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Ball State Cardinals vs Bowling Green Falcons Men's Basketball Preview: MAC Tournament Edition

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Falcons hope to put late season disappointments behind them and advance to Cleveland for the first time since 2010-2011.

BGSU Athletic Department

The Bowling Green Falcons were hoping not to be playing on Monday night.  But, at least Richuan Holmes, Jehvon Clarke, Anthony Henderson and Damarkeo Lyshe will get a chance to redo Senior Night.

The Falcons (19-11, 11-7) will host the Ball State Cardinals (7-22, 2-16) on Monday night in the opening round of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament.  Bowling Green is the tournament's #5 seed after losing four of their last six games.  The Cardinals are seeded #12 and have lost their last sixteen games, and haven't won since January 10.

The Falcons swept the season series with Ball State, winning at Bowling Green, 58-46 and in Muncie, 79-65.  If the tournament had started on February 14, the Falcons would have been the overall #1 seed.   But the last two weeks of the regular season were not kind to Bowling Green.  The Falcons lost back-to-back home games against Miami and Buffalo, and then lost their final two games to Kent State (Senior Night) and Buffalo by a combined three points.

So not only did the Falcons not get the triple-bye to the semi-finals, but they didn't get a bye at all.  They will now have to win five games in six days if they're to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1968.  The Falcons haven't advanced to Cleveland in the MAC Tournament in four years.

Even worse, they might be faced with trying to do that without the services of their All-MAC big man, Richaun Holmes.  While fighting for a rebound, Holmes went down hard in the first half of the season finale at Buffalo.  One of the Bulls landed on Holmes and his head hit the floor hard.  He was taken to the locker room immediately and did not return the rest of the half.  He tried to go at the start of the second half but only lasted a minute or so before leaving the game for good.

Bowling Green head coach Chris Jans has not commented on Holmes' injury, but media reports have mentioned everything from split lip, gashed chin, loose teeth and even concussion-like symptoms.  We probably won't know Holmes availability for Monday night until game time.  And even then, you have wonder how long he'll be able to go and how effective he'll be?

I am sure the Falcons are hoping they can dispatch the Cardinals even without Holmes playing a big role.  In fact, I am sure they'd like to see their starters get some rest in this one, with the grind of the games in Cleveland up next.

Bowling Green Ball State
Overall Record 19-11 7-22
MAC Record 11-7 2-16
Head-to-Head 2-0 0-2
PPG Offense 66.0 63.9
PPG Defense 61.4 67.3
FG% 42.8 41.9
3 FG% 33.2 34.4
FT% 70.1 69.2
RPG 35.2 32.9
Turnover AVG 11.9 14.3
Block Shot AVG 3.86 2.22
Assits AVG 12.07 12.56
Steals AVG 6.93 5.41

But if we've learned anything about the MAC Tournament, it's that there are no guarantees...even against a team that hasn't won a game in two months.  The conference season started well for Ball State, as they started 2-0 after wins over Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan.  Then, they lost a double overtime game at Western Michigan and never seemed to recover. They lost another overtime game in the regular season finale to Northern Illinois, 71-67.

The Cardinals are very young team, with only one senior and eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster.  Freshman guard Sean Sellers (11.9) and sophomore Franko House (10.3) lead Ball State in scoring, and those are the only two averaging in double figures.  The Cardinals are last in the conference in scoring averaging 63.9 per game.  Ball State also has trouble taking care of the basketball, averaging 14.3 turnovers a game, again good for last place in the conference.

The Falcons aren't much better in the scoring category, averaging 66.0 per game, good for 11th in the MAC.  But the big difference for Bowling Green is that they have the MAC's best defense, giving up just 61.4 a game.  Holmes leads the Falcons in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.  But as of late, he has been getting some scoring help from a variety of teammates.  Seniors Jehvon Clarke (21) and Anthony Henderson (19) led the team in scoring in the season finale at Buffalo.  Junior Spencer Parker and sophomore Zach Denny have also played well down the stretch for Bowling Green.

So the heavily-favored Falcons will try and break a three game home losing streak at Stroh Center and send their seniors out with a win against a Ball State team they have already beaten twice this year.  If they do, they'll face the winner of Eastern Michigan/Miami at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday night in Cleveland.    A Falcon win seems likely, but remember, this is March and the madness is sure to happen at some point!