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CIT Men's Basketball Preview: Ball State at Tennessee State in first round matchup

Two of the nation's most improved programs meet in Nashville on Tuesday.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Game Info

Who: Ball State Cardinals (19-13, 10-8) at Tennessee State Tigers (20-10, 11-5)

Where: Gentry Center, Nashville, Tennessee

When: Tuesday, March 14th, 8:00 pm ET

Radio: Ball State Radio Network (104.1 FM)



Ball State limps into its first postseason matchup since 2002 losers of three straight and four out of its last five, most recently a 49-47 loss against the Miami RedHawks in the first round of the MAC Tournament. That game was arguably the worst of the season for the Cardinals, the 47 points marked a season low, and BSU shot a frigid 3-23 from behind the arc.

Likewise, Tennessee State didn't last long in conference tournament action. The Tigers finished fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference and earned a first round bye only to fall to eventual champion Austin Peay 74-72.

The Cardinals and Tigers will face off as two of the most improved teams in college basketball. Ball State made the 5th biggest turnaround in the nation, going from 7-23 a year ago to 19-13 this season. Tennessee State is the country's most improved team, jumping from 5-26 to 20-10.

Similar styles of play will be the narrative on Tuesday night in Nashville. The Cardinals were the MAC's leading defensive unit this season, yielding just 66 points a game. Second Team All-MAC forward Franko House was named to the conference's All-Defensive Team and was one of the most versatile players in the league. Lead by House, Ball State has held opponents to 40% shooting this year.

Tennessee State also prides itself on stout defensive efforts. The Tigers give up 68.5 points per game, good for third in the OVC. 6-foot-6 forward Wayne Martin leads that charge and has posted double digit rebounding numbers in 12 contests this year. his nine boards per game was third in the OVC this season.

Like the old NIT model, there is no set bracket in the CIT. Second round matchups will be determined by the first round winners.

With the abundance of postseason opportunities available to college basketball programs today, it can be easy to dismiss those viewed as "lower tier." To say that the CIT is appointment television for anyone outside of those participating fan bases in untrue. That said, these are two programs that a year ago were in the basement, not just in their conferences, but in all of college basketball. James Whitford at Ball State and Dana Ford at Tennessee State have done remarkable work resurrecting these programs. Yes it may take some work, but if you have a chance to check out a little bit of Tuesday's first round CIT matchup, you may be looking at a pair of programs that will be generating some Selection Sunday buzz sooner rather than later.