Ball State must make drastic changes in starting lineup

When Ball State loses, head coach Tim Buckley usually responds, for the most part, with two very brief answers.

1. I don't know why we play like that.

2. There was just a complete lack of focus and enthusiasm.

When it comes to the problem of lacking enthusiasm, I believe there is an answer. It's a fairly drastic answer, but an answer nonetheless.

The real answer is that coach Buckley is expecting that enthusiasm from the wrong players. Lonnie Jones has never really brought much enthusiasm. He is a pretty mellowed player. When Chris Williams brings enthusiasm, it generally only comes after he throws up a desperation three-point shot from way (too far) downtown. Matt McCollom is a freshman who, even if he tries, can't bring much enthusiasm because he is so low on the totem pole.

So, three of the team's five starters don't bring enthusiasm. Those three may show a little fire toward the end of the game, but that comes out in everyone at the end of games. It's the first-half enthusiasm that is lacking. It's not necessarily because they don't want to be enthusiastic, but more because it's the nature of their roles on the team.

So my proposal is this: If you want complete enthusiasm, then drastically change the starting lineup.

On the wings should be Robert Owens and Billy Lynch. At point guard we can stick with Petie Jackson. Down low you put Theron Smith as a forward and stick in Brian Burns as the center.

The only thing you may lose with this lineup is the tip off, and in the whole scheme of the game, who cares?

Lynch should legally change his name to Billy Enthusiastic Lynch. When the kid is excited he is excited. Against Northern Illinois Wednesday, Smith was fouled as he went up for a layup. The basket counted, and Lynch was so pumped he almost knocked Smith over when the two bumped chests.

Owens is a player who is developing by the minute. Against Miami (Ohio), according to Buckley, the assistant coaches decided to try Owens on the wing as a defender. The sophomore rang up the RedHawks for 11 points, just one shy of his career-high. Not only is he coming about as an offensive threat, he is one of the more lively players defensively. When he pulls down a rebound the look on his face is enough to energize any team.

Jackson devotes his heart and soul to the team. He may have his "off" nights, but who doesn't? Jackson has a sense of frustration about him that works to his advantage. When things aren't going right, he is one of the few players on the team who truly strives to turn things around.

Smith goes almost without mentioning. Enthusiasm or not, Smith is the best player in the league, and to not start him would be foolish.-á

Then there is Burns. Many people snicker at the thought of Burns as a starter. Well, those must be the many people who don't watch him play. All one has to do is watch the senior on the court to appreciate the effort he brings the floor. Of any player on the Ball State squad, no player gets a bigger round of applause from the crowd when checking out of the game than Burns. They don't applaud him for his points or his rebounds, but his effort and enthusiasm.

Against Northern Illinois, approximately 22 seconds into the second half, Buckley was already putting Burns and Owens onto the floor and yanking two of the second-half starters. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If you can't get more than 22 seconds from a starter, then perhaps the person replacing them at that 22-second mark deserves the position instead.

Why such a drastic change in the lineup this close to the end of the season? There hasn't been a more crucial time for the Cardinals than right now. They must win Saturday at Central Michigan to clinch the MAC West outright. We are all familiar with the team's success this season winning only three conference games so far on the road. We are all also familiar with the fact that Ball State can kiss an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament good-bye. The only way in now is to win the MAC tournament. From the looks of things lately, the only way to do that may be with some drastic changes.


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