Cards take on preseason favorites

Central Michigan and Ball State have not been living up to expectations. The Chippewas (3-7 overall, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) are favored to win the MAC West in the conference preseason polls, yet the Chips are winless in conference play.

Ball State (8-5, 1-1) began the season on top of the college basketball world, finishing second only to No. 2 Duke in the Maui Invitational. But after losing three of their last five games, the Cards have yet to return to "Maui form," according to head coach Tim Buckley.

"Maui is our potential," Buckley said. "That's who we are capable of becoming."

Ball State will look to regain the "Maui form" and take on Central Michigan tonight at 7 in Worthen Arena.

The aspect that will concern Ball State the most tonight will be a single player. The Chippewas are led by David Webber, the younger brother of NBA star Chris Webber and second-leading scorer in the MAC.

After recent strong performances, Webber was named MAC Scholar Athlete of the Week. Last week Webber averaged 33 points a game and scored 44 points, the most of any player in the MAC this season, against Miami. Despite Webber's scoring onslaught, the Chippewas fell to Miami 100-94.

The senior guard averages 19.9 points a game for the season and shoots 43 percent from the field, and according to coach Tim Buckley, Webber will be tough to defend.

"What I am leery of is a person's potential," Buckley said. "His potential against Ball State is 51 points."

On Feb. 24, 2000, Webber broke a Rose Arena (Central Michigan's home court) single-game scoring record with 51 points against the Cardinals. The previous record was held by Larry Bird of Indiana State University, who scored 49 points in 1977.

"(Webber) is a prolific scorer," Buckley said. "We expect him to come in here and have a chance to score a lot of points.

"If you give him an easy out and you make things easier for him on the offensive end then, it's not a difficult game for him. Then (Central Michigan) has a chance to be successful with him," Buckley said.

Junior guard Chris Williams also expects a tough fight out of Webber.

"We aren't going to let one guy beat us," Williams said. "He is going to come out here and probably have something to prove, though."

The last time Ball State and Central Michigan met, Webber was held to a mere seven points.

According to Central Michigan coach Jay Smith, despite relatively decent numbers so far this season, he believes his senior shooter is still looking for improvement.

"He's a worker and he has battled," Smith said. "He has some good stats and some good numbers but I don't think he has done what he wants to."

Aside from the problems Webber may present tonight for the Cards, Ball State continues to try to improve in various aspects of the game.

Buckley continues to emphasize the importance of regaining togetherness, something he believes was better in the beginning of the season.

"Our togetherness is what carried us through mistakes," Buckley said. "Matt (McCollom) had as many turnovers against Kansas as he did against Kent State but our demeanor and approach was much different. That is what we are trying to get back to."

Buckley mentioned that, after Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan, he began to see more unity than what he saw in the Kent State game.

"On Saturday our huddles were a little tighter and we sprinted together," he said. "When a guy made a mistake, guys slapped him on the back of the head or gave him a five. That is what really separates a team and that is what we are trying to find consistently in our game."

According to Williams, another aspect of emphasis lately - defense - is beginning to turn around; but, much like his coach, he believes there is room for improvement.

"I think our defense has picked up," Williams said. "Teams haven't had the opportunity to run the ball as much and the scores are getting lower. That was all we really worked on in practice. We still have to continue to work on it, though," Williams said. "We have lapses during games. Our defense predicates how well we do on offense."


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