Conor Hockett

At first glance, Saturday's 51-48 loss to Eastern Michigan looked like a defensive battle, one coach Billy Taylor could at least build on.

But hidden in those 51 points were countless defensive lapses, mistakes which Taylor was quick to jump on in Monday's weekly press conference.

"It was a disappointing loss for us Saturday and I wasn't pleased with our effort on the defensive end of the floor," Taylor said. "Throughout the course of the game, we had a lot of breakdowns in simple coverages. Whether it was slow rotations, not contesting, messing up assignments — just breakdowns we normally don't have. It was a closer game than it should have been and it came back to bite us on the defense end of the floor."

While Ball State still leads the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, Saturday's performance was the second consecutive game where the Cardinals faltered on that end of the floor.

On Jan. 10, Toledo shot 44 percent from the field followed by Eastern Michigan's 47 percent from the field Saturday. Both were season-highs at the time. Sophomore redshirt Tyler Koch said it comes down to helping out your teammates.

"It's definitely communication," Koch said. "It's not just from the back, but it's everyone really. Guards, when they lose their man, they need to communicate with us. If we talk, it's a lot easier. We just have to help each other out."

That's especially the case when Ball State travels to take on a new talented offensive player in sophomore guard Trey Zeigler and Central Michigan on Wednesday.

Zeigler is fourth in the MAC in scoring at 16.4 points per game and Central Michigan averages 11 more points per game as a team than Eastern Michigan on the season.

Taylor said Central Michigan is a completely different team this season compared to last. Zeigler was forced to create nearly all his team's offense last season, but an influx of talent makes them much more dangerous.

"What's changed for Central is they have a lot of very good offensive weapons around Trey," Taylor said. "He doesn't have to force things and can be more efficient. He's a talented player, a special-type player. When he's patient, that gives other guys opportunities to score."

Sophomore Derek Jackson and freshman Austin McBroom have benefited most from Zeigler's unselfishness this season. The two guards are shooting 39 percent and 48 percent, respectively, from 3-point range and are second and third on the team in scoring.

Evidenced by his .91 assist to turnover ratio, Zeigler is still getting used to his facilitator role. Taylor wouldn't say where he thinks Zeigler is susceptible to mistakes, but seemed confident in his team's approach.

Against Central Michigan last season, Ball State tried to crowd Zeigler with a number of defenders. Taylor said the Chippewas' shooting prowess won't allow for that Wednesday, so it looks like sophomore forward Chris Bond will draw the match up. Senior guard Pierre Sneed also defended him last season, but he's recovering from an ankle injury and will be a game-time decision.

It's safe to think any team in the MAC who got its hands on Saturday's tape knows a zone is effective against the Cardinals, but Taylor said he thinks it will be at least seven games until Ball State sees a consistent zone effort against his team again.

"There are two types of teams," Taylor said. "Eastern Michigan is a pure zone team. Bowling Green is a pure zone team. They'll play zone for 40 minutes if you're hitting threes or missing threes. The second type of team is primarily man-to-man who sprinkles in zone. They don't stay in it long and I think we've got enough offense to attack them and have success. We've struggled against teams who play 40 minutes of zone and that's what they do."

Central Michigan is one of those sprinkle-it-in-zone teams. Taylor said the Chippewas prefer to pressure in their aggressive man-to-man defense.

Regardless of what defense Central Michigan will play, Koch and the rest of the Cardinals are still going through what they'll do if a zone pops up again.

"I'm not looking for a particular thing until I catch the ball," Koch said. "Once you see if they come up, you can either pass or go around them. There are a lot of things you can do. Really, you just want to create an advantage in any way you can. If you draw two of their players in the zone, we've got the advantage. Just find the open man after you read the defense."

Reading the conference standings, the loss to Eastern Michigan dropped Ball State into a four-way tie with Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan for the lead in the West Division. However, losing first place wasn't lost on the players heading into Wednesday's game.

"West games are always a barn burner, no matter how you look at it," Koch said. "Records don't really mean anything when conference starts, everyone knows that. It's gonna be a bruiser especially up at their place. It isn't going to be easy, so we're looking forward to the challenge."