Ball State is heating up in the final stretch of its non-conference schedule, entering this weekend's matchup on a four-game win streak.

After starting 1-4, playing a road trip that spanned more than 8,000 miles, Ball State seems to be coming into form recently. 

Ball State (5-4) most recently beat No. 9 Notre Dame off a last-second shot from Tayler Persons while Valparaiso (8-1) is looking to bounce back from a 30 point loss against No. 21 Purdue. Saturday's matchup marks the fifth straight and last in-state contest for Ball State this regular season. 

Fun series facts

  • Ball State has a single game advantage in the all-time series, 32-31.
  • The past three meetings between the two teams came by six points of less.
  • In 2015, Ball State defeated Valparaiso 69-66 at home. The Crusaders received AP Top 25 votes at that time. 

"I feel like we've progressed well," head coach James Whitford said. "Valpo is a really good team and their style of play is very unique. To me, there's a lot of preparation for us to get ready for the game."

Valparaiso (87) is Ball State's fifth opponent ranked in the top 100, according to Ken Pomeroy rankings. Here are some of the keys to watch between Ball State and Valparaiso on Dec. 9:

1) Clash of styles

Ball State runs a more traditional college basketball offense, according to Whitford, but Valparaiso has a different style that the Cardinals will see Saturday. 

"Valpo is not near as traditional," Whitford said. "Playing them you have a lot of things you have to be prepared for. They have a unique style and they're very good at it."

So when Whitfrod says "unique style," what does he exactly mean? Well, the Crusaders run a motion offense, spreading out the ball utilizing their guards and forwards interchangeably. This leads to a lot of scoring as Valparaiso has averaged nearly 79.3 points per game in its first nine contests.

On defense, the Crusaders are fairly good at limiting opponents, giving up an average of 62.2 points against per game. That defensive effort is led a pair of 7-foot-plus centers in sophomore Jaume Sorolla and Derrik Smits who can dominate games inside the paint.

Whitford says the Crusaders defense likes to push teams out towards the sidelines, so passing the ball around and finding open shooters will most likely be a difference maker in this game.

2) Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding

Ball State outplayed Notre Dame in several aspects on Tuesday, but there was one spot where the Cardinals absolutely dominated -- rebounding. 

The Cardinals had 40 rebounds (13 offensive) compared to the Fighting Irish' 26 (4 offensive) in the upset victory. The strong rebounding game wasn't just an anomaly in South Bend, either. In their winning streak, the Cardinals are outrebounding opponents 150 to 113, compared to the 168 to 210 disadvantage in the first five games of the year.

While there hasn't been just one player stepping up to get rebounds, the return of junior center Trey Moses has made a big difference on both sides of the ball.

"It's been massive having Trey out there," junior guard Tayler Persons said. "Defensively, he impacts the game so much. ... He's one of the best communicators on our team, which is huge."

Moses is no longer on a minute count, according to Whitford, which became clear during his season-high 28 minutes of action on Tuesday. This season, he's shooting 51.4 percent from the field while pulling in 5.7 rebounds and 6.2 points per game.

Combined with the teams other rebound leaders -- sophomore forward Tahjai Teague (7.7 RPG) and sophomore Kyle Mallers (4.8 RPG) -- winning the battle on the boards will be a big difference maker for Ball State Saturday. 

3) Keep rolling off team's leaders

With senior guard Francis Kiapway struggling in the first part of the season, several other players have stepped up for the Cardinals.

Vocally, Persons has taken it upon himself to try and relax the team in the huddle and leading the offense. When the ball is whistled dead, he's often the first in the team huddle and the loudest communicator on the court.

"I'm just trying to be more positive," Persons said. "In the past, I've been to critical of everything and I feel like I matured more the way I talk and try to keep everybody up." 

As the teams point leader, averaging 16.2 points per game this year, it's almost expected that he'd step up. However, Whitford says senior guard Sean Sellers has also continued to step up for the team.

"I thought both of those guys [Persons and Sellers] have one a really good job improving their leadership for us."

Sellers has been a leader by example this season. After coming off the bench at Indiana State, he's has averaged 11.8 points per game, putting together four straight 10-plus point games. Sellers isn't just a threat shooting the ball, however, as he pulled in three offensive and four defensive rebounds against Notre Dame, including a number of 'hustle plays,' resulting in points for Ball State.

If Ball State wants to keep winning, it'll have to continue to rely on the energy provided by its team's leaders.

Tip-off is at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at Worthen Arena. 

Contact men's basketball reporter Robby General at rjgeneral@bsu.edu or on Twitter @rgeneraljr.