The casual observer of today's contest between Ball State University and the University of Tennessee at Martin might consider it a blowoff game for the Cardinals.
After all, Ball State, which sits alone atop the Mid-American Conference West Division standings, has already paved a wide-open path towards the MAC West title, the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament.
What could this non-conference game against a 4-22 UT Martin team possibly mean to the Cardinals?
Coach Billy Taylor said the unknown that the Skyhawks possess is all the motivation his team needs to go out and continue playing its best basketball of the year.
"There are going to be those opportunities that we hope to have this year and in future years where late in the season you're going to play somebody that you're not familiar with, whether it's the NCAA Tournament or any postseason tournament," Taylor said. "You're going to come up against somebody that you're not familiar with – they don't know you, you don't know them, and you have to put together a solid gameplan to be able to come out and execute really well against that opponent."
Taylor said improving the rebounding and strengthening his team's depth will be his top two priorities for today's game, which is set for a 2 p.m. tipoff at Worthen Arena.
"[Rebounding has] been up and down for us – some games, it's been really good and we've done a great job, and other games we haven't been as effective," Taylor said. "And it's just a great opportunity to play some different guys and expand our rotation so as we go into the MAC Tournament, which is a lot of games in a short period of time … that's a lot of basketball, so you need some depth in order to be successful."
Success hasn't exactly been UT Martin's calling card this season.
Within the Skyhawks' four wins comes victories against just two NCAA Division I teams – SIU-Edwardsville and Southeast Missouri.
UT Martin also has a 1-15 record in Ohio Valley Conference play and a 0-13 record on the road. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are 10-4 at Worthen Arena compared to 4-7 away from home.
The Skyhawks are led by junior Marquis Weddle. The 6-foot-1 Preseason All-OVC selection is averaging 16.3 points per game.
Ball State fans looking for a reason to attend the game might be interested in the halftime activities. The 1989-1990 Ball State team will be recognized for its 20th anniversary of reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, followed by a performance by the Indy Bears Jump Rope squad.