MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State travels to MAC doormat Toledo not overlooking Rockets
Toledo is 0-14 in MAC play this season, including 71-43 loss to Ball State in Muncie
Ball State University, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University.
All four of these teams could still mathematically win a Mid-American Conference West Division championship and/or earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament with two games remaining in league play.
But if the Cardinals lose at the University of Toledo today – which is winless in MAC play at 0-14 – they can all but kiss those aspirations good-bye.
Ball State travels to Toledo today knowing it can't overlook the lowly Rockets in anticipation of what could be its biggest game of the year, at Western Michigan, on Thursday.
Following the Cardinals' 72-67 loss to Eastern Michigan on Wednesday – a game where a Ball State win would've clinched the West and the No. 2 seed – a somber Terrence Watson said there was nothing to do but move on.
"It's a tight race for the whole thing," the senior forward said. "We've just got to keep up, keep going to practice and put our hard hats on."
To sum up Toledo's season, the Rockets (3-26) simply can't score, can't force turnovers and can't block shots, especially over their current 19-game losing streak.
Nationally, Toledo ranks No. 345 out of 347 Division I teams in scoring average (54.4), No. 341 in scoring margin (-13.3 points per game), No. 344 in steals per game (4.2) and No. 332 in blocks per game (1.8).
The one positive for coach Gene Cross's team is the play of freshman guard Jake Barnett, who is leading the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game. Barnett is coming off career-high-tying five 3-pointers in the Rockets' 61-41 loss to visiting Western Michigan on Wednesday.
Barnett needs just eight points to pass Terry Reynolds for the second-best freshman scoring season in program history.
Ball State coach Billy Taylor said for his Cardinals (15-12, 8-6 MAC) to improve their chances at winning their first outright MAC West title since the 2001-02 season, blocking out on defensive rebounds will be key.
Ball State has struggled with this lately, giving up 15 offensive rebounds Wednesday to Eastern Michigan and an average of 14.1 offensive boards in its past nine games.
"I can't say it's something that we haven't done well ever," Taylor said. "We had some stretches where we do it extremely well, and we have some lack of focus or attention to detail or we just don't pursue the basketball with the aggression that we need to to come up with it – it's something that we've got to better at."
Ball State allowed 13 offensive rebounds to Toledo in their first meeting of the year, but forced 16 turnovers and held the Rockets to just 30.8 percent shooting from the field in the Cardinals' largest win of the Taylor era and overall largest overall since defeating Northern Colorado 81-42 to open the 2006-07 season.
In that game, Ball State also was effective from beyond the 3-point arc, hitting eight 3s, including six from freshman guard Jauwan Scaife, as Toledo tried to take away the Cardinals' inside presence.
Tonight's game, televised by The Ball State Sports Network, is set to tipoff at 7 p.m.
Who: Ball State men's basketball
What: Game at Toledo
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Savage Arena (Toledo, Ohio)
Where to watch/listen: TV – Ball State Sports Network (Ch. 2); Radio – FM 91.3 WERK, FM 104.1 WLBC
Follow on Twitter: Live, in-game updates – twitter.com/dn_sports