Ball State returns preseason All Mid-American Conference selections junior Emily Maggert (2008-09: 13.4 points-per-game average) and senior Danielle Gratton (11.7 points-per-game average). Add in their experience from the first round victory over Tennessee (sending coach Pat Summitt home that early had never been done) and the tandem of Maggert and Gratton will be tough to contend with. Michigan, on the other hand, is very young in the front court. The Wolverines will have to decide who gets playing time from a senior who redshirted in her original senior season last year, two sophomores and three freshmen.
The Cardinals have huge shoes to fill with Porchia Green and Kiley Jarrett graduating. The good news, Audrey McDonald should step in and help fill those shoes. McDonald averaged over 11 points a game last year and will need to continue to be a leader on the floor. While youthful, the Wolverines have a pair of upper classmen they can turn to while feeling out their freshmen and sophomores. Veronica Hicks, a junior who put up eight points per game against Big Ten foes last year, is known for her hustle and effort at guard. The type of player who can make hustle plays and score like that can become an X-Factor in close games.
This one is a toss up. A case can be made either way. Coach Packard has had success quickly anywhere she's been. She also has both youth and experience on her side, having held other head and assistant coaching jobs before coming to Ball State last season. Michigan's Coach Kevin Borseth has had success over a long career. Perhaps the most impressive thing Borseth accomplished was achieving a top-25 ranking at UW-Green Bay in the Horizon League.
Advantage: Toss up. Both coaches are great at what they do. Both coaches have unknowns they'll have to work out; this will be an even larger difficulty for Packard after the lone Ball State exhibition game was canceled.
The Edge: Western Kentucky University vs. Ball State University (Tues., Nov. 17, 7 p.m. at Worthen Arena)
This is an intriguing matchup. Arnika Brown is coming off a strong junior campaign on a Hilltopper team that finished in the middle of the pack of the Sun Belt. Brown put up 14.4 points a game last year and will be difficult to guard. However, it seems to be a wide-open race at the other forward position. The Cardinals return Emily Maggert and Danielle Gratton who are hungry for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after a sweet first taste of the tournament. Together, Maggert and Gratton averaged over 25 points a game last season.
Senior Kenzie Rich provides a dangerous back court threat for the Hilltoppers. Rich averaged 14.3 points a game last year. Rich's numbers have also dramatically improved each season she's been at Western Kentucky and there's no reason to suspect that will change. Ball State will have to figure out its guard situation after losing two seniors last season. Audrey McDonald should step in and try to up her numbers and leadership from last season. Other than McDonald, the Cardinals have an unknown at the guard spot.
Both coaches have had tremendous success. It's hard to imagine that Coach Packard, one of the youngest coaches in the NCAA, could have more experience than someone, but she's has a couple years on Western Kentucky coach Mary Taylor Cowles. Cowles had her streak of six straight 20-win seasons snapped last year, while Packard guided the Cardinals to 26-9 and a first round NCAA tournament upset of Tennessee.
Advantage: Toss up. You really have to respect everything both coaches have accomplished. If forced to pick a winner here, it'd be difficult, but a slight edge would go to the Hilltoppers because of their impressive seasons prior to the streak ending last year.