A MAC battle here in the heartland as the Central Michigan Chippewas host the Ball State Cardinals. Both teams have been solid but not spectacular this season, as Ball State enters this one at 11-7 while Central Michigan sits at 10-8. Oddsmakers opened the Cardinals as a slight road favorite for this one, which will be streamed by ESPN3.
Ball State Turning It OnJames Whitford is entering his seventh year as head coach at Ball State, and he desperately needs to start winning after back to back mediocre finishes. Fortunately for him, he is reasonably well positioned to have some success. He took over a program that was in the basement of the MAC, and this might be his best chance at glory. Ball State returned a ton of experience from last year, and three of their top four scorers are seniors while the other is a junior. They do have seven losses, but it's hard to hold too many of them against them. They've for the most part either been to really good teams, or by really narrow margins.
Three of the seven losses were by four points or fewer. Not surprisingly, they rank 326th in advanced analytics site Kenpom.com's luck factor, showing they've been getting very unlucky this season and could be due for some positive regression. They've started to turn a corner ever since conference play started, winning five of their last six games. They've dominated most of those games as all five of those wins were by at least nine points, and four were by at least 14 points. They have two great scorers in Tahjai Teague and Ishmael El-Amin, as both are averaging at least 14.6 points per game. Their even better on the defensive end though as they rank 58th nationally in overall defensive efficiency, a superb ranking for a MAC school.
Central Michigan Comes Down To EarthWhile Ball State seems to have turned a corner recently, Central Michigan has been much more up and down. The Chippewas enter this one at 10-8, but they're just 3-6 in their last nine after starting the season off 7-2. Each of those seven early wins came against terrible teams or non-D1 schools, so I think it's fair to toss them aside when handicapping this team right now. Central Michigan went 23-12 last year, but it looks like they're taking a bit of a step back this season. In their most recent game, they lost by 19 points at home to a mediocre Buffalo squad, so it's not like they have any sort of dominant home-court advantage or anything.
They gave up 86 points in that loss to the Bulls, and defense has been an issue for them all season long. They rank 243rd nationally in overall defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. They've been better on offense but still haven't been too efficient, and they shoot an unremarkable 33.6 percent from downtown. Against a very stout Ball State defense, those shooting issues could get even worse. They've been sloppy with the ball a lot, and they turned it over 16 times in the loss to Buffalo while shooting only 34.2 percent from the floor. The Chippewas have some embarrassing losses on their resume, like when they fell by 22 to Valparaiso or when they lost to a terrible Robert Morris team.