MEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State is in driver's seat
Cardinals to play in hostile Rose Arena
Once again, Ball State controls its own destiny heading toward the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The Cardinals are tied at 8-5 in the MAC West Division and 16-11 overall with Western Michigan and three games to play, yet they still have the tiebreaker.
Before they head to Kalamazoo, Mich., on Wednesday — a game that will inevitably decide who wins the West — Ball State will need to focus its energy on Central Michigan (9-18, 6-7 MAC) Saturday.
Coach Billy Taylor stressed the hostile environment Central Michigan offers, and that his team better be ready to head to Rose Arena.
"They have a very active crowd; they're vocal; they're into it. They're energized, [and] it's really a tough place to play," he said. "Their fans are right on top of you. It's a tough environment to play, and [I'm] hoping our guys will be ready for the challenge."
For most of the season, game planning for an opponent has been somewhat simple, focusing mainly on one key player.
When facing Eastern Michigan it was Brandon Bowdry. With Kent State, it was Justin Greene, and for Western Michigan, it was Flenard Whitfield.
Central Michigan, however, has two big-time scorers.
Trey Zeigler, a freshman ranked as the No. 6 shooting guard and 30th overall in the nation coming out of high school according to ESPN, turned down offers from UCLA, Arizona State, Michigan and Michigan State to play for his father at Central Michigan.
Earlier in the year, Zeigler dropped 21 on the Cardinals in a 64-55 Ball State victory. Since then, Taylor said he's gotten better.
"I see more consistency in his scoring as the season has gone on, and he's just a very talented offensive player," Taylor said. "You can't just commit one defender. You have to have your whole team focused in on trying to contain and limit his easy looks."
Zeigler is averaging 18.8 points per game in conference play. He's scored more than 20 points 10 times, including a 30-point game against Toledo.
"Trey is a dangerous offensive player," Taylor said. "He's got the ability to score at so many different levels, whether it's drives to the basket in transition [or] pull-up jump shots, and he can make the 3-point shot."
Central Michigan's other scoring threat is Jalin Thomas, who had 17 points against Ball State before leaving the game early with an ankle injury.
He has averaged 16.5 points per game in conference play.
Taylor said finding a way to limit easy looks for Thomas and Zeigler will be the tough, but it will be essential to pick up a victory.
"It's really a tough cover because with Thomas he basically has the skills of a 2 guard that plays the power forward position, so it's a very, very difficult cover to go along with [Ziegler]," Taylor said.