Arizona and Xavier for Miller and their partnership was very successful.

During their time together this duo went to eight NCAA Tournaments, including four Elite Eight appearances. During his coaching career he has been an experienced winner and has seen the pinnacle of college basketball. His experiences as a coach should help him build a winner in Muncie.

Highly regarded for his work with low-post players, he is often credited with the stellar recruiting classes at Arizona and the development of star players Derrick Williams and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Whitford is the 19th head coach in Ball State history, and this is his first head coaching job. His first two seasons did not go as great as expected. He will enter his third year as a head coach with a lackluster 12-48 record including only four MAC wins.

2015-2016 Schedule

Date Opponent Time (EST) Notes
13-Nov at Bradley 8:00
16-Nov Eastern Illinois 7:00
20-Nov at Eastern Kentucky 6:00 Eastern Kentucky Classic
21-Nov Longwood (at EKU) 4:30 Eastern Kentucky Classic
22-Nov South Carolina State (at EKU) 4:30 Eastern Kentucky Classic
25-Nov IU-Kokomo 7:00
28-Nov Valparaiso 2:00
1-Dec IUPUI 7:00
5-Dec New Orleans 2:00
12-Dec Pepperdine 1:00
22-Dec at Indiana State 7:00
29-Dec Alabama A&M 7:00
31-Dec Chicago State 2:00
6-Jan Toledo 7:00
9-Jan at Ohio 2:00
12-Jan at Western Michigan 7:00
16-Jan Miami 2:00
19-Jan Kent State 7:00
23-Jan at Eastern Michigan 12:00
26-Jan at Buffalo 7:00
30-Jan Akron 1:00
2-Feb at Bowling Green 7:00
6-Feb Western Michigan 2:00
9-Feb Ohio 7:00
13-Feb at Central Michigan 4:30
16-Feb at Miami 7:00
20-Feb Northern Illinois 4:00
23-Feb at Toledo 7:00
27-Feb Eastern Michigan 2:00
1-Mar Central Michigan 7:00
4-Mar at Northern Illinois TBD

Offseason Losses

The Cardinals lose four players from last season’s roster. These players include Matt Kamieniecki, Zavier Turner, Tye Wilburn, and Rashaun Richardson. They accounted for an average of seven points and four rebounds per game.

Kamieniecki was a sufficient rebounder that was ranked in the NCAA's top ten for defensive rebounding percentage. He spent five years at Ball State and graduated last season, improving every season he played. Turner lead the team with three assists per game last season and was a reliable scorer. Turner transferred to Manhattan after two successful seasons at Ball State. Richardson and Wilburn both were redshirt freshman last year and will likely never suit up for the Cardinals as both players transferred out of the program. These players, although productive at Ball State, can be replaced immediately.

Why the Future is Bright

Not only do the Cardinals return a group of key contributors, but they also have a few newcomers that are destined to make an impact. Trey Moses, Tahjai Teague, Nate Wells, and others has Ball State fans salivating and eager for basketball.

Graduate transfer Wells, coming to Muncie from Bradley, is using his extra year of eligibility at Ball State. The 7-foot-1 center will look to help the Cardinals front court and ease the Kamieniecki departure. Moses was the third best player in Kentucky (according to Mid-American Basketball Consultants) in a state laden with basketball talent. This promising forward will be sure to make his mark this season for the Cardinals.

Maybe the best player arriving in Muncie is Teague. A native of Indianapolis, Teague is rated a four-star recruit by ESPN and 247 Sports. ESPN writes that Teague is a "skilled forward that has three point range." They also go on to write, "He is a high major prospect with tremendous upside." Teague also has some intriguing family connections as he is the cousin of NBA guards Jeff and Marquis Teague. This group will be exciting to watch as they grow together and within the Ball State program.

Strengths

Whitford will have some key contributors from last season's team back on the court for this upcoming season. MAC Freshman of the Year Sean Sellers will enter his sophomore season with loads of momentum. Sellers finished the season strong by scoring ten or more points in five out of the last six games. The only game where he did not score ten as when he had nine points versus a stingy Toledo team.

Jeremie Tyler will return after an unproductive season. He only played nine games last season because he was academically ineligible for the second semester. When he's on the court Ball State is a drastically better team. His presence makes the Cardinals backcourt truly a force to be reckon with. Last season Ball State was 3-6 when he was in the line-up. In the nine games he played, Tyler averaged twelve points a game and shot a staggering 46 percent from the field. When Tyler was not in the lineup the team went 4-17, so having him back for a full season should help.

Also Bo Calhoun will return and enter his senior year. Bo Calhoun is one of the best rebounders in the MAC and an improving scorer. Last season, Calhoun was the second-most improved offensive player in the conference behind reigning MAC Player of The Year, Justin Moss. This trio will help provide a spark for the team, and hopefully help the Cardinals improve from their dreadful 2014-2015 campaign.

Preseason Team Awards

Most Valuable Player

This season's Ball State Basketball MVP goes to Sellers. The sophomore from Greensburg, Indiana is expected to have a monster season for Whitford's Cardinals. Sellers is the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year, and led all MAC rookies in scoring. Last season he appeared in all 30 games that Ball State played in and made 29 starts.

Sellers flashed brilliance in games against nationally ranked Utah, and MAC co-champions Buffalo and Central Michigan. In his first collegiate game against Utah he scored 26 points including 4 three-pointers.  Sellers had 19 points in each game against Buffalo and Central Michigan. It seems clear that Sellers will lead the Cardinals this season.

Freshman of the Year

True freshman Teague could breakout this season for the Cardinals. Fans in Munice should be very excited about the presence of the four-star power forward. An all-star in high school, Teague is the future of this team. Eventually Sellers and Teague will form a dynamic duo, and that is a scary thought for the rest of the MAC. If Teague and Sellers figure it out this season then production from Teague will be huge.

X-Factor

The X-Factor player on a basketball team is someone that fans don't recognize as the star, but the player is vital to the team's success. For Ball State their X-Factor player is junior forward Franko House. Last season House averaged ten points and five and a half rebounds per game. During MAC play Franko House elevated to about twelve points per game.

This season House will look to help this young team out with his leadership. When House spoke to Muncie Star Press he said, "Communication is big, and especially for the younger guys, it’s really hard at first," House said. "I used to be a bad talker, but now I'm leading by example." Look for House to be the guy that helps everyone else on the court, including his team.