MEN'S BASKETBALL: The edge - Ball State vs. Valparaiso

The Crusaders come to Worthen Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff Friday in Ball State's season opener

BACKCOURT:
Valparaiso — The Crusaders return three starters from last season's team — all at the guard position — and a lone senior guard who returns after a season-ending injury last season. Combo guard Michael Rogers and Howard Little, both juniors, and sophomore guard Erik Buggs are back as the primary returners from last season, while senior guard Brandon McPherson had started since his sophomore season before sitting out with an injury five games into the 2008-09 campaign. Rogers finished last season second on the team in both scoring (9.9 points) and rebounding (4.9 rebounds), Little finished third in scoring (9.6) and rebounding (4.7) and was sixth in the Horizon League with 49 steals, and McPherson is among the top-ten in Crusader history in career 3-point percentage (40.9%).

Ball State — The backcourt is the Cardinals' biggest question heading into the 2009-10 campaign. Ball State looks to replace an experienced backcourt as last season's senior guards — Brandon Lampley, Laron Frazier and Rob Giles — combined to average 27.9 of the team's 57.9 points-per-game average in 2008-09, including 103 of the team's 134 made 3-pointers. Sophomore combo guard Pierre Sneed had eight starts last season (2.3 points per game average), while sophomore guard Randy Davis (2.7 ppg) and senior guard Brawley Chisholm (1.7 ppg) are the only other returners with any experience at the guard position last season, so look for freshmen newcomers, guards Jauwan Scaife and Zach Harrison and combo guard Myron Green, Jr., to have early and frequent opportunities to showcase their talents.

Advantage — Valparaiso
Valpo doesn't have much coming back, but is fortunate that it has three or four guards that know the system and have experience on their side. Ball State, meanwhile, returns very little as far as experienced guard play, and has plenty of question marks as to who will be the go-to backcourt guys as the season progresses.

FRONTCOURT:
Valparaiso — Valpo's biggest question mark lies in its frontcourt. Sophomore forward Cameron Witt made nine spot starts last season, averaging 4.7 points per game, but is the only returner with any meaningful experience coming back for the Crusaders. The good news for Valpo are two transfers to the program who will be making their debuts and are expected to contribute immediately. Redshirt junior forward Cory Johnson, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, appeared in 55 games at Iowa State University, making six starts and shooting at just over 59 percent in his two seasons, while sophomore Milos Milosevic transferred from Yuba College in California where he averaged 9.5 points and 7 rebounds per game.

Ball State — Some may consider this season's frontcourt as one of the more talented and deep Ball State frontcourts of the past decade. The Cardinals return sophomore center Jarrod Jones, the 2008-09 Mid-American Conference freshman of the year, sophomore forward Mo Hubbard and junior forward Malik Perry, a two-year starter for Ball State. Most are eagerly awaiting the debut of senior forward Terrence Watson, a University of Mississippi transfer who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules and is expected by many to start at the small or power forward position. You can also add redshirt freshman Zach Fields — the tallest Cardinal at 6-foot-10 — as an expected frontcourt contributor. Though Jones is expected to carry the scoring load for the Cardinals this season, the frontcourt is also expected to be dominant defensively.

Advantage — Ball State
Ball State should win this category over most of its opponents this season, but this one is especially easy to pick due to the inexperience of Valpo's bigs. Just like the Cardinals' lack of experience in the backcourt, the Crusaders just don't have much coming back to evaluate going into this season opener. Because Ball State also has athletic combo guard/forwards like Sneed and Green, look for the Cardinals to win the battle of the boards and show a little more fast pace offense against Valpo.

COACHING:
Valparaiso — The Crusaders are led by Homer Drew, who is entering his 21st season at the helm of Valparaiso. Simply put, if anything else, come to Friday's game to see one of the most successful coaches in recent men's college basketball history. Last season Drew became the seventh active head coach to reach the 600-win plateau and has a staff that features his son, Bryce Drew, as an assistant. Bryce Drew, as you may remember, hit "The Shot" in the 1998 NCAA Tournament for Valpo at the buzzer when the Crusaders upset Ole Miss in the first round and ended up as Sweet 16 participants for the first time in program history.

Ball State — Billy Taylor enters his third year as Ball State's head coach and continues to implement and improve his "defense first" mentality into the Cardinals program. Taylor inherited a program in shambles after the Ronny Thompson debacle and has developed a program high on character, much like he did when he was Patriot League Coach of the Year at Lehigh before coming to Ball State. The Cardinals' last season won a share of the MAC West Division, a surprise to many considering how quickly the team was competitive in the league following the rebuilding of the entire program.

Advantage — Valparaiso
Taylor is well on his way to becoming the kind of coach that Drew is, but Taylor still needs a couple more decades to catch up to what Drew has been able to accomplish throughout his illustrious career. Taylor definitely has the right attitude and overall basketball knowledge to eventually be on Drew's level, though. Plus, Taylor's son still has a few years to go before he is hitting game-winners in the NCAA Tournament for Ball State.


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