Ball State head coach James Whitford watches the players during the game against Miami on Jan. 10 in Worthen Arena. The Cardinals will travel to New York Jan. 14 to compete in the first of two matchups with the Buffalo Bills. Terence K. Lightning Jr. // DN
PREVIEW: Ball State men's basketball at Buffalo
Coming off their first Mid-American Conference win, Ball State men’s basketball (10-6, 1-2 MAC) travels to New York Jan. 14 in the first of two match-ups with East division foe Buffalo (8-8, 1-2 MAC).
“[The Bulls] are really an athletic team,” head coach James Whitford said. “Willie Connor and Blake Hamilton are really talented physical wings.”
Ball State stats:
Scoring offense: 77.6
Scoring defense: 71.6
Lead scorer: Tayler Persons - 15.2
Scoring offense: 74.8
Scoring defense: 73.9
Lead scorer: Blake Hamilton - 16.9
Connor and Hamilton, both senior guards, lead Buffalo in scoring, combining for an average of 30.4 points per game.
Whitford said the Bulls' athleticism could affect the Cardinals' offense. Buffalo has the eighth-ranked scoring defense in the MAC, giving up 73.9 points per game, but limits opponents to the third-lowest shooting percentage in the conference (40.8 percent).
“They are one of the most athletic teams in the league and that creates a lot of problems,” Whitford said. “It makes it really hard to score at times.”
But Ball State scores 77.6 points per game and has the third-best shooting percentage in the MAC (46.4 percent).
“They have a chance to be elite on defense,” Whitford said. “They can really play defense to offense because they are so talented physically that they can be hard to score on and if you make mistakes on offense it can turn into points [for Buffalo] like that.”
After the Cardinals' 85-74 win over Miami, a game in which the Cardinals turned the ball over 18 times, Whitford said offensive efficiency is where he wants it to be. The defense is another story.
“It’s the defensive numbers that I am trying to help us recognize. Last year our Ken Pom defense was the second best in the conference at the end of the year,” Whitford said. “If we can get our defense back to the level it was at a year ago, then I think we will be right where we want to be.”
Buffalo has not only the eighth-ranked defense in the MAC, but also the eighth-ranked offense, averaging 74.8 points per game. The Cardinals' defense is ranked fifth with Ball State allowing opponents an average of 71.6 points per game.
Last season, Ball State finished ranked first in defensive scoring in the Mid-American Conference, allowing opponents only 66.8 points per game.
“That to me is the secret between now and March,” Whitford said. “We need to get better on that side of the ball.”
The Cardinals' next opportunity to get better on defense is this weekend as Ball State is on the road against Buffalo.