Forward Kyle Mallers passes the ball to center Trey Moses during the Cardinals’ game against IU Kokomo on Nov. 29, 2016 in John E. Worthen Arena. Ball State won 92 to 52. Paige Grider, DN File
Ball State men's basketball begins travel-heavy non-conference stretch
Here's what the next week and a half looks like for Ball State men's basketball: over 7,500 miles in 11 days with five non-conference opponents.
At the end of practice Tuesday, head coach James Whitford told his players they had 45 minutes to get on the bus, beginning one of the longest stretches of travel some of them have even been a part of.
With such a quick turnaround between games, Ball State will have little prep time for each of its non-conference matchups.
Nov. 15 – at Oklahoma (8 p.m.)
Nov. 17 – vs. Stony Brook (7 p.m.)
Nov. 19 – at Oregon (9 p.m.)
Nov. 22 – at Bucknell (7 p.m.)
Nov. 25 – at Indiana State (1 p.m.)
"We'll have a one-day prep for each [team]," Whitford said. "When you combine a one-day turnaround with 3,000 miles, two planes and one bus, then it's exceptionally more complicated."
Ball State begins its extensive road trip with its first-ever meeting against Oklahoma today. Oklahoma sits just outside of the AP Top 25 polls after its 108-89 home victory against Nebraska-Omaha.
With the Sooners' fast-paced offense led by freshman point guard Trae Young, the Cardinals' transition defense will be tested in its second non-conference game.
"We've got to get better in transition defense, for sure," freshman forward Zach Gunn said. "That's the one thing that we've been emphasizing a lot because Oklahoma pushes the ball up the floor."
Whitford also said he wants to see improvement in the rebounding game, as Ball State prepares to face a team that has 11 of its 15 members standing above 6-foot-5. In the Cardinals' first game, Gunn finished with five rebounds while sophomore Tahjai Teague had 11 of his own.
In the loss to Dayton, 10 players logged significant minutes, but that number may change as junior center Trey Moses, who logged 11 minutes in the loss, continues to get back to the 27 minutes he averaged last season.
"Trey [Moses] was a little limited last game with his minutes and his role will continue to increase ... there will be a little bit of shifting," sophomore Kyle Mallers said. "Overall, we've got enough guys to contribute. Everybody is pretty solid so far, so that's definitely a strength of ours, being a deep team off the bench."
While it's uncertain how the current 10-man rotation will shape out as the year goes on, bench play — particularly from the young guys — has been a welcoming sign thus far.
Gunn finished with 11 points and freshman Ishmael El-Amin had seven points and two assists, stepping up when the starters struggled. Against Dayton, three of the five Cardinal starters didn't score a basket until the second half, and despite the slow 0-14 start, the bench brought them back within three points by halftime.
"I thought our young guys and our guys off the bench played well," Whitford said. "They gave us a big life in the first half when we got down so much. ... I think we showed that we have the chance to be good, but we're a long way away from that right now."
Ball State and Oklahoma tip off at 8 p.m. today.
Remainder of road trip
After its game in Norman, Oklahoma, Ball State will return to Muncie for a single practice before its home-opener against Stony Brook.
Prior to that game, the Cardinals will have a moment of silence for Zach Hollywood, the men's basketball player who took his own life prior to the 2017-18 season.
From there, Ball State travels to Portland, Oregon, before driving to Eugene Sunday to play yet another team receiving votes in the AP Top 25 — the Oregon Ducks.
After that, Ball State heads out to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to play Bucknell, then proceeds to go straight through to Terre Haute to finish the road stretch against Indiana State, rounding off the 7,500-mile trip.
"It's going to be a hectic trip," Whitford said.