Senior Sean Sellers shoots a free throw during the first half of the Cardinals’ game against Stony Brook on Nov. 17 in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State plays Oakland City Nov. 28 at home. Paige Grider, DN
Why a 2-4 start isn't concerning for Ball State men's basketball
Through its first six games Ball State men’s basketball is 2-4, but the Cardinals don't seem too concerned.
And they shouldn’t be.
This season, Ball State has played one of the toughest schedules in Division l basketball — ranking 13th on the Ken Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, which determines how good a program is during present time, and 16th in the Basketball Power Index in terms of strength of schedule.
1 - Ball State, 2-4, (13)
2 - Western Michigan, 3-3, (21)
3 - Toledo, 3-2, (100)
4 - Buffalo, 3-2, (112)
5 - Central Michigan, 5-1, (150)
College Basketball Power Index
1 - Ball State, 2-4, (16)
2 - Buffalo, 3-2, (82)
3 - Western Michigan, 3-3, (141)
4 - Toledo, 3-2, (210)
5 - Central Michigan, 5-1, (224)
* Statistics accurate as of Nov. 28, but can fluctuate as they are updated daily.
“I don’t get a too caught up in the win and loss record at this time of the year,” head coach James Whitford said. “I’m encouraged by the fact that we can go on the road to both Dayton and Bucknell and be in a position to win both games.”
To make a tough schedule worse, the Cardinals traveled approximately 8,000 miles to play five opponents in 11 days. During that time, the team spent entire days traveling by plane and bus, making practice impossible between some games.
“It feels good to be back now, it was a very long trip,” junior guard Jontrell Walker said. “Now that we’re back, just focusing on day-by-day and not being happy or satisfied with the last game, just continuing to move forward.”
After finishing off its road trip with a 93-85 win over in-state rival Indiana State, things begin to get easier for the Cardinals. Ball State doesn’t leave Indiana again until its Jan. 9 meeting against Ohio, playing eight of its next nine games at home, with the only road contest coming against Notre Dame on Dec. 5.
While a 2-4 record is the slowest start in Whitford’s tenure, there are several encouraging signs for this team moving forward.
Ball State has played with a consistent nine-man rotation not including senior Jeremie Tyler who only saw action in the first game. With six guys averaging more than 20 minutes and three others clocking in more than 16 per game, depth isn’t a concern of this team right now.
“I think this is probably the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” senior Sean Sellers said. “We have seven, eight, nine, ten guys that’ll play. ... You just have to come in and play your best ball, help the team and put them in position to win games.”
Even with the early shooting struggles of senior Francis Kiapway and the rehabilitation of junior Trey Moses, Ball State has proven it can score. As a team, the Cardinals are averaging 80 points per game, better than last season’s point-per-game total of 78.7 — a 40-year program best.
Junior guard Tayler Persons is leading that effort with 16.7 points per game thus far, but sophomore Kyle Mallers (12 PPG) and Walker (10.7 PPG) have proven to be dangerous scorers as well.
Whitford said he is encouraged by the early-season offensive numbers, calling them “the best they’ve been since I’ve been the head coach here.”
Against Indiana State, Ball State shot nearly 62 percent from the field, the team’s best percentage against a Division l opponent since 2003. This season, Ball State has also shot nearly 80 percent from the free throw line, good for 18th in the nation.
Still, there’s one facet Whitford said the Cardinals need to improve on — playing defense.
“Our defensive numbers are not where they need to be,” Whitford said. “We have to get better at guarding the ball, that’s crystal clear. … For us to have a legitimate chance to hang a banner, we have to get better at the defensive side of the ball.”
On average, Ball State gives up 88.2 points-per-game to opponents, highlighted by a 39-point loss to Oklahoma (69-108) and a 24-point loss to Oregon (71-95). While Whitford said getting Moses back will help those numbers, he thinks the defensive mentality of the team needs to change, saying that even Indiana State got too many good looks at the basket.
Ball State has a pair of in-state games this week against Oakland City on Nov. 28 and IUPUI on Dec. 2, offering the Cardinals a chance to improve upon their record as they move closer to conference play and the teams ultimate goal.
"We can’t really be too worried about the record, I think the best thing we need to do is take each practice day-by-day and try to play your best ball," Sellers said. "Your record will take care of itself, but you just have to hope that you’re playing your best ball in March.”
Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.