Fans, media tell Buckley Cards are 'America's Team'

Entire season awaits Ball State; Buckley hopes to see same passion throughout.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ball State coach Tim Buckley doesn't use the term America's Team.

But he can't help it if that's what others think in the wake of the Cardinals' remarkable early season tournament run.

After Ball State upset No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Kansas on back-to-back nights last week in the Maui Invitational, the Cardinals were rewarded Monday with the No. 16 ranking in this week's Top 25 -- and maybe a new nickname.

"It's something we'll probably always cherish," Buckley said of the upsets. "We felt like we could come back being 2-1. We didn't know we could come back and possibly be America's Team."

Ball State has not appeared in a Top 25 poll since 1990 and has never been ranked higher than 18th.

The Cardinals don't play again until this weekend, when Elon, Austin Peay and SUNY-Binghampton play in a two-day tournament at Muncie, Ind. Ball State faces Elon on Friday.

For one week, though, Buckley's program is the talk of the college basketball world.

"It's been a good day. I'm just trying to sift through all the attention," Buckley said Monday. "There's been a lot of phone calls because of the ranking, interviews, and just a lot of correspondence in general."

Some of the calls have come from the media.

Others have come from fans and universities throughout the nation who are trying to send Buckely and his team a message -- that Ball State just might be America's Team this season.

"That's what I've been hearing from a lot of people, from fans in Kentucky or wherever," Buckley said. "All the major programs have said we really appreciate the way your team played out there, and I think we represent America in that."

The difference between Buckley's Cardinals and other Cinderella stories, such as the NCAA Tournament runs by Valparaiso, Tulsa or Gonzaga, is that the Cardinals still have an entire season to play and one week's worth of magic won't suffice for a run at the Mid-American Conference title.

The Cardinals took Monday off to concentrate on academics, Buckley said, and were unavailable for comment.

What Buckley wants to see in the coming weeks, though, is a team that plays with as much passion and confidence as it did in Maui.

"We've talked about staying grounded," he said. "We want to come back and play at a high level. We want to show that playing Kansas, UCLA and Duke wasn't a fluke."

Doing that won't be easy.

Since returning home late last week many have been celebrating the Cardinals' run.

Some fans and a local radio station waited outside University Arena, the Cardinals home court, to greet the team upon its return -- a scene Buckley only envisioned occurring after a nice NCAA Tournament run.

Then came the phone calls, the interview requests and now the ranking, which Buckley and his team intend to protect.

"The focus has turned to our team and Elon. I think the polls are great for our fans, but it's not something we can control," he said, before being reminded that can control what happens in future weeks. "I guess we do and it's a matter of staying there."


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