After experiencing one of the most successful weekends in Ball State men's basketball history at the Maui Invitational last week, the Cardinals will defend the newly aquired national ranking for the first time this weekend.
No. 16 Ball State will host the the First Merchants Classic at Worthen Arena Friday. Austin Peay and SUNY-Binghamton will play at 5 p.m. and Ball State will face Elon at 7 p.m. for the first round.
Treading new water with the No. 16 ranking, Ball State head coach Tim Buckley says that regardless of the national recognition, his team is remaining humbled and honored.
We are honored to be ranked at all," the second-year coach said. "It's recognition for our players, our university and our program. And it's something they have earned," Buckley said.
"The rankings really don't matter," he said. It's a nice thing to talk about and it's nice to be associated with all those other teams. At the same time, everything has to take place on the floor, not in the newspaper."
Mid-American Conference West Player of the Week, Petie Jackson felt the same as Buckley regarding the national rankings.
"I really try not to get to caught up in the rankings," Jackson said.
Ball State was placed in the No. 25 slot in the ESPN/USA Today polls. It was the Associated Press poll that the Cardinals were placed No. 16.
"It was an honor just to be named No. 25," Jackson said.
Ball State will take its rankings and put them on the line for the first time against Elon this weekend. According to Buckley and Jackson, it may not be the easy game some may think. But for Buckley, he hopes his team will carry the intensity from Hawaii back to Worthen Arena.
"We are going to attack just like we always do," Buckley said. We talked to our players about it. The way we played in Hawaii was generated by us, it wasn't generated by who we played, and we are capable of creating it again if that's what we have to do."
Elon comes into the contest with an overall record of 2-3 after losing to UNC-Greensboro, Florida State and Wake Forest.
Elon's highest scorer so far this season is Brendon Rowell. Rowell is averaging 13.2 points a game. For Ball State, Jackson ranks as the highest scorer averaging 22.3 points a game. Jackson is followed by Chris Williams who averages 17.7 points a game.
According to Buckley, Williams has become a key player in the Cardinals, espescially in Ball State's early season triumphs over Kansas and UCLA.
"He can do a little bit of everything," Buckley said. "One thing he can do better than anything is make shots. And he makes big shots.
"He's really a tough guy to match up with. He can get shots for himself or for other people, and that has been a big contributing factor to our early success."
Even with Williams' help and Jackson's high scoring, both Buckley and Jackson are expecting a tough matchup with Elon.
"Elon is a very athletic team," Buckley said. "They play very hard, and I think they are very well-coached. It's going to be a tough basketball game. We have to go out and play as well as we can."
"We are going to prepare for them just like we do any other team, and we are going to come out and play hard," Jackson said.
Jackson went on to explain that the tournament itself will be a good experience for the team. According to Jackson, the First Merchants Classic will do the same as the Maui Invitational for the Cardinals in the way of presenting the team with a tournament-type atmosphere, much like the Cards will see in the MAC tournament. And, even though Jackson sees that as a plus, he and his teammates have not lost focus on the game at hand.
"We have two wins, it doesn't make a season," he said. "We have to continue to come out and play hard. We have set the standard a little higher for ourselves now, and we have to live up to that."