MEN'S BASKETBALL: Battling to be No. 1
Ball State takes on Western Michigan to decide winner of MAC West
The Mid-American Conference number two seed is up for grabs tonight.
Who wants it?
It's the match-up that will decide the MAC West champion: Ball State versus Western Michigan.
Winner gets a bye in the MAC Tournament next week in Cleveland. The loser will get handed the fifth seed and a much tougher road through the tournament.
Coach Billy Taylor emphasized the importance of getting that second seed and the bye.
"We would certainly love to have that bye," he said. "It puts a lot of stress on your team, more wear and tear on you."
A loss to Western Michigan (17-11, 9-5 MAC) tonight would force Ball State (17-11, 9-5 MAC) to play next Tuesday, rather than next Thursday.
If Ball State got the fifth seed, the biggest obstacle will be time, Taylor said.
"It is of critical importance I think this year not to have to be in that position where you have to play four games in five days," he said. "Certainly we've seen teams able to do it and win, but we just don't want to put ourselves in that position."
Ball State and Western Michigan's last match-up earlier this season came in the heart of Ball State's seven-game winning streak. The Cardinals won the game 72-63 in Worthen Arena.
Since then, the Cardinals have gone 8-6, while the Broncos have gone 9-4.
Because the two played over a month ago, both teams look dramatically different, Taylor said.
"We're in different places," he said. "I think Western is different in that Demetrius Ward has really upped his level of play and he's scoring the ball from three with great accuracy. He's driving the ball with confidence and scoring."
Ward scored only six points earlier in the season against the Cardinals.
Taylor said his team is going to have to adjust to the Bronco's personal and different players that have stepped up and produced since the last time the two teams met.
Besides Ward, Ball State will have to focus its attention on Preseason All-MAC selection, Flenard Whitfield, who dropped 15 points and five boards against the Cardinals in January.
Ball State is currently riding a two-game win streak, perfect timing for the biggest game of the season.
Freshman Jesse Berry said right now Ball State's lone senior, Malik Perry, has taken it upon himself to keep the team focused.
"Malik says every day we have to trust each other, which I think we're doing a lot of now," he said. "Were beginning to play as a team, no individual work out there, we're just playing together. Everyone's feeling great about going into the tournament."