Practice has begun for the Ball State men's basketball team, and it's clear there is one part of the game it is focused on improving.

Last season, the Cardinals ranked 244th in the country on total team defense, allowing 69 points per game and a 46 percent shooting percentage. Head coach James Whitford is looking to drastically improve that number toward the top of the Mid-American Conference.

And Whitford wants it to happen by talking.

2014 defensive statistics

Points per game allowed: 69

Opponent field goal percentage: .460

Opponent three-point field goal percentage: .356

Scoring margin: -3

“It’s impossible to be a good team defender without communicating,” Whitford said. “There’s no way to do it, I don’t care what else you do.”

In the first practice of the season on Oct. 2, communication was the focus for Whitford and his team. Whitford is going into his third season for the Cardinals and carries a 12-48 record through his first two seasons.

He made it clear how players could maintain a spot in the rotation for the 2015-16 season.

“If you want to earn a role on this team, you talk,” Whitford said during a drill.

Throughout practice, Worthen Arena was loud with chatter. In a full-court transition defense drill, every player was barking out instructions to their teammates on both ends. Even those not on the court were getting involved.

Franko House, a junior who started all but one game for Cardinals last season, said that talking on the floor is a huge component.

“Communication is big,” House said. “Especially for the younger guys, it’s hard when you’re trying to think a lot and learn the new defensive schemes.”

Jeremiah Davis, a fifth-year senior, said Whitford’s philosophy of communicating translates off the floor as well.

“You just communicate with [teammates],” Davis said. “You try to talk to them every time you see them.”

On defense, conversation is crucial to team success. At one point during practice, Whitford called out Sean Sellers, the team’s leading scorer last season on his commitment to team defense. He said defense extends beyond oneself, and it's more about the team.

During the next possession, Sellers shined leading to praise from the coaching staff.

Over the first 10 days of practice, Whitford is trying to work with the team on the defensive end of the ball and make sure they improve from last season.

“You can’t become great on defense if you aren’t a great team communicator,” Whitford said. “I’m trying to make sure we as a staff hold our players accountable in every drill. We spend a lot of time on it; ... that’s an area we’re gonna become a lot better in.”