MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State ready to host No. 23 Butler
Cards expect good turnout for red-out
To forward Malik Perry, Butler University looks like an NCAA tournament team.
There's plenty of reason for that as the Bulldogs have made the field of 65 for three straight years.
Perry and the rest of Ball State University will get a chance to see if this year's Butler team is up for another trip to March Madness. The Cardinals host the No. 23 Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Worthen Arena.
"They have every big piece of a tournament team," Perry said. "They have a dominant center, who helps on offense and defense. They have a great two guard in Gordon Hayward; he's a do-everything guard. They have a good point guard in [Shelvin] Mack. They all know their roles and what they have to do, and they're just doing well."
Butler fans probably wish they were doing even better. The Bulldogs opened the year ranked No. 11, but have dropped after losses to the University of Minnesota and Clemson University in the 76 Classic during Thanksgiving break. Butler's one-point setback against Clemson came Sunday, a day after Ball State's disappointing loss to UC-Davis at home. With both teams coming off disappointments, coach Billy Taylor expects a tough game.
"We have to really battle," Taylor said. "We have to make sure we're competing on the boards. We did that well last year. We were physical and tried to play with some intensity and confidence in the paint."
The Cardinals put extra work in after struggling with their free throw shooting Saturday.
"We want to put the last game in the past," forward Terrence Watson said. "We're working hard. I know myself, I just shot 100 free throws, so we just have to keep working; it's a long season."
In addition to shooting better from the stripe, Ball State knows they will have to be ready to step up their defense. The Cardinals' main focus will be reigning Horizon League Player of the Year Matt Howard and the six-foot-nine Hayward. The pair led the Bulldogs in scoring in last year's meeting with 15 and nine points respectively.
"[Hayward] has a very unique set of skills," Taylor said. "He's shooting the ball well, he gets to the basket and he's a terrific passer. And then inside, Matt Howard. He's just been very, very successful over his collegiate career."
Taylor will likely call on some combination of Jarrod Jones, Watson and Perry to guard Howard and Hayward. Perry said he doesn't care who he guards.
"If I got to guard the point guard, I'll guard the point guard," he said. "In my career here I've guarded a variety of players. I just take whatever assignment coach gives me."
The game will be the 101st meeting between the two schools. Butler leads the all-time series 63-37 and is on a five-game winning streak. While the rivalry is storied and the schools are only an hour apart, Taylor said he has not butted heads with Butler coach Brad Stevens on the recruiting trail.
"It varies so much by position each year depending on our needs versus their needs," Taylor said. "I know there probably will be some kids both like."
The combination of the rivalry and the Bulldogs' ranking has the Cardinals expecting a strong turnout Wednesday night.
"I'm expecting this to be the biggest crowd of the year," Watson said. "I'm expecting to fill Worthen Arena."